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Zac Baird, keyboardist, on hanging out with rock stars, balancing life as a touring musician and dad, the hardest job he ever had & how he hooked up with Korn

(Publication Date: 1.16.24)

In this episode of the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast, Adam Williams talks with Zac Baird. Zac is a keyboardist and composer. He’s known across musical genres for his electronic talents, including his use of synthesizers and computers. He has toured the world far and wide, playing with various artists and bands for more than 30 years, including for more than a decade with the metal band Korn. 

 

Adam talks with Zac, who had just returned home from nearly a year working and touring in Europe and North America with Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” tour. They talk about his early years with music, including his attending a performing arts high school in Dallas, where he was in English class with Erykah Badu. They talk about life on the road, and what happened when the covid-19 pandemic put a stop to Zac’s work. 

 

Zac started touring as a musician when he was a teenager. He lived in Los Angeles for years. He’s now a dad in his 50s and living in a rural mountain town in Colorado. They talk about what’s changed and what has stayed constant in Zac’s decades-long musical career. Among other things.

SHOW NOTES, LINKS, CREDITS & TRANSCRIPT

The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Departments of Public Health and Housing, and is supported by the Colorado Public Health & Environment: Office of Health Disparities.

 

Along with being distributed on popular podcast listening platforms (e.g. Spotify, Apple), Looking Upstream is broadcast weekly at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, on KHEN 106.9 community radio in Salida, Colo., and can be listened to on-demand via khen.org

 

Zac Baird

Website: muzactechnology.com 

Instagram: @muzactechnology

Instagram: @justcallmehorse

 

We Are Chaffee

Website: wearechaffee.org

Instagram: instagram.com/wearechaffeepod 

Facebook: facebook.com/wearechaffee

Instagram: instagram.com/wearechaffee

 

CREDITS

Looking Upstream Host, Producer & Photographer: Adam Williams

Looking Upstream Engineer & Producer: Jon Pray

We Are Chaffee Community Advocacy Coordinator: Lisa Martin

We Are Chaffee Graphic and Web Design: Heather Gorby

Director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment: Andrea Carlstrom

TRANSCRIPT

Note: Transcripts are produced using a transcription service.

Although it is largely accurate, minor errors inevitably exist.

 

[Intro music, guitar instrumental]

Adam Williams (00:00:15): Welcome to We Are Chaffee Looking Upstream. A conversational podcast of humanness, community and well-being rooted in Chaffee County, Colorado. I'm Adam Williams. Today I'm talking with Zac Baird. Zac is a keyboardist and composer. He's known across musical genres for his electronic talents, including his use of synthesizers and computers. He has toured far and wide. And I mean worldwide. Playing with various artists and bands for more than 30 years. 

I talked with Zac while he was in a transition of sorts. Having come off the better part of a year of working and touring with Beyonce's Renaissance tour in Europe and North America. He was reintegrating into home and family life. 2023 was Zac's return to touring and obviously in a big way. When the pandemic came in 2020, touring stopped. Work stopped. At least as a musician. And Zac moved from Los Angeles to our rural slice of the Arkansas Valley here in Colorado.

(00:01:10): He even was on unemployment at one point during that time. At least until he answered a local restaurant's job Ad, they creatively asked, "Are you a rock star?" We talk about that experience and many others. Zac is a humble and approachable person. As you'll hear throughout this incredible conversation that covers so much of his story, as someone that I will call a gifted and passionate musician, he has taken an unconventional road. It seems from very early on. 

For example, when classical music was the typical piano player's path into the performing arts high school that Zac attended in Dallas, he auditioned by playing two non-classical pieces. One of which he had composed as a middle schooler. By the way, some notable musical artists have come out of that high school. You'll recognize their names when you hear them. Now, I would also look at Zac as one of those noteworthy successes from that school, but I really don't know whether he would agree or necessarily even care.

(00:02:04): Like I said, he's humble. And like he says in this conversation, "I'm not a rock star. I just hang out with rock stars." Okay. So if we go along with Zac's angle on it, he's rock star at adjacent, shall we say. And throughout the organic flow of the conversation, some of those names come up. Some of who he's worked with, some of who he wanted to work with. It turns out that he had a keyboard nemesis who had a penchant for scooping up gigs that Zac wanted. 

Not that Zac didn't get his share of course. We talk about how he became the keyboardist for the metal band Korn, despite not really being into them or their music at first. And despite the fact that the nemesis was there too. That was a gig that would last 10 plus years. Now, if you're like me, you can't help but think of sex, drugs and rock and roll by this point. Right?

(00:02:52): Well, I'm also curious to know who the hell does the laundry when you're part of a roving musical community that's changing cities every two or three days on tour? You're so far, far from home from those mundane bits of normalcy. So I asked and Zac answered. We also talk about the dramatically different roles of being a touring musician and being a dad with two young kids at home. Zac started this Musician's Life as a teenager. He's now in his early '50s and is passionate about music as ever. Naturally, a lot has changed and happened during the years between. So yeah, we get into that too. 

The Looking Upstream podcast is supported by Chaffee County Public Health and the Chaffee Housing Authority. Media Partners are Khen 106.9 FM Community Radio in Salida, Colorado, which airs this show at 1:00 PM on Tuesdays. In the Chaffee County Times and the Mountain Mail, two newspapers where I publish a monthly column related to the overall We are Chaffee Community Storytelling Initiative, and this Looking Upstream podcast. Show notes including links in a full transcript of the conversation are available at wearechaffey.org.

(00:03:58): You can support the podcast by following @wearechaffeepod on Instagram and the @wearechaffee account on Instagram and Facebook. And enthusiastic ratings and reviews on Apple and Spotify are greatly appreciated, and they're helpful,too. 

All right. Now here we go. A fun and enlightening conversation with Zac Baird.

[Transition music, guitar instrumental]

Adam Williams (00:04:26): Well, Zac, thanks for coming in. Man, I've been looking forward to this. Welcome to Looking Upstream.

Zac Baird (00:04:30): Thanks, Adam. Thank you. It's taken a while, but thanks for being patient.

Adam Williams (00:04:33): Oh yeah, I'm happy to. Look, it's taken a while because you were out on tour for a pretty long time. Huge chunk of this year and I know that you have kids at home, young kids. You've been trying to settle in recent weeks. How's that been going?

Zac Baird (00:04:51): It's a change of pace and it's sometimes good. I've been taking some time just to reacquaint myself with Buena Vista, get some air, spend time with my kids, be dad. I was gone a long time. It was like, nine, almost 10 months. So, yeah. I missed a lot.

Adam Williams (00:05:09): How old are they?

Zac Baird (00:05:10): Yumi is in fourth grade. She is nine. Leo is in a preschool. He's about to turn four this month.

 

Adam Williams (00:05:19): Did it register at those ages for them or maybe differently for each of them, how long you were gone and how that affected the flow in the house?

Zac Baird (00:05:27): Yeah, it was a definite change. Especially for Leo. Most of my life I spent touring. COVID brought on a lot of changes, a move. My daughter had experienced some touring. I don't think she really remembered it so much. Leo had not. He'd never been away from me. He was born right before COVID. He's just in that age where it's like, I've literally been home. The last, I guess it was two and a half, almost three years, it was 2020. Everything stopped and I didn't do a tour until this year, '23. So it was pretty much right at three years and...

Adam Williams (00:06:18): And then you're gone for a really long time. It's not a weekend.

Zac Baird (00:06:22): No. This particular tour, I was gone longer than is typical. Both of my kids struggled a bit with adjusting to that. So, it was hard. It wasn't like... Thankfully I have family that really kicked in and helped me in particular. I'm a single dad, recently divorced and my kids go to two different houses. So there's that struggle already going on. 

And then for the first time I took a tour and was away from Buena Vista with travel. And my contact was really FaceTime. Using FaceTime and communicating with my kids. My three-year-old kept telling me, "Come home. Papa, come home." My daughter cried the day I left. She took me and dropped me off and she was upset about it. She felt something... Previously, it was kind of... Especially for me, this is what I did. COVID put a pause on all of that.

Adam Williams (00:07:25): I'm guessing that they aren't registering any cool factor to what it is you're doing either. Right? Which by the way, I want to let people know. I mean the tour that you were on, was with Beyonce. You were out there on her Renaissance tour in Europe, North America. And this is your history, this is your career resume as a touring musician for the last couple decades, are with these big name artists, you're going around the world. So they're a little young though, and maybe I hear from people often in telling their stories, it doesn't matter if their kids are 15, 20, whatever it is, they're like, "You're just dad. It's not that you're cool to me."

Zac Baird (00:08:03): Absolutely. I think my daughter is aware. She is at a stage in life where now it's interesting and she's aware of these people. She'll ask me questions specifically, but that's almost more like I think she likes the idea of a celebrity aspect to it. My son has no clue. He's not really aware of anything that these people mean nothing to him. But as I said, I've been doing this a long time and my daughter doesn't remember the other part of her life where we were already doing it and she was going to shows and concerts and doing things that most, I would say children her age didn't have exposure to growing up backstage.

Adam Williams (00:08:49): Who is she seeing backstage at that time in her life?

