Mr. Marcus Rezak
Marcus Rezak Talks Stratosphere All-Stars, Digital Tape Machine, And Making New Music
Guitarist Marcus Rezak is a busy man! With the creation of supergroup the Stratosphere All-Stars earlier this year - a project that includes veterans of the scene bassist David Murphy (ex-STS9), keyboardist Steve Molitz (Particle / Phil Lesh & Friends), and a rotating cast of drummers such as Mike Greenfield (Lotus / Electron), Allen Aucoin (The Disco Biscuits) and now Jeremy Salken (Big Gigantic) - Rezak is putting a monumental 2015 behind him and already looking forward to an even bigger year in 2016.
Outside of Stratosphere, Marcus continues to work on Digital Tape Machine material and dates, including an upcoming appearance on the initial lineup of Euphoria Music Festival, as well as working with Todd Stoops and Jason Hann (String Cheese Incident) on their new Oktopus project. Writer Zachary Franck (from The Passion Collective) caught up with Rezak recently to discuss....
L4LM: Where are you from and what is your musical background?
MR: I am born and raised mainly in Chicago, with hints of other locations on the East and West coasts influencing my music being. A tradition of musicians and performing artists have run in my family over many generations, so I am blessed to have that kind of support and positive upbringing. I began on piano at age 3 with my great-grandmother teaching me, but I lost interest in piano around age 9. It wasn't until I heard a pianist perform a Metallica composition called “Fade To Black” that totally blew my mind and made me say I want to be able to do that!
I discovered guitar at age 12 and was self-taught, initially taking what I learned from piano and using my ear, although I eventually began studying with some great local guitar players who taught me the notion of improv and jazz harmony. I will never forget my Father taking me to buy my first real guitar after I had been playing cheap Fender Strats.
I lived in Boston while attending Berklee College of Music 2002-2006, I learned a lot not only from the teachers but also the worldly students and environment of the music industry. After graduating Berklee, I returned to Chicago while performing / touring with Digital Tape Machine, in conjunction with earning a Master's degree in Jazz Studies at DePaul University. I currently work and live out of Los Angeles, CA for the last year and a half focusing on creating compositions, working with producers on recording sessions for artists, commercials, and movies, and performing live in the area with top session musicians, but who knows where I may move next!
L4LM: What kind of guitar do you play? When did you start playing live?
MR: I played my first show at a bar called Heartland Cafe when I was 16, with a band called Family Of Souls. In a live performance setting for the last 3 years, I have been playing LIPE USA guitars. Mike Lipe is an incredible guitar luthier, he builds me exactly what I want and treats each guitar with a wealth of experience in attention to detail. My current model has three pickups in a Hum Sing Hum configuration, a tremolo system for whammy bar use, locking tuners, 25 1/2” scale length, and the woods are spalted maple and spalted alder with a quarter sawn maple neck. I prefer lightweight guitars that are very loud acoustically.
Before meeting Mike, I was playing on PRS Hollowbody guitars and still have many of them in my studio. I have been endorsed by PRS but never will forget my dad taking me to guitar center and after testing out lots of guitars the HBii just spoke to me… When it comes to a studio setting, I use countless types of guitars to achieve the sounds I am going for. I use acoustic guitars, bass guitars, synth guitars…You name it I’ve probably tried it! One of my recent favorites is a 64’ heavy relic shell pink Stratocaster.
L4LM: What are some bands and artists who have really influenced you musically?
MR: Over the years I have been influenced by such a variety of music that its hard to even think about it all, because I want to credit so many artists who I embody in my playing. The big ones early on were the guitar hero type bands…Van Halen, Hendrix, and Metallica. After that era came the love for jambands or bands that were more diverse in their improv and songs styles. Phish, Grateful Dead, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, The Disco Biscuits, Jimmy Herring, STS9, and String Cheese Incident were the heavy ones growing up. I found freedom in this music, the concept of jamming was of another earth, it set me free.
