Only the coolest crowds in Los Angeles know of Zack Hagan. Zack Hagan is a singer-songwriter and producer who often works outside the box. He plays the guitar, bass, piano, synthesizers, accordion and even handles drum programming. Recently, your crusty chronicler had a chance to chat with Hagan. Here is the complete, unedited interview:
Phoenix: Other than live gigs, what have you been doing since the release of your most recent album?
Hagan: In the past year I’ve been working on three projects primarily: playing bass with Kalen & the A-listers, collaborating remotely with Nashville-based banjoist and songwriter Charles Butler (thanks to Ableton & Dropbox), and after a bit of a break, my livetronica trio ZXL has been gearing up for another dance/improv campaign. I contribute guitar, vocals, and electronics to the latter group.
Phoenix: Who inspires you?
Hagan: I pick up inspiration from all sorts of places. Of course I have a bevy of artists I grew up admiring: The Orb, Suzanne Vega, NIN, The Grateful Dead, Phish, Tribe Called Quest, Bill Monroe, Herbie Hancock, and Paul Simon, to name a few. And I am always absorbing the music that’s around me like TV on The Radio, Blonde Redhead, Sufjan Stevens, LCD Soundsystem, or Miike Snow. And those are just the musicians. . .
Phoenix: What do you like best about being a solo artist? What do you like the least?
Hagan: The best part is not having to deal with other people or having their creative influence unduly change my music. The worst part is not working with other people and having their creative influence unduly change my music.
What do you like the best and the least when it comes to working with others?
Hagan: Seriously I really just want to respond to this question with a riddle. “When is a door not a door?” People are confusing, beauty is subjective, and there are two sides to every experience. Sometimes songwriting benefits from the exposure; sometimes there’s a something that was missed by one person and caught by the other. Other times people flake, or piss each other off, or worse.
Phoenix: Yeah, I hear that. Ok, so tell us about your most memorable gig—be it the worst or the best, OK?
Hagan: My most memorable gig has got to be years before I was doing the whole solo artist thing and was fresh out of art school (SUNY Purchase). I was playing with the still-functioning Motico (they just put out a new 45rpm single in 2011 with Cobretti). Back then in 2003 we were a three piece with me playing bass. We were playing our first show at a now defunct place in Brooklyn called The Pour House.
This guy called Angry Dragon was booked by the venue to play before us, and he asked me if he could use my bass amp. I cordially agreed. I had never heard of him before but wasn’t too concerned and was really hungry so I decided to grab a bite before our set.
I returned a half hour later about 15 minutes into his set to a relatively empty room with this guy screaming at the top of his lungs, music blasting out of my bass amp and this putrid burning smell. I looked over and to my chagrin a steady plume of smoke was rising from the back of my bass amp. Thankfully he stopped shortly thereafter, and I do believe he did at least apologize for setting my amp on fire. Ahhh Williamsburg. . .
Phoenix: What in your opinion is your best album? Why?
Hagan: I hear artists comparing their records to children, and saying cheesy crap like, how could I ever choose a favorite child. I don’t really buy all that fluff. But I will say that I do always believe that my best album is still yet to come.If you don’t buy that then, I’d have to say it was probably that cassette of those three songs I made in the 9th grade that I lent to that girl who sat next to me in study hall and she never gave back.
Phoenix: What do you consider your best song (what album is it on) and WHY?
Hagan: My songs are like pictures of my emotions and can’t really be quantified by me. Being on the inside of my own creative process, I really lack the ability to say what my best work is. I will say that if I was to choose one song that really represents me as happy, listen to “White Plains” on my eponymous record. If you’d like a more contemplative groove, try listening to “Sans Frontieres” on The Muramba Sessions. For the darker side, give “The Sun” a spin from my aforementioned eponymous LP.
Phoenix: If you could work with any other artist or band BUT could only make ONE choice whom would you choose?
Hagan: Really I’d probably choose Beethoven. No, he’s deaf; it would take too long scribbling to one another on pads. Maybe I could just choose the Grateful Dead but, jeez, I don’t know if I could fit in, and besides the smell of patchouli has always made me a bit queasy. I guess Trent Reznor would be fun, oh wait, didn’t he go sober?
Phoenix: Not sure anyone in music ever really goes sober actually. So, if you had to label your music what would you call it?
Hagan: Every time I get asked this, whether it be in an interview or just by some drunk person at a house party, I always fight back the urge to spew an obnoxiously long list of genres punctuated by slashes and dashes. I wish I could just say POLKA and leave it at that, but alas, when I try to do something new I get pretty wound up in the particulars. But what I suppose I do is make music that’s electronic/dance/rock/folk. Usually at least one of those genres is represented but not necessarily all of them all the time.
Phoenix: Tell my readers something you’ve never before shared in any other interview.
Hagan: I love my cat, Ira. No one ever asks me about him. Also I enjoy long walks on the beach, sunsets, and I love reading. I’m a Gemini, and a proud owner of a table-top dishwasher.
Phoenix: (laughing) Okay; what is next?
Hagan: More shows this Spring with ZXL and Kalen & the A-listers. Maybe a solo acoustic show or two. I’m hoping to license some of my collaborations with Charles Butler, and I’ve been gathering material for another solo album, as well as putting together a remix mix tape.
Phoenix: Well, thanks for spending some time with me and my readers, Zack. I appreciate it.
There you have it, boys and girls, the latest from Zack Hagan. (If you happen to be in Manhattan on April 6th Hagan will be appearing with Kalen & The A-Listers at 10:00 pm at The Delancey , and again with Kalen & The A-Listers on April 20th at 9:00 pm at the 269 Bar. He will also be appearing with ZXL on April 24th at 9:00 pm at Arlene’s Grocery.)
I hope you found the interview informative and hopefully even a little entertaining. As always,
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.