By the time he was ten years old, child prodigy Brandon ‘Taz’ Niederauer (2003) was a proficient guitarist who went to school by day and performed on Broadway by night. Now, at age 15, this talented teen from Long Island, New York has retired from life in the theatre to pursue a thriving career in music and acting.

Interview Brandon 'Taz' Niederauer

Interview by: Lizanne Hennessey

It’s 4 PM in New York when Brandon picks up the phone. He’s already finished his homework and when asked if he has any gigs that night, he answers like a true professional, “Not tonight.” Brandon turned 15 on March 13th and has already performed with world-famous artists including Buddy Guy, the Gregg Allman Band, Stevie Nicks, and Lady Gaga, to name but a few. Bax Music was curious to find out more about how this prodigious talent juggles music and school on his journey to the top!

We have to ask, what does ‘Taz’ stand for?

“That’s a cool story, actually. When I was about eight or nine years old, I was in a program where they took a bunch of kids out in Long Island NY and put bands together. The director gave everybody a nickname and when he came to me, he was stuck on it for about two months. One day, he walked in and I was doing some guitar exercises, trying to play as fast as I could, and then he was like: ‘I got it! You play as fast as the Tasmanian Devil.’ So my nickname was Taz. We use that nickname now because nobody wants to say or spell my last name.”

Aha, that explains the Tasmanian Devil patch on your guitar strap. So you’ve been playing the guitar since you were eight?

“Actually my brother and I saw this movie School of Rock [which came out the same year Taz was born]. We were taking a car ride up to Vermont and my dad figured out a way to keep us entertained for the 5-hour ride, so he put this movie on. My brother and I watched it the whole way there and back on repeat. When we got back to New York, we kept asking my dad ‘Come one, please let us get guitars!’ And my dad, thank God, he got both of us guitars. Now, my brother’s playing bass and I’m playing the guitar.”

Your dad is a hero! Does music run in your family?

“Nobody in my entire extended family, at least who’s alive, plays. Nobody in my family plays any music on an instrument.”

What was it about the guitar? Why not one of the other instruments in the movie?

“The thing that separated guitar in that movie from everything else was that I knew that that music was guitar-based. I always loved the guitar and I’d been to a couple concerts before, but as soon as I saw the kid in that movie playing the guitar, it was like a light switch went on and I was like: I gotta do that.”

By the time you were ten, you were a proficient guitarist! Is that when you started in the School of Rock production on Broadway?

“No, actually I played a ten-year-old, but I auditioned for the production of School of Rock off-broadway when I was eleven and started when I was twelve. I just ended my run at the end of June.”

It must’ve been hard to leave the show, especially since you were one of the original cast members. Do you ever miss playing your character Zack Mooneyham in School of Rock?

“Zack is pretty much a part of me. I always knew I couldn’t play a ten-year-old forever. I had to cherish the moment as much as I could while I was in the moment. The fact that they took a chance on me out of all the other 22,000 kids who auditioned is just so surreal and I’m so grateful for it.”

During that time, you went to school every day, came home, did your homework, then performed on Broadway every evening. Did that way of life ever become routine for you?

“I definitely always thought: ‘This is so cool, this is my life!’ I was acting and singing and putting out 110% of my energy every night. It was a lot on my body, my vocal chords, and my fingers too, but I just loved it so much. Going to school every day with sleep deprivation was hard, but you have to make the sacrifice. I love Broadway. One of the rules is that you have to have satisfactory grades or else you can’t perform. I always loved school. I worked hard and had straight-As through the whole production. It was amazing that I could go to school during the day and play in front of 2,000 people by night.”

Do you think you’ll want to perform on Broadway again?

“I don’t know, we’ll see what happens. I’d totally be open to it.”

Since your run on Broadway ended, you’ve been making music and pursuing a career in acting as well. You star in the movie Here Comes Rusty (2016) and have a role in Spike Lee’s TV series She’s Gotta Have It (2017). How’s acting going for you?

