THERE are not too many Detroit-based artists…
that leap to mind! Perhaps, if one thinks back, that task would be less stressful – from Motown and Garag...there are choices and idols that leap to the brain. In 2018; one would struggle but, listening to the music of VAZUM; you can hear the sort of quality and imagination coming from the Michigan city. I have been speaking to Zach Pilska - who plays under the moniker of VAZUM. He talks about the hot-off-the-press E.P., VAZUM, and what themes compelled the songwriting; if there is a standout song – and the artists that have influenced the sound.
I ask about President Trump and whether he was an ‘inspiration;’; what the music scene is like in Detroit; whether we might see VAZUM play in the U.K.; how the music comes together; what plans there are for the remainder of 2018 – whether Detroit’s social and economic situation is improving at the moment.
Hi, Zach. How are you? How has your week been?
I am doing well. Thanks for asking.
It’s extremely cold in Detroit - single-digit temperatures. Been staying inside working on demos. Winter seems to be a good time to do that...
For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?
I am a drummer and play in a handful of Detroit-based bands. I’ve been writing music for a while - but it wasn’t until recently when it clicked. A recent break-up inspired me to follow my vision. I recorded an E.P., put a band together and started playing shows as the singer/guitarist.
How was your Christmas? Did you manage to spend time with family?
Yes. I spent time with my parents and brother. I did my annual visit to church. The priest said Christmas has become an exercise in nostalgia - and that resonated with me. There is an idea in everyone’s minds of what Christmas is supposed to look and feel like - and I think that applies to music as well.
People want to feel something from listening to music.
VAZUM’s self-titled E.P. is out. What can you reveal about its themes and inspirations?
Betrayal and trust are recurring themes as well as confrontation. The first song, Fall Guy, is about being literally thrown out of a bar. Big Bulp Lie is about the lure of the American Dream and how that can lead to a lifetime of misery...
Other songs are more positive. Agafia touches on the peace that comes with being a loner and disassociating from society.
Is there a particular song from the E.P. that is especially inspiring or relevant?
I think the last song, What a Lovely Time, speaks to the unpredictable world we live in. These are the best and worst of times. As technology advances, does our quality of life improve along with it? In some ways ‘yes’ and some ways ‘no’. The Smartphone has an incredible amount of power over our lives and, perhaps, it’s time to start moving away from that.
It reminds me of the halcyon Detroit days when The White Stripes, The Dirtbombs and The Von Bondies ruled the roost! Are these bands that have inspired you?
More so The Von Bondies than the others...
I’m friends with those folks and have been influenced from watching them play - mostly in their other bands including The Hounds Below and Pony Show.
The city has become more socially deprived and violent since then. Is Detroit’s sense of unrest influential regarding your music?
In a lot of ways, the city has improved…
There are new people moving in and new businesses opening. In terms of being influenced by Detroit; the Jazz scene has had a lasting impression on me. I spent a good amount of time going to jam sessions and sitting in; as well as listening to different players. There’s a certain amount of bravado the Jazz-cats carry with them - and some of that attitude has rubbed off on me.
Zach. You write and record the song – utilising a band for live sets. How did you meet the band? What is the live scene like in Detroit?
I’ve become friends with people in other bands in addition to the ones I play with. When it came to putting a band together, I had a whole roster to choose from - and personnel changes from show to show. Michael O’Connor, who is one of my good friends from FUR and VSTRS, has helped me along the way from the demo process with providing feedback. He naturally was a choice for the band. Detroit has a healthy music scene. There’s a lot of bands from all genres. Ther are several different scenes and, unfortunately, they don’t overlap as much as they could.
But; there is always something to do…
Does the presidency of Donald Trump impact your songwriting an ambition? What is the impression of Trump in Michigan right now?
People seem to be very angry these days...
The chorus of What a Lovely Time is aimed at Trump: “You ignorant, prejudice; bigot, bully”. He is all these things and, as a result, people are very defensive and have their guard up.
Can you tell me the artists you grew up listening to?
My dad played The Beatles, Talking Heads and Bob Marley a lot while driving. Then, I started watching MTV and got into the grunge bands. Smashing Pumpkins left a lasting impression: they were abrasive but had a dreamy aspect that I immediately connected with (especially on Siamese Dream). I later learned Billy Corgan’s intention with that album was to create an idyllic childhood he never had.
I feel like I lived the ideal he was envisioning and, in effect, that album was the soundtrack to my younger years.
IN THIS PHOTO: Bent Knee/PHOTO CREDIT: MullenLowe U.S.
Who are the new artists you recommend we check out?
Bent Knee from Boston. I played a show with them recently. They weave intricate arrangements and parts together seamlessly. The singer has an incredible voice.
Another band (worth checking out) I played with recently, Sphaeras, who are from Singapore. They’re an all-instrumental group and also play complex music but are masters of their craft and make it look easy.
If you had the chance to select the three albums that mean the most to you – which would they be and why?
Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream
This is the ‘perfect’ Rock record from start to finish. Crazy amounts of guitar overdubs, expressive drumming that mirrors the vocals; different types of songs, from epic jams to sappy ballads.
Depeche Mode – Violator
Another ‘perfect’ record from start to end. I began listening to Depeche Mode as an adult and they have become the most important band of my adulthood. I saw them this past summer and they are truly on a higher plane or frequency.
Blur – 13
Different sounds from song to song - but it all sounds like the same band. Another album I can listen to from start to end.
Is there any advice you would give to fellow artists coming through right now?
The market is over-saturated. Exploit what is unique about yourself and follow through with your vision unapologetically.
Don’t second-guess yourself and just do.
Can we see you perform anywhere soon? What gigs do you have coming up? Any plans regarding U.K. dates?
I’m playing in and around Michigan for the next few months. I would love to take VAZUM overseas. A band I play drums with will be going to Spain this spring.
We may make it to the UK, too.
2018 is here! What do you have planned in terms of goals and ambitions? How did you see in the New Year?
I’m working on new songs and plan to begin recording soon. I’m aiming to release another E.P. or album in the summer or fall.
I’ve had my share of decadence and inebriation over the past year and decided to begin New Year’s prudently with a good meal and a good glass of wine.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Thompson Twins – Lies