De Soto, Kansas, musician and songwriter Zachary Burch creates soulful pop music with sophisticated production. Taking inspiration from standard-bearers like B.B. King and Eric Clapton as well as more contemporary artists such as James Fauntleroy, Blake Bills and The Paper Kites, Burch is an excellent singer, performer and guitarist in his own right. For his interview with Listen Local, Burch discusses the making of his most recent single, how he deals with writer's block and how his father inspired him to start writing songs.
Introduce yourself. Where do you live and work? What does a typical day look like for you?
I live in De Soto, Kansas which is located in the northwestern tip of Johnson County. It's a small and quiet little suburb - mostly small subdivisions, surrounding an unexciting downtown strip. People who live in De Soto have to drive at least fifteen minutes to get groceries or get a decent cup of coffee. I've lived here for my whole life. My family moved here when my dad found a job working as a minister at a church in Lenexa. People who know me know that I go through jobs fairly quickly. I'm currently not working anywhere. School has just started up for me. I'm attending college at Johnson County Community College and I'm enrolled in their Recording Arts Certificate program. I'm also just getting some of the general education requirements out of the way for a Bachelor's program at Musician's Institute of California. A typical day for me right now just includes attending school for 7 hours and then coming home and practicing guitar or hanging out with my amazing friends. I also have a dog named Buster whom I take on walks and watch Netflix with. On days that I'm not going to school, I'm recording music or writing new music.
Tell us about recording your recent single “H.D.Y.F.M.” The production is very sophisticated. What was that process like?
"How Did You Find Me?" was an interesting project for me in that my method for writing the song was unconventional. The song was actually written for a technology conference I participated in during my senior year of high school so, like anything I worked on for school, I procrastinated it till the last minute. Songwriting wise, I have a little studio in my room, and when I was drumming up ideas I stumbled upon that simple little electric piano riff that you hear at the beginning. Basically that became the basis for the song. I didn't have any lyrics or chords before I started recording it. The song was written as it was being recorded. That's probably not unusual for a lot of people but, for me, I usually write with an acoustic guitar and a notepad so, writing within the framework of an already recorded song was a bit confining and difficult. Regardless of the procrastination, I still ended up spending about 50 hours on the songs with a total of 60 tracks so the tune is by far my best piece production wise. For me, the tune represents what I like to do production wise when it comes to instrumentation, groove, and song structure - keeping things listenable. It ended up earning first place in the conference which was affirming. I'm still not in love with the chorus, and I know that the tune has little merit lyrically - just from a songwriting standpoint. However, that song for me provided some comfort in that it proved that I could produce music on my own that sounded professional.
Can you point to one time in your life where you knew you wanted to be a songwriter? Who or what inspired you early on to create music?
I can't point to one time in my life where I knew I wanted to be a songwriter. However, I knew when I wanted to be a guitar player.. I would listen to a lot of wholesome music growing up because of my dad. I can't thank my father enough for introducing me to music like The Beatles, Eric Clapton, and Nickel Creek at a young age. He also plays the guitar so he would always show me chords and I would pick up the guitar every once in a while. Eventually it got to the point where I told my dad that I wanted an electric guitar for Christmas. When Christmas came around I got my wish. I spent hours trying to master the instrument listening to different artists and burning my eyes out online looking at chord charts. However, it wasn't until my dad gave me a "More Cowbell: Classic Rock Greatest Hits" CD that I knew I had to play guitar for the rest of my life. I wanted to be the best guitar player in the world and I pushed that through a variety of different outlets.I played in my middle school jazz band and my church's worship band until I decided that I needed to start my own band so I could play guitar the way I wanted to play it. The only adversities I would have to overcome to start my own band would be writing my own tunes with original lyrics and learning how to sing. So I kind of became a singer and songwriter by default and dove in trying to sing and write tunes, when all I really wanted to do was play guitar. Through the process of learning guitar I also gained admiration for other players like B. B. King, Eric Clapton, and John Mayer. Growing up with the internet was awesome because I was able to watch these guys play, and play along side them by watching videos on YouTube; that was a huge inspiration for me.
Describe your creative process with songwriting and composition. What tools do you use? How does collaboration figure into this process?
I don't really have a process with songwriting and composition. All I know is that you can't force inspiration. This year has been really difficult and I've struggled with writer's block. Being inspired is a difficult thing. For people who are always creating music it's hard to know when you are really inspired and when you are pushing it. For me, I always have ideas for melodies, chord structures and guitar riffs, and that's something I'm super thankful for. However, it can also be an Achilles heel when it comes to lyric writing. I might have a super amazing melodic idea and chord structure but the lyrics just aren't there. I try to finish the song anyway and it just comes out sounding like dishonest rubbish. What I discovered is that experiencing something real in your life is the best tool for writing real, honest songs that resonate with people on an emotional level. I will always have the ability to convey emotion by playing music without words, but I'll never be able to speak unless I have something worth saying. So my advice is just go experience something and live life like everyone else. Being a musician doesn't give you a badge that makes you relatable and emotional. Go fall in love and get your heart broken. Then once you have something to say don't let the moment get away. Lock yourself in your room until you've written it all down and turned it into something that you love. Those are the tunes that you will love playing and people will keep in their hearts.
For musicians, collaboration can be a sore subject because music is personal and we all have huge egos. Collaboration is super helpful as long as you know you can trust the musician's you allow on your tracks. I have been in the process of recording a record for the last year and I've called upon a lot of opinions and help from friends and musician's alike. Sometimes having a second set of ears on your piece is invaluable. Countless times I've thought I knew the right groove for a song going into a session. I get to the session and the drummer lays something down that inspires me to play or sing something differently and it turns out better than what I imagined.
Please share a story about moving through a period of creative struggle. What gets you through?
Like I said, I am no stranger to creative struggle. For me, the struggle was in direct correlation to other problems I was experiencing with depression and anxiety. All I can say is don't let yourself become stagnant. Always be getting better and never be comfortable with where you are. If you get to comfortable with the status quo you will never grow or succeed as a person or writer. Go experience something. Get outside of your comfort zone and go live life. Like I said, being a musician doesn't validate you as a human being. If you aren't experiencing life in the same way that your audience is you are never going be able to relate to people with music, or just in general. Writer's block sucks but it's silly to expect to be able to talk about your life if you aren't even experiencing anything besides sitting in your room trying to write a song, and I've made that mistake.
Here is some of the music that has been inspiring me recently and continues to inspire me.
James Fauntleroy - "I Don't Wanna Be Alone"
Kwabs - "Perfect Ruin"
Robert Francis - Strangers in the First Place
Blake Bills - Break Mirrors
Nickel Creek - This Side
Chet Faker - Thinking in Textures
Gabe Dixon Band - Self Entitled
The Paper Kites - States
Dan Conway - "Thankful"
Steffen Schackinger - ElectriGuitaristy
Zachary's recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
Away We Go - (Film)
Limitless - (Film)
Where the Light is - (Film)