Jonathan Frahm:Signs of Life is your current album, just released earlier this month, and it’s an album full of reworkings of past songs. What had led to the decision to rework these songs, and what was different in the studio this time around, rerecording each of them with a stripped-down set of instruments, as opposed to when you had first recorded them?
Zak Smith:Since I started doing music, the core of a good song to me was always something that you could always sit in a room with and just play on guitar. For some reason, that stuck in my head and I always kind of feel that way. A lot of these songs that we reworked were songs that had a more up-tempo, fuller production with more instruments and more stuff going on. I love stuff like that, but going back to being in a room alone with a guitar and feeling out a song, I wanted to rework songs in that way. What’s different in the studio is, basically … When you’re doing a production with all sorts of keyboards and all of that stuff, the specific instruments can get lost in the mix sometimes. With a more acoustic setting, everything is just sitting right out there with the piano and guitar and little drums being played. There’s no huge drums or a horn section or anything like that, so everything that is being played are way more front-and-center and become more important in that you can really hear what’s going on with each one.
JF:Signs of Life is your sixth studio album. You’ve been making music for a while now, then… So, in what ways has life changed for you since the release of your first studio album as compared to now, as an artist, and in what ways has it stayed the same?
ZS:With the first album, I hadn’t really gone on tour… I hadn’t really played with many full bands. Now, I’ve toured with bands and we’ve toured up and down the east coast. We did a short tour in Europe, too, and played at some festivals while we were out there. So, we got to experience a lot of that, with playing some nice venues over time. I started out loving songwriting and I wasn’t much of a musician. There’s way, way better musicians than me, but I’ve become a better singer and I’ve become a better guitarist since the first one, for sure. I feel like, once in a while, I’m a professional, where in the beginning it just felt like I was winging it. I feel way more comfortable than I used to. My writing process has stayed the same. If things bother me, or if I’m upset about something, the best way for me to deal with it is to write about it. That’s my method for writing and always has been.
JF:With your music, what purpose did you set out with when you had decided to enter the music industry? To elaborate on that, what were your most major set of goals set in line to tackle, and what do you hope to convey to those listening to your music?
ZS:At the most basic level, I think this is what I have to do in order to be happy. I’m most happy and feel like I’m doing what I should be doing when I’m playing music and when I’m writing music. If I go a long time without it, I don’t feel happy. At a very general level, it’s kind of what I have to do to feel okay. What I hope to convey in other people is… When I first started listening to music and first started loving music… I’m kind of a solitary person as it is, and music made me feel like I was less alone, and like I understood the world and myself better. A song to me is an artist reaching out to their listener saying, “This is how I feel, have you ever felt this way?” So, I hope to give them something to relate to and let them know other people are feeling this way.
JF:With that in mind, ultimately, are you happy with where your career has led you thus far? Moving forward, like in the next couple of years, where do you hope to be in terms of your career?
ZS:Well, I’d hope, for sure, that in the next couple of years… making more money would be nice. [laughs] That’s honestly pretty high up on the list at this point. If I could afford it, I’d be on the road constantly, playing bigger shows every night. That is the dream. If I could actually do that in any feasible manner, that would be perfect. I’d love that. I’d like to be a little more well known. It’s all just these ambitious typical musician things. I’d like to be on Rolling Stone… Everything on the normal checklist, you can check off. [laughs]
JF:We’ve mowed through the more serious questions here and are pretty much ready to wind down into the closing here. I don’t like to end my interviews in typical fashion, so… name some of your favorite foods.
ZS:Foods. Last night—I don’t eat a lot of pasta—but there’s a place we ate after a show in New York that had amazing spaghetti and meatballs. Otherwise, I also love blueberries. I love fruit.
JF:Between the two, which would you like to use for our ending question?
ZS:Let’s use fruit, because I eat that more.
JF:If you were a blueberry…
JF:…what specific features would you maintain to differentiate yourself from all other blueberries?
ZS:I like the bigger ones, for sure. I’d be the bigger one in the box with a little bit of tartness. If you bite in and it’s too gushy, it’s not good. I like to be a little tart, and a little sweet.
JF:So, you’re a big, tart blueberry.
ZS:Sounds right to me!
JF:Any closing statements?
ZS:A word of advice. When you’re a musician and you’re writing and playing music, make sure that you are playing stuff that you really like and really feel strongly about, and you’re not playing it because you feel like that’s how it’s supposed to be or what other people want to hear. You should feel strongly about what you love and keep strong opinions about them. I found it’s better to approach things that way.
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