Once it became time for me to start deciding on a college direction, I really dove into practicing Jazz because I knew that was my route to realizing my musical potential… the freedom, the style, and the culture totally immersed me and I spent a ton of time listening and learning how to apply the sounds I was hearing. I am extremely passionate about John Scofield, Wayne Krantz, Pat Martino, Pat Metheny, John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Wes Montgomery just to name a few…I learned so much from these players and how to cross over jazz tradition with modern music, keeping jazz alive…
Currently, I’ve been diving into very select producers of electronic music for inspiration and new enlightenment…I really have been loving the analog synth wave stylings of Com Truise, Tycho, Tame Impala, and Boards of Canada. I've been very influenced by vaporwave / chill wave music and have been creating new music in this style. Other groups like Tuxedo, Chromeo have been playing into the sound fields as well.
Besides that, I really like Drake and Talib Kweli. Another great group called Exmag has been putting out awesome music which I highly recommend. I find the sounds they make and combine of other styles creates something special and important the future.
L4LM: How and when did Digital Tape Machine get started?
MR: In 2009, DTM got started in Chicago initially as a studio project. The idea was to produce and compose music for video games, movies, and other areas of music licensing. After getting a call from Dan Rucinski about the project, I spent several months in and out of the studio building tracks, as our current bands at the time were heavily touring. We took our time making tracks, which lead us to a full length album, entitled Be Here Now.
After deciding to take our studio project into the live ring, there was no doubt we felt a natural gravitation toward playing together as a band organism. It began as something different for all of us because it was centered around EDM and most of us were performing without backing tracks back then, but we took our personal live band experience and layered the two worlds, and I think that’s what makes it interesting. We received an overwhelming fan response and immediately started playing festivals and runs across the country. Some of the most epic performances I have had to date was with DTM at Electric Forest, Gathering of The Vibes, All Good Festival, Summer Camp, North Coast, and more.
We look forward to Euphoria Fest amongst other shows spread across the year.
L4LM: What musicians have you currently been playing and collaborating with over the past year?
MR: This is an interesting question actually because, I have been so focused on just working that I haven't even taken a step back to look at what’s happened this past year. Something is to be said for manifesting things you want to do, such as going to see a band you love and wanting to play with those musicians, or wanting to give joy to so many people in the audience as the band you love is providing you. Over the past year I have collaborated with some of my favorite musicians, some I grew up going to see as early as age 14: Mike Greenfield, Steve Molitz, David Murphy, Reed Mathis, Joey Porter, Garret Sayers, Jason Hann, Jon “the Barber” Gutwillig, Marc Brownstein, Allen Aucoin, Fareed Haque, Stanley Jordan. I've also made a lot of new friends this year, including Scotty Zwang, Rob Compa, Hayley Jane, Natalie Cressman, members of bands from G-Nome, BRAGE, Joe Hettinga, Jesse Clayton, and Todd Stoops.
Writing music for the new Oktopus project with Jason Hann has been another great one.
I have been intensely working in the recording studio on two different debut albums for two different bands I'm part of creating. I am very excited about both of these projects as they are an expression of where my musical and personal being is at right now in life. The collaborations of group A, name TBA, is with Joe Hettinga (DTM) on synth and production and Andy Frisinger vocals and sax. This group is tapping deep into 80’s pop dance territory, full horn and vocal elements make this a very exciting group along with truthful lyrics that relate to our generation. It's music you might hear on the radio today but has a modern twist on dance music of the 80’s. All music was recorded at Bill Chrysler Studios in Grand Haven, MI. Bill is the monitor engineer for Dead and Co amongst many other famous groups.
The other project I am working on is with Jesse Clayton, a great keys player and friend who approached me about collaborating to create this project. We discovered that after having similar influences over the years, we agreed on what currently makes up wet and wild. The music features retro 80’s and 90’s sounds along the lines of vaporwave chillwave and what we consider ourselves as potentially, surfwave genres, but with other elements as well. The music has been recorded at various studios including Jake Cinninger's, IV Labs Studios, Deaf Dog Music, and in coffee shops around the USA. All the music I am focused on now are original expressions of my life and sounds, visuals, art in general. I can't wait for both of these projects to be heard, seen, and experienced!
