Catching up with Theo Katzman

. March 2, 2018.
Theo Katzman, above, studied jazz at the University of Michigan before moving on to become a nationally-recognized recording artist.
Theo Katzman, above, studied jazz at the University of Michigan before moving on to become a nationally-recognized recording artist.

Theo Katzman knows how to strike a chord. Or maybe it’s more like pluck a heartstring. The best songwriters, whether rock, pop, funk, or jazz (and, with Katzman, it can be all four), appreciate that their craft requires getting in tune with an emotion.

This L.A. based singer/songwriter & producer will forever be considered extended family of the Michigan music scene because of his time here in Ann Arbor, where he studied jazz at U-M and eventually launched national tours with the genre-splicing A2 band My Dear Disco (which became Ella Riot). After the disco-pop & electro-rock synergies of My Dear Disco/Ella Riot came to an end, he launched a solo career, and eventually joined the seriously-funky and seriously-fun ensemble Vulfpeck. When his tour swings back to his old college town on March 17th, he’ll be bringing his batch of solo tunes, particularly the sharp and scintillating rock riffers and melodic loved-wrong love songs from his most recent album Heartbreak Hits.

Released in early 2017, Heartbreak Hits was recorded in Ann Arbor with producer Tyler Duncan, before being finished up in L.A. The album’s breakout single, “Hard Work,” features Katzman’s fiery and frenetic rock n roll riffs under a voice that’s a natural fit for neo-soul or R&B, with a percussive arrangement fitting funk and an indelible chorus that catches on quickly.

Current talked to Katzman about putting in all that hard work and the emotional experience of writing Heartbreak Hits.

Why are songs about heartbreak so compelling?
Because they combine literal words that transmit feelings, with music which also can transmit feeling. Songs can really be supercharged vessels of emotion. As a creator, if I take my own feelings and put them into a song, I think it forces me to lean in to the feelings in a way that helps me process and accept them. So, it can be cathartic to write a song that stems from personal feelings. There can be a certain amount of fire involved in the feeling of heartbreak, and when you’re swimming in those feelings of loss, or feeling letdown, writing music can then be a necessary tool to process your emotions. But when you’re not having those feelings, you can still write songs. Songs can also be imagined and exaggerated out of an experience that the creator never had personally—but since we’re still empathic beings, we can still relate!

What did you appreciate most about your time here in the A2 music scene?
I absolutely cherish my time in Ann Arbor. It’s where I feel like I came into my own as a person: going to school at U-M and playing in everybody’s band, walking down Catherine Street with my guitar, going from rehearsal to rehearsal at different houses, playing shows in basements, that was the bomb! I fell in love with the Ann Arbor Music Center; I worked there as a teacher and learned a ton about life, music, and myself. Ann Arbor is where I met the friends that are the foundation of my community to this day. It’s a city with a big heart, a ton of creativity and talent, and a small town feel. A truly special place!

“Making it” in the music industry requires some daunting leaps, life-changes, and constant work. Any advice to musicians who are just starting out?
First we must ask ourselves what we mean by “making it…” in the music industry. I like to tell people that rather than focusing on “making it,” try focusing on “MAKING it…,” which is to say, “making music.” Get good at your craft and try not to worry too much about the outcome. Focus on the process. I also think it’s important to have a community as an artist. My favorite art always grows out of scenes of people. Find your community and get to work. Or, get to work…and find your community along the way.

$20. 18+ only. 9pm.
Saturday, March 17.
The Blind Pig, 208 S. First St., Ann Arbor
734-996-8555 | 
blindpigmusic.com

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