Zac Baird (00:08:52): Well, when she was born, I was playing keyboards for the band Korn. And so a lot of her backstage being in a diaper and hanging out and walking around with me, there's... We were doing festivals and shows and there's a lot of other celebrities and... I guess, well, celebrities, but let's just say loosely the word rock star or musicians rather around. So, she'd run into people and people would be like... She has no recollection of that. I remember it. But to her, and even when you're a kid that day, that's just where you are that day.

Adam Williams (00:09:30): Are there photos of her with people that later she'll look at and be like, "Oh, I can't believe I met these people, but I don't remember it."

Zac Baird (00:09:36): I don't really think so. I think it's mostly memories that I have. Going to see Jane's Addiction in a... What do they call that?

Adam Williams (00:09:46): A onesie?

Zac Baird (00:09:48): No. I'm thinking. I'm wearing her, basically at the Jane's Addiction show backstage. And for me it's just a different thing. We lived in LA. We lived in Los Angeles, we came here to join other people in our family, but growing up in Los Angeles for her, and even at that period of time for me, I spend a lot of time in circles, music circles.

 

Adam Williams (00:10:20): I've been curious why you moved from Los Angeles to here, but maybe also more importantly is how that transition has been for you? That's night and day. It's so different to come to this tiny place of... If we look at the whole county population, we're talking only 20,000. From many, many millions across an area that's just so massive and so different culturally.

Zac Baird (00:10:45): Well, the prime reason we came is because we already had... My mom and dad retired here years ago. And my daughter was actually born in Salida. Due to the fact that I was touring at that period in my life, I was newly married, I was touring. I was very busy with my schedule. This seemed like a great place for her to... Well, for one, it seemed like a great place for my wife at the time to live and have family support. 

And it also seemed like we'd get more attention at the hospital here than in a big, big city like Los Angeles. So there were a lot of reasons back then to just be here. It felt like a great community, a good place. Everything that happened from basically 2020 forward, a lot of that was the pandemic. I went through massive life change, going through a separation and a divorce.

(00:11:46): Somewhat at that point is a career change because, all the touring ended. All the live music stopped with the pandemic. So it was like, "Wow. What are we doing?" Los Angeles did not seem like a great, safe place to be. Big city, COVID, pandemic, everybody was escaping to the hills. If you will, smaller towns. We already had family here, so it was a little bit of a no-brainer. Some of it was unintentional. I think I decided to stay as an afterthought. It wasn't a real planned thing. Everything did happen somewhat overnight.

Adam Williams (00:12:27): How about the transition to such a quiet place? Such a place that is... 82% of our county, I think, is public land. So different than where you were in that size of city.

Zac Baird (00:12:40): Yeah, it's still pretty different. Sometimes you miss... At least me. I don't know. Some people... Sometimes I miss the city. But I think before I was married, I fell in love with this area as I took advantage of the fact that my parents were here and I could be a snowboard bum for better or worse. But my tour schedule typically runs from spring until mid... Well, early winter. It could wrap up around November or it could wrap up in middle of December, and we might not start another run of shows or do any projects until April. 

Everybody wants to be home. Even in the music world, everybody wants to be with family. This is that time, this is that season. We come home or spend our time around with our kids, with our families and take some time off. In April, things warm up. The venues that are outside become available, people want to get out and do shows again. So, I found myself with this window perfect for ski and snowboard season.

Adam Williams (00:13:48): That is amazing.

Zac Baird (00:13:49): Yeah, it just worked out.

Adam Williams (00:13:50): It's like a dream schedule of sorts. School teachers have off summer. Okay, that's great. But if you love to snowboard, man, that's ideal.

Zac Baird (00:13:59): And that's initially probably what it was for me. And my parents moved here from Texas and I wasn't as inclined to visit them when they were living in Dallas. And so when they came here, it was like, "Oh, man. I got a place to stay and I can just snowboard." So that was the initial. In, let's see, my introduction to Buena Vista and things like that. 

And I also like running and I like trails, and those are the things that I do. Snowboard and sometimes run, sometimes I'm way running, sometimes I'm... Winter has been a bit of a problem for running for me, because I'm used to that LA climate. And when you're touring and there's great places to run, it's usually warmer, Mediterranean type situations, and it's always easier. I'm struggling to get my running up during winter. And moving to BV at that time, it wasn't an easy time in my life.

(00:15:02): When I reflect on it, some of the beauty was, when you're trying to provide for your family or live a life of a musician, I found that I was always feeling a hustle. Feeling like, "Okay. Well, that tour ended. What am I going to do next?" So, things could be good for a while and then you'd be like, "Okay. Looking for the next job or looking for the next thing." 

Especially with a family. Not as much when you're just enjoying the life of being a musician and no attachments. But once you begin that second level of life, I guess, where you start a family and you're needing to provide, you're hustling.

Adam Williams (00:15:49): You've been doing this for more than 30 years. I think you've said that you've been touring since you were 19. And I'm curious about the changes through life, those stages. Now, obviously you have kids at home and what does it feel like to be on tour for so long? Let's use the most recent one as an example where I don't even know, is it every two or three nights maybe, or even every night that you're in a different city for a while and you're away from your kids and how that might be different than the experience of, "Okay. I'm 20, I'm 25, I'm 30. And I'm ready to go out and hit nightclubs", or do whatever you were doing that was your unattached enjoyment in life.

Zac Baird (00:16:29): Well, first and foremost, I love doing music. So my desire to be a entertainer was I think what I called it when I was probably my son's age or my daughter's age. It was like, my passion for music began really early. Two or three. I have recollections of playing my grandmother's piano and thinking at the time that I was composing. Later, at seven, I started taking piano lessons. 

That was even an interesting thing because my recollection is my mother asked me one time in the car if I wanted to take piano lessons, and I don't even know if it had dawned on me that that was something you could do. I think I feel like I was stunned by the question like, "Oh, wow. You could take piano lessons? Yeah, sure. That sounds fun." That was really it. But all through the years, no matter what tour, no matter if I was in a van, sleeping on a couch or traveling on an airplane, sleeping in a hotel, my passion for music has always been strong.

(00:17:37): That runs through the entire phase. Everything. It's even still a struggle today. My passion for music is so strong. It's almost like sometimes it's a conflict with being dad, because I want to have endless time to create and work on music, and I do need to be present and pick up the kids from school and all of that. So it's still really good. But tours change, styles of music, touring systems are different from each. The recent tour I had, it is comfortable in the sense that we're in it. 

It's not like I'm in a different city every night. I'm in a different city every two or three days. And for me, the show day is usually when I am needed and working. The other days are spent running, exploring, looking for... For me, I'm vegan, so I'm always looking for a cool vegan restaurant to check out in a town or what's here.

(00:18:47): I explore by running and sometimes I'm practicing in my hotel room, things like that. I think what made it hardest was... What was interesting about this particular tour is, it felt like it took a really long time to get it over with, because there was so much... It was a big production. So it took a long time. It took... On average, we probably did two shows a week, and that would be in a different city. 

But there's a little bit of travel there, but there's just a lot of time waiting for the show day for me, because of my role in that. Other people have different roles and they're busy. They're tired because they're working every single one of those days, doing steel building, putting the sound up, fixing dressing rooms and all of this.

(00:19:43): But I only worked the show day, so it felt like, "Gosh, it really took a long time to finish this tour." And initially we were in rehearsals from early January until the end of April, early May, pretty much three... I guess that's three months, four months. Figuring out what we're going to be doing for the show before we even started a show. So to a certain extent, that felt like the tour should... When we started doing the tour, I was like, "Man, we've already been doing this a long time."

Adam Williams (00:20:17): Pre-season is pretty long.

Zac Baird (00:20:19): Yeah. And so with this one, that made it feel like it was really stretched out. Sometimes in some previous tours or situations, I might have more time off. Maybe we would go out for four to six weeks and then be home for another month and then go out for a few weeks, come back home, more broken up. So this was a bit of a real extended tour. 

It was great, but certainly as far as people being home and how do you run a family, and I'm one of like... I don't know. 150 people. All, everybody somewhat dealing with a situation possibly at home. Everyone unaware of each other's lives outside of the tour. And we all have different ways of dealing with that. I am 52. And like you said, do I go to the bar? Do I go to the club? No, not really.

Adam Williams (00:21:18): Did you ever? What was that thing that you used to when you were young and...

 

Zac Baird (00:21:23): Yeah, of course. I think there was an era in my life where I was certainly really having a fun time on tour and doing all the things that probably somewhat... Life is when you're young and single. Yeah, life can be indulgent and you might be at the bar. There's after parties, there's reasons to have fun. I've had a lot of friends that... I think majority of my friends or musician, acquaintances, whatever it would be, prior to being 40, everyone's really having a good time in a way that's probably not healthy for any of us. 

But I think that's life. And somewhere in there people recognize that some people do have issues with certain things or need to step away from that lifestyle. They still want to be musically inclined, so they grow up and it's no longer part of the scene, per se. I certainly have done that in my own life.

Adam Williams (00:22:33): It sounds like you were older than 40, early '40s, around the time you got married and you had kids, and you transitioned into a piece of life that demands that of you.

