Mic Check: Clejan makes his mark as a ‘trap violinist’

Credit: Rick Proctor

Credit: Rick Proctor

Editor’s note: With live music and concert reviews on hold due to COVID-19, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is focusing on how Georgia musicians are spending their time in our feature, Mic Check.

It wasn’t until Zac Clejan graduated from the University of Georgia that he decided to return to music.

A classically trained violinist since the age of 3, Clejan — which is how he bills himself for his music career — was also “obsessed” with the hip-hop and trap scene that surrounded him as a teenager growing up in Buckhead, where his mother still resides.

He rapped in high school, but upon arriving at UGA, he relegated music to a maybe-one-day possibility and concentrated on school.

“I didn’t see a path for both,” he said.

In March 2016, Clejan moved to Los Angeles and utilized his marketing degree for an internship. But a sudden affliction with Bell’s Palsy forced him to hibernate for a few months, which is when he returned to his violin.

In recent months, Clejan has racked up millions of online views for his cover of Trick Daddy and Lil Jon’s “Let’s Go” (which samples Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train”) and in December, released his debut EP, “Way That I Fiddle,” which features three original songs.

The engaging “trap violinist” talked about his ambitions to inspire kids to play classical instruments, his plans to release 10 more songs this year and his admiration for Lindsey Stirling.

Credit: Kate Marley

Credit: Kate Marley

Q: How much of an influence was your family in learning to play?

A: My parents split up when I was really young, but I saw my dad twice a year, and he played fiddle, which inspired me to play, and my grandfather was a classically trained pianist. I really didn’t love playing violin growing up; it was more of a resentment (laughs). My mom saw it as brain food, and I didn’t really have a choice if I was going to play or not. It was, ‘This is who you’re going to be. You’re going to street performances and recitals.’ In Atlanta, my mom had me perform everywhere — Piedmont Park, in the middle of the airport a couple of times. People were very nice. Some would give me money.

Q: And you trained with the second chair at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra?

A: Yes, Jay Christy. I started lessons with him when I was 8, so he was my Atlanta teacher growing up. We met once a week at his house and had a strict regimen, but a good working relationship. I took lessons until I was 17.

Credit: Ruban Levya.

Credit: Ruban Levya.

Q: And now you’re blending what you learned in classical music with hip-hop. Have any of the Atlanta artists heard what you’re doing?

A: I doubt it. T.I., Gucci Mane, Jeezy, I love them, but they probably don’t know who I am! I’m only in my third year of music since I worked corporate in L.A. until 2019. Last year doesn’t count, but it also does because I was able to adapt and make some big steps forward in my music career. TikTok has catapulted my career, which has been a definite surprise. I started posting in April of last year at the behest of one of my managers, and I didn’t really get it. It’s like its own thing. It took me four or five months to put out a video that went viral. The video that did more for me was one I filmed in Atlanta for ‘Let’s Go’ in 2018. Posting that on YouTube and Instagram, I got nothing. But on TikTok a year and a half later, three million views.

Q: How does what you’re doing differ from Lindsey Stirling?

A: I love her. She’s absolutely my top inspiration. I’ve been a fan of hers since I was young, and I might not have done (this career path) if not for her. She cleared the market for solo violin artistry. But she’s more EDM and pop, and I wanted to do what she did with that for trap and hip-hop. She’s really making cinematic music that tells stories. I hadn’t seen anyone do that for hip-hop and trap, and I have and it’s been great. I do want to incorporate my vocals into all of my music, so it’s not just violin…I want to show kids and orchestra geeks that there’s a cool way to play this. If I had thought when I was younger to think outside of the box, it would have been a totally different experience for me.

Q: What are you working on next?

A: I just want to make a bunch of music. I can’t wait to bring what I’ve worked on back to Atlanta. I have so much love for that city; it will always be home to me. I wanted to give back as much as I can to the community, especially the community that birthed this kind of music. I want to pay homage because I appreciate the roots so much… I want to release 10 songs this year, and I’m going to start working for L.A. Country Parks and Recreation to teach violin. It would be a dream to inspire kids. I have this dream that there will be orchestras playing my music someday.