L4LM: A lot of those names you mentioned came from the new Stratosphere All Stars project. How did that group get started?
MR: Stratosphere All-Stars' official first show was at the Brooklyn Bowl on 3/26/15. It started as a collaborative group that was basically an experiment, and fans seemed to really take a strong liking to the concept. I remember receiving the call about the Brooklyn Bowl show and being very excited to finally perform with the musicians in the group.
Live For Live Music is responsible for forming the band initially and getting us out in the public eye, they also manage and book us and have done a fabulous job. After having played about 15 shows and festivals dates this year, we are now becoming a well oiled machine soon to be performing original pieces of music in addition to covers. I have been taking a personal interest in writing a lot of music geared towards this group and pushing it to play more shows and see how far we can go.
I am really excited for the upcoming East Coast run that we are doing with my great friends in Turbo Suit, who I also play in North American Scum (LCD Soundsytem Tribute) with.
L4LM: Now that you've played some stellar shows with Stratosphere All-Stars, what does the future hold for you guys?
MR: I believe the future holds lots of collaborations, new original music, and musical gatherings. We are gearing up to record an EP featuring 4 original tracks that are currently in the process of being written. By being managed and booked by Live for Live Music, I think you can expect a lot more performances across the nation and festivals as well in the coming year.
This year we played about 15 shows, next year that number will assuredly grow. I personally have a great time performing with so many seasoned players in the band that it's something I would like to continue growing as much as we all can. The collaborations with guests are going to get more diverse and song selections will be more unexpected for fans as things progress. I’m very grateful and humbled to be in this position and have the platform to perform and work with people at the top of their game.
L4LM: It must be pretty rewarding that you're able to switch between Mike Greenfield and Allen Aucoin, Steve Molitz and Todd Stoops, and most recently David Murphy and Marc Brownstein. Does it feel awesome that you're able to play top-notch shows with revolving cast of talented musicians?
MR: To be honest with you, I am the type of person who doesn't allow self reward very easily for the sake of continued progress. Playing with these fantastic musicians who I now call my friends as well, has been not only rewarding but also makes me reflect on the current state of my musical journey. The level of musicality and maturity these guys possess has been what I’ve been craving for some time. I love being able to create with seasoned vets of jamtronica and improvisational rock, where I get to explore their styles that I have essentially “studied" or embodied after so many years of observation and listening.
What’s interesting is that we all have commonalities with our musical roots, which is interesting when you find out where they overlap. Crafting live improvisation with people I used to attend shows of when I was 14 years old is kind of cool… ya know? I feel like I’ve always embraced the music I grew up seeing and always wanted to create live art with those musicians. I take the live musical arts very seriously as a sacred form of expression, I want to strike an emotion out of people with every note I play.
A jam is trust and respect, going for it as a team… These guys understand how to do that so well. It felt very surreal at first, but I'm having so much fun with everyone as great people with character in addition to the music. I want to keep embracing carrying on a piece of jam history in my playing is a coming to a fruition of sorts.
L4LM: Your performances at both Catskill Chill and Brooklyn Comes Alive were tremendous. What message would you give new fans who are just getting familiar with you?
MR: Thank you! It makes me feel great whenever someone has had an awesome experience at one of my shows, truly a motivating factor in my musical life. I had a blast playing at those shows.
A message for new fans… I always believe that every live musical performance is a type of sacred art and form of ritual practice, because we reveal ourselves as performers as well as audience participants, especially when an emotional response is summoned. For me, the feeling after an amazing show is the single greatest most spiritual experience on Earth, where I reach another level of reality via telepathy combined with musicality. I feel most clearly stated and understood when I play the guitar, it allows people to get to know through a universal language more powerful than words. I knew music was for me when I was a kid because that was where I could best express myself. It was a sorrowful healer, social icebreaker, rewarding. I want those to know they are not being delivered anything but the truth when I play and I know that all I am expecting in return.