Zac Baird (00:22:43): Well, it certainly does demand that of you. I don't think that it's easy to maintain. Naturally some things die off. You just grow up and grow out and you recognize responsibilities. Yeah, I was late in life for me having kids. Not everybody that I've ever worked with had that. Some of their career was started at the same time that they were starting families and things like that, which I don't think it's impossible, but it's certainly harder to pursue art when you have a family. It just takes a lot more work.

Adam Williams (00:23:19): I think I'm curious too about the mundane stuff.

Zac Baird (00:23:21): The mundane stuff?

Adam Williams (00:23:22): Yeah. Because I'm thinking if you're out on the road, it's not like you're in the military and you are off in an assignment that's going to take you away for a year, and then you come back home. You're actually traveling all this time and doing all these different phases of this experience. 

How are you doing laundry? For example. How are you eating in the ways that you need to? Because for me, if I go on vacation for a week or two or whatever, I'm sick of restaurants. I'm wanting to get home and have some normal routine, like any of those things.

Zac Baird (00:23:53): Well, in my experience, it's like living two different lives. Obviously when I'm home, I'm trying to be really present, dad, I'm trying to be involved in my kids' lives. When I'm on the tour, I have the luxury of, I would say sleeping till 9:00 AM at least in a hotel room that's quiet. I'm not waking up doing kids activities. I'm not involved. That's a catch-22 for some people. For me, yeah, I'm still getting the phone call from home. Someone's sad, someone's missing me, someone's upset. 

This is what's happening. What are we going to do? But I am in a different place dealing with a totally different set of things. How do I do laundry? If I was in a van tour, I'd be doing my own laundry. When I'm on a luxurious tour, there's a person actually hired in that position who can do all of our laundry, but I still like doing my own laundry. So one of the things I do on my days off is go and find the laundromat and do my laundry. But like I said, I run. That's the thing too. When I'm home, being dad...

Zac Baird (00:25:00): That's the thing too, when I'm home being dad, it's harder for me to carve out that time where I'm going to run.

Adam Williams (00:25:09): Do you have favorite cities, like favorite locations?

Zac Baird (00:25:11): Oh, absolutely. I always kind of explore new things or I have memories of areas.

Adam Williams (00:25:18): I mean running specifically, actually in that question. Are there favorite places that you have run?

Zac Baird (00:25:25): Some of my favorite places, I generally just love being in Europe, touring Europe. I find it always more interesting both culturally, the architecture, just the energy, it maybe still feels mysterious to me because I'm not there on a regular basis. I had a great run in Barcelona. There's beaches there. I had a great run... Actually this time, I had a great run in London that was kind of stuck out because London's a really busy city and the traffic moves in an opposite direction. 

Running is a great way for me to explore a place, and through running I can discover like, "Oh, there's a coffee shop over there I should hit later. Oh wow, they have a sign over there. They've got some sort of plant-based restaurant that I should check out. Whoa, I had no idea that museum was right there."

(00:26:22): Or I luck into rivers or lakes, or a path or a trail that is totally cool to go explore and it's an unknown thing. Of course my imagination is going to go in there and run and do that. Running's a place where, for me, it's like that's how I get a lot of the questions answered in my day-to-day kind of life. 

I might be out there having a conversation with myself and kind subtly figure out a few things I want to do to try to remedy that situation, or "Maybe I should try this. This would be a good idea." But in this particular run in London, it was kind of funny because I'm going down this road and it's concrete and I'm like, "Okay, I've got to look out for this traffic."

(00:27:08): Then I suddenly find myself... There was a bike event going on this day, like bicycles, and bicycle races. They had the whole streets closed off. I'm the one guy running in this whole group of people, kids, moms, dads, bicyclists, distance. It's like everything. And I'm the guy running. What was great about it, everything was closed off. I no longer had to worry about cars or looking where to go, so I just followed this whole group of bicyclists for a while. That was a fun, just random experience. 

Similar thing, kind of like, in Seattle. It wasn't like I ran into a bike group, but I followed Strava and Strava's telling me to take a right at this one location. I'm looking and it's like Seattle's one of these places where a lot of city streets and hills and I'm kind of like, "Why would I want to go that way? The sound keeps going this way and there looks like a trail that's going to break off."

So I just followed that trail. I have no real plan in mind. Luckily for me, I don't have a schedule. I'm kind of free for the day, so I ended up doing this trail another nine miles out and back. It was just a way for me to explore because like I said, I'm not exploring by hitting the bar and seeing the people at night or trying to meet people in that way. I'm kind of reclusive. I like alone time. I think that's one of the things that has always made me able to tour is that I like somewhat being alone.

Adam Williams (00:28:41): I want to ask you about some of the different artists that you've... Not specifically the artists, but the fact that you brought up things with different, let's say genres of music might function and operate differently on tour. I'm curious creatively for you how it is that you go across these genres. For example, you mentioned Korn. That's a harder style of music. 

I follow you on Instagram, and you might on occasion post a video of you playing classical. Okay. We've mentioned Beyonce. You've worked with Jay-Z. You've worked with Demi Lovato, and Lizzo, and The Chain Smokers, and a number of others. I'm sure I don't even know all of them.

(00:29:22): I'm wondering about this love of music, if there is a particular genre that you do or don't necessarily want to work in and how it is you cross those boundaries and say, "Yeah, I'll go on tour with you. I'll do something different this time."

Zac Baird (00:29:38): Well, I think the first answer to your question is I always say yes. Then that other thing where that music, my passion for music, is just a through-line through my life and that's what I knew I wanted to do at a really early age. Figuring out how to do that was a little bit more of a struggle. 

My initial start in music being piano and learning to compose, I think I just wanted to have my own band. I wanted that thing that I ended up... What I do now is kind of different than having my own band. What I do now is put on hats for different artists and work with them and help take their music to the stage.

Adam Williams (00:30:19): Isn't it a lot of times that people have a reputation for, "Hey, this is the area of music that is your thing," but you are getting picked up and offered these contracts and opportunities to work with artists across such a range that how did you even get into that position where they're like, "Okay, I know you for Korn, but what I do is pop, or what I do is whatever style of music and I know that you can handle that too and give me what I need."

 

Zac Baird (00:30:45): I think if you were to go through my musical selections in my record collection, if we can call it that these days, it's pretty eclectic. I love all styles of music. I can learn how to do things. It's not like I go into a project always knowing how to make it work. I just get in there and I fall in love with it. I find elements within the person's music that I really like, things that I can enjoy.

Adam Williams (00:31:22): I think for me, the question, Zac, is that, I mean as far as I'm concerned, I'm a non-musician, so all of your talent is amazing and this love for and your capability to cross these borders, so to speak, but why would those different artists be like, "Okay, I've never heard you do my kind of music before, but I want you on tour with me." You know what I'm saying? How do you prove to them, "Oh yeah, I can learn and I can do all the things that you're describing."

Zac Baird (00:31:49): I can't really speak to why they would choose me per se. I've been on both sides of it though. I have been in a situation or situations where I'm the guy who's submitting my resume or having the meeting or auditioning hungry, trying to get the job. And I've also been the person who's working with the artist, seeking the people to come be a part of the project. In my own case, I think a resume does speak volumes, of course. Initially, like I said, I was just really into creating. I was into having my own band. For a long time, that's what I pursued eventually living in Los Angeles at this time.

(00:32:38): I didn't always do my music in Los Angeles. I've been in other bands and toured in vans, trailers, worked on my projects everywhere from Denton, Texas, Austin, Texas, Kansas City, Missouri, ended up in Los Angeles eventually. A little bit of backstory, born in California, Orange County, Southern California. Always had this kind of naive fantasy with California. Eventually ended up out there with a writing partner, trying again to pursue my own career, trying to have my own project, create my own music. I ended up performing in Los Angeles and what I feel like happened was kind of like people saw what I was doing.

(00:33:23): A lot of people are out there being sidemen, which is kind of what I am, technically a sideman, technician somewhat. I work with synthesizers, keyboard instruments, computers. What I was doing seemed to be kind of new, I guess. At the time, I mean early 2000, and already even before that like 10 years touring with small bands all over the United States doing our thing, but now being exposed just because of being in Los Angeles and the community there, being exposed to other sidemen who could recommend me for a project or something, I found that it served my own purpose economically to be able to put on different hats.

(00:34:13): I might work for a pop artist, or I might work for a hip hop artist, or I might work for a metal band, things like that. I think it's funny. Prior to getting a job with Korn, I was working for an artist named Daniel Powder, and he has this song Had a Bad Day. Some people might be familiar with that.

Adam Williams (00:34:39): I'm thinking of one and it's-

Zac Baird (00:34:41): I'm not going to sing it for you.

Adam Williams (00:34:43): It's in my head, so I must be... Okay. I didn't necessarily know the artist behind it.

Zac Baird (00:34:44): You probably know the song.

Adam Williams (00:34:49): I do. Okay, yeah.

Zac Baird (00:34:50): But I find myself again, always saying yes. Some situations might be a phone call and a conversation you have with the artist, "Hey, do you think you could do this? Would you be down? Is this something you're interested in?" "Yeah, absolutely. Sure, let's do this. I've heard a few of the songs. I'd like to be a part." Other things are situations where you get called in, you're one of 10 keyboard players from Los Angeles.

