"I'm a huge fan of impressionistic music," says modern folk singer Zack Orr. "I love to try to set scenes with songs and sound."
Thus, the percussive acoustic guitar, lush electronic soundscapes, and jazz-influenced songwriting style on his debut album, The Unstoppable Lift, reflect the wide-ranging impressions the young musician has absorbed. Although influenced by such artists as Paul Simon, Jeff Buckley, Elvis Costello, Ani DiFranco, and Bjork, his style has been most affected by his travels, from his teenage years in rural Pennsylvania to Austin, London, Los Angeles and now Boston
Two years in the making, this independently released gem weaves in and out of swing, funk, electronica, modern folk, Americana, and jazz. Early on, Zack's songs were praised by veteran rock critic Ben Fong-Torres, a former Senior Editor of Rolling Stone, who called them "stunning and inventive," and noted Zack "just may be unstoppable."
Zack's intensely personal tunes can be politically charged, or satirical and humorous, all while telling intricate stories. "Austin has an intense songwriting tradition," Zack says. "People like Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, and Willie Nelson reign supreme. I started to stretch out and develop as a storyteller while living there. You can definitely hear the Austin in 'Jack Horner' and 'Amsterdam,'" elaborate tunes with plot twists that push and pull at the music's direction.
The Unstoppable Lift was also shaped by Zack's time living in London, where he performed in coffeehouses and bars as well as busking in the Underground. "London has so much history and culture," he says. "You can't help but feel inspired and humbled." A frequent haunt was Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in Soho. "Pretty much every night of the week, a jazz legend, or someone who played with one, was performing," says Zack. The high-caliber musicianship left a mark on him, and he applied jazz-based harmonic ideas to many of Unstoppable's songs, adding color and texture to his complex wordplay.
Zack also soaked up London's electronic-music scene. "A club called The Velvet Room served up intimate weekly performances with the super-influential resident DJ, Carl Cox," he recalls. "We were hearing the world's best DJs spin their best sets. Hard techno, house, drum 'n' bass and garage, pirate radio stations - this music was everywhere. I even heard really rough, industrial techno played in the supermarket. I loved the huge, atmospheric keyboard sounds and the crunchy drums."
This fascination also became part of The Unstoppable Lift. Drummer Matt Nickerson created electronic percussion tracks from raw, unused sound waves for totally original beats on the drum-'n'-bass-tinged "Machines" and the space-age lounge track "Sounds Like the Future to Me."
Zack and Matt had been in a college band, The Moped Victory Quartet, which garnered some regional success before dissolving in 1998. RecordingThe Unstoppable Lift during the summer of 2001 reunited Zack with Matt and MVQ guitarist Roger Panella at Austin's Music Labs studios. (Austin native Matt McClellan played double and electric bass.) Zack self-produced the album, which was engineered by Tim Geron (James Taylor, Reeves Gabrels).
Getting everyone together required a plan nearly as detailed as Zack's music. Roger and Matt, who were studying music in Boston and Pittsburgh, left their everyday lives behind, and Zack, who was working at an Austin apartment complex, managed to "arrange" a free apartment they could have for a month. By day, they hid inside the apartment, arranging the tunes. At night, in the studio, they hashed out their ideas until the early morning hours.
Now, that's Unstoppable.
Zack Orr - Guitar, Vocals, Keyboard, Laptop
Roger Panella - Guitar
Tim Paul Weiner - Bass
Jeffrey Lein - Drums
Simone - The Laptop
Fransisco the Man - Release date June 21st 2005
The Unstoppable Lift
"Stunning and inventive, he just may be unstoppable."
"He certainly has the songwriting talent to shine if he wants to."
1.5 hours of original material.
Half hour of covers that vary from Joe Henry to Jobim.