Music to my Ears: Meet Zak Smith, Montclair native, universal Talent
To me, there is always that sweet spot when it comes to music. I think of it like a cocktail. The first thing that hits me is the melody, followed by the layer of the voice, and then chased instantly by a shot of lyrics.
Music can be catchy, but to make me yearn for it, or become addicted to it, there must be some poetry.
Musician and Songwriter Zak Smith didn’t surprise me when I gave his new CD a listen. He shocked me.
His voice sucked me right in - even before I could focus on his words, which luckily for me turned out to be poetry done right - precise, earth moving snapshots that linger.
But that voice is exquisite. Unlike his age (young) his voice is very reminiscent of some of the greats: a younger Leonard Cohen, say, but imagine him singing with some mind-blowing 1950‘s or ‘60‘s R & B, soul inspired backup singers. Wow.
Zac proves his chops on all of his CD’s but this one speaks volumes.
This is an interview from last week, October 7, 2014.
LILLI: I am very interested in your writing. Usually, singer/songwriters send me music and it's not very literary. Your lyrics are very poetic - and written in a definite style. Do you also write fiction or poetry?
ZAK SMITH: First, thank you for saying that. I used to write fiction when I was younger and it was the first thing that I had an inkling that I could be good at, more than that though, it was the first thing that I found I could get myself obsessively sucked up into. Having a good idea and that being the only thing I could think about and not being able to wait to get to finishing it. It was the first time I'd felt inspired on that level of feeling possessed. That drive transferred over to wanting to write rock music in my first year of high school, but the root of it was in a love for writing in general. I still read a lot, great fiction and poetry are some of the things that mean the most to me in life.
LILLI: You are from Montclair, right? Did anything about the township or the schools or the vibe or anything lead you to music? Or to a certain nostalgia for Montclair?
ZAK SMITH: Yes, Im from Montclair. I had a good friend, my best friend since we were probably 6, who lived in Montclair too, who went to Montclair High, and he was the first person I knew who formed a band. He was the first person I knew who would bring over a Led Zeppelin CD, or a Jimi Hendrix CD, and after that it was like a snow ball rolling. Before that I had no interest in music, certainly not in playing it. He was a brilliant musician, he got the Joe Walsh scholarship from Montclair high. He died at 19, (because) he had an undiagnosed heart defect. I always think of him in connection with Montclair, they'll always be tied together for me.
LILLI: How are you doing - are you able to truly support yourself with your art?
Music is not truly supported by people as it used to be even a dozen years ago. There are less venues - more illegal (free) downloads of songs - and an American Icon or The Voice mass-mentality. Yet you capture a unique voice that is truly moving and impressive.
ZAK SMITH:'ve been fortunate in some things, but it's very very hard to make a living as a musician without some big breaks. Money is a pretty constant issue. I have a job at a law office outside of doing the band. You go through those bleak moments and then forget about them when you're onstage or at practice or writing new songs (for better or worse). If it was up to me I would be touring every day, and have three or four more albums recorded than I do. Dwelling on that's a dark way to go though, and like I said the only way to get out of those dark thoughts seems to be to keep on playing, it makes you forget all that for a little, or makes it seem less important.
LILLI: I love the background singers too - and you often remind me of Leonard Cohen. Is he someone you admire?
ZAK SMITH: I love Leonard Cohen. He's one of my top five lyricists. I've been listening to his new album the last couple days. He has some of the all time great lines in rock music (or folk or pop music, or whatever you want to call it). On a purely lyrical level I think he's above Dylan, Dylan's stuff written simply written out on the page does not always stand up to the scrutiny that I think Leonard Cohen's often does. The background vocals weren't really influenced by him though, that was more from like 50's and 60's R&B and Soul music, the call and response gospel thing. I love the Raelettes with Ray Charles, and stuff like that.
LILLI: How old are you? I feel such a visionary spirit in some of your songs - and a sense of optimism. Like the “Have you Looked Outside” and “The Universe is Bigger” songs - you are at the same time like a weary old traveler and also a young fresh voice trying to keep the art alive - in the face of corporate BS etc.....
ZAK SMITH: Once again, thanks for the kind words. I'm 31. I alternate between feeling too old and feeling like a kid. Adulthood is something I've never been so enamored of, and at 31 I still feel alienated from the idea that I'm an adult. My instinct is to rebel against that feeling 90% of the time. The weary old traveler bit I can relate to though. Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Woody Guthrie...all the great poets and writers I love, W.B. Yeats, Walt Whitman...there is an oldness to them that I’ve always responded to. I'm not religious at all, but that prophetic type voice, thats something that usually hits me hard, and I may have inculcated some of that into myself.
Click here to purchase or listen to CD "Signs of Life".
From his bio:
In 2013, he released The Precambrian Age, which at the time represented a creative and commercial peak: He won Best Male Vocalist at the Jersey Acoustic Music Awards and was featured in the book Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2000-2010 from New Jersey Artists. Signs of Life is his most powerful statement yet—an album that is simultaneously lush and austere, spontaneous yet deliberate, largely acoustic but with an electric charge to every note. These heartfelt, often brutally honest songs sound just as lively and urgent in 2014 as they ever have.