Posted by Jason Diamond
You could say that Zachary Cale’s sound is reminiscent of folkies like Vetiver, Espers, and Six organs of Admittance; but once you’ve heard his most recent album, Noise of Welcome, you’ll never mistake his songs of dusty days and hazy nights.
He’s also got fantastic taste in books.
Listen: Zachary Cale – “Hello Oblivion”
You get a lot of your friends to play on this album. Do you find making an album more enjoyable if you have a bunch of friends helping out?
It’s always great to share songs with my friends. Having lived in New York for many years I’ve become acquainted with many talented musicians. Though for me it’s not about having others involved for the sake of it but that it ultimately helps me get away from myself. I think it’s important to relinquish control over one’s music as it can help move things into unexpected places. This album was arranged with two close friends. Without them it would have been a much more insular sounding record. The rest of the players came in accordingly to contribute their own melodies and textures.
The entire album is full of gorgeous songs, but “Nocturne In G Minor” was especially moving. Do you see yourself putting out an album of all instrumental songs in the future?
I’ve always been a fan of instrumental music. Eno, Morricone and Badalamenti instantly come to mind. I’ve never been into “rock” instrumentals but guitar based music like Fahey’s Takoma Records have been huge inspirations for me over the years. I’ve fantasized about making my own “Takoma” record some day. I have tons of open tuning guitar compositions that I’ve been saving just for that reason. But as much as I love that aspect of music it’s songwriting that I care most about.
How do you approach writing your lyrics?
I try not to think about it too much. As simple as it sounds I just try to be open and let it happen. The muse is a mysterious thing, but I’m thankful that it stays with me… most days. I do find that the quicker the lyrics happen the better. In my experience over thinking or forcing the lyrics is the best way to kill a song. I feel like my best songs are the one’s I write in one sitting. I might go back to it the next day and tweak a verse but that’s it. I think it was Dylan that said, “The best songs are one’s that walk on two feet”. Which to me means that once you have the “idea”, the song should write itself. Keeping that simple idea with me helps and also making sure to have fun with words. After all it’s in the lyrics that one can truly mess around with character and mood, that’s where the acting comes into play. Using words to paint pictures and tell stories, to me, that’s what songs are essentially. Ultimately I try to walk the line between knowing my craft and knowing very little, if that makes any sense.
Has literature ever been an influence on your songwriting process? Any specific books helped you write a song or maybe a lyric directly inspired a lyric?
The title of the my new album “Noise of Welcome” was taken from a phrase I found in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. To me the phrase means celebration, which is the vibe I was going for while making the album. The first song on the album “Blake’s Way” is my homage to William Blake, whose song-poems have provided me with endless inspiration.
So yes, literature is always a source of influence. It can really open up possibilities especially in regards to character. I like to sing from different places or should I say different people. I feel David Bowie is a great example of that. Although a lot of what he sings comes from who he is internally, he’s able to don masks and sing through other voices. Literature helps you see the world through others. Of course reading a lot can’t hurt your writing either. It helps me choose words and phrases, though it can also get in the way if you’re not careful. One of the things I can’t stand in some songwriters is being overtly literal. For me poems and dreams are the real source of inspiration, but balanced with a ‘pulp’ narrative.
Are you reading any books right now? If so, care to let us know what?
I’m reading the second and final book by Bruno Shulz, Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass. It’s amazing. I read The Street of Crocodiles a couple years ago and it blew my mind. Shulz is a Polish writer and artist who lived in the same era as Kafka and James Endsor (the painter). I would say that those two are his closest contemporaries, as his writing is dreamy and his books are filled with pen and ink drawings, done in an expressionistic, caricature like style. What’s crazy is that his books are pretty much memoirs, though quite experimental for their time. The books are divided into stories that are all based on his childhood experiences that form chapters to a whole. The stories are written so fantastically that when I read it I feel like he’s recounting his dreams. It’s not something I can read on any occasion, as the language is so poetic that I always read every line a couple times because it’s that beautiful.
Could you give us a Zachary Cale reading list?
-Bruno Shulz – The Street of Crocodiles and Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass. – You can find both of these in one volume. Unforgettable stuff.
-Borges – Labyrinths – A true wizard of words. I find myself experiencing time lapses when I read him.
-JG Ballard – Myths from the Near Future – A great collection of short stories by a criminally underrated writer. I feel like he nails the paranoia of our times perfectly.
-Raymond Carver – Where I’m Calling From – His best collection of stories. An American legend.
-J.M. Coetzee – Waiting for the Barbarians – Just read this recently. Post apocalyptic morality tale with no missteps.
-William Blake – Songs of Innocence and Experience – Truly a book of songs, lyrical in their phrasing and enchanting in their imagery.
-Jean Genet – The Thief’s Journal – This is how Burroughs learned how to be Burroughs.
-Raymond Chandler – The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye – The master of the ‘pulp’ narrative.
-Rudolph Wurlitzer – The Drop Edge of Yonder – A sci-fi western by the dude who wrote the screen plays for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and Two Lane Blacktop. Supposedly Jim Jarmusch stole the idea of this book to make Dead Man. I had a blast reading this.
-Richard Brautigan – Trout Fishing in America, Revenge of the Lawn, The Hawkline Monster. Brautigan is a master of the one paragraph story and one of the great American poets. Probably some of the only literature that makes me laugh out loud.
-Philip K. Dick – Ubik, Man in the High Castle, Martian Time Slip, A Scanner Darkly, his short stories are amazing too. Dystopian literature that’s never familiar or boring, a true visionary.
-Haruki Murakami – Dance Dance Dance, Hardboiled Wonderland and The End of the World, Wind Up Bird Chronicle. I love Murakami. All of his books are great. His stories and characters swim around in my head for days after I finish them. One of the few authors writing today that effortlessly describes the anxieties and joys of our present culture.
-B. Traven – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – This is one of the great classics in my opinion. An epic portrayal of the nature of man. I place him next to Steinbeck. Classic movie too!
-Graham Green – All his novels. If you read one you’ll find that you need to read them all.
-John Fahey – How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life. I read this at the height of my Fahey fandom and honestly nothing can prepare you for it. It contains some of the most hilarious and heart-breaking things I’ve ever read.
-Greil Marcus – Mystery Train, The Shape of Things to Come, The Old Weird America – Figured I would tip my hat to a great music writer. These books talk about American myth making in detail, placing cultural icons like Elvis, Doc Boggs, Robert Johnson, David Lynch, Harry Smith, Philip Roth and Dylan on the same platform as American archetypes like Lincoln, Herman Melville, Stagger Lee, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and MLK. Marcus explains how their voices recount our history, describe the impermanence of the present, and predict the future.
-Rimbaud – A Season in Hell – The poem to end all poems.