Jacob Zachary
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Jacob Zachary

Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States | SELF

Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States | SELF
Band Folk Singer/Songwriter

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"Rare Folk"

Never go see an acoustic show in a bar and expect to really enjoy it, because some people—a lot of people—are only there to socialize. Bobby Brown might say that’s their prerogative, but come on—Bobby Brown would most likely be yelling back at those people to just shut up already. When a sole voice and acoustic guitar are in competition with dozens of alcohol-amped conversations, it just isn’t fair.
Knowing this made my first time hearing Jacob Zachary in concert justly incongruous. Hushed was the barroom. And there, with eyes wide open, they stood quietly in front of panoramic torch songs about carousels and hurricanes and unpainted girls. Most conversations were clipped sound bites on how the melodies were warm, how his voice rang true.
“You can’t expect everyone to be there because they got an invitation or saw a flyer,” Zachary says in a speaking voice soft beneath the thatch of his bird’s-nest beard. “Some people are there to get drunk and get laid at the end of the night, I guess. You just have to play to the contingency that comes and are listening and hope your CD circulates.”
The 26-year-old singer-songwriter says he has never written a happy song. Personal tragedy, drama and despair fashion far better folk stories. Ironically, his songs are more uplifting than depressing, more nostalgic than anxious. On his recent six-track EP, Dreams, Zachary echoes the soul of Iron & Wine and Glen Hansard while exploring the kind of raw Southern stories that are, by nature, more brutally honest than their Northern counterparts. The South, he goes so far as to say, cradles a truer picture of humanity.
Zachary grew up in rural Jennings, La., then Centreville, Miss., where his father was a pastor. “Most of the stuff I write has a tinge or perspective of the faith in it,” Zachary says. “I’m proud of that and honest with people about it.”
After one year at Liberty University in Virginia, Zachary left college and spent his early twenties playing music. He recorded his first full-length record in 2004, opened for Matt Pond PA, and toured the Northeast. Zachary has been back in Baton Rouge for four years, working for Vivid Ink and leading worship music at Haven, a small downtown church that meets at Buzz Café. Sometimes, Haven meets in Zachary’s living room. Through fellow musicians Peter Simon and Luke Ash, he has just begun carving a path as a local performer.
“The industry now is really unfortunate, just how hard it is to get a record made,” Zachary says. “I don’t know if it was easier back [in the early 1960s], but it seems at least people were listening. These days it’s hard to get people to listen.”
To Zachary’s advantage, successful gimmick or ironic bands are rare in indie music this year. Music followers are looking for more honesty out of their performers. Few songs get more honest than Zachary’s “The Most Unpainted Girl,” a splendid rendering of his doomed relationship with an artist filled with all the imagery of a startling Hopper or Van Gogh. “I felt like I was in a painting she admired for a while,” he says. “And I was writing that song as if loneliness were next to me, and she was what the artist had rubbed out of the canvas, the most unpainted girl.”
Inspired by Edgar Lee Masters’ epitaph poems of the Spoon River Anthology, Zachary’s songs are deeply confessional statements. This is music as catharsis, gorgeous and heartbreaking and wholly necessary for pressing on.
“Writing songs helps me get over things,” he says. “It patches up the wounds.” jacobzachary.com - Jeff Roedel, 225 Magazine


"A Chord Left Of The Song"

If you were to look at Luke Ash, Jacob Zachary, and Clay Parker standing next to each other, you probably wouldn’t assume they had much in common. And quantitatively, you’d be correct.

Their few common threads are big ones, though: they are all from Louisiana, they are all dedicated songwriters, and they will all get in a rental compact car pointed at a North Carolina college radio station in the middle of January – an adventure they’re calling the Highways and Airwaves Tour. On the way back from North Carolina, the three will stop to play their music to any crowd in any living room big enough to hold a few people (they don’t care for big venues).

Though the styles are vastly different, their songs are crafted in a way that hints at one trait they all carry: the uncanny ability to make an audience get it, with a level of precision only awarded to those who’ve charted the darkest recesses within themselves.

