February 19, 2019
Tune-In Tuesdays #7: Lessons Learned with Zack Brooks
Zack Brooks ‘What You Love‘ CoverSource: Zack Brooks | Spotify
Zack Brooks is the California-based musician who doesn’t confine his work to just one genre.
On Monday, I had the pleasure of speaking with Brooks over the phone in regards to his experience as a musician and some of the lessons learned through working in the industry over the years.
‘Lesson Learned‘ by Zack BrooksSource: Zack Brooks | Spotify
burgundy bug: What sparked your interest in music? Was there anyone or anything in particular that inspired you to start making your own songs?
Zack Brooks: Yeah, absolutely!
Who are some of your musical idols? Is there anyone you hope to collaborate with some day?
It would be a big hope, but I would say Beck.
Beck would be my biggest source for inspiration because he goes in so many different directions. You can’t really pigeonhole him into one particular category. Y’know, he does the multi-instrumental stuff; he does hip-hop; straight up pop; he’s made weird, dystopian folk.
I like the idea of moving really fluidly between genres.
Your music incorporates elements from many various genres (hip hop, alternative, indie, lofi, pop, etc…). How would you describe your discography to a listener who has never heard your music before? What songs would you recommend they listen to first to get acquainted with your sound?
It’s always kind of weird to draw a comparison because it almost comes of as a really strong flex like, ‘Oh, [my music] is exactly like [insert really astounding band].’ I try not to be too derivative and just pull the elements of the different music I listen to into a semi-coherent jam.
With that, I would have to say I really like using the Beck, Modest Mouse, J Dilla comparison to let people know that I try to incorporate the kind of drum sampling techniques that really got popular with those MPC producers that wanted to make these records in a creative way by cutting up old music.
I’ve always thought that style really incorporates a level of creativity and accessibility for people who don’t have the ability to record live drums.
For people who haven’t heard the music, I normally recommend Cake just because of the weird amount of success it’s had compared to the rest of my discography. I think I’m probably the proudest of Lesson Learned as an album, though.
What equipment do you use? Do you handle production or play any instruments?
I play all the instruments. I’ve actually played guitar for about 18 years.
As for production, my friend Bobby Bier owns a company called Bier Music. He’s an amazing producer who has helped me with a lot of the production.
Bier Music on FacebookSource: Bier Music | Facebook
On certain tracks, Bobby does full mixing and mastering. I have also handled the mixing and mastering on a few. I typically like to put in the album notes whether or not Bobby did anything on that.
In terms of my own recording, I just use a really simple, Avid MBox, dual channel interface. I use Ableton for most of my production.
What does your process look like? Do you go into a song already knowing how you want it sound, or do you just flow with the song as it’s coming along?
Y’know, 90% of the stuff I’ve ever come up with came from me just humming something in the shower. Then it goes through a very bastardized process of me (sometimes) really incoherently mumbling something into my iPhone memo-thing, if I’m out and about.
Later on, I try to decipher and descramble all of the nonsense that’s loaded up over the past said amount of time. If something does kind of grab my attention when I revisit it, I try and flesh it out as a melody.
It comes at pretty random times, but I like that. It gives you the opportunity to only pursue things that you want to and let the rest stay on the iPhone.
I’ve got lots of old notebooks with stuff that I eventually deemed too angsty, too. [Revisiting them is] like scrolling through your old MySpace profile – that internal cringe like, ‘Jeez, this is what I was getting into. This is the type of person I thought I wanted to be,’ but it’s great. It keeps you connected to the process.
What was your favorite song to work on? Why?
My favorite has been probably Apollo Creed Pulled Me Through the Darkness (feat. AMELIA) ‘cause it gave me the opportunity to link up with an incredibly talented SoundCloud artist named Amelia Pierce.
I’ve worked with different SoundCloud artists, but she just has this wonderful voice.
I came across her music, I sent her a message along the lines of, ‘Hey, you have a beautiful voice and I would really like to work on a track with you.’
We started sending stuff back and forth and eventually came out with this record that I’m really proud of.
I had no idea what she was going to do, she just sent me a big ZIP file. I was not expecting it.
I loaded up the instrumental and I just remember sitting at my computer like, ‘JESUS CHRIST! She is very talented,’ I was freaking out. I couldn’t believe it.
She’s a perfectionist, too, so we went through a few different iterations.
I would send her back my mixing – and that was when I was able to produce entirely on my own – and she was like, ‘This is not good enough. I’m going to re-record every one of those parts and send it back to you in a couple of weeks.’
I was already so happy with the product like, ‘No, this is really good already! You did an amazing job,’ but she insisted that I hold off on releasing it while she refined her part.
I think it was worth it. The tracks that she sent again were also excellent. I didn’t think they could get better, but they did! I was really happy with that.
Seeing all of that come together in a very unique way was very cool. Amelia wasn’t someone I knew, it was a complete stranger. That’s not to say that the other people haven’t been excellent as well, but I am particularly proud of that track.
It also felt really cool knowing I was apart of something that today’s technology facilitated. She lives in New Orleans, so I probably would have never met her otherwise.
Do you see yourself collaborating with Amelia Pierce again in the future?
I do plan on doing that. She seems to be putting out a lot more music now then she was before. I hope I can get her to make the time.
Your music tends to take on a very personal tone, especially the tracks on your latest album Lesson Learned. Is there any song that is particularly meaningful for you? Why?
