ATX Culture Music

An Evening and Interview With Indie Rock Artist Zach Person

Indie rock artist and guitarist Zach Person hosted a VIP Showcase with his label BlackDenim Records on Wednesday, March 10. In partnership with Geraldine’s, the showcase was an intimate, socially distanced event — and a much-needed outing for Austin music lovers who have been missing live concerts for over a year now. As Person performed tracks from his upcoming LP, guests enjoyed complimentary cocktails and dishes, courtesy of Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select and Geraldine’s. I won’t speak for everyone, but it was definitely one of my favorite evenings in 2021 thus far, and it felt more special than I could have imagined. Austin’s music scene is finally live and well again.

Full of soul and spirit, Zach proves that groove and edge can coexist. Though his blues rock influences are evident, Zach adds a twist of contemporary pop that makes his music feel both classic and modern. Recently positioned as BlackDenim Records’ flagship artist and offered an equity position, Person is one of the first unreleased indie artists to have ever received ownership in a label for signing. “Zach is arguably one of the greatest undiscovered indie artists to have come out of North America in years, and it’s time that the world got to know him,” says Christopher Durst, co-founder of BlackDenim Records.

Photos by Stacey Lovett

We recently had the opportunity to chat with Zach Person about his music career journey, how life and songwriting has been for him during the pandemic, and what he’s hopeful for in 2021.

Can you share your story about how you first got into music and to where you are now?

My mother was a really good singer and loved music. As a little kid, she had me singing with her around the house. I was always an independent kid and went through all these different phases, and skateboarding was one of them. While my mom was into a lot of Motown music, I was getting exposed to heavy metal and rock out at skate parks. I guess that first piqued my interest in guitar-based music.

My father worked as a correctional officer in a prison. He was killed when I was nine, and that was a big moment for me. My mom was looking for an outlet for me to put all my energy and time into, and we naturally gravitated towards guitar music. I asked her for a guitar, and my first guitar was a First Act boy guitar with a battery powered speaker in it from Walmart. I played on that guitar for about a year. I say played on it, but I just jammed around and tried to make sounds and as best as I could.

After about a year of that, my mom decided I wasn’t going to stop and said, “Okay, well, it’s time to get you a real instrument.” She got me an Epiphone, Les Paul standard; they’re a company owned by Gibson. I played on that and started taking lessons from a guy named Baxter Clement. He introduced me to the blues and was like, “What are you doing with all this trash music? This is where it’s at, you need to listen to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, and BB King.” I remember going home one night, getting on YouTube and the first person on his list to listen to was BB King. I remember watching “The Thrill is Gone,” and from that point on was completely hooked. I put down the skateboard and was playing guitar and learning as much as I could.

At 13, my mom remarried and we moved to Houston. I was still just playing privately, and nobody knew I played music. One day, I brought out a guitar at career day, and I don’t even remember how this happened, but a huge crowd came inside the gym and started applauding. That was my first performance ever, and some kids who had a band asked if I could join it. I joined that band, and their dad was the district manager for Verizon in Houston. He got us our first gigs at House of Blues Houston and a bunch of other cool places.

Towards the middle of high school that band fell off, but I still wanted to play music. I became an acoustic singer-songwriter at 16, started writing my own songs, and called up up clubs to book my own shows. As soon as I got a license, I was trying to go out to blues jams or open mics every night after high school. I eventually started booking my own solo gigs. At that point, I just thought that I was just going to be a singer-songwriter, but one day it felt like God said, “No, this isn’t where you’re supposed stop,” because a church called me and asked if I could play electric guitar at one of their services. I said, “I don’t even own an electric guitar, but if somebody has one, I’ll play.” So I showed up, plugged into their big house system and played electric guitar for the first time in a long time. After that I thought, “I have to have a band again.” I started looking for bands, got a group together, and played with them through the rest of high school.

I planned to go to college, but that got detoured because I went to audition for “American Idol” in December of 2015. I was on the show, made it past the judges and went out to California for a few months. That was a crazy process, but the best thing from that process was that I realized I really was a singer in addition to a guitarist and that I needed to prioritize that as well as my musicianship. Coming off “Idol” was a wild ride. I got to meet a lot of people and was introduced to a lot of great, legendary artists. There were opportunities to play with people like Buddy Guy, Robert Gray and a lot of people in the blues world. Although blues is my background, my interest has always leaned towards indie rock town, like Jack White and The Black Keys. That’s what I’ve been shooting for when it comes to all the music I’ve made.

After a few years of writing and the “Idol” success, I felt like Austin was calling because there were a lot of opportunities here. I moved to Austin at the tail end of 2017 and didn’t know anybody. I tried to network as much as I could and played every gig to meet people and get plugged into the Austin music scene. During South by Southwest 2018, I met Christopher Durst at the Fairmont Hotel; we linked up and he eventually became my manager. He introduced me to Will Loconto, our producer, who has a huge background in electronic music. It was a cool experience because I was coming from this raw instrumental background and he came from a synth background and works on huge video game and cinematic scores. Blending the two elements created something really cool.

Eventually, other opportunities have come over the past couple of years, and I’ve gotten to do some really incredible things. We went out and did the Toronto International Film Festival, have worked with Amazon and Andy Jassy, who has been really great and brought us out to different events. During COVID, though, everything kind of slowed down. We had time to sit down and figure out what we wanted to do moving forward and through the process, Christopher Durst led the way in creating BlackDenim Records as CEO. I coined the name, but Will and Christopher were instrumental in helping bring it all to fruition, and it’s been a really good joint effort. That’s were we’re at now.

