New Jersey musician Zak Smith is playing alternative rock that is often compared to Bruce Springsteen. Not a bad comparison seems how Bruce’s new album “High Hopes” is at the top of the sales charts and his new tour is selling out faster than tickets can be printed. Says Smith, “It’s nice to be compared to that. To be honest, I don’t hear it that much in my music. And I say this with absolutely no ego at all, it’s frustrating. It’s always been hard for me to describe what I hear my music sound like. I would say Americana is kind of the thing that I say the most. It’s kind of alternative rock, I feel like it can be a little heavier and harsher than Bruce’s stuff…there’s more distortion. It’s a little darker.”
With his heavy New Jersey accent, he tells me about his new album “The Precambrian Age” with songs the band has been playing for a couple of years but are just now being released. Putting the album together and digging back into his tracks says Zak, “Made me think of prehistoric geologic time periods and the other thing is it feels like I’ve been working on the album forever.”
The Precambrian Age on iTunes
“Music was the only thing I wanted to do. I wanted to be a songwriter. I would listen to the bands that I love constantly,” Zak tells me when I asked him how he got his start. “Did it replace something else for you?” I follow. He opened up about not being a very outgoing social person and says the solitary time he spends writing replaces socializing a bit for him. He adds, “Before I was into music—I still am–I loved reading, I love books. I wanted to be a writer. So, it’s still writing but with the music so it replaced straight story writing in that way.”
With lyrics that read like poetry, it’s no surprise that Zak Smith has a storyteller living inside of himself. I asked him what his lyrics represent to him (personal experience or social commentary) and in particular with song “Doomed Youth” with lyrics “faith’s gone and we remain.” Answers Zak, “It’s both. I never set out to write a song that’s a message type song. A commentary song is never good ‘cause you’re forcing it. …When people try to say this or that it kind of comes up as hollow. I think if you’re not honest with your writing and just letting your subconscious come out it reflects both. So I think the main thing is it starts with the personal and if your around in the world hopefully it reflects some of what’s going on.”
Listen to free music by Zak Smith on Soundcloud
“Have you ever written a personal song that was about someone that you hoped they would hear?” I ask. “Yeah,” says Zak. “I’ve done that. Then I’ve usually regretted doing it. It can be weird kind of like playing, you know you can say things in a song that it’s weird to say in real life.” “That’s a really good point, you can say things in a song that would be weird to say in real life,” I reply. And we both laugh, because the obvious can sometimes be comical when it’s brought to light in the plainest terms.
However there is nothing plain about Zak Smith’s music and it’s more than just his humble New Jersey accent and sexy voice that has me intrigued. It’s his firm commitment to making music in a shrinking space for rock n’ roll. So I ask Zak, “Do you feel like the area of air space for rock and alternative rock is smaller?” Without hesitation he replies, “Pure kind of alternative rock, you hear it less and less. There is always good things here and there but the top ten isn’t usually stuff that I like. I’m always happy when there’s something in the charts that I really like, like a rock song. It seems like it’s less and less.” “Do you think that makes it more of a challenge for an artist like yourself to push ahead?” I say more in suggestion than in question tone. “Yeah,” Zak agrees, “It’s definitely more of a challenge. It’s a challenge just getting your music heard by people. I’d like to write a song that’s really popular so it gives you something to shoot for.”
He admits his music is a little dark and I laugh. “A little? One of your songs is called ‘Tombs Don’t Roll Back.’” He laughs then adds, “Bruce has some dark stuff too,” like a young boy being caught red handed pointing to his brother as if to say he did it too. “What motivated you to write that?” I ask. “On the album,” Zak shares, “that has one of the biggest productions. There’s a horn section, backing vocals, there’s all kinds of organs and stuff. It’s kind of like a Phil Spector kind of production “Wall of Sound” kind of stuff in my mind was what we were doing. The song is kind of about saying to somebody that you know I love you but music is always gonna be more important. I can’t change that. That’s the way it is. It’s kind of like my tomb and I can’t get out of it.” “That’s a pretty heavy statement for a musician,” I comment. “Yeah,” Zak agrees, adding “it’s one of those things you can’t say in real life.”
WE ASKED ZAK SMITH
Q: Which song title best describes your personality?
Van Morrison, “Call Me Up In Dreamland”
Q: Who is on your playlist now?
Queens of the Stone Age “…Like Clockwork,” Elvis Costello, Neil Young
Zak Smith supports VH1 Save The Music
Music review / interview by Nicole Hanratty
Posted February 17, 2014