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Lily Zager and the Zager Band bring new sound to UCLA campus, iconic venues

Sibling duo Jack and Lily Zager lounge on an outdoor staircase, joined by bandmates Liam McGrath, Nikhil Kumra, Julia Kai Fink and Peter Walsh. The band, which is comprised of UCLA students and alumni, will perform at the Whiskey a Go Go on Saturday. (Ella Greenberg-Winnick/Daily Bruin staff)

By Isabella Appell

Jan. 12, 2024 9:40 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 17 at 9:58 p.m.

From recording studios to securing gigs, Lily Zager and the Zager Band are exploring all that UCLA has to offer.

Jack and Lily Zager, a sibling duo that started creating music over the pandemic, released their first three singles within the past year. Since then, the Zager duo performed at Whisky a Go Go and The Mint, where musicians such as Stevie Wonder and Bon Jovi have played. The band will also perform at Whisky a Go Go on Saturday. Reflecting on the band’s past performances, lead singer Lily Zager said it is fulfilling to know that these distinguished musicians started off performing at these venues as well.

“It’s just one of the most thrilling experiences,” said Lily Zager, a first-year music industry student. “These people haven’t heard my stories. They haven’t heard my music, … and I can give that to them – and that’s what keeps me motivated. It’s always new for people.”

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Despite the duo’s four year age gap, the two work together to do their own producing and songwriting, Jack Zager said. As a music history and industry alumnus, Jack Zager said the band’s songs tend to begin as Lily Zager’s idea and then he executes her creative vision. Using his senior capstone project as a way to produce their first nine-track EP together, he said they recorded all of the tracks at the Evelyn and Mo Ostin Music Center on the UCLA campus.

With the support of his advisor Tiffany Naiman, director of music industry programs at UCLA and advisor on Jack Zager’s capstone, Jack Zager said the Herb Alpert School of Music’s faculty accepted the band’s application for 40 hours of studio time and provided guidance on how to record in the booth, manage a schedule and put a song together.

“Everything just felt like it’s happened really organically through UCLA,” Jack Zager said. “The Whisky connection was through an email with Dr. T (Tiffany Naiman), so it’s really been trying to go after every opportunity starting at UCLA and then allowing that to grow.”

The bandmates huddle together on the greenery of the UCLA campus. Music history and industry alumnus Jack Zager said the group strives to use the opportunities presented by attending the university. (Aidan Sun/Daily Bruin)
The bandmates huddle together on the greenery of the UCLA campus. Music history and industry alumnus Jack Zager said the group strives to use the opportunities presented by attending the university. (Aidan Sun/Daily Bruin)

Getting to know Jack and Lily Zager through the capstone project, Naiman said the band’s distinctiveness comes from how it handles a room and treat those within it. She said when artists walk into these venues, it is expected for them to say hello to everybody and approach them with the mindset that they could become a friend. Jack and Lily Zager’s genuineness and appreciation for the audience shows through when addressing everyone in the room, she added.

Lily Zager said that when forming the band, the hardest part was getting people to want to listen to her music and connect to it. The first step was to find people that she trusted to play with because those are the people she shared her stories with, she said. Having gained a support system through UCLA even before she attended the school herself, Lily Zager said the Herb Alpert School of Music has been helpful in taking the band under its wing and providing support. Performing in a back-to-school showcase at the School of Music and debuting her song “Blackout” at Schoenberg Hall in October 2021, Lily Zager said interacting with attendees helped her understand the impact of sharing through art.

[Related: UCLA graduate student creates open venue for experimental music artists]

Looking toward the future, Lily Zager said there is potential for a second album. Defining her sound as acoustic pop, Lily Zager said her music targets teenagers dealing with heartbreak and living in Los Angeles. After reflecting on why she started making music, Lily Zager said her most important lessons have been to remind herself that she loves what she creates and to not let any negative thoughts take control. Going from playing UCLA shows to playing for an intimate crowd that really knows her music, Lily Zager said she grew to be more comfortable performing in front of people. People are not always going to resonate with her music, she said, but the key is to keep going.

“Realizing that my music and my lyrics, even though it’s so not on the nose, can (have) that feeling that can relate to other people – and that’s what kept me going into using my experiences to relate to others,” Lily said. “No matter what age, even college girls, everyone has to deal through heartbreak. I think love and music is such a universal language.”

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Isabella Appell
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