The Future of Guitar: A Conversation with Brandon "Taz" Niederauer August 7, 2018 12:01

Photos by Craig Baird: Home Team Photography

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few years, you have most likely heard about teenage guitar prodigy Brandon "Taz" Niederauer. Taz has taken the jam scene by storm, appearing at many of the nation's most prominent music festivals, and sitting in with the likes of Gregg Allman, Col. Bruce Hampton, George Porter Jr., Widespread Panic, The String Cheese Incident, Umphrey's McGee, and so many more. Last Friday, Live & Listen's lead photographer, Craig Baird, had a chance to sit down and catch up with the young superstar. See below for the full conversation, as well as various video content and a photo gallery from the Terminal West show. 

Interview by Craig Baird: Home Team Photography

Let's talk about how this all started. I've read that your musical journey began after watching School of Rock when you were eight. At what point did you really start focusing on playing?

Taz: Watching the School of Rock is definitely what started it all. I started taking the guitar seriously as soon as I picked it up for the first time and played my first couple of notes. I knew I loved it and wanted to pursue it. 

It wasn't long until you were cast as the principal guitarist in the broadway  musical (School of Rock) at age 12. How was that experience, and what type of opportunities came from this role?

Taz: Many opportunities came from that, I was an amazing experience. I loved every second of it. One experience that came from that was I got to play in Jesus Christ Superstar live on TV. An Andrew Lloyd Webber live production so that was amazing. So many opportunities have came from that production that I can't even name them all. I'm so happy, and I'm so grateful for all of these opportunities.

Wow...I read that almost 10 million people tuned in to watch that.

Taz: Yeah, it was really cool.

Your rapid popularity certainly steered you to a unique lifestyle at an early age. How vital has your family been through this experience, and how do you guys go about balancing things out?

Taz: We have family dinners. We're just a normal family when I'm home. They're just so supportive. My mom, dad, and my brother are just the most supportive people I know, and I can't thank them enough for that. I'm so grateful for them. When I go home, my brother and I are playing football and basketball outside. We play video games together. It's very much a normal family when I'm home. I still go to school, so I'm at home most of the week, and then I do shows on the weekend. I'm just so grateful to have a super supportive loving family. 

It seems like each year, the momentum continues to build. Who were some of the early big name artists that invited you to play with them? Are there any in particular that stick out the most?

Taz: As far as the notable artists that I've played with, I can't thank them enough for the opportunity to play. I definitely can't pick a favorite. Every single person I get to play with, I'm super grateful for the opportunity. I guess I'd say the more notable artists I've played for would have to be George Porter Jr, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Col. Bruce Hampton, Lady Gaga, Slash, Dr. John, Warren Haynes, Umphrey's McGee. Those are the first few that come to mind, and I can't thank them enough for the opportunity.

That's amazing. I'm no musician, but I know that comprehending and writing original music is no easy task. Not many have reason to do it in their early teenage years. What is your current approach, and how do you see things unfolding moving forward?

Taz: It's either things that happen in my daily life, or I'm writing a story about a certain character, or I'm writing about something that everybody experiences. I hope that the audience, at least one audience member, every night, can connect to what I'm singing, because I really do mean it. Even through my playing, I hope that I can touch one person in the audience, move them, make their day. I can't thank these people enough for coming to my performances. I mean...they could have stayed home or done something else. To spend that night with me is just mind boggling. The band...we spend many hours a week rehearsing, and I hope our hard work pays off, and they love what we're doing, because we love them. 

I know this city brings a whirlwind of memories to mind. Most recently, performing with Umphrey's McGee, String Cheese, Tedeschi Trucks, and so many more on at SweetWater 420 Festival. There was also the Hampton 70 show. How would you describe your relationship with Col. Bruce and his lasting impact on you personally?

Taz: My relationship with Col. Bruce was special. He was such a mentor. He was probably my biggest mentor. Not just to me, but to everyone in the music world. I mean...everyone has been touched by him. He's given me so much advice. To always play with the utmost intention. Always be humble. Love your fans. Make them the number one priority. He was an amazing guy. He's brought up so many amazing musicians. The time that he devoted to helping me out is just again, mind boggling. The fact the he would even consider taking me under his wing. The Hampton 70 show, of course it was a whirlwind of emotions. It was an amazing time and unfortunately was the day of his passing. Once you get past the horrific part...I say this all the time, but if he were to write his own story, his own life, that's the way he would go out. 

I agree. My friend and I right in front of the both of you during that encore and his passing. It was truly an emotional night. So let's switch gears and talk about Brooklyn Comes Alive, which is coming up this September. Tell me how that came about.

Taz: Well, they asked me to lead a set focusing on the artists that we've recently lost, including Col. Bruce Hampton, members of the Allman Brothers, and a whole bunch more. I said that's something I would be delighted to do, so I got some of my favorite musicians in the world, including George Porter Jr. (The Meters), Adam Smirnoff (Lettuce), Jeff Sipe (Aquarium Rescue Unit), Peter Levin (Gregg Allman Band), and Elise Testone (American Idol). I asked them if they could come play and they said yes. All of these musicians that I'm playing with for this special set have influenced me, so the fact that they said yes to play with me is an amazing thing. 

I know that will be a special experience. Your calendar seems to be as busy as anyone these days. Before we wrap this up, I'm curious to know what can we expect from Taz and Co. the rest of this year? What has you most excited?

Taz: I'm going to Japan this October. I've got jitters for that. I can't wait to go and play four shows, so that's gonna be awesome. I can't wait to go to new states that I've never been to before. We're going to Illinois and Indiana soon. I'm looking forward to meeting those folks over there. Every single state has a different way of life. Different culture. Even every city. The crowd is even different, so I can't wait to feed off the energy of the different crowds and meet all the new people. 

That will be an amazing experience. It's been a pleasure watching your story unfold thus far, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds. Thank you so much for your time today Taz. 

Taz: Of course. Thank you and hope you enjoy the show.

Watch Taz perform his new tune "My Revival" at Chicago Music Exchange here:

Watch Taz perform "Statesboro Blues" with Tedeschi Trucks Band at SweetWater 420 Festival here:

Craig Baird (Home Team Photography) and Taz at Terminal West