I have been chatting with Zyles…
about his single, Sundresses, and what its story is. Zach reveals how the moniker ‘Zyles’ came to be and what his plans are regarding material and gigs. I ask the U.S. songwriter which artists are important to him and albums that have made an impact – Zyles selects some new musicians to follow.
I ask what it feels like (for Zyles) being on stage; when he got into music and started playing; what he wants to achieve before the year is through – the songwriter gives useful advice for those coming through at the moment.
Hi, Zach. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi! Thanks for having me. It’s been a balanced week: working on some new content, staying engaged in the tech world. Things are moving.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
Zyles is my artist project. It’s accessible Pop music and a wrapper for my worldview, with a focus on the themes that are particularly compatible with that packaging. The melodies are catchy, the production is lush; the guitars are funky. The focus is often on relationships, with a bend towards what I find aspirational as a twenty-something city-dweller.
How did the concept/moniker of ‘Zyles’ come to? What does it embody?
When I was in college, I studied Chinese and spent a semester in Beijing in a language program. We signed a language pledge, had all of our classes in Chinese and traveled around the country. My Chinese name sounds somewhat like Zyles. Zyles today doesn’t have much to do with China necessarily, but, for now, it’s coupled with experiences I’m happy to associate with a public-facing identity.
Sundresses is your new single. Can you reveal the story behind the track?
A summer ago, I had an opportunity to spend many weekends in Wine Country, only about an hour north of where I live in San Francisco. There was a particular vacation mindset that struck me, where not only were visitors there for a weekend off, but there was usually a special occasion involved - weddings, milestone birthdays. These converging groups were often from metropolises all around the country, on the opposite side of young adulthood, but shared a cosmopolitan experience.
Sundresses portrays some romantic fantasies of these vacationers. Some of the attraction is traditionally sexy: “Bikini for the hot tub, nothing when she exits”; and some of it is more about shared class and stage of life: “You might make more depending on the year, my dear”.
I believe more material will follow. What can you say regarding future singles and their story?
Summer is almost over. We’re going to move into more pensive territory. Then, we’re going to get a little bit naughty. The settings will be closer to home, rather than the vacation destination of Sundresses. But, it’s going to fun and it’s going to provocative - and you’re going to want to move.
You are based in the Bay Area. Is it a good area to record in? How does the setting and dynamics of the place influence how you write?
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to assert that the Bay Area is among the most relevant locales in 2018. It’s teaming with themes worth writing about and these themes definitely show up in the music: fancy vacation destinations; today’s new money billionaires; people convinced (rightly or not) that they’re going to change the world.
But, these reasons are outside of music production. It’s worth noting that these reasons aren’t outside of music in general: through Instagram and YouTube, Google and Facebook control a large part of the distribution. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed meeting a lot of today’s few Bay Area artists but I have N.Y.C. and L.A. roots these days and tend to travel to produce final versions of the tunes.
You were born and raised in Manhattan. What sort of music did you grow up around and were influenced by?
I was lucky enough to have exposure to virtually every type of music up close while growing up. Field trips to Carnegie Hall in elementary school; family visits to musicals on Broadway. My first concert was Cream’s reunion tour show at Madison Square Garden. The Jazz scene was perhaps the most differentiating. Events at Jazz at Lincoln Center was particularly spell-binding for me. At least as important, I had friends and family to share these opportunities with.
Do you recall when you got into music? Was there a time or moment when you knew you had to chase it?
I had been exposed to a few instruments since a very young age. When I picked up the guitar for the first time around twelve or thirteen, songwriting opened up for me…and that was it. It’s not a huge exaggeration to say that, for me, methods of diving deep into music like learning theory, exploring different genres; playing with arrangement and producing have all been tools to enrich those songs I want to write.
What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?
There are a few modest venues on the West Coast I’d like to play as a headliner. Finding an audience to fill those venues and turning it into a cohesive tour is the dream for me this year.
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?
When I was in high-school, I interned for the Jonas Brothers’ business manager. I would go backstage at the concerts and, when I wandered into the crowd wearing my pass, I would get mobbed by fans insisting I was distantly related to them. It was pandemonium. I was just an observer but it gave me a sense of the power of the music; the palpable energy where everyone is just in suspense for the next moment. Even the parents were into it.
Sometimes, I encounter the phenomenon on a micro scale: when the audience is hanging on a note of a solo, or responding to that jump into falsetto. But, to have it simply in anticipation? I’m still searching for that…
Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?
There are too many to say which are most meaningful. But, here is a meaningful set of three:
Oh Mercy – Bob Dylan
I could have picked any number of Dylan records: there is a dozen of them that means a lot to me. The Daniel Lanois production on this record was haunting and new to me when I first heard it. And, like so many Dylan records, he nails so many emotional states that each of these songs connected with me at one time or another.
The Royal Scam – Steely Dan
I aspire to have something in common with Steely Dan in my songwriting - and this is their quintessential guitar record. It rocks, it gets funky and it’s so tastefully jazzy. I had the opportunity to see them perform the album in full at the Beacon Theater in high-school.
Fever by Kylie Minogue
I heard some songs on this record when it came out and found it terribly catchy. Then, my parents bought it for me and I was so embarrassed after seeing Kylie wearing no pants on the album artwork. I was something like nine or ten years old. I come back to it occasionally as an adult and simply enjoy the Disco-style production.
If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?
I’d play with The 1975. First of all, their fans are intensely into the music - I’ve experienced it firsthand at one of their shows. They also have great musicianship, truly interesting songs and I imagine I’d learn a bunch from them.
For the rider, I just want to have some bananas with my name on them. There have been too many gigs and sets in my life recently with banana shortages.
How important is it being on stage and playing? Is it possible to describe the emotions you feel when connecting with fans in the audience?
In the case of playing for an audience already familiar with the music, the live show is a celebration of a song well-written, well-performed. It’s important in the sense that it’s an opportunity to offer fans a more intimate experience with the music.
However, as an artist in the early stages, I’m sometimes playing to an audience that doesn’t know the music very well, if at all…and that’s tough. Step one is to get the audience dancing. Step two: having them connect with the song on first listen a live setting is quite the feat. As a musician, it’s fun to get lost in making live music.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Go for it, but not until you’re ready. I sang one of those falsetto Prince song at a showcase recently and there were some As and Bs above tenor C. I had been recording that week and not practicing in that range and coming up against my ceiling in our single rehearsal. One of the producers discouraged me: “Don’t go for it.” He had a point. It was risky. I would have had to put in my time to pull that off on stage with high confidence.
It’s the same with music generally: put in the time and perfect the craft because, when you go for it, you’re going to be vulnerable; burning that social and literal capital and you want to do that at the right time. But, when that time comes - and it will - put everything you have into that note, that release.
IN THIS PHOTO: Livia Blanc
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
Finding an afternoon to visit a park. Leaving everything at home but my keys and a book is one of my preferred ways.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
I read the other day that Elon Musk is losing his edge. And, buried in that article is that he’s dating Grimes. What? She’s probably having a tough time. And then I Googled to confirm and it looks like they unfollowed each other on various social media platforms. What a world. Let’s play Flesh without Blood