Interview

Zach Parkman

Stacy Zell
Zach Parkman fronts local band Zach Parkman & the Damaged Goods. Their unique blend of bluesy rock with a twist of funk made me wonder about the origins of this band, how they ended up in Ohio, and what drives the music they create. I recently interviewed Zach to discuss his band, here’s what he had to say:

SZ: First the background questions. On your website you mention that you grew up in Texas, and have travelled for military living assignments, also lived in Virginia, and now Ohio. How have these different places shaped you as a musician and influenced your music?

ZP: Most Texans that you meet have a hyper-identification with their state, so being a native Texan I was automatically influenced by a sub-set of musicians ranging from Stevie Ray Vaughan and Lightning Hopkins to Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett and Kris Kristofferson to Buddy Holly to Janis Joplin, etc, etc, etc. Even today I identify more as a Texas singer/songwriter even though I haven’t lived there for almost a decade. My military experience really only did two things: a) it sent me to the Middle East, so I got to experience first hand an entirely different culture with a distinctly different historical reference to musical tonality and phrasing, (using minor scales almost exclusively) and b) lighting the fire under my ass to start taking my own music seriously and basically start my career as a musician. Living in Virginia and now Ohio has brought me in contact with quite a few different musicians and musical communities and solidified in my mind just how similar we all are in our need to connect with one another through music.

SZ: You play lead guitar and sing lead vocals on the album Part-time Paladin, which you have made available on your website. Which other instruments do you play and what are the names of the people currently in the back up band and what do they play? How long has the current back up group been with you?

ZP: I took piano lessons as a child, but didn’t stick with them and I remember singing in children’s choir at church at a young age, but that is really the extent of my formal training until later in my adult life. I started fiddling around on guitar at about the age of 12 and haven’t looked back since. I am fairly competent on bass guitar, but every guitar player will tell you that. I also play piano now, but I still play it from the perspective of a guitar player. It’s kind of like I can speak a little Spanish, but I have to translate the words in my head before I can say them. I really want to learn how to play the lap steel guitar and the cello, too. The band I’m with now is The Damaged Goods (we perform under the title Zach Parkman & the Damaged Goods). I am the primary songwriter & arranger, but we do play three or four songs by Brandon Ashcraft who also sings and plays guitar. Mike Cotter plays bass, Kel Williams plays drums and percussion and Don Johnson plays drums and percussion. We are looking for a competent keyboardist/pianist. This version of the band has been together since February 2011. Brandon and I are the only original members of the band that was started in November of 2010.

SZ: Can you talk a little about your music writing process. Some musicians compose in a group, some pick it all out on a keyboard first, some musician have the basic tune in their head for a long while before sitting down, etc. So how is it for you; when you are starting to write is there a consistent process you tend to go through? How does a song first come to you?

ZP: I am a “binge” writer. I am always working on something in the back of my head and I carry around several notebooks of unfinished songs every where I go, but I usually have very fruitful periods of about 2 weeks where I complete a lot of songs at the same time. Outside of that, I am a prodigious note taker. If I have a cool turn of phrase or lyric go through my head I will scribble it down on a napkin or a receipt or whatever is available. Normally I write the melody line and music first, with a basic cadence of how the lyrics should sound and then fill in the blanks at a later time. This usually leaves me with several different versions of the same song. Every once in a while I will have a song just pour out of me complete with lyrics and all, but that is the exception and not the norm.

SZ: Your music spans across several genres, Blues, rock, funk, when people who haven’t heard your music ask you to describe it to them or ask you what genre it’s in, what do you tell them (beside just listen to it)?

ZP: That problem has actually gotten worse over time (the problem of assigning a label). I used to play acoustic guitar exclusively, so I could easy reference another acoustic guitar performer like Jack Johnson or Dave Matthews or early John Mayer, but now that my repertoire has grown to include so much more it has become more and more difficult to describe. My first musical love is and always will be the blues, but I also love classic southern soul and western swing and early R & B and country. I have started just referring to it as “roots music”. All of those genres and styles found their way into modern popular music from Rock to Rap.

SZ: When I listen to some of your guitar runs, I seem to hear a classical influence so are there classical composers that have influenced your music if so which one or two in particular and in what ways.