I would say the titular track, Lesson Learned.
I wrote that album about dealing with Panic Disorder, which is something that completely derailed my life for awhile. I was able to reckon with the idea that something terrible could happen and the universe being a cold, uncaring place by pulling any kind of lesson I could learn from something bad that happened.
Everyone faces that. Everyone has these monumental issues where it’s really hard to find a point to it, like losing a loved one or any number of terrible things happening. It makes you sit and think for awhile and say, ‘What am I meant to do with this?’
I tried to pull something from this awful thing that happened and turn that into an expression via music. I was really happy that I was able to reckon with those sort of negative feelings in a productive way.
Mental health definitely keeps a very low profile and people are a little bit afraid of talking about it. That was my big takeaway point of the entire album – that [mental health] should be something you are capable of learning from, using to collaborate with other people, and figure out the best way to live your life.
It was also a nice departure. Historically, I will admit I have used music as a platform to complain about ex girlfriends, so it was nice to do something productive with it.
I mean, every tortured artist has to have their song about how they’ve been so greatly wronged by a lost love, right? I think that was my lesson learned – that there’s more to talk about.
Adult in a SenseSource: Zack Brooks | SoundCloud
What’s next for Zack Brooks? Are you currently working on any music?
I am! I have been gearing up to start gigging more in San Diego, CA. I’ve been getting my equipment ready, working on getting a self sufficient performance together.
I’m trying to put together a one man show with a combination of samples I’m going to trigger from sample pads and looping pedals. It’s been going.
I’m also attending law school in August, so I’m trying to get as much creative stuff done as I can before I embark upon what will probably the most stressful year of my life.
What inspired you to pursue law?
I have been around the legal community for a lot of my life.
My dad started something called the California Innocence Project, which is an amazing legal program that works on exonerating people who have been wrongfully convicted.
I had a lot of amazing exposure to the ways in which law can remedy people’s lives that have been really disadvantageously affected by [lawyers] who have not been practicing law as well as they should have. It’s really inspired me to go out there and give it my best efforts.
Zack BrooksSource: Zack Brooks | SoundCloud
Do you have any overall career goals as a musician?
When I was about 15 years old, I attended something called, CSSSA, which is the California State Summer School for the Arts. It was an intensive music course from nine A.M. to nine P.M. for 30 days.
[At CSSSA,] you work with professional musicians to learn how to make it as a professional in the music industry; working, the technical expertise, as well as the business aspect of it.
One of the overriding messages I got from a lot of teachers there – and it sounds discouraging – they pretty much said to me, ‘If you can have this as something that you love and do something else, don’t rely on music for your income.’
I was like, ‘Oh, shit. This is kinda dark.’
[The teachers] essentially said, ‘No, we mean if you can do anything else, do it. If you can keep music as something that you love and you pursue on the side, you never have the stress of paying rent by making a great song. You just do it for the personal satisfaction.’
It’s not the soundbyte positivity you want to hear from an artist or someone in an interesting field, but at the end of the day it really is important to maintain options for yourself. Then, [music] doesn’t become a necessity; it becomes positive development.
I would say [music is] something I’m always going to do, but if I’m never discovered, blow up, have my own worldwide tour, etc… it’s no skin off my back. I do it because I enjoy it.
It’s a little hedonistic, almost. The less expectations I have with my music, the better I feel about it overall.
What would you say to a musician who’s just starting out? Is there anything you would have done differently, as an artist, if you could go back in time?
I would say play out as much as you can. If that’s the part of it that you enjoy, you should revel in that every chance you get.
The way that I’ve gotten a lot of my content covered has been through using the internet efficiently. In that sense, it goes back to where I was saying when you find other people that make music that you like, you gotta reach out to them, you gotta talk.
If you keep [music] as an open experience where you allow yourself to meet new, great people and create something with them, that’s what it’s all about.
From a more practical approach and marketing standpoint, when you collaborate with as many people as you can, you expose your music to as many of their fans as you possibly could ‘cause you’ve worked on something together.
If you’re the type of person who wants to be seen and heard by a lot of people, then you should look at people who are doing that successfully and reach out.
Zack Brooks in ‘Horse Pizza‘Source: Zack Brooks | iTunes & Apple Music
Do you have any final thoughts or additional comments to add?
If you’re someone that has struggled with mental health, you need to be able to have these conversations in a productive spotlight.
I think by turning this really shitty thing that I went through into something else it made me feel a lot better about having to deal with it. From there, I was able to have conversations with a lot of people that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to.
Take the shit, turn it into something cool, because that’s the only thing that you have control over.
You don’t have control over the things that happen to you, you only have control over how you respond to them. Turn that response into something positive, then that diminishes the initial power something had over you.
That’s as metaphysical as I’ll get with you.
Now, I do have a surprise bonus question for you.
Oooh, lay it on me.
As a self-described “Cheetos enthusiast”, what is your favorite flavor of cheetos?
I have tried to dabble in some of their exciting, auxiliary products they’ve put out. I’ve tried the Chipotle Ranch [Cheetos] – thoroughly nauseating, I’ve got to say. I know, it’s disappointing.
I remember, they had the Cheetos Comets back in the day, they came in a tube – also disappointing.
I think when you strike gold, you’ve just gotta keep digging. So I am an original, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos man.
Zack Brooks the ‘music boi/cheeto enthusiast’Source: Zack Brooks | Bandcamp
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