Photo by Christopher Durst

During your EP Showcase you mentioned you have an interesting background story with your drummer Jake Wyble. Can you share a bit more about how you met him and your partnership in music?

Jake was also born in New Jersey, and we both grew up about 20 minutes away from each other. We’re both from that same small little town in New Jersey, and he stayed there until he came to ACL [Austin City Limits] and fell in love with Austin. A year later, in 2017, he moved to Austin to become a full-time professional drummer. I had also moved to Austin in 2017, and we crossed paths at the perfect time. We realized, “Oh, we’re both originally from the same small town in Jersey. That’s crazy.”

Working with him has been so good. He’s an incredible drummer, live and in studio. We collaborate on everything, and he’s had a really big influence on the way I make my music now. I usually write a song and think I have it all figured out. Then we get with him in the studio or prepare for a live show, and his drumming always elevates what I bring to the table.

It’s amazing if you find somebody you consider your equal or is even better than you in certain areas, where you can push each other. Jake’s a great asset to me and this whole project. I’ve worked with a lot of drummers, and what he does behind the kit, it seems like perfect for me. It’s as if his drumming was made for my guitar playing and vice versa.

You already touched on this a little bit, but what or who would you say are you biggest inspirations when it comes to your music writing?

Early on as a teenager, I was really inspired by classic rock bands, blues and many of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s babies like Led Zeppelin, Cream and Jimmy Hendrix. So many people from that era really inspired me early on. In high school, I started listening to the radio and started hearing more mainstream, contemporary music that opened me up to modern pop and rock pop artists like The Black Keys, Jack White and John Mayer, who all had a big influence on my playing. Then, coming to Austin, meeting, learning, hearing and being exposed to more artists and music, I found there was a big Americana presence here. People like Chris Stapleton — I admire a lot of his songwriting.

The person that’s inspired my guitar playing during the most recent years is a guy here in Austin named Dave Scher. I was kind of in a dry spell and trying to find inspiration and stumbled across him playing downtown one day and thought, “What is that sound? This is what I’ve been looking for!” We’re good friends now, and he’s an incredible guitarist. You can see him playing at venues in Austin one day and then be out on the road with Eric Johnson the next day. He just an incredible guitarist and all-around musician. He inspires me a lot.

And how would you describe your sound to somebody who hasn’t listened to your music yet?

I usually just say indie rock, but to go more in-depth, it’s kind of like a blend of contemporary rock and blues. It’s hard to describe. I try to have all the elements rock and blues at the core of the music, but I modernize it with a lot of current hip-hop and pop sounds, like big 808 drums and synthesizers, just to give it a bit of a modern, mainstream polish.

Photo by Christopher Durst

The other night you mentioned there were a few songs you wrote during quarantine. How has the pandemic impacted you as a musician?

At first, it sucked for a lot of reasons. We had just brought together this EP that we were ready to release. I was ready to go out, promote it and do shows. We had prepared for that for a while, and then everything was shut down. It took a good month of trying to re-strategize and figure out how we were going to move forward and keep making progress with everything being shut down. That led to us adapting just like everyone else did, creating livestreams and making a lot more content. It ultimately gave us the time and focus to actually sit down and find out how we could prepare for 2021 and BlackDenim Records.

I think it’s been a struggle for all musicians. First off, we love to go out and play. Some people have more balance than others, but for some, touring is their life. That’s what they do every single day. Having to sit still, sit on your hands and not be able to go out and play shows has probably been the weirdest thing for a lot of artists. It’s not only that fact that the industry isn’t generating the type of money that it was, but it’s also the fact that we love to do this. If it was all about making money, I don’t think as many artists would be in it. We just love to go out and perform. That’s been the hard thing for many of us.

Your show was the first time I had seen live music in a long time, and I’m sure it was the same for many others. What are you looking forward to most once the world gets back to a somewhat “normal”?

I’m mostly looking forward to getting out and playing shows and connecting with other musicians I haven’t seen in a while. We have a really good music community here in the city of Austin. Getting back to connecting with them and connecting with fans again, that’s where it’s at. I’m also hopeful about things like ACL happening again.

Thinking more about that last question you asked me, there was a weird moment when we had our first performance in a long time. It was weird packing up the car with instruments again and putting on the stage clothes and leather jacket. I pretty much live in that stuff, but walking out the door with all that stuff on, I thought, “Oh man, I feel like myself again.” I’m looking forward to more of that for sure.

And what’s next for you? Can you share any upcoming projects or performances coming down the road?

The next big thing is our LP release show. That’s going to be on April 2 at Empire Control Room, and it’s going to be a party. We have Cowboy Diplomacy and Torino Black on the lineup as well, and have planned a bunch of special guests to come up at the end. That’s the next thing coming up.

Zach’s LP Release Show will take place on April 2 at Empire Control Room, located at 606 E. Seventh St., Austin, Texas 78701 — in the venue’s socially distanced outdoor area. Grab your ticket here, and we hope to see y’all there (distantly and with a mask, of course)! 😉

Feature photo courtesy of BlackDenim Records

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