Rai Thistlethwayte (born 19 April 1980 in Sydney) is an Australian rock, pop and jazz musician and songwriter. Rai is an accomplished pianist, guitarist, and vocalist. He is the lead singer and primary songwriter in the Australian pop rock band Thirsty Merc. Since 2004, Thirsty Merc have released a string of hits in the Australian Music Charts including "Wasting Time," "My Completeness", "Someday, Someday", "In The Summertime", "When The Weather Is Fine", "20 Good Reasons", "The Hard Way", "Those Eyes", "Homesick", "Mousetrap Heart", "Tommy And Krista" and "All My Life". He is currently based in Los Angeles. As a solo artist, Rai performs under the name 'Sun Rai.'
Rai grew up in Sydney, Australia, in a musical family. He started learning from his mother, a classical piano teacher, before his fifth birthday. His father, Ian, is a language teacher and a bass player and guitarist who played bass in a Sydney based band called 'The Plebs', which formed under the name 'The Centaurs' in Sydney in 1963.
Early music career and influences
In his early teens, Rai listened to classic rock and early metal, then blues and jazz. He started writing songs around the age of 15. After finishing high school in 1997 he was awarded a scholarship to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music where he commenced a Bachelor of Music in jazz piano in 1998.
Some of his early musical influences are listed as The Beach Boys, Buddy Holly, Deep Purple, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Iron Maiden, Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Prince, Frank Sinatra, Joni Mitchell, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Oscar Peterson, Claude Debussy.
After a year at the Sydney Conservatorium, Rai came to the attention of, and signed with Columbia/Sony in the USA. He released one single, Give a Smile to the Planet, which was released in Australia in mid 2000 and peaked just under the top 40 and completed an album, which was released as a promo but was eventually shelved. This particular label relationship appeared not to have flourished and ended amicably.
Thirsty Merc: 2003–present
In 2002 Rai formed Australian rock group Thirsty Merc and was subsequently signed by Warner Music Australia after their self funded release of their EP First Work. Thirsty Merc subsequently released three successful albums, their self-titled debut Thirsty Merc, which sold 2 x platinum in Australia and received 4 ARIA Award nominations, and Sideshows that has reached Platinum status. Thirsty Merc released their third studio album in June 2010 Mousetrap Heart with the title track as the first single, and the hit 'Tommy And Krista' and 'All My Life' being released as singles. Rai and the band's live performances are known for their high energy and strong musicianship. The 'Mousetrap Heart' era led the band to numerous tours, the largest being an extensive, multi city and regional tour of Australia and New Zealand. This tour was called the 'Rock Your Socks Off Tour' and ended in mid November 2011.
Rai performs solo under the artist name 'Sun Rai.' In April/May 2009, Rai toured the Australian east coast as a solo artist for the first time, where he simultaneously played bass with his left hand on a synthesiser, keyboards with his right hand, and sang simultaneously, along with Matt Smith (guitar) and Al Hicks (drums). He played a 2nd run of shows at the end of 2011, this time purely solo. In July 2012, Rai commenced a national Australian headline tour. He moved to Los Angeles in mid 2012. In late 2012 he started performing under the name 'Sun Rai' (pronounced 'Sun Ray'), mainly around Los Angeles. In 2013 he formed a new Facebook Page for Sun Rai and started releasing music through his own social networks, usually using a 'pay what you want' business model. In June 2013 he opened for Norwegian one man band/loop pedal artist/soul singer 'Bernhoft' around the US and Canada. He opened for ZZ Ward at in Atlantic City. He played a late night set after 'Puss in Boots' (an all-female group featuring Norah Jones) at Rockwood Music Hall in New York in June 2013. His debut release as Sun Rai, a 4 track EP entitled 'Pocket Music,' was self released on 4 June 2013. Track 1 from Pocket Music, 'San Francisco Street,' has been played extensively on KCRW and featured on blogs such as 'Filter Magazine.' His music was also recently featured during the second season of House of Lies. He toured the US and Canada in October and November 2013 opening for Danish indie-pop songstress 'Oh Land.' In January 2014, Sun Rai collaborated with jazz drummer Ben Vanderwal at Sound Baker studios in Perth, Australia. They primarily tracked live in the studio, and recorded an EP entitled 'Escargot.' It was released independently in April 2014, and subsequently the two artists embarked on a successful Australian tour, playing two nights at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club in Melbourne, Venue 505 in Sydney, Smith's Alternative Bookshop in Canberra, and also a sold out show at the Perth International Jazz Festival in June 2014.
