By Marty Mulrooney
Zach Hurd is a musician from Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from college, he toured in the duo Causeway, performing at colleges, clubs and festivals across the country. Over the past few years he has established himself as a solo artist in the New York City music scene, appearing in clubs such as The Living Room, Rockwood Music Hall and The Bitter End. He released his first EP in 2008 entitled The Small Places EP and recently released his first solo album Changing Landscapes. He is currently working on a follow-up EP produced by Robert DiPietro, whose credits include Norah Jones, Jesse Harris and Josh Rouse.
Hello Zach, thank you for your time! Can you tell AMO’s readers a little bit about yourself please?
My name is Zach Hurd, and I’m a musician/songwriter living in Brooklyn, NY. I’m originally from Bath, Maine but moved to the city about 4 years ago to pursue music.
When did you first get seriously into music?
I first started playing guitar when I was about twelve and I would say that I was pretty serious about it from the beginning. My family had just moved to a new place and I didn’t know anyone. I was kind of a shy kid at that time and felt like everything I’d known, in terms of my social life, had just vanished. Music started to become this way of escaping all of it. Whether it was sitting down and trying to learn a new song I’d heard on the radio or just sitting at my desk, in my room, and listening to my stereo; music was something I could focus on to forget where I was.
When did it become a less private endeavour?
That was probably when I was in college. My best friend’s family used to have this big party in their back yard every summer. We’d make a big fire outside and they’d have a band come and play. This one year, a bunch of us were all sitting by the fire, it was getting late and the band was wrapping up, I think everyone had had a good amount to drink by then (I certainly had) and some people asked me to play something. I ended up getting on the makeshift stage they had put together for the band and played a song I’d written. I was really nervous, to say the least, but I also loved it at the same time. That was the summer going into my senior year of college and that experience definitely got me thinking about seriously pursuing music after school.
Have you always written your own material?
I did play in a duo for a few years out of college and we would help each other with songs we’d written. That was definitely a good experience for me because it forced me to open myself up to feedback on my material. Aside from that, writing music has always felt like such a personal endeavour. It’s always felt like a good way to express feelings or thoughts that I’m having.
That being said, I am becoming more interested in playing other people’s songs. There’s something freeing about not having such an intense connection to the material you’re performing. I’d like to do a little more of that.
Does New York influence your sound at all?
It definitely does. This is where I spend most of my time and there is so much happening here. I’ve seen the work of, and/or met, so many different creative people. Brooklyn is also such a hotbed of new music right now. I feel like people are really exploring the use of different sounds and challenging conventional writing styles. It’s inspiring stuff to be around.
What has been the hardest part of your journey so far?
To remind myself to enjoy the process of making music and performing. I think it’s easy for me to sometimes get caught up in goals and where I’d like to be, as opposed to just being in the moment.
What do you do to pay the bills when you aren’t performing?
I’ve been really fortunate to have a steady day job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’d like to play my music for a living but that doesn’t feel very realistic at the moment. Plus, it’s been really nice to have music and work as two separate things. My day job allows me to view my music as just that and not some means of survival. *Note: I will still gladly accept tips at shows and money for my iTunes sales!
Would it be fair to say that music is your life?
I think I’d say it’s definitely one of the major parts of my life and something that I always feel a strong connection to.
What would you say are the positives and negatives of being a relatively undiscovered musician?
Something that’s felt like a positive and a negative at different times is that you have to create your own motivation. The only person you really have to report into is yourself. No one is going to tell you, you need to go out and book some shows or write some new material or record a new album. All these things need to come from you. It’s empowering but it can also feel a little discouraging sometimes when things don’t line up the way you’d like them to.
I heard you may be touring in the UK next year?
I don’t have any definite dates at the moment, but I’m really eager to make that happen. I’m hoping once I finish this new batch of recordings I’m working on, this summer, I’ll start putting that into motion.
How has the reception been towards your output so far?
It’s been pretty positive. I’ve definitely received some good feedback. It’s always a good feeling when my music resonates with someone; it makes me want to keep working at it.
Is it hard to take criticism when you are so passionate about what you do?
It definitely can be. But more and more I’m seeing the value in getting constructive criticism from the people I respect. There’s a great possibility that someone’s critique will open your eyes to something new about what you’re doing.
Tell me more about your new album Changing Landscapes…
The whole process of making this album was a really important one to me. I just wanted to be able to go into a studio and try anything, play with sounds and take my time. Luckily, I found out about a great studio that had just opened in my neighbourhood in Brooklyn: Thump Studios. The whole team there was really patient with me. When there were ideas I had for sounds or parts, they’d always work to bring them to life.
The album was made up of songs I had written during my first couple of years here. The move to NYC was a big change of environment but I also felt like I was stepping into this new phase, personally. My grandfather passed away right when I moved. I had this strong connection with him. He was this quiet guy that could say a lot without saying much at all.
I think I just wanted to put an album together that felt like it had come directly from me. Even if it wasn’t all perfect, I just wanted to be in the driver’s seat and see what would happen.
Which song on the album means the most to you and why?
I think that would probably be “Distant Sea”. It was a song I had written for my grandfather’s memorial service. I think I wrote it in an hour. I didn’t really have to think about it too much, it just came together.
What sort of music do you enjoy listening to yourself?
I love listening to lots of different kinds. I’ve definitely been listening to a lot of electronic music lately, but I also love more organic sounding stuff. I always feel like I’m jumping around a lot. Sadly, I’m becoming more of an iTunes-era listener and am usually scrolling through lots of different mixes on my iPod, as opposed to just one artist’s album.
I just got the new Bon Iver album, though. Highly recommend it!
How would you describe your own sound?
This is always such a tough question. I think my sound has traces of some of the 1970’s singer songwriters like James Taylor and Paul Simon, but I’m also playing with some of the electronic sounds heard today.
What can your fans expect over the next few years?
In the near future (the end of this summer/beginning of fall) I’m releasing a new EP that I’ve been working on over the last few months. This time around, I really wanted to go into the studio with someone else and let them steer the project. There’s a lot more I want to learn about working in the studio and on my writing, and as a solo artist I’m not always able to get new ideas and perspectives if I’m locked away working by myself all the time.
Robert DiPietro, whose credits include Norah Jones, Jesse Harris, and Josh Rouse, among many others, has been producing. Robert’s a great drummer/percussionist but he’s also a really great songwriter, so I’ve definitely benefitted from getting his input on my material. I’m just really excited to be working with him.
People will be able to get updates on the EP on my website, www.zachhurd.com. I’ll be posting a release date in a few weeks.
Thank you for your time!
Photograph Credit: © Austen Riselvato
AMO’s readers can listen to the Changing Landscapes album for free via Zach’s official website: www.zachhurd.com