Hey there Z.SMITH! Welcome to BuzzMusic! We are loving the bits of your music that we heard! What does the typical songwriting and production session look like for you?
Hey, thank you so much for having me! I'm glad you're picking up what we've been putting down. To tell you the truth, that process can be pretty different each time. Now when it comes to set songwriting there's about a 90% chance that I've holed myself off somewhere with an instrumental and I'm just piecing together lyrics and not talking to the outside world. The only person I've ever really written with is my buddy KNOX and that's like the one exception to my rule.
As far as the production side of things, that's a very different story. As much as I'd love to tell you that I can piece that part together on my own, it would be the furthest thing from the truth. Right now I've been working with Austin Shawn here in Nashville and remotely with Tony Burkhart over at Blacklite Studios up in Cincinnati. They're both incredibly talented and gifted with what they do but their processes are almost opposite when we work together, which is great. Typically with Tony, I'll try to give him an idea with some reference tracks and he'll send me a couple different versions and ideas until we nail down what sounds right but a lot of the weight falls back on him since I'm not with him in the studio to contribute. Now with Austin, I'm usually right next to him when he's building the track from scratch. So then I get to be a little more vocal and give my two cents right then and there, and Austin's a damn wizard. I'll try to explain a sound that I'm hearing in my head and stumble with it and then he'll not only make it real but he'll make it better like it's nothing.
Do you often record your music on your own? What does your recording process look like usually? Are they any neat tricks that you have learned?
I haven't recorded vocals on my own since I was about 18, solely for the reason that other people know so much more than me and can actually make my sound playable through speakers. The recording process is actually my favorite part of everything that I do, but I don't have any rituals or anything like that for everything to sound right. If there's a microphone hooked up to a monitor with some headphones, I will go at it again and again until someone tells me we've got what we need. I've recorded with Austin a ton but I really need to thank my guy Ryan Rajagopal. That man has tracked my vocals over the past three years and has always made the time to hook me up, whether we're recording at other studios or the closet in his room.
What about your influences make them an influence to you? Are there any particular things about them that make them an influence? What had influenced you to start creating music?
That's some deep stuff. I guess in my mind influence is like an inspiration taken the next level; something that not only inspires you for that moment but really leaves a mark on you and then you can see how it continues to leave its mark when you create something yourself. So for me, I take a lot of influence out of underdog stories, people who have really risen above every odd and obstacle to make something happen on their own or with their team. So Joyner Lucas, Machine Gun Kelly, Vince Staples are all prime examples of that and you can hear it in their music and when they tell their stories. But at the same time I get that kind of influence from my mom, my dad, the people I hold closest to me. And when both of those kinds of influences come together that's where you get my stories and my music. Ever since I started writing, I think that's been a commonality I can't (and don't want to) get away from.
With your latest music video for "Am I Crazy", what was the filming process like for it? What has inspired the art direction it had gone in?
Oh, that video was a blast to shoot and that's all thanks to Howard Griffin II, KNOX & Kelsey Tegenkamp. Howard and Kelsey made the trip down to Nashville from Cincy back in January and we shot it in two days, from the moment they made it into the city. It was the first time I had even met both of them but Howard had really taken the time to be prepared for the shoot about two months before we started filming and as soon as he got out of his car he was getting everything set up and in place. Not only that, but he brought the energy and was really fun to film with so nobody felt awkward from not knowing each other.
As far as the art direction goes, Howard and I had Facetimed a couple of times to go over like a storyline and like mood lighting and all that fun stuff but we really just stuck with what the song provided and didn't try to go beyond that. We shot the performance shots in the same abandoned airpark that the cover art was done in, and then we just followed the lyrics to storyboard the thing. It was natural from start to finish and I can't wait to work with him again in the next few months.
We are loving your latest album 'Scorched'! What was the inspiration behind the songs? Do you have a favorite song off of the album? How do you think every song evolves on the album?
Thank you so much just for playing it, and I'm really happy you're enjoying it! The original idea I had wasn't for an album titled "Scorched" at all, but I was actually wanting to put together something that tied together the Seven Deadly Sins and that's where Hades and Split came from. Split is all about wrath and unleashing that inner side of yourself, and then Hades is super prideful. After those two songs were finished is when I started working with Austin and got to make music that was really my own, which was when Black Pen, i SEE Ghosts, Cut the Lights! and the instrumental for Scorched came in. When I started writing the song Scorched, everything sort of fell into place. The song itself is about looking at your life like a vinyl record. So a vinyl record starts out clean and new, but each time it gets played on a record player, it gets small little scratches or divots in it causing the wrong sounds to be played. So the thought behind it is what if that record obtained so many small damages and cracks that all the wrong notes it played became something new entirely. Now compare that to a real person. When a person goes through life they typically get their fair share of bruises and scars along the way, but what if instead of trying to cover up those scars, you embrace them and show them off and accept that they are part of what makes you who you are. And that's the story behind both the song and the album. I fell in love with that concept and from there I really got to tell my own story and show my own evolution both as a person and an artist over a year and a half, from start to finish.
Oh, and all the songs definitely hold a different place in my heart. I don't think I could choose just one out of all twelve of them (But my favorite's definitely Pretty Boy Floyd).
Listen to Z.SMITH here.