As well as his work in rock and pop, Rai has performed in a number of jazz combos with many Australian jazz musicians, including ARIA award winning guitarist James Muller, US jazz bassist Christian McBride, Trumpeter James Morrisson, Tenor Saxophonist Dale Barlow and Phil Stack who also plays bass in Thirsty Merc. In 2008, Rai performed a concert with respected Australian jazz/pianist/composer Mark Isaacs at the Brisbane Jazz festival. Mark is on record as saying,"It's a well-kept secret that Rai is an outstanding jazz pianist… I consider Rai the most exciting young jazz pianist to emerge in this country in recent years." He has performed solo at the Wangaratta Jazz Festival and twice at the Stonnington Jazz Festival in Melbourne, once in 2011 and once in 2012. He is also the regular guest keyboardist in the Sydney Rock/Jazz fusion group 'The Subterraneans.' Rai also writes spoken word prose and poetry, sometimes performing and recording under the name 'Michael Albatross.' In June 2014, alongside Australian jazz trumpeter James Morrison, Rai adjudicated the vocal competition at 'Generations In Jazz' in Mount Gambier, South Australia. He also performed there with improvising vocal group The Idea Of North and also James Morrison himself. Rai was a participant at the Creative Music Workshop at the Banff Centre, Canada, in 2014, and studied improvised music and Carnatic singing under Aruna Sairam, Steve Coleman and Vijay Iyer.
Co-writing, Masterclasses and work as Session Musician
Rai co-wrote the song '12 Hours' with The Whitlams' Tim Freedman, album title track 'Happy Home' with 'The Voice' (Australian TV show) runner up Darren Percival (Universal Music Australia), the first single 'Goodnight America' (Universal Music Australia) for upcoming female artist 'Sinead Burgess.'
He played piano on two songs for ex-Silverchair drummer Ben Gillies' solo album, was the piano player on the singles 'You Won't Let Me,' by Karise Eden, 'Happy Home,' and 'In The Blowing Wind' performed by Darren Percival, and Sarah De Bono's cover of Duffy's 'Warwick Avenue' for the TV show The Voice (Australia). He played multiple instruments on 5 songs for Brian McFadden's record to be released in late 2012: bass, guitar, drum programming and piano.
Rai played piano and keyboards on 13 tracks for 'The Voice' (Australia) Xmas album, for release at the end of 2012.
He composed a short song 'Out of the Blue' for 2012 film 'Eugene,' a short film as part of A Series of Films with Roman Coppola and the Directors Bureau,' put together by vice magazine, w hotels and ultrabook computers. The song was used as a musical theatre piece in the film, sung and acted by Ben Lee and Sunny Mabrey.
Rai has taught masterclasses at AIM (The Australian Institute of Music, Sydney), Lismore University, Claremont College (TAS) and Blacktown Tafe, and has been a mentor in Song Summit 2010–2012, a week-long annual songwriting conference hosted by APRA, of which he is an Ambassador. He attended the 'Bali Songwriting Retreat' in Ubud, Bali, in 2011, along with Bonnie McKee, Delta Goodrem, Nick Jonas, and Arnthor Birigisson. Rai taught songwriting masterclasses at numerous schools for part of 'SongMakers' for APRA, a government funded initiative designed to introduce songwriting into high schools.
Awards and nominations
ARIA Awards (2005) nominations:
- Single of the Year (Someday, Someday)
- Best Group
- Best Pop Release
- Best Video ("In the Summertime", directed by Adrian van de Velde)
- Song of the Year ("20 Good Reasons" – nomination, 2008)
- Most Performed Work ("Someday Someday" – nomination, 2005)
- Will Kennedy | Producer. Mixer. Engineer. " Sun Rai & Victor Indrizzo Live at Studio Delux!
- FILTER Magazine – Media – MP3: Sun Rai Bares His Soul: “Till The Lights Come On (Live)” (FILTER Premiere)
- Bernhoft + Miracles of Modern Science | Concerts | Time Out New York
- ZZ Ward — Atlantic City — Revel – The Social — 14 June 2013 | Songkick
- Sun Rai – Chase The Clouds [Live @ Rockwood Music Hall NYC] – YouTube
- Independent Music News – RRRRREEVVVIIIEEEWWW // Sun Rai // Pocket Music
- Sun Rai: Local Band We Love | KCRW Music Blog
- Official website.
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