L4LM: Are there any upcoming shows that we should know about? Besides Digital Tape Machine and Stratosphere All Stars, do you have any other musical endeavors on the horizon?
MR: Yes! Lots of exciting things to keep me stimulated such as the aforementioned Stratosphere All-Starsnortheast run (we have some more dates coming, you heard it here first). Big Gigantic drummer Jeremy Salken will be joining us for the ride this time. Myself, Steve Molitz, and David Murphy are all really excited to see the energy that Jeremy will bring to the table. I can’t wait to bring the band to NYC again, as well as play our first shows in Connecticut and Washington DC (Jan. 28th - 30th).
There are also 3 new bands in the works right now recording albums and excited to tour. Multi-genre music with something for everyone with some of my favorite players across the country. NYE week is pretty exciting as I'll be performing in Denver, rocking Umphrey's McGee after shows from 12/30-1/3 with Todd Stoops, Joel Cummins, Joey Porter, Garret Sayers, and Justin Ehmer to name a few!
THe MAn in Flesh
Internationally ranked a Top 10 EDM (electronic dance music) Guitarist by(www.theuntz.com), Marcus Rezak’s diversity lands him many live and studio sessions across the globe. Known as a master of improvisation and the art of the sit-in, Marcus is a frequent call amongst bands and musicians carving out his unqiue niche in the performance world. As a lead guitarist, Marcus carves out a unique niche in the world of Guitar with several well-known cutting edge groups including Digital Tape Machine, Stratosphere All-Stars, and North American Scum. He has performed at some of the most elite music festivals across the globe in various genres including all forms of EDM, Rock n Roll, Soul, Funk, and Jazz . Having a commanding stage presence, Marcus takes the euphoric freedom of live music and directs its path into a unique approach, as if every jam is a live recording session. By keeping exceptionally comprehensive notes on what works, what doesn’t, and how to improve is what has led Marcus to respect in the music world and to such integral heights. The Hue, Marcus’ original progressive rock band, released two albums entitled, “Unscene” and “Beyond Words” and peaked at a performance with the Aristocrats at Martyrs in Chicago. Digital Tape Machine, which featured Joel Cummins and Kris Myers of Umphreys McGee released 2 albums entitled, “Be Here Now” and “Face Behind The Face”. The group rose to new heights playing such music festivals including Electric Forest, Summer Camp, North Coast, All Good, Somerset, and more. Currently, The Stratosphere All-Stars is what keeps Marcus busiest with members Steve Molitz (Particle / Phil Lesh and Friends), Michael Greenfield (Lotus), and David Murphy ( STS9 ). Having performed at late night set at the Catskill Chill Music Festival and Brooklyn Comes Alive in New York, amongst tours across the Eastern seaboard, they are quickly gaining attention and adding more shows. In addition to high energy cover selections, the band is currently working on recording an EP of original music to be added to the repertoire. As a session guitarist and live performer Marcus has collaborated with a vast array of musicians from members of Umphreys Mcgee, The Disco Biscuits, SCI, Lotus, STS9, Lettuce, Particle, Garaj Mahal, The Aristocrats, Steve Vai, Megadeth, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and more. In addition to live performances, Marcus focuses heavily on remote and live studio guitar tracking, editing, and mixing sessions working with a variety of artists, composers, and producers including grammy-winning songwriter Jeff Franzel and producer/composer John Ovnik, amongst others. As a guitar instructor, within months he built his own freelance clientele, teaching primarily Jazz students, but also having no limitations to this as well. Marcus Rezak has a B.M. from Berklee College of Music in Boston, and a M.M. degree in Jazz Composition from DePaul University in Chicago, IL.
...The story of Marcus Rezak is not one for those who don’t believe in fated occurrences or natural affinity. It is not for those who don’t believe that passion should forcefully direct the flow of one’s life. It is, however, a tale for seekers ready to leave misgivings at the door and allow music’s sway to settle in their minds like a rich fog. In music, we find truth. Within music’s truth, we find the sounds of Marcus Rezak…