A classically trained pianist with a weakness for Radiohead, Rachel Zylstra brings to mind Ben Folds with a sultry edge. Her songs are smoky, sweet, and verbose (in the best ways), and she can frequently be found in New York's coziest clubs playing for a rapt audience of loyal fans.

SCOUT: How would you describe your sound to a would-be fan?
RACHEL: I would say I’m an alt-pop singer-songwriter writing folk songs out of a classical piano background. In my shows there is some humor and also a theatrical performance element that I briefly tried to suppress for marketability’s sake, but it’s easier not to and people seem to respond to it.

SCOUT: Who are your major musical influences?
RACHEL: Well, I don’t know if I can say I sound like them, but I can never get enough of Radiohead, Rufus Wainwright, Sufjan Stevens, Sigur Ros, Paul Simon, David Bazan. Was totally devoted to R.E.M. in high school and college. Vocally and stylistically going back, have definitely picked up from Amy Grant, Karin Bergquist of Over the Rhine, and Patty Griffin.

SCOUT: Who's in heavy rotation for you right now?
RACHEL: I’ve been listening to James Blake and Bon Iver’s “Fall Creek Boys Choir” on obsessive repeat. Besides these two, I’m loving Mumford and Sons and The Punch Brothers. Also have been tuning in to top 40 radio lately. It’s a strange season.

SCOUT: Are there any local acts you're digging?
RACHEL: A friend took me to see Bell (opening for Memory Tapes) at Glasslands a few weeks ago, and I really dug them. And, he’s not local, but Radical Face is another artist I think more people need to hear about. I’d love for him to produce my next record. I need to send him another email.

SCOUT: Okay, say you could play with three other bands or artists, no limitations. Who would you choose?
RACHEL: Oh man. In 2003/2004ish Ben Folds, Guster, and Rufus were all on tour together. They are a dream line-up to me, so if I got tacked on to that bunch, I’d be so into it. And/or, would love, love to open for the Punch Brothers sometime, and I think our contrasting styles would work well. They are all musical geniuses so I would just try to offset that with my simpler awe-struck, aw-shucksness up there at the piano.

SCOUT: What's on the horizon for you & your music?
RACHEL: These days I am working on some new material and introducing new musical elements into my shows. My next gig is Friday October 7th 8pm at Rockwood Music Hall. I also have an album of string-trio accompanied songs in post-production right now, coming out early next year!

Photo credit: Maciej Blaszczuk