(00:35:25): They've seen your resume, they've seen the people you've worked with. "Do you want to come in and do this audition?" You could be auditioning for the management company, you could be auditioning for the artist, you could be auditioning for a couple of people in the band who are kind of doing the first initial rounds. I don't know. Some of those situations are rough because you might really, really want that gig or you might be, "This artist is someone I love and I just would love to work for them," and you don't get it.

Adam Williams (00:35:54): Can I ask, who is an artist that you have really loved that then you did get to work with, and then maybe who is an artist you would love to work with and you haven't had the chance yet?

Zac Baird (00:36:06): I had a really fun audition with Beck and really wanted that audition because I love his music. I wanted that job. Didn't get it. There's other people. Some situations like they were looking for somebody to help out with Adam Lambert initially. I went down. It was kind of funny because I can't remember what they were looking for at the time. I don't think they were specifically looking for a keyboard player, but they wanted to meet with me about some aspect there, music direction or something like that.

(00:36:47): I actually went down the audition and played things, but what I played were, at this time, I had this kind electronic computer controller sort of thing with a keyboard maybe built into it or pads. I just played. I improvised or did some kind of... It was almost more like I did a DJ set, but I'm not a DJ. But the way that I used these pads and buttons and switches, and with my music running in there, I played that and I think they just liked my style of production, music production. I ended up kind of coming in to Adam Lambert to work as a music director for a while.

 

Adam Williams (00:37:32): What does it mean to be a music director in that kind of setting? I don't think I know.

 

Zac Baird (00:37:35): It's a little bit ambiguous, but yeah.

 

Adam Williams (00:37:39): So it's not just me.

 

Zac Baird (00:37:40): Like I said, I wear many hats. I could be the keyboard player. I might be the music director where I'm helping kind of facilitate this artist's music. I'm helping rehearse a band. I'm helping pick musicians to fill out the band in spots.

Adam Williams (00:37:56): Give feedback and notes and thoughts on how to shape what ultimately comes together.

 

Zac Baird (00:38:00): Yeah, absolutely.

 

Adam Williams (00:38:02): So recording in the studio, stage, production, all the stuff.

 

Zac Baird (00:38:05): There might be some recording that happens to help embellish the live show, things that are going to happen in the performance. We're going to recut a few things, or we're going to create a new piano moment that will introduce this song, things like that, that are going to be part of the show.

Adam Williams (00:38:23): Well, I was thinking too of recording in the studio in terms of albums and putting out music in that way, which I assume you've also been part of a lot.

Zac Baird (00:38:31): I think music director comes down to being the head coach of the basketball team. You're going to make sure everybody's there. You're at practice. You're going to come up with the drills. You're going to come up with the plays, the routine. How is this all going to happen? That might be a music director role, creating the song, staying on top of that and making sure everybody has got a point of motivation. The other roles you might do, sometimes I'm the playback operator or the playback engineer, so that means these days there's a lot of music that can't be created live per se.

(00:39:06): There's sounds and elements of a show that the artist is really into. They've worked very hard on their album and they want those elements in the show. Maybe the band is a great aspect of the live show, but it doesn't flush out or sound correct to the artist who's been in the studio working day and night on certain elements. I'll put together tracks that run simultaneously with the band. I've been that guy too. I'm the operator of the playback rig, and that's kind of like a behind the scenes role of the band, and somewhat is really necessary. There are pros and cons to that.

 

Adam Williams (00:39:48): It's cool to hear about it because honestly, I have wondered for so many years, how do you take what is created in a studio for an album and then put that out live because it seems like there are elements you can't possibly recreate live, but you're giving us insights into how that happened. I never thought to ask you about that. I'm glad to hear it though.

Zac Baird (00:40:10): I joke a little bit about the fact that I'm doing the same thing I was doing when I was 13 years old, but it is kind of true. I was lucky to grow up being exposed to instruments, having the ability to have instruments around. My parents, my dad was a Marine Airline pilot. His passion early I think had been gymnastics and flying, so he had that creative aspect of himself there. My mom is school teacher, but she also was really into doing art fiber arts, and she wrote books, and she's also just really interested in kids' education.

(00:40:53): They facilitated and saw my interest in music and for better or worse, let me pursue that. So when I was really young, I got a synthesizer probably around 13 years old. What I would do is after I'd finished practicing piano, I would go in my room and I'd basically put on the radio. The era I grew up, it was like alternative radio was coming around.

Adam Williams (00:41:24): Who were the bands that you were really interested in at that age?

Zac Baird (00:41:27): Oh gosh, who was I really interested in?

 

Adam Williams (00:41:29): I mean, we're talking let's say mid/late 80s.

 

Zac Baird (00:41:35): I would say probably for me, one of the big ones, and it might even be a faux pas for some people, but it was like Duran Duran was really big for me particularly.

Adam Williams (00:41:43): Actually, we're talking earlier than I just said, sorry, because I realize you're around the ages of my brothers and they both graduated in mid and late 80s. So when you're say 13 and 14 and 15, you're coming up. It's right through the whole [inaudible 00:41:58].

Zac Baird (00:41:57): It was kind of weird stuff. I mean, it was kind of like Duran Duran. It was that new romantic period of music for me. It was like New Wave was kind of cool. I got exposed through other people maybe to Pesh Mode. Being a keyboard player, I was gravitating towards those things like Aha. It's kind of funny, but I wasn't like... Some of my friends played guitar and clearly they were into probably louder metal stuff that I really didn't get exposed to until later.

(00:42:32): I was basically putting on the alternative music and then learning the parts of the keyboard sounds that were in those songs. I would sit there on my synthesizer and work to, by ear, mimic what I heard, the timbre or the tone of that melody sounded like. I would kind of craft that, and then I would pick out that motif and I would learn it and teach myself how to play along with those songs on the radio, which is somewhat the same exact thing I do now.

Adam Williams (00:43:04): It's incredible.

Zac Baird (00:43:05): People send me a record and I have to kind of isolate the keyboard elements. I might get the full tracks where I can pick out special things. "These are all the keyboard tracks. Okay, oh, that's a piano, that's an electric piano, that's a synthesizer. I'm going to have to figure out how to make that." I basically start taking those things apart, reverse engineering what's inside the song.

Adam Williams (00:43:32): That sounds like what somebody would describe as a natural, or if you're religious and look at this view, God-given talent or gift. Is that a way that you look at it? Do you feel like, "Wow, this is my special thing and I'm really fortunate that I was so young and found this, and I had the parents," as you already credited them, they supported it?

Zac Baird (00:43:50): I don't think that my parents necessarily knew this was a career path, but it ended up being like that. I think two things. I know there's been a frustration to some of my early piano teachers that I had was using my ear. I was playing by ear. I think it's a combination of things too. I had and still have that ear, which I encourage those kids or those people who have an ear. I don't think it's necessarily bad to go and play by ear.

Adam Williams (00:44:28): Why did they think it was bad? I think that's-

Zac Baird (00:44:31): Well, because you're trying to teach a kid how to read music. You're trying to teach theory and share the concepts of music, which is also equally important. I mean, you spoke to the fact that you see me playing classical music. Since COVID, what I've really done is gone back and try to practice music that I didn't get exposed to or didn't work on hard enough as a up and coming piano kid. I had a teacher, Lauren Stoutmire, who's still playing in Dallas. She's a live piano player. She plays in live music bands.

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(00:45:10): She was my first piano teacher, and I got really lucky having her in particular as a piano teacher because at seven years old, my music exposure is super minimal, she brought me into music by teaching me things that I wanted to learn. Which, I remember a day after doing, maybe this was within the first couple months of me learning piano, but I started with music theory workbooks and some traditional piano exposure, learning how to use my fingers. Then one day she asked me, "Is there a song you want to play? What do you want to play?" I mean, seven years old, I think you pretty much just have what's in your house. What have you been exposed to?

Adam Williams (00:45:59): Not much of a catalog in your mind.

Zac Baird (00:46:00): No, not at all. For better or worse, I guess it was Elvis Presley, which comes from my mom and my aunt, their 45 record collection that I've kind of been listening to, and maybe some Beatles. I think I ended up learning Love Me Tender or something like this. My young piano mind wanting to not have to practice or whatever, I'm thinking, "Okay, she's going to have to go to the music store. My lesson's done. Next week, she'll pick up the music and bring it into class. My lesson's over yay."

(00:46:37): All of a sudden, she gets out a piece of staff paper and starts writing these symbols and notating the chord changes and the piece, and the melody. Then she's like, "Okay, well let's play this." I'm like, "Oh, right now?" The pressure is on. But the cool thing, she was showing me how to compose. And so, that was the stuff that I started getting exposed to in my piano lessons. Whereas I've talked to other people and they had very strict piano teachers who were trying to teach them classical music. 

I think at that age, I mean that is a great... Nothing against classical because I have been going back for the last three years and finding stuff that is just amazing, trying to learn how to or reacquaint myself with reading and looking at these rhythms and stuff. It is fantastic stuff. But when you're seven or eight, it's hard music to understand or relate to.

 

Adam Williams (00:47:35): I'm one of those people. I was forced to do piano lessons from a young age.