The three are having a last-minute show at Haven Gallery and Listening Room on Friday, Jan. 6 at 9 p.m., to raise funds for the trip and bid everyone farewell for a little while. Before they hit the road, Dig got acquainted with the three of them and the music they’ve created, and learned a little bit more about how it feels to be an honest songwriter, in a world run by Billboard charts and marketability.

Imaginary Citizens
As the son of a Southern Baptist preacher, Jacob Zachary is acquainted with the path of the righteous. Though he does his best to live a good life, his music isn’t so much focused on his own path. The songs on Zachary’s collection, Collectibles, are far more concerned with the paths of people that don’t exist – to him, they’re every bit as real as anyone else.

“I’m learning how to write more objectively about characters, and not trying to project my own desires or motivations behind them,” said Zachary. “I listen to a lot of Tom Waits for inspiration, because he writes a lot of character pieces. Every character he writes into a song, they seem like completely different people.”

In a universe of infinite possibilities, he has worked out a formula for crafting characters, but his songs aren’t his guesses at their actions – they are his observations.

“I really have to dive deep into their heads, to know what they’re going to do,” Zachary added.

One of his songs, “Centralia,” stems from a story he heard on a podcast about a real couple who lived in the very real town of Centralia, Penn. – a town literally on fire, because it was built over a coal mine that began smoldering in the early ‘60s. The story went that the husband wanted to flee the town like everyone else had, but his wife couldn’t bring herself to leave.

“He thought she was holding him back, because everybody was leaving the town, and they were some of the only people left,” he explained. “One day, he got so overwhelmed that he killed her, and then he drove away – he drove until he was outside of the burning town, and he was able to look at it from the outside, at what he had done. And he set himself on fire; died in his car.”

Zachary is committed to the characters he portrays, no matter what their stories end up telling. One of his songs ended up being about an incestuous relationship between siblings, and he still finished the tale.

“I found the links in the chain, and said, ‘This works – anything else I try isn’t going to work, because I know this fits,’” he said. “Sometimes, it’s like putting the puzzle together without knowing the images you’re trying to make. If it’s a puzzle of somebody holding a gun to somebody’s head, and you get to the point where you realize what it is, do you finish it? I think you have to.”

The Prodigal Wanderer
If you ask Clay Parker where he’s been, he’ll tell you he’s spent many summers in many states from Washington to New Mexico. Ask him why he went, and he’ll say, “work.” Ask him what kind of work he went to northern Idaho to do, and he’ll say, “coffee shops,” before telling you how beautiful northern Idaho is.

Clearly, it wasn’t work that took him to those places between semesters at Nichols State University, but even if he traveled there for no good reason, he doesn’t seem to understand why anyone would ask him about it.

“I was just working, and I played a little bit of music and stuff. It was more like finding something to do, or you know, make money,” he mumbled.

Though the 26-year-old Thibodeaux native’s first album, The Wind and the Warble, was released in September of 2011 via Old House Records out of Texas, and is drenched in the old styles of Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, Sr., and many more before them.

One could say there are many songwriters who follow that folk tradition – or even go as far as to say that the market is flooded with them – but there’s something that runs through Parker’s music that separates him from the finger-picking masses. In a genre with a foundation built by old souls, we’re used to hearing mimicry, and Parker is not repeating anything.

His songs are patient, much like his manner of speaking: no line comes too fast, and no image changes too soon. Though the record he made last year was something he’d wanted for a long time, his sensibility concerning an audience seems outside of the norm: he stays inside of his songs as if each one were where he stayed during his summer adventures, even when he’s on stage.

“Every two or three gigs, I try to have one or two new tunes to play,” he said. “I’ve never been able to practice a song by myself – like, sing it to myself – so the way I find out if I like a song is to play it live, and see how it feels.”

At that comment, Luke Ash asked, “Wait, you’ve cut songs based on crowd response?”

