[Cover photo credit to Duncan McDiarmid]
Zakk for Real, aka Zakk Davis, is a Vancouver, BC-based artist whose debut EP, 7 Is A Magick Number, arrives this week on May 7th, 2022. The collection is a very impressive debut that takes on a number of musical genres, blending them in new and interesting combinations that include, but are not limited to Psych-Rock, Classic Rock, and Soul. The craftsmanship behind the songs, as well as their sensitive appreciation of musical traditions seem like the work of a second or third album rather than a debut EP, but part of that comes from Zakk’s substantial history playing Pop-Punk and Punk music in bands before he discovered this musical direction. It’s one which he feels he’s still learning to carve out among the genres he most appreciates.
I spoke with Zakk about the songs on 7 Is A Magick Number, his approach to genres, the inspiration that Ty Segall provided at a key moment in his life, the greatness of T. Rex, and the Mephistophelean pact that musicians make with their art. Also, as a forester, he had a few salient things to say about Earth Day.
Hannah Means-Shannon: I saw that you posted about Earth Day and wrote quite a heartfelt essay about our planet. Do you spend a lot of time outdoors?
Zakk: I had to cut it shorter because the Instagram caption would only hold so much. I felt pretty inspired today, outside among the trees, so I decided to do it. I spend time outdoors mostly through work, because I’ve been in forestry for about eight years. About 50% of the time, we’re in suburban areas, but for a solid other half of my career, I’ve spent it hiking through dense forests to trim some trees or make sure that they are away from power lines. You have to hike a couple of hours to get into those spots and it’s a pretty cool experience. I’m an hour and a half outside of Vancouver. I’ve lived in Chilliwack close to 20 years.
HMS: That’s awesome. Are there ways in which living there has made its way into your music or your decision to pursue music?
Zakk: Definitely. I probably have a little bit of resentment for the town, but my dad has kept me on the path of music the whole time and has kept me pushing to do it. He’s also my boss! He definitely understands when I have to take days off to do music-related stuff.
HMS: I know that you had released some music in the past, but this collection seems like a big step forward for you in terms of sounds and ideas.
Zakk: Yes, I don’t really play any of that music anymore. I wanted to put as many of my influences on this EP as possible, which is probably why it feels a little diverse in terms of genre at some points. But that’s because I love all those genres so much and I think I’m still developing my sound to try to incorporate it all. I really love Soul, Garage Rock, and Folk and I wanted to throw it all into one collection.
HMS: I’m really glad you mentioned Soul because I felt like I could hear that on the collection, but it seems like a loaded term since not everyone wants to be associated with Soul.
Zakk: That’s a big part of my music. I love it so much.
HMS: I love the music of the 60s and 70s so much, and I don’t know how you can even talk about the music of the 70s without talking about Soul.
Zakk: Exactly, me too. It’s a really special genre of music. I don’t understand how people can’t like it because artists are singing 100% from their own selves. It’s super-entrancing to see people perform that music live.
HMS: I saw references to T. Rex and Ty Segall as influences on your work, and on this album. What made you gravitate towards Ty Segall particularly?
Zakk: It’s a funny story but I’ll try to summarize it. One of my friends had been trying to get me to listen to Segall when I was around 18 years old. I’m pretty hard-ass when it comes to listening to new music that my friends tell me to listen to for some reason, so I put it aside. I ended up being at a friend’s party, when it was dying down late at night, and he had this little box built on the side of his house with a couch cushion and a stereo. For some reason that evening, I decided to finally listen to Ty Segall. The first album that came on was Manipulator. I was so blown away by what I was listening to.
I thought, “Someone’s making this kind of music right now, in this day and age!?” It completely warped my perception of music and what style I wanted to be as a musician. Something about listening to his music was like a portal to being even younger and listening to Rock ‘n Roll for the first time. At that point in my career, I was playing a lot of Pop-Punk and Punk Rock. But hearing him was a big reminder, like a tidal wave, “You should be playing Rock ‘n Roll. This is what you were born into. This is what you were raised on. This other stuff is not you.” So he changed the game for me, really. I could write those Punk songs, talking about girls, pizza, and drinking beer on the weekends, but it was pretty basic stuff.
HMS: So did this epiphany challenge you to write more complex music?
Zakk: I guess so. It was as if I could already visualize myself playing it. It’s more fun for me to play, as well, I find. It’s creative, and jingly, and goes back to the older roots of music in the 50s and 60s. I love the formulas that they used back then, even though they are so simple. The way that they harmonized and the melodies they used in that music still inspires me. I try to find ways of manipulating that formula and try to throw a little bit of my own spin on it.
HMS: I can definitely see that in the new EP, but I can also see that when you’re using those structures, you take advantage of the expandable nature of those structures. By the way, my biggest respect to Ty Segall, because he really does not give a flip about genre-considerations that people might have. He just obsesses over what he loves and writes that.
Zakk: You’re right about that, and it kind of shows on his new album. But he doesn’t care about labels and does whatever he wants.
HMS: Are you as into T.Rex as Ty Segall? I’m a huge fan and I always have to ask fellow fans about T.Rex.
Zakk: Yes, I am. The songs are super catchy and warm. The production on them is very inspiring. For me, when I listen to that stuff, I really want to recreate that sound. Me and my friends always get Electric Warrior or Slider going on the weekends and it never gets old.