 

Zac Baird (00:47:40): Yeah, forced.

Adam Williams (00:47:41): Yeah. It was one of these things that I'm a good parent if I expose you to art and culture, now here it is in the form of a piano and you're going to play church music and you're going to play classical music. I wasn't exposed to popular music of any kind in the house, and I did not want to practice. Like you said, I loathed it. In fact, I would lie about it. 

I was supposed to practice 30 minutes a day, and I would lie anytime I could get away with it. Let's say when I was a little older and my parents might not be in the house. I mean, I grew up in a time like you did when I could go home at eight or nine or 10 years old and be alone and I'm supposed to get right on my lessons.

(00:48:17): Well, that made it possible for me to lie about it. Eventually, one of my piano teachers, who this was also all the strict things you're saying in terms of what you're learning and you have to learn to read the music and those things, she finally just told my parents, "You're wasting your money. He's showing up to lessons every week, being nowhere further down the line than he was the week before and the week before and so on." 

What I always thought I was missing from being a "real musician" was the ability to play by ear. I couldn't possibly get into a group and jam. I can't hear what you're doing, and then jump in with whatever instrument I have and be able to make music. I've been so jealous of that and curious because I have no clue how you as a musician do that.

 

Zac Baird (00:49:05): It's funny because I think there is a little bit of the idea of maybe the grass is greener on the other side, even for me. From talking to people, I know I've had great experiences. I've enjoyed my time in music. It is not without frustration sometimes. It is not without self-doubt. It is not without some moments of feeling depressed. That could be everything from like, "Oh, I didn't get that job," to "Maybe I should have been a doctor. Maybe I should have stayed in school." It's not necessarily been like this golden easy road, but it has been my passion through life. I think I spend time re-educating myself.

(00:50:00): I spend time re-educating myself, I spend time trying to... Maybe you don't know, but what I have done. When I came out to Buena Vista, I left all of my, let's just call them, electronic instruments back in Los Angeles, and all I had was a piano. Looking in the piano bench, I found some old books and like, "Okay, I'm going to sit down and honed my piano skills. I can't rely on wild, crazy synthesizer sounds right now. I need to... What can I do in this time when we're not doing anything? I can just study piano, get these old books out." 

That's really how have I been re-educating myself lately, it's been through that. I started teaching piano during COVID, and that's been a really cool... Initially, that was just like a connection to music. I couldn't tour, so I'll start teaching, I guess. I'd never done it before, and I found sharing my passion about music with students a great way to connect with music and even talk about music.

(00:51:17): I do have students where I think... I think practice is a struggle for kids, for anyone, even sometimes for me. I'll be sitting practicing, of course, get distracted. In my adult life, what I find is I love practice now and I don't have enough time for it. It's the opposite. I could just sit at a piano and practice over and over, and for a long time. When you're learning music, I think you can do it at any age. 

I think it's a really great way to just get in tune with yourself, I think it's a great way to... For kids, it's a great way to learn things like... It is math, it is somewhat science, learning about you... You learn hand positions, how to use your fingers, and things like this. I don't know if they all necessarily want to become musicians. Yes, I think some of them probably do it, because their parents want them to. We still see it, culturally, as being a good thing. It is, it is a good thing to be exposed to. It's not always easy to motivate them.

Adam Williams (00:52:29): I think the teacher you referred to is a wonderful example of someone who's listening to what it is you needed and wanted and how to engage you further in it.

 

Zac Baird (00:52:37): Yeah. I think she was... She is my inspiration for how I teach. Later in my own education, I had those strict classical teachers and it was harder for me to connect with that teacher. I was aware that I wasn't as good as that guy at classical music over there. When I went to high school, I went to performing arts high school, and some of the kids that you go with are prodigies. I was just this kid who was... I was interested in music, but we're all different. 

That guy is a classical pianist prodigy, I'm interested in composing. I'm struggling with learning classical piano, but I like writing what I hear in my head. My forte was composition and writing original pieces and working with synthesizers, which is probably what led me into the groups of people that I play with.

 

Adam Williams (00:53:41): Is that what you started with in your arts Magnet school as a high schooler, with synthesizers and getting into the electric and electronic stuff?

 

Zac Baird (00:53:47): I auditioned as a piano player, they didn't have a synthesizer department, but the two pieces that I auditioned with, one was Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is," and the other piece was a self-written composition that I had written sometime in middle school, probably, for a local town ... the Carrollton, Texas school district music competition, whatever that was, where I grew up. 

That was a very different type of audition, non-traditional, to what some of the other people were auditioning for. Again, I don't know why... You had to audition to get into the school, and I did get in, and I felt good about my audition right away, but probably what would be a more traditional piano audition would be Bach, Beethoven, showing off your classical piano skills, because I think that's the more traditional way that people teach and get exposed. I'm non-traditional.

Adam Williams (00:54:54): I like that.

Zac Baird (00:54:58): Being exposed to that stuff is not bad.

Adam Williams (00:55:01): No, I agree with that, and I think there's a good foundation and basis, and just historically, those are the foundations. It's like learning in anything. If we learn where, for lack of a better word, where rules or, again, those foundational elements come from, but being held to that, versus you were freed up a little bit from that ... I wanted to ask you about that school experience, because one, I did not have such an option to go to an arts school, and I'm curious about what that experience is in general, but also, the fact that there are a number of notable artists who have come from that school. Erykah Badu's name stands out. She's the same age as you, so naturally, I wonder if you were classmates, if you ever worked together or knew each other in that experience?

 

Zac Baird (00:55:45): We were in English class together. I can't exactly remember what her focus was. At the Arts Magnet... This is a performing arts high school in Dallas, and it has created really... Some fantastic musicians have come out of there. Roy Hargrove is a jazz trumpet player. A few years before him, Edie Brickell, who's the singer from Edie Brickell & New Bohemians. 

You have, as you spoke to, Erykah Badu, there's also Nora Jones. She was younger than me, but she came out of there. Those are the people in music that I'm aware of. The school focuses on four... You have music, dance, theater, and visual art, so people come to that school to study those four specific areas of the arts. You also have... It is a high school. You do have four hours of academics a day plus... Then you have your three-

Adam Williams (00:56:47): That's boring, man.

Zac Baird (00:56:48): That's part of a school. Then you have your three... You would have three classes a day in your focus.

Adam Williams (00:56:57): That's so cool.

Zac Baird (00:56:58): Mine was music. Yes. My typical morning, as a freshman, started with my music classes, so I'd go in 8:00, school actually started at 9:15. I rode the bus down from my suburb outside of Dallas, I rode the city bus, the Dart. I'd come down on the bus and I'd walk to school, and school was downtown Dallas. It's a magnet school, the purpose of a magnet is to expose people from all over the area to each other, kids. It's not a typical high school where football is what's big or the sports or what's the...

Adam Williams (00:57:36): Were those teams even there? Did those even exist?

Zac Baird (00:57:38): No, those don't exist at the arts school.

Adam Williams (00:57:40): Okay.

Zac Baird (00:57:44): The musicians were the football team and the dancers were the cheerleader aspect of high school, if you will. My typical morning would be... I'd go in and I'd have my piano ensemble class and there would be... We might listen to music, we would then have our music, and we would learn to play as a group. It wasn't solo piano, you're actually doing... You're working with another pianist. It's like college, because most people don't get that experience until they go off to college and get their focuses like, "Okay, I'm going to be a music major," or, "I'm going to be a political science major." 

At those times, that's like when you go into those focuses, but this high school is based off of, probably, a college curriculum and we're going to design it. Of course, being a kid of the '80s, it was like Fame. You remember that show?

 

Adam Williams (00:58:34): Yep.

Zac Baird (00:58:35): Fame was the model of what that could be like in your imagination. I would have a piano ensemble class, I might have a music theory class, and then I might have... Initially, as a freshman, they also had this class where you were exposed a little bit to all of the other things, so you knew what was happening in dance, you knew what was happening in visual art, you knew what was happening in theater. 

Then, as you go through the year... Also, of course, I had English, math, science, had to learn a language, the typical things that you would do in a high school, but as you become an upperclassman, you get involved in some of the bands. The jazz combo, the orchestra, or for me, is like jazz combo lab band, which is also another big band, jazz ensemble, and the MIDI lab, which was... I feel like I was a catalyst to that actually being something that came into my school, because again, it was more traditional until people like me, non-traditional keyboard... Still a keyboard player, but not necessarily with a focus in classical music.

(00:59:52): They got grants and they brought in synthesizers and computers and started trying to teach kids this new technology that was coming around. You're thinking about... I have a couple of things in my life that I happened to be right on the cusp of. One was snowboarding and-

Adam Williams (01:00:09): In Texas?

Zac Baird (01:00:10): No, not snowboarding in Texas, just the fact that it was coming about at the same time that I was coming to the mountains.

Adam Williams (01:00:18): Gotcha, okay.

Zac Baird (01:00:19): Snowboarding and I grew up together. MIDI, which is Musical Instrument Digital Interface,

computers, and this technology also came around in the '80s, where you could... Synthesizers, computers, their bond to each other, of being able to make music on a computer, I grew up with that. That was new in the '80s. Prior to that... I talk with a lot of my students these days, and if you think about what was available as a keyboard in a band prior to 1970, it was maybe a B-3 organ, a Rhodes piano, electric pianos, clavinets, string instruments. All mechanical.