“Not even based on crowd response,” Parker responded, “Just based on how it felt to play it. And there’s plenty that can just step back into the drawer…maybe they’ll come out a little later.”

Rarely does one stumble upon a musician who doesn’t perform his songs for an audience – he just plays them, and sometimes, people happen to be there.

Following Through
“He can pretty much take any circumstance and look at it, all the way through – like a needle and thread, all the way through, and back to himself,” said Parker, about Luke Ash’s music.

Ash writes a relative ton of songs – he estimates three or four a month – and they all sound vastly different. That’s part of his honest approach to his work, but he is aware that an audience generally expects a style or genre. Though he’s not willing to trim his work to fit into the expected genre filing cabinet, the tendency of a listening public to want such a thing puts him at a mental dilemma sometimes.

“I write rap songs sometimes – really ridiculously goofy crap – but I’ve written songs about my four-year-old who had a brain tumor when she was one,” said Ash. “And I would want all that stuff to be taken in, because I think it lends to the legitimacy of everything else I say as being honest.”

The variety of his catalogue is admirable. His Feb. 2011 album, The Difficulty With Flying, contains the upbeat, folk-esque “Cherokee Roses;” a contemplative song called “Grandson,” which details the road to becoming a grandparent in reverse; and even a rendition of “How Great Thou Art,” where he whistles the melody instead of singing it. Throughout the album, his honesty is evident in his unexpected inflections and passionate, in-the-moment word choices, and the melodies are so catchy, they might as well be covered in glue.

Despite his concerns, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would find his work tough to sell. Last year, when songwriter David Bazan came to Baton Rouge, Ash recalled something Bazan said that stuck with him:

“[Bazan] was trying to recommend songs by Vic Chestnutt, but he didn’t really know how to, because his catalog is huge and all over the place. And he said he appreciated that about his catalog, being so weird – some songs were serious, or one album wouldn’t be consistent all the way through in how he approached it. He said that something people like is consistency – it’s definitely more marketable, but it’s less honest. And that comforted me.”

Honest Listening
www.JacobZachary.bandcamp.com
www.LukeAsh.bandcamp.com
www.ClayParker.bandcamp.com - Christie Matherne, DIG: Baton Rouge Uncovered


Discography

- (2004, Unseen Records) "Fury & Spin"
- (2006) "Roses Red EP"
- (2008) "Dreams EP"

Listen to these tracks at:
www.bandcamp/jacobzachary.com

Photos

Bio

Born by the rice fields of Jennings, LA just west of the Mississippi River, Jacob Zachary let down his roots in the fertile land of the Deep South where his father was and still remains a preacher. Jacob’s greatest influences are the people and communities he grew up in and around. “Most places in the South are quite simple”, he says. “A man has either the temple or the tavern. He can choose his vices, or his sacraments, or both, but his heart will only ever have one song to sing.” Jacob’s music seeks out these songs in a way that determines to leave no stone unturned, no secret untold, and no one man blameless for any of it. Most of the characters in his songs feel like they are from some ancient time in the South, where the days were more slowly measured, and blood was a common currency for unpaid debts. They are Civil War soldiers, widows, murderers, and wanderers. All of their paths converge in Jacob's mind with different stories to tell, yet many of them are fused by a common longing. A tortured soul longing for the grace of redemption, a son longing for the kindness of a father, and a dying soldier longing for the peace stole away from the embrace of a lovers arms. "I feel you’ll never know how much joy and redemption and all of those things are truly worth until you are willing to look and see how much hell some people will have to go through to get there", says Jacob "or at least until you’ve encountered what it means to know that some will never get out of there at all." Another of Jacob’s songs, “For The Love Of Sarah Pine”, speaks to this point in a spiritual way, from God’s perspective looking down on a mortally wounded Civil War soldier:

I prayed to God He said, “Child, you’ll never know me aright/’til your eyes are dark enough to see my light./You keep searching through my heavens looking for some sign/but you’re talking to the wind boy/And you’re a dandelion"

"I like to think my songs are about how and where those journey’s start – at the bottom of everything."