Zac has been an active young musician in the Tasmanian music scene for a number of years. He started out playing his Dad’s acoustic guitar and learning the basics, then went on to create his own band and develop his own unique style of songwriting.
Joel and Zac talk all things music, exchanging musical stories and sharing their musical influences, aspirations and common goals!
Where did it all start for you Zac? Tell us a bit about your journey.
Yeah I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately actually, because I never really thought I had a musical family but then as I got older I started to realise that everyone in my family was either an artist or had been a musician at some point in their life whether they still pursued that or not. For instance my dad plays jazz piano and guitar but I only really found that out when I was about 19! My mum also plays the trumpet and my nanna plays the piano, so yeah. I learnt how to play the guitar with my brother when I was about 12 years old. I remember little jam bands in high school and stuff like that. I wanted to be making punk music or be a rapper or something like that. I wanted to do something that was outrageous! Haha. But we just played in average bands making lots of noise and that’s really how I got into it all and started enjoying the performance aspect of it.
Can you remember your first ever performance? What’s your earliest memory of that?
It was a primary school talent show! My friend and I had co-written a song which we absolutely butchered! Haha. We forgot where we were up to and we were playing different parts on the guitar and sweating, haha! Then we just stopped as we were really embarrassed, haha. But they judges gave us all 10’s for originality despite the fact that we probably didn’t really get a single word out! That was probably my first memory, but after that the next one I did was probably a high school gig or a ‘gig in the gardens’ or something like that. My first ever public gig was ‘Gig in the Gardens’ in 2012.
How did your brother teach you to play guitar?
My dad had an acoustic laying around, a big round thing that was twice the size of me when I first picked it up! My brother Andrew wanted to learn all these ACDC, Guns’n’Roses and Metallica solos, bands like that. When I was in grade 6, he was in grade 8 playing covers of bands like ‘Iron maiden’ and stuff like that. He’d be there shredding all the bits and 12 year old me would just be sitting there like “Yeeeaaahhhh” with my brain melting, and so I really wanted to learn how to do that! But I learned pretty quickly I couldn’t do it. Solos for me were just challenging. Andrew would sit there and try to teach me how to play from tab but it drove me insane. So instead I went straight into learning how to play chords and writing music because I was already writing stories, I was writing comics and stuff like that. I wanted to be and animator or a comic writer, so I was developing that at the same time. Though I still don’t necessarily consider myself to have much of a voice in the conventional singing sense. In my dad’s own words, I sounded like a dying dog when I started learning how to sing in my bedroom! Haha. I’m pretty sure I killed everybody while I was practicing and I spent years wanting to do it. My friend and I, Sam King from grade 6 used to sing pop-country and stuff like that together. I guess I just really wanted to learn to sing and between then and now I can say I definitely went through a conscious process where I tried to kick my influences out of how I sung, while still allowing myself to be influenced by them at the same time. For example if there was a tonal quality to a singer’s voice that I liked, I’d try to find my way to sing it without using their accent. It was a hard bridge to cross actually because as with a lot of other Australian vocalists, there’s something strange about singing in your own voice. There’s reasons why people are insecure about it because there are people out there who express that they don’t like a certain vocalists accent. But I just think to myself, it’ your voice! I quite like it and it’s unique to who we are. Also in relation to the stuff I wanted to write and started to write, I learned that it’s better to be honest in that. So if I’m singing in my own voice, it’s going to come across more naturally I suppose.
Tell us about some of your band projects over the years, what have you learned along the way and where are you at with it all now?
The first time I thought I really wanted to make a band outside of high school music classes was with a friend of mine Noah, who taught me heaps of stuff and showed me all the music that pretty much influences me now, it just blew my mind. We used to jam heaps and I definitely started setting goals at that point like, ‘we’re going to make a band!’ and ‘we’re going to record songs!’. But that band never happened, it just became the motivation for understanding what I really wanted to do. Then the first band was pretty much a group of us called ‘The Surreal Estate Agents’, though we called ourselves the ‘Backseat Bakers’ first. That band came from having a great big jam party which was something we were doing pretty ritualistically. Then once we were doing it, we were playing all the time and coming up with new ideas all the time. It showed me that gigging was a viable thing and that taught me to reach for bigger things although I wasn’t really necessarily chasing for anything, it always just felt really good to play good shows. We were all just having a really good time! The band had just been through so many ebbs and flows, but it’s still a thing! It’s still going and there’s so many songs we’ve written over the years or haven’t recorded and we don’t know what’s to come. Though we’ve never really known what’s to come because people have come and gone and we’ve done amazing shows and met some amazing people along the way, including some of my musical idols, even having played with them! We’ve travelled and seen lots of the world too. Not only having music as the vessel to do that, but having good friends around you with a similar drive and aspect to what they want out of music, that’s when it’s the best!
Who are some of the idols that you’ve met or played with?
We played with Neil Finn in Devonport! He invited us into his greenroom to hang out and we ate fruit with him. We talked to all the guys in the band there, about things that were a bit separate from music and stuff too, we just had some really good chats. It was really humbling to meet these guys whose music has sound tracked my life in a lot of ways. I think a lot of people feel that way! It’s pretty amazing to meet them and then realise, ‘you’re a really nice person as well,’ haha. So that was refreshing. We also played with Killing Heidi and Dan Sultan, a bunch of these incredible muso’s who you get to be a part of the show with. So that’s pretty awesome.
Going into restrictions through the Covid-19 Pandemic, what were some of the pros and cons for you as a musician?
The pros were having the time to reflect a lot more on everything, sitting around, reading and having time to do gardening. Stuff that I’ve been thinking about for a while that I never tried my hand at. I made some bowls out of Huon pine, haha. Sit around and write poetry you know, sample vinyl and make some beats. I’m a little bit of a hyperactive person so I get obsessive if I’m not keeping myself busy. So there was plenty of things for me to do with the time that became socially appropriate to do, just to stay at home and potter around, which I quite like to do anyway!
The cons for me personally is the general fear that lingers around any public space, that sort of thing is just so contagious. I think that’s effecting everybody in a multitude of ways as it’s been a confusing and questionable time. I think the major con of it is that the way we communicate with each other is changing and the way that we relate to strangers is that there’s a general consensus of paranoia. I think it does something inside everyone’s brains, when ‘everyone’s a possible risk’, you know. For the most part, I also didn’t see any of my friends or play music with a group of people for a long time that was definitely one of the big ‘cons’ of lockdown.
What advice would you give to your younger Self, or to any another young budding musician?
Just be prepared to be wrong all the time and not get what you want for a while. If you keep doing that you’ll eventually you’ll look at something you’ve done and realise you ‘man, I’ve hit the nail on the head!’. You’ll probably write 100 bad songs and make 100 bad paintings but some of those you’ll be stoked about and others will just be part of the process to get you there. That’s the whole point anyway! The point is the process! So just keep doing it and if you’re already there and already doing it than you obviously love it to a certain extent, so don’t let not being Picasso stop you from enjoying yourself creating. That will blossom into something that leads you a lot of places!
To follow Zac or find out more about Zac and his music visit www.facebook.com/zachendersonsmusic