(01:01:03): It was in the late '60s that the first synthesizers... Not even. It was much earlier than that, but compact electronic instruments that were making sounds that no one had ever heard. They weren't bells being rung inside of a hammer to a string, or something like this. These were electronics that were being manipulated in ways to make tones, that then could be created and to make sounds no one had really ever heard before, and these days, you can make anything. Ocean sounds, big synthesizer pads, whatever. That was something that was growing up with me, those creations were happening in the '70s, and when I began being a teenager, some of this stuff was just first coming out to work together. I was being exposed to it just by luck.

Adam Williams (01:01:56): I wonder, if you had lived in a different time period, would you have had the same passion in that sort of thing, and made a career and a life of this, or is it a matter of you and this technology and this time period landing together, and that that was the magic, that connection could be made for you to then develop this interest in a non-traditional way working with electronics and computers? You know what I'm saying? Is there a faded thing there?

Zac Baird (01:02:20): Yeah. That's like chicken or the egg. I don't really know. For me, my earliest recollection is sitting down in the basement of my grandmother's home working on a piano, and just the magic of hearing what it could do was interesting to me. I would sit down there in the dark and... Again, thought I was composing a song. Maybe I would've gone ahead and been a composer in another era. I just got lucky that these things were also happening at the same time and I found them interesting.

Adam Williams (01:02:59): You became a musician of your time. It might well have been of any time.

Zac Baird (01:03:03): Yeah, perhaps. I don't know.

Adam Williams (01:03:05): I want to go back to something that you were saying a while ago in this conversation about... You're looking for that next gig sometimes. You find yourself coming off tour and then you come to spring and you're like, "Okay, where am I going to go with this now?" But you had, I think, an 11-year stretch with Korn, is that right?

Zac Baird (01:03:24): It was maybe a little over 10 years, or something like that.

Adam Williams (01:03:28): Okay. It's a long run. Were you looking or involved in any other touring or bands at the time, or were you considered, "Hey, I'm in this band. Everybody knows that, when it's time to make music, we're the same group getting back together." You think of The Beatles, they weren't looking for a new drummer every time. They're like, "Hey, Ringo. Come on, it's time."

Zac Baird (01:03:46): Yeah. That situation evolved and became something I somewhat could always rely on being there. Prior to that, I think what I was more used to... Again, when I started working with some of these, what I guess... We just call them bigger names or artists, it was probably around 2000, and the whole music industry was changing at this time. Everybody was really scared of what was going to happen to record companies and nobody needed somewhat... You had the internet, you had YouTube, CDs, and digital music were competing.

Adam Williams (01:04:24): Things like Napster. Was that around that time?

Zac Baird (01:04:27): All of that was starting around 2000, 2001.

Adam Williams (01:04:29): Okay.

Zac Baird (01:04:32): The way I remember it was, prior to that, album sales were really big, and now people were freaking out.

Adam Williams (01:04:40): Music could be listened to illegally online, and things like that.

Zac Baird (01:04:44): Yeah, I suppose. I think what was starting to happen was that, where tours, once upon a time, had been really long and budgets were big, now budgets were smaller and tours were shorter. A typical album cycle, when I was really beginning to work with people, was probably eight months. I would usually work with somebody, become really connected with them, have a great time on the tour, become close. 

Then, as the tour starts to wrap up, you get all emotional a little bit, like, "Wow, man. Everything's over, this is done. What am I going to do next?" It wasn't like I was going to be able to stay with that artist, because they were going to take some time off, they were figuring out whatever they were going to do, and they're in a different position than me. I'm a sideman who's on a salary, they're the artist who has the record company, and they're making the money, so they can afford to take time off somewhat.

Adam Williams (01:05:50): They have royalties and things coming in.

Zac Baird (01:05:51): Yeah, there's other things going on in their life and maybe they're going to focus on those for a while, and then, eventually, they'll make another record, but they're not in a hurry. I might be like, "Okay, I've got to pay bills next month, so I'm looking for the next job." That was what I was used to. Working for Korn ended up being... I went into that, it was all a big surprise in some ways. I went into that... When you spoke of, what gig did I get that I really wanted? I got that gig, I was a little shocked, but I was excited. 

I had worked with Everlast from House of Pain for a while. That was a gig I really loved. Naively, when that gig wrapped up, I think I thought, "Now I've got this big name on my resume, I'm going to pick and choose who I work with." That was a pretty naive thought, because that didn't happen. It wasn't exactly like that. I remember spending a lot of time not working and being like, "Wow." 

Things were destitute, and that's when I had a phone conversation with Daniel Powter and started working with him. He was a really new artist, he had a great record producer who I liked, Mitchell Froom. Some fantastic people had been involved in his record, so when we got exposed to each other, it was like, "Yeah, I'd like to do that." Again, it was also like... We'd go and do two weeks or a month, or something, and then it might be six weeks until we had work again, or I had work again.

(01:07:25): I was working with him for a while, touring Europe, opening shows in Canada for Bryan Adams. We were doing cool stuff, but for me, I was like... Still just was not enough. I needed more, economically. I remember thinking in my own mind, "Man, I need to find a gig with a cool LA band." 

I believe that I flew home from the end of a Daniel Powter tour, and when I landed in LA, I had a message on my phone from someone at a Korn's management, and they left a message for me and just wanted to know if I was interested in coming over to an audition for Korn. I actually wasn't aware of their music very much outside of... It's a funny recollection, and I don't know if they know this, but I heard one of their songs when I lived in Austin. I can remember the music came on and I listened for maybe about 30 seconds, and then made a right turn and turned the radio off. I had a thought to myself...

(01:08:42): I had a more direct thought to myself, I probably won't say, but it was like, "Maybe that was okay. Not that great. Anyway, blah, blah, blah." For a little bit of my life, I think I was a bit of a muse-o, somewhat of a snobbish, studied musician who... I didn't think too much of them or that era of music, and stuff like that. I was maybe looking for something else, but here I was and here was an audition for this band. Yeah, I was in the mode of always saying "Yes" and taking any opportunity that came my way. I remember getting ready for that audition and trying to listen to their songs, and I couldn't figure out what I was going to play. I heard all this guitar and stuff that's cool, but I don't know where I fit in with this.

(01:09:35): I remember moving across the room. I don't know, I stood up and left my keyboards for a second and walked across the room, and the music just kind of kept playing. This particular album that I was listening to, all of a sudden, there was this stuff happening between the songs, like a segue from one song to the next. The stuff in that segue piqued my interest, and I went back and rewound that for a little bit and, "What is... Wow, there's some really haunting, weird elements of something." 

That's what piqued my interest and I gravitated to those little interludes in those moments, and I figured out a way to bring that into the song. I think that was my magic, because when I went into the audition... Even up to the minute that I went into the audition, I was like, "What am I doing here? I don't know. I'm going to end up with tattoos all over my body. Blah, blah, blah."

(01:10:33): I'm in this parking lot waiting to go into this audition room and this guy comes out who's, at that time, he was my keyboard nemesis. We had been on auditions together and he'd always walk away with the audition. I'm like, "I'm going in." I go in and I set up and they ask some questions. Actually, Jonathan, was there, a guy there was videotaping. This was typical. A lot of times, there's a video camera there, because for better or worse, they want to have your look, they want... What do you look like? What do you sound like? They're going sometimes for image as much as music.

 

Adam Williams (01:11:17): Get a feel for you and the overall package, not just a recording of music that you can play.

 

Zac Baird (01:11:21): Yeah. Then they asked me some questions. I have my computer, my programming that I've done in the computer, I set up, and I play my weird stuff within their song. I saw Jonathan in passing in the hall, I said, "Hey, what's up?" And I left. That's how an audition goes. You're done, pack it up, out the door. 30 minutes, maybe an hour. Done, next guy. I got home, and about 30 minutes after I left the audition, I actually got a phone call from them and they wanted to offer me the job. It happened pretty quick and overnight, and then I was like, "Okay, wow. That's pretty cool." Yes, you're excited, because you have succeeded, but I still needed to learn what is Korn, and all of that.

 

(01:12:13): I went to a lot of rehearsals. For me, what was really great, they wanted me to just be me. I got to be and do whatever it is that I do underneath Korn, so that was really cool, because there've been other experiences that I've had where they hire you, but they're not so much interested in your character. They want you to reproduce exactly what's on the album and they're not interested in you and your sound as a musician. They have thoroughly written out the part and they are looking for that, and they don't want anything else, but that.

Adam Williams (01:12:48): Fit into the mechanics.

Zac Baird (01:12:49): Yes.

Adam Williams (01:12:50): It sounds like then with Korn... I don't know how long they existed before you became part of that.

Zac Baird (01:12:55): Yeah, quite a while. I started playing with in 2006, so it was after their MTV stardom and big heyday of whatever was going on with MTV. I forget what the show was, but they were a big part of this. They had their video played all the time, they had been huge. I was coming in after one of their guitar players had left the band and they were looking to do something new.