“I tried out for some shows and as soon as the producers figured out I could play the guitar, they totally jumped on it. Spike Lee is an amazing guy, he’s been so nice to let me be in a couple of episodes of his Netflix show. It’s crazy because I would never have gotten into acting if it weren’t for the School of Rock production. I tried out with my guitar and it was like: Alright, if I want to do this, I have to act.”

That’s surprising, you seem like such a natural on stage.

“Thank you! I’ve always loved to be on stage. Being in School of Rock definitely taught me how to sing better and act better. I think I did it about 700-something times. Doing eight shows a week for two years definitely helps you progress in any field.”

You’ve certainly come a long way since your guest appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show back in 2013. What do you think when you look back on that episode now (which has been viewed over two million times on YouTube)?

“I was very very nervous. Who wouldn’t be nervous, going on national television? I was nine years old. When we got the Ellen show, my dad was like: ‘Oh, we gotta do this.’ Full support. I’m so grateful. He let me miss a couple days of school to go out there. That’s one of the days I’ll never forget. I remember waking up, taking the cab ride to the studio, meeting Ben Stiller who was on the same episode as I was, doing my performance. I’m very grateful. I was loving every minute of it.”

You’re inspired by legendary musicians that were around long before you were even born, and you’ve even performed with some of them, like Buddy Guy, the Greg Allman Band, Stevie Nicks, Lady Gaga, Slash, Jon Batiste, Dweezil Zappa, Eric Gales, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Dr. John, Macy Gray, Doug Wimbish, and more. People say you’re a child prodigy – how does that make you feel?

“I’m very grateful that people think I’m good enough to be considered a child prodigy. All my fans and everybody who comes out to my shows, I love them all very dearly. I usually go into the crowd after my shows to meet up with fans and sign autographs. When I used to go to concerts, I’d wait outside until three in the morning for my idols to come out, and they’d sign the CD that I just bought that night, and they were super nice. So I make sure that I’m always very nice to my fans too, who spend money to come out and see me and my shows.”

Out of all the famous musicians you’ve performed with, who was your favourite?

“I can’t name a favourite. I can’t rate them, it’s so much fun to get to play with all these different musicians and different genres. My greatest influence for playing the guitar is probably the Allman Brothers Band. I’ve listened to their stuff since I was five.”

Is there anyone else on your bucket list that you’d like to play with?

“Yeah, there are a bunch of people I’d love to play with, like John Mayer, Cory Henry and Snarky Puppy, Derek Trucks or even Jacob Collier. I’d love to play with a bunch of musicians that are just not coming to the top of my head right now. I have been very fortunate to play with many of my idols.”

Recently, John Mayer had this to say about you: ‘Brandon is playing from pure, real ‘what’ and ‘how’ and intent and he’s going for it and you can hear it like music and get off to it and dance to it. So, yeah…I dig it. I dig it. The fact that he’s young is secondary.’ Has your age ever been an issue when playing with some of the world’s greatest musicians?

“No, not really, but there have been a couple times I was not allowed to go into the club because they were afraid the cops were going to shut them down. But I just bring a wireless rig with me and plug in and play outside the club. They’d open the back doors so I could see the band.”

The Brandon Niederauer Band has an exciting year ahead chock-full of tributes, gigs, and a US tour this summer! You write and perform your own music, are there any plans for an album?

“Not yet, but we are recording though, so look out soon!”

You have a D’Angelico signature guitar coming out. Tell us more about it!

“It’s an Atlantic model (single-cut solidbody) with all the things I love about D’Angelico guitars on it. It has two humbucker pickups, a good-feeling neck, and it sounds amazing. I can’t wait! I’m very grateful D’Angelico is taking a chance on me, I love the folks there, they’re the nicest people and I can’t wait to put it out.”

By achieving your goals and living your dream, you’re an inspiration to musicians of all ages. What advice do you have for musicians who are just starting out?

“For any musician just starting out, I’d say: play the kind of music that you want to play, whether it’s folk, rock, classical, jazz. Any music that you love to play and makes you happy, you should play. Start out playing the genre of music that you love.” ♦

Brandon uses D’Angelico Guitars, Homestead Amps, Dunlop Picks, V-Picks, DR Strings and Mono Creators.

This interview previously appeared in Bax Music Magazine (Spring 2018).

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