This week's featured artist is Zak Claxton, whose smooth and easygoing tracks range from indie pop to alternative rock. With over a decade of experience playing music in SL, his shows have an atmosphere of heartfelt exuberance that makes every person in the room feel welcome.
1. When/how did you hear about Second Life?
The shortest possible answer is that in fall 2006, my friend and former bandmate Mike Burns called me to chat one day and said, “Have you heard about Second Life? Duran Duran has an island there.” None of these words made any sense to me at the time, and I had to have him explain the entire concept of a virtual world. I was living here in the Los Angeles area, and the woman I was seeing lived in Seattle. We’d been taking trips back and forth to spend time together, but Second Life seemed like an ideal way to be able to hang out and feel like we were connecting beyond the aspects of emails, texts, and phone calls. I told her about it, and we signed up together on October 12, 2006. At that point, I had no idea that music performance was at all possible in SL. On one of our early virtual dates, we looked in the event listings to find something to do, and noted that a person named Keiko Takamura has hosting some kind of concert, so we went and checked it out. My professional background and career is in audio technology and musical instruments, so it didn’t take long at all for me to try doing my own livestream shows in world.
2. What instruments do you play?
My primary instrument for all of my SL performances is the acoustic guitar, supplemented by occasional harmonica. As a singer-songwriter, I find that keeping things simplified and streamlined helps keep the focus on the song itself. My SL shows are 100% live, with no backing tracks or prerecorded material, though I think all SL music performance styles are appropriate and welcomed. In real life, I’ve spent nearly my entire life as a performing musician, and my instruments also include electric guitar, bass, piano/keyboards, and the art of music engineering and production.
3. You mentioned on your Bandcamp that you are also in a band. Could you tell us about some of the pros and cons of solo work vs. being in a group?
I love playing in bands, but there is a massive difference between the process of being a solo artist versus a member of a band. The biggest difference is that to do well in a band, it requires a serious time commitment among a group of people for rehearsal, and there are also the challenges of having to balance the differing goals and musical styles of multiple people. As a result, there’s often a lot of compromise, and when you hear about bands breaking up due to “creative differences”, that’s a real thing. As a solo artist, I have the benefit of playing whatever music I choose to, and it’s much easier to hop onstage by myself and do my thing. That being said, the fun and camaraderie of being in a band is something every musician should experience at some point. I am currently a member of a recording project called They Stole My Crayon, along with Christina Lee and Bunny Knutson. Our debut album came out in 2016, and we are slowly working on a sophomore release.
4. You said you've been playing music in SL since 2006, wow! What are some of your favorite aspects of the way the music scene has evolved?
When I got started in 2006, live music in Second Life was still a relatively new concept, and the entire community of SL music performers was maybe 30-40 people. Over the years, that’s grown immensely. There are now hundreds and hundreds of people who perform live shows on a regular basis in SL. I would also say that the quality of overall talent in SL has gotten better and better over the course of time as more and more serious real life musicians discover SL and bring their music shows in world. In terms of the music scene beyond the performers, the challenges that SL-based live music venue face have remained the same. It’s a difficult task to operate a live music spot in SL and be able to break even on the expenses. Also, like anything done successfully, it requires a high level of organization and coordination between the artists, their management, their fans, and the venue’s staff. I’ve been very fortunate to have had excellent support from many SL venues, and I’m always grateful to them and do whatever I can to help them do well.
5. Tell us about some of your biggest musical influences.
If I answered that question completely, you’d run out of room on this web site. I started on piano at age three and guitar at seven, so I’ve had over 40 years to accumulate musical influences. Some of the big ones that are manifested in my own original music and my SL performances: Neil Young, Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Kurt Vile, Sun Kil Moon, R.E.M., and many others. That being said, my personal tastes as a listener are extremely wide. I am mostly into new indie folk and indie rock artists and bands, both hard/edgy and soft/introspective, and I seek out new music constantly.
6. What is the most meaningful aspect of the SL music community to you?
I have to give you two of them. First is the aspect of it being a real community. I have attended a number of SL Live Jams, where members of the SL music community get together in a physical location along with fans and friends, and do multiple days of live performances. I’ve attended those events in places like San Diego, Orange County (CA), Nashville, and Minneapolis. I have gotten to know people via the SL music scene who have become lifelong friends, and I highly value those relationships. The second aspect is the fact that a person like me has been able to cultivate a worldwide following as a musician. I would not have ever been in a position to do all of the touring and promotion that it would traditionally require to have music fans throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia, but due to SL, that’s exactly what I’ve done over the past 14+ years. Second Life is a great platform for any musician who wants exposure to a global audience who is eager for good music.
Thank you, Zak!
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