Please read below for an interview with Zachary Cale. Zachary will next be performing tomorrow (March 10) night at Union Pool in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Zachary is opening at 9pm. Steve Gunn and Wooden Wand are also on the bill. Set your clocks ahead so you can be on time!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a musician? What was that process like?
I think I was about 14 when I started telling myself that’s what I wanted to do, even if it was a complete fantasy. When I got my first guitar all I would do is turn the amp up loud and make the worst noise possible. It came pretty quick though, and within a year you couldn’t separate me from the thing. That’s about the time when I started skipping class, going straight home and playing guitar for 5 hours a day. Not sure if you can call that a process, more like an obsession.
How does a sense of geography affect your work?
It probably affects my music more than I realize. You can definitely hear it in the lyrics, certain phrases that describe a scene or environment. It’s not something that’s intentional though. When I was a kid I lived overseas, my parents were teaching in the International school system so by the time I was 16 I saw a lot of the world. My family and friends are spread out over many continents so the idea of home is an abstract concept for me. I think I’m always looking for it though.
What is the creative process like for you? How are you inspired?
This is a tough question, and it’s one that every songwriter is asked. There’s really no clear answer though. Everyone approaches writing differently. I remember reading something about Townes Van Zandt, where he was asked how he wrote a certain song and he said something like “I was just lucky enough to be sitting in that chair that day.” That pretty much sums it up for me. As far as inspiration goes, it’s everywhere. Just depends if your senses are sharp enough to hold on to it. It could be a phrase from a conversation you overhear, a sudden change in the weather, the first time you pick up the guitar that day, the book you just read, being sleep deprived, a headline in the newspaper, existential unease, or a scene from the dream you had last night.
The press about your records has noted a shift in styles over time. Though there are limits and subjectivity involved with categories, how would you describe your music stylistically?
I would say that what I do isn’t tied to any one genre, if anything it’s tied to the lineage of great songwriting. I believe that if a song is good enough it can played a number of ways. Look at all the cover versions of Bob Dylan songs. Many consider what I do to be folk music, which is really just lazy labeling. To me folk music is something sacred, something that people today don’t have any business singing. I don’t think what I do is folk music. It’s an amalgamation of everything that I’ve loved in music since I was a kid, be it The Beatles, Morricone Soundtracks, Sun Records, Brian Eno, Phil Spector, Pre-War Blues, Big Star, Willie Nelson, Punk Rock, Nick Cave, John Fahey, Bob Marley, Creedence, Cowboy songs, The Velvet Underground, Woody Guthrie or Nirvana. I like to use the term Cosmic American Music as it seems to suggest the blending of many forms of traditional American music in a modern way.
If applicable, in what ways is your work gendered (i.e., affected by norms connected to femininity and/or masculinity)? Which other identities affect your music?
I don’t think my songs are gender specific really. They could be sung by a woman and understood from that perspective just as easily as from a man’s. I guess they’re universal in that respect.
What feedback do you have for aspiring musicians?
Play your instrument every day, record yourself, write lots of bad songs, that’s the only you’ll get to the good ones. If you’re a songwriter be able to perform the song by yourself even if you’re already playing with a full band. If you’re terrified of performing solo go to some open mics, it’s a terrible experience but you’ll definitely get better. Most importantly, don’t over think it, just go out and do it. As Neil Young says, “When you think, you stink”.
What future projects are you planning?
I have a new record that will be released later this year. It’s called Blue Rider. I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, but that’s what I always say about the record I’ve just finished. Look for it in September!
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