Adam Williams (01:13:26): That's got to be a tough gig, when you walk in then and they have these other changes going on too, and they're saying, "Okay, our sound, we're open to it changing a little bit here with bringing in who you are."

Zac Baird (01:13:37): Everybody there was really cool with just letting me be me. That's one of the things that was really great about playing with them, that I got to be me the whole time. I did me in that band the whole 10 years I was there, and they were very encouraging about that. What was surprising is that... I remember setting up and getting ready for their first show that I was doing with them, and I just really connected with what was happening. I was having so much fun. Discovering Korn, late bloomer to this band, but all of a sudden, man, these songs are fun. This stuff is really enjoyable. It was all pleasure, as far as I was concerned. It was really fun, enjoyable, it was a great experience, and it continued. I didn't know that that was going to happen, initially.

(01:14:38): Somewhere through the middle or towards the end of the tour, when things are starting to wrap up and I'm thinking, "Okay, well that's been a great year. We're going to go back to hunting for the next gig," they actually asked me to come and be involved in their album, so that led to more stuff and I stayed with them for quite a while. It was a great, great thing, and that doesn't happen very often.

Zac Baird (01:15:00): Great thing. And that doesn't happen very often as a sideman connecting with the band and really being brought in and being allowed to be with this group for a trajectory of a decade. That doesn't always happen. Yes, there are positions that things like that happen to me. The keyboard player at the Rolling Stones, he's been their piano player for a long time. But those jobs aren't, it's not like there's thousands of those jobs available. There's like 10 and the rest of the time there's a lot of different things that are happening in music. 

It's not always a band. There's a lot more singers I think sometimes than there's a band and singers, their bands sort of evolve, come and go. There might be a certain band for a while and then they are interested in changing it up again. So it's not as typical to just land a gig with a band and stay there for a long time. So that was really good and that was fun. It was great.

Adam Williams (01:15:59): Well, it brings me to the inevitable question then. Why end that? What changed? What did you end up ultimately choosing to walk away from that after a decade?

Zac Baird (01:16:11): No, not necessarily. It happened for reasons that were somewhat out of my control, non-musical reasons. And I do think that for myself personally, yes, I was growing in different ways and wanted to, maybe subtly there were things I wanted to explore outside of just doing that. But no, I'll say it didn't necessarily end on my terms, but I don't think it ended on their terms either. It was like neither one of us, we did separate from each other. It was because of things that were not related to music and I feel like it might not have ended. It was just kind of out of both of our control. 

So I'll just say that that was basically... That's kind of like, while I would really like to say about it, I still love those guys. I speak to Jonathan and Ray and Fieldy periodically. They're a big part of my life. 10 years is a chunk, so they're still important to me and I like the music they make and I miss being there. But we've got different things going on in each other's lives and still great opportunities have come my way and it's been good to have had them in my experience.

 

Adam Williams (01:17:40): Absolutely. And in those several years that you have had all these great opportunities, I want to go back again here to the idea that you moved from Los Angeles to this rural slice of Colorado around the time of the pandemic, all these things are going on. I want to touch on something that is an extraordinary piece of your story because during the pandemic, tour shut down, those opportunities that you've spent a career building and being able to work with no longer able to do it for a while. 

You don't know how long you're not going to be able to do it. And you went and you got a job here in town at a small local restaurant as a manager. And I want to add this one note before I ask you. What's funny to me is the job ad that you responded to started off creatively asking, "Are you a rockstar?" Thinking, "Hey, we want cool creative people who do amazing things to come work for us." But in your head you had to be thinking, "Well, actually," right?

Zac Baird (01:18:39): Yeah.

Adam Williams (01:18:40): So tell me about leading to that job. I mean, we don't have to go deep into it, but I just think you didn't have any experience in that industry. You'd spent your whole life with music and here you are suddenly without that piece, without all your electronics that are in storage in LA. You're going through this whole thing that you've already described and you're jumping into the restaurant industry of all things during the pandemic because I mean, we all had our own version of suffering during that time, but restaurants as an industry especially, my goodness.

Zac Baird (01:19:10): Well, it somewhat was one of the things that stayed open, I suppose, at least here in BV.

Adam Williams (01:19:17): With challenges, with extra rules, with all the things. It wasn't easy for sure.

Zac Baird (01:19:21): No. Well, and those things were at a point when I actually started working at Simple Eatery. Simple Eatery is what we're talking about. Those things were already happening, those protocols, the Covid protocols and restaurant that was already in play. So I came into that job learning what do I need to do to comply with these Covid restrictions?

Adam Williams (01:19:47): In that sense, it wasn't a change for you, but it was a change to enter that industry at all, right?

 

Zac Baird (01:19:50): It was a complete change in industry to a certain extent. I think some of what I do in the music world is service industry somewhat to the service of the song or the service of the artist. And it just kind of was funny. I had been looking for stuff to do remotely, had some interviews and like I said, I ended up in Buena Vista not planning. It's like I came out, I think actually when I came to Buena Vista, it was the end of the summer of 2020 and I came, my daughter had been here kind spending the summer with kids her age and playing in that idea of having a, what do they call it? I mean, it was cool to play outside with a core group of people who knew each other. That was the idea during Covid. 

And so BV offered that, LA we didn't really have. It was everybody lived in their own houses and those busy streets. It was much more neighborhood influenced here. So my daughter had come and in LA they were going to return to Zoom classes and she was entering first grade. We just finished kindergarten with Zoom and that was a wreck. So the idea of being in-person learning in class was appealing. So we came out and I say we. It was like my six-month-old son, my wife at the time and myself and we came out for a two-week let's just get away from California. 

There seemed to be a little bit of a lull too at the end of that summer in the pandemic. And we got out for the first time, had a little bit of a vacation, and I came with five days of clothes and then ended up staying. But while I was here on that trip, I was looking for something to do because I'm not making money. You are on unemployment and waiting, what's going to happen? So I was kind of getting to a place where I was looking for something to do.

Adam Williams (01:21:43): Are you saying you're actually on unemployment? I mean in the formal sense with state or whatever the process.

Zac Baird (01:21:48): Once the tours ended, all that unemployment started. Luckily I had enough work history, so I'm getting unemployment money.

Adam Williams (01:21:57): Which I think is an incredible thing to point out because I mean we've intentionally, I have intentionally made sure that people understand the caliber we're talking about with your work and what this career history is and all these big names that you are associated with and you're of their caliber in this music and you're looking for this job at a restaurant and now you're on unemployment. So this is part of the experience.

Zac Baird (01:22:20): Yeah, I mean this is real life. It's not like I'm independently wealthy from all of these opportunities or something like that. I mean, it's still...

Adam Williams (01:22:28): It's easy for us to jump to those conclusions. So I think it's cool to be able to share that and let people know more of the reality from your view.

Zac Baird (01:22:35): Something I always say about myself is because people might think I'm a rock star, I'm not a rock star. I hang out with rock stars.

Adam Williams (01:22:46): Is the difference because you might walk down the street and people not know that you are versus--

Zac Baird (01:22:50): There's a lot of musicians in LA and many of us are walking the streets. Some are more successful than others. That comes from luck. Everybody who's creatively passionate knows about spending long hours at their craft and maybe not being able to monetize it. But when I started working for other artists, I was finally able to earn salaries and earn income that allowed me to comfortably rent and have somewhat real life, or at least the life where I'm not sleeping on a couch or kind of worried. 

I mean, I did plenty of that and got to a place where I had a real professional career. But when the money stops, the money stops and then you're like everyone else. It's like the job is over now we got to create another income. This is what I make and this is my rate and this is my range, but I am trying to keep that going.

(01:23:51): And so that's the professional music job. There's plenty of people who do it out of passion and play the open mics and play the clubs and are still looking to get to that next thing. And that's really noble and you're pursuing your art. So hopefully you get that thing where preparation and luck intersect and that allows the dreams to be realized. But during Covid, we're all in a pause and so I'm trying to figure out what can I do.

(01:24:32): I met with Ryan McFadden, the owner of Simple Eatery, and yeah, I have no musical experience, but hey, I've worked with all these great people and I can make things happen and I could do this. And I started working as a server just running drinks and running food and making lemonade. And it was hard because it was like the end of the summer. The town is busy, everyone's leaving the major cities to come out to these small places where they feel safe and can do things and restaurants are still open.

(01:25:10): That was the thing that was so different than LA and LA like bars were up. I mean...

Adam Williams (01:25:17): Physical bar. Things are closed down bars.

Zac Baird (01:25:18): ... physical bars. You can't break into the building, you can't get in. The restaurants are closed, stuff is shut down. You can barely go to a grocery store without waiting in line to get into the grocery store. They're letting so many people in at a time. All of that stuff really different. Whereas here in BV, essentially stuff was still kind of operating and running and the restaurants were packed. 

They were busy. And so I started working there at the end of the summer, like September 2020 and like, whoa, I hadn't ever worked that hard. Yes, I had worked long hours and late and tired and really stressful. "Got to get this done. We have a deadline, it's tomorrow morning" and trying to get it done. The restaurant was physical intensity on my feet nonstop.