ZP: I was raised in a household that listened (and still listens) to NPR and part of that included classical music. I am a huge fan of J.S. Bach and have learned several of his works on guitar. I wouldn’t say that it is a primary influence, but it is still part of the way that I perceive melody. Bach was a genius; he could tell a story using only musical notes. It is such an easy thing to say, but having such a refined ear for harmony and counter point and to compose multiple layers at the same time is truly amazing.

SZ: For a while you were in a Christian rock band. I think readers will find this interesting and would like to know what you took away from that experience or if you found the actual experience of playing music in that setting different than what you experience now.

ZP: Now that I can put some distance from me then and now it doesn’t seem all that alien. I definitely went through a “what was that about?” period. I was raised in semi-religious family, Dad’s side was Southern Baptist and Mom’s was Episcopalian, and like most families the farther you go up the generational ladder the more fervent the belief. So, growing up I realized that people had different religious and spiritual beliefs and that was fine. In my early twenties I went through a bit of a spiritual crisis in that I had all these ideas and philosophies, but nothing concrete to identify with. That is pretty common I think for most folks in their twenties. So sufficed to say I went with a friend to a Christian coffee house in a small town in East Texas and fell in with these guys that had the same story as me. Raised in the church kinda, grew up, went astray in some form or fashion and were looking for “something” to fill the void. They had a band and were looking for another guitarist. I performed with them for about a year and did some regional touring and really learned a lot about playing with other musicians. Most of what we played you can hear on contemporary Christian radio and an album’s worth of original music. It was probably exactly what I needed at the time. It taught me a lot about not only what it means to be a working musician, but also about standing up for yourself personally and not allowing someone else to dictate who you are, what you are and what you want to do with your life. The “brand” of Christianity that the bandleader adhered to is probably best described as “evangelical Pentecostalism” minus the speaking in tongues. Like any fundamentalist world view it doesn’t leave much room for variety or differences in opinion and I don’t know how an artist can work inside those parameters. And that is all I’m going to say about that.

SZ: In the frenetic society we live in, readers are always interested in how successful people strike a balance between what they do and the rest of their lives. What advice do you have for younger musicians wanting the music life, but also wanting a healthy relationship and a sense of well being in the pursuit of music?

ZP: Well, I want a pony!!! That is not necessarily a question about the music industry (I use that term broadly), but how a person handles their own inner life. My wife and I both work in the Arts and it can be a fairly transient life, but with new technology you can still get a lot of networking and creative communication via the web. The real question to ask yourself is can you live a contented life doing anything else. I finally arrived at the point at about the age of 26 or 27, when I had been sort of a part-time musician for awhile, that if I didn’t pursue music I wasn’t being true to myself and I would regret it for the rest of my life. If that is your truth then pick it up and run with it. Play in front of anyone that will stand still long enough to be an audience. Take yourself seriously as a musician, don’t take no or silence as an answer. Most importantly, involve yourself with your local music community. You don’t have to move to Los Angeles or Nashville to have a career in music, but you do have to make yourself known as a reliable and constant figure in your own community. That is true of any career. That will be $20 please.

SZ: So how would you compare where you are now, the music you are currently working on for the next album with what you did last time around? Are your inspirations different this time, has being settled in Ohio now come into play at all in the writing process, are there themes you have now that weren’t in the music before, messages you want to get out there, any politics, or other sorts of threads through your current work?
The songs that went on The Carpenter & the Chemist, which was recorded in 2008, were written from 2000 – 2006. I am extremely proud of that album and several of the songs are in the current set lists we play. I came out of that album knowing that the next one would be a much “rawer” album, both sonically and lyrically. It is strange to talk about this now, because while I am recording the “new” album with the band (in which all the songs are written and arranged and now being mixed and over dubbed) I am also recording demo tracks for an even “newer” album which is much more introspective and softer I think.

SZ: Tell the readers about any upcoming gigs where they can come and hear you play; I understand you will be at the Paw-Paw festival in Albany. When is that?

ZP: We will be at the Paw-Paw Festival, Friday, Sept. 16th from 4 – 5 PM http://www.ohiopawpawfest.com/index.html.. On September 17th we will perform at the Blue Room Sessions at InSea Sound Shop in Nelsonville starting at 7 PM. The Blue Room Sessions are kind of an institution for this area; just about every band does one on some occasion. It is a very intimate venue, the recording studio at InSea probably fits 20 people; the sets will be primarily acoustic and are recorded. Tickets are $10 and MUST be bought in advance at www.insea.biz. The band plans on releasing the recordings as a live album. We are really looking forward to it.