(01:26:12): When you're on a tour, yeah, we've got a deadline, we get stuff done, but I can sit on this road case and have a random conversation with you for a 30 or 40 minutes because everybody's taking their time getting to the stage to do this sound check or whatever it is. So we might be busy and I might be locked out and far away from my family, but it's casual. 

Whereas the restaurant, you're going. Okay, prep, go. Get it ready. Everybody's coming in. All of a sudden people are starting to trickle in and it's go. So yeah, that was pretty enlightening. And I was there. I never knew, I mean in my back of my mind I thought I'd like to tour again, but I was going through a divorce, two kids. I didn't know if I would really be able, how am I going to connect that again?

(01:27:02): And actually in the divorce, I wasn't even allowed to go on tour or do anything during the process because you're waiting to find out what's going to happen. And my first 2020 all that year, nothing going on anyway, no one's touring. I think in '21 people were trying to tour, but everywhere we get Covid. As soon as they start touring, people get Covid and they'd have to postpone or cancel. And you're talking about only being able to tour. 

At that time in North America, nobody was traveling to Europe. These other countries are all still shut down. Everybody's shut down. So people were trying to get it going, but they couldn't really figure out how to do live events and mass crowds and things like that.

(01:27:51): And initially when I did get a few phone calls, I was excited. "Yeah. Ooh, that sounds interesting. I'd love to do that." And then I think initially one of the things that accidentally happened is I got someone interested in, "Am I available? Could I come do this work, this tour?" And I think initially I asked my attorney about it in an email and she was like, "I don't think that's a really good idea right now Zac." And then I wrote another email responding, I thought to the person, and the email went through to my attorney and she was like, "I thought we just talked about this."

(01:28:29): So my initial ability saying no was really hard and things were coming in that I wanted to have, I wanted to do. Getting used to saying no, got a little easier. This last tour I was able to do it because it happened after my divorce was over and it was time. It was a person who I had worked with in the past and I felt like I need to say yes otherwise it'll be the next person. I mean, that's the thing too is there's always another hungry musician waiting behind to do it for less too. It's very competitive.

Adam Williams (01:29:10): I think in all the creative fields it's that way. It's like there's that pressure to say yes because you know they'll go find somebody and cheaper.

Zac Baird (01:29:19): And then you'll be like back to square one. But working in the restaurant was insightful. I met a lot of great people in town and that was the first thing I did. Yes, it was a totally different kind of career path and to a certain extent, I'm amazed at the people who do that. In every place across the world, that's what they do. They work in that restaurant and they do that forever. Whether they own the restaurant, created the concept, wrote the menu, they're passionate about it. I mean, it is a form of art, making food that is a creative passion those people somewhat have. But yeah, it was challenging.

Adam Williams (01:30:00): Do you feel like people, in your getting to meet whoever all you met in the community, do you feel like they had a sense of who you are in terms of this life change that brought you to this restaurant? The fact that you are a musician and you have done all these things and had all these experiences, do you feel like people in town or in the community have a sense of that about you, which is Zac from Simple Eatery?

Zac Baird (01:30:21): I am pretty...

Adam Williams (01:30:23): Or teaching lessons?

Zac Baird (01:30:24): ... discreet about my musical career, I would say. It's not like I'm-

Adam Williams (01:30:30): And we're talking about all of this.

Zac Baird (01:30:31): Yeah, exactly. This is a big exposure too. No, initially I'm just Zac. I'm just getting to know people and I'm not coming in... I'm not better than you because I've done this. In fact, I don't know what I'm doing in the restaurant at all. So I'm kind of learning. I do think that I have a desire to do good work. I think that's also part of my musical path as I've always been. 

My goal is to succeed and to be a leader and to have some sort of success with everything that I take on. So my goal, well, my interest in the restaurant was out of necessity, but my desire was to do a good job and to look... I just see things. I see stuff that needs to be done and I do it. And so I think I'm humble about my things. Yes, people discovered what I was doing. And as you get to know people, you converse a little more and things leak out and you talk about a situation.

Adam Williams (01:31:53): This is going to be a rupture, not just a leak. Our conversation here, when we share it with the community, there's going to be more people who know, okay. So I appreciate you saying yes to talking with me, especially under these humble circumstances because I have perceived this humility and I think anybody listening to this conversation hears the humility and I mean, somebody could have guessed that there would be an ego hit of some kind when you find yourself off the road, no longer touring after 30 years of doing it, and I'm working at the restaurant, which is hard work, very different than I'm used to, and we're here having this conversation in such a personable way.

Zac Baird (01:32:33): Yeah, well, again, I like being in BV. I'm trying to be a dad at this stage in my life and trying to figure out how to be a good dad, a successful dad.

Adam Williams (01:32:49): That's an ongoing effort, isn't it?

Zac Baird (01:32:50): Yeah, daily. And it does... My creative passions and being a dad sometimes are challenging to figure out how to navigate those two things. But it's not like I have gone out and tried to... I don't perform here locally. I teach piano to kids. I create on my own in my humble little studio of stuff and somewhat, I live my musical life outside of BV. I share my passion for music with my students and I'm passionate about teaching them. That's a good connection.

(01:33:42): I just don't feel like necessarily shouting it like, "Hey." But even that, I mean when people do discover a little bit more about me, I will talk about it with them, but it's just what I've done all my life. It's just like this is what I do and yeah, that is me. That's a part of me. I also have these two kids and I'm taking my daughter to dance and I work at Simple Eatery.

Adam Williams (01:34:15): Do you still work there?

Zac Baird (01:34:18): Well, you know--

Adam Williams (01:34:18): I mean since coming back from tour, I guess?

Zac Baird (01:34:21): ... I think I'm in good standing there and at some point it's my plan to return.

(01:34:29): I think initially I thought I'm going to come back from tour and I'm just going to kick right into teaching lessons and working at the restaurant. And when I returned I realized how much my kids needed me, how much my parents needed me. And I felt like in order to really be around for these people, I'm just going to just be here at the house. I'm going to take it real easy. I'm not going to make any commitments to anybody else other than my family. So I'm going to be here every day. I'm going to do all the school pickups. I'm going to get my daughter and my son where they need to be. It's going to be me. I'm not going to block out any time outside of when my kids are around or I'm not available or I'm not in the house. So no, I haven't done anything yet.

(01:35:12): I practice when my kids are at school or at their mom's. I sometimes dabble and write. I don't really have a goal every day right now other than just trying to settle back into being the dad because they are dramatically different roles.

Adam Williams (01:35:35): I'm sure.

Zac Baird (01:35:36): Going out on tour meant I had... It was just me. It's my time. Yes, I'm still getting a phone call from home. I mean, the way I kind of break it down I guess, is that concept of being in the now. It's like what I don't see it is happening over there and it is going on and I am involved it. It's not like I'm completely leaving them out to their own. I get a phone call and there's a conversation and things are happening, but I'm also over here and I've got these responsibilities and this is what's going on. So they intertwine. I'm still involved in my family, they're still reaching, but they're just in two different places. And now that I'm back, it's almost like being on tour is easier.

(01:36:29): It's got its stuff and it can be challenging and yeah, you're living in a suitcase, et cetera. But it's not like I'm living in a suitcase at the bus stop. So what I have done to try to alleviate a little bit, I guess is not make a commitment where I have to be at a job right after that either, for now, for now. But coming back home from the tour and reintegrating into that day-to-day schedule. I mean, I love my kids, but it is an effort to make sure that their life is looked after and they are the priority.

Adam Williams (01:37:09): That brings us full circle here, Zac, because I asked you about settling back in at the beginning and we've covered so much incredible ground. I appreciate your time, but I feel like now that we've come back circle, I must have touched on enough that I should just thank you.

Zac Baird (01:37:26): Great. Well, thank you. Thanks for having me. This has been pretty cool to talk with you and I appreciate you having interest in talking with me.

Adam Williams (01:37:34): Absolutely. I've enjoyed this so much. It's been awesome. So thanks.

Zac Baird (01:37:38): Thank you. All right.

[Musical transition to outro comments, with guitar instrumental ]

Adam Williams (01:37:48): Thanks for listening to the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast. If our conversation here today sparks curiosity for you, you can learn more in this episode show notes at wearechaffee.org. 

If you have comments or know someone in Chaffee County, Colorado who I should consider talking with on the podcast, you can email us at info@wearechaffee.org. We invite you to rate and review the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or whatever platform you use with that functionality.

We also invite you to tell others about the Looking Upstream podcast. Help us to keep growing community and connection through conversation.

(01:38:24): Once again, I'm Adam Williams, host, producer, and photographer. John Pray is engineer and producer. Thank you to KHEN 106.9 FM, our community radio partner in Salida, Colorado. To Heather Gorby for graphic and web design, to Andrea Carlstrom, director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment, and to Lisa Martin, Community Advocacy Coordinator for the We Are Chaffee Storytelling Initiative.

The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Department of Public Health and the Chaffee Housing Authority, and it's supported by the Colorado Public Health and Environment Office of Health Disparities. You can learn more about the Looking Upstream podcast and related storytelling initiatives at wearechaffee.org and on Instagram and Facebook at wearechaffee.

(01:39:07): Lastly, until the next episode, as we say here at We Are Chaffee, share stories, make change.

 

[Outro music, instrumental horns and guitar]

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