HMS: It really doesn’t. It has its own time and world. The production does have a lot to do with it, too. How did you try to get these sounds with your recording methods?
Zakk: Funnily enough, this record was all done digitally, because I didn’t end up getting on the analog wave soon enough. But now I swear by the tape machine. Back then, I didn’t know what I was looking for, and it took me three years to find the machine I have now for a decent price.
HMS: I wouldn’t have known that from listening to the album. Did you try to offset the digital production with a warmer sound?
Zakk: Yes, I was doing my best to make it sound as “cleanly rough” as possible. [Laughs] A friend of mine mixed and mastered it for me.
HMS: I understand that you played all the instruments. How did you build up the songs?
Zakk: Every time, I usually start with a guitar and go from there. A lot of people do scratch guitar takes, but I’ve never really done that. I just try my best to do it correctly, then add everything else after that. Drums are usually last. I’m usually impressed with the people who play the drums first and can just hear the song in their heads.
HMS: Have you played any of these songs live yet?
Zakk: The songs we usually play live off this record are “The Memory’s Gone” and “Little Black Book”. The band is willing to play the rest of the stuff on the album, but a couple of them might be hard. “Give It Up” might be hardest since there are so many layers on it. That was such a beast of a song to record.
HMS: That’s the one I was pretty convinced was a Soul song but didn’t know if I should say that.
Zakk: That’s a Soul song for sure! We’re also in the process of booking a cross-Canada tour where we’d go out in August.
HMS: The single “Little Black Book” is out and now I know that you all have been playing it, too. What’s the origin of that song for you?
Zakk: That song is about a recurring dream I’ve had. I get these sleep-paralysis lucid dreams and the song is about this recurring dream I have of this one figure with a little black book. He’s been trying to get me to sign it with a drop of my blood, but I never have. I’ve seen some of my friends do it, and they try to convince me to do it. Then when they do sign it, in the dream, I see them dying for a span of twenty or thirty seconds.
It’s pretty intense! I decided to just write a song about this fucked up experience that I’ve had. That was the last time I had that dream, though. But afterwards, after writing the song, I ended up getting a ghost in my house.
HMS: Did writing the song make you feel better or worse about the experience?
Zakk: I don’t think I really thought about that. I just bottled it all up in the song. Thankfully, it hasn’t occurred since then.
HMS: Maybe you stopped it from coming back by writing the song! How do you feel performing the song?
Zakk: I kind of laugh about it, to be honest. It’s funny to play it and people think it’s catchy, but they don’t really know what it’s about.
HMS: How did the sound of the song develop?
Zakk: I actually wrote the instrumental for it before that happened and I had it sitting around. The only lyrics I had for it at the time were “the inverted crosses pinned to my eyes”. Then I wrote some more words for it last year. That one was finished last minute for the record.
I based the instrumentation off the Osees album Castlemania, which is a big inspiration for me. The rawness of it, with its Acid-Folky progressions are something I really wanted to do. That music was the first thing that came to me when I was thinking about it. I really want to put some weirdness and oddness into my music. Spirituality and ghosts have been part of my life and I want my songs to have something extra-terrestrial about them.
HMS: Does that explain your title for the album, 7 Is A Magick Number, and the artwork?
Zakk: Yes. There’s a magician with a crystall ball. There’s a Vancouver artist called Jaik Puppyteeth [Olsen] and posted about commissions on Instagram, so I got him to do it. He also did my logo.
HMS: Oh, I know I his work! It’s painted and has an unusual, nostalgic feel. It’s really good.
Zakk: I’ve known about his work for years and it’s super-neat.
HMS: I meant to ask you what the term “psychedelic” means to you, since that tends to get applied to your work. That tends to differ between people and time periods, of course.
Zakk: That’s a hard one! Psychedelic music to me has a lot of drone to it, it’s spacey and can be jam-tunes. I think that’s the standard definition to it. But I think Psych-Rock is a combination of Pink Floyd and Punk, if Pink Floyd had ever gone more Punk.
HMS: Did the song “Black Pine” have an origin story as dramatic as “Little Black Book”?
Zakk: Absolutely not.
HMS: Thank god!
Zakk: A dear friend of mine is a brilliant songwriter and I decided one day that I wanted to write a song about him. He’s a Folk singer with a Neil Young sort of thing going on. I never get the time to play with him these days, so I wrote a song as if he was here. I took how I knew that he’d play the guitar with my own influences, and “Black Pine” happened. It’s a little bit of a tribute to him. I was thinking about that song today, and those vocals, since there’s a weird trancey feeling to them that I didn’t really plan on.
HMS: Let’s end where we started, with “Give It Up”. Where does this song come from for you? I love the turn at the end and didn’t expect it.
Zakk: I was locked in my basement during Covid for two weeks when I got back from the States. I didn’t end up getting it, but was on the phone a lot. I picked up my guitar and had this little melody in my head, the “give it up” part. The whole idea only took me five or ten minutes to get down. I felt like that was exactly how it should go. I was trying to do something a little like Kelly Finnegan.
I banged out the instrumentation within two days, but it took me a long time to figure out how the lyrics should be. It was one of the more complicated, theatrical things I’ve done. What it ended up being about was that subconscious thing in every artist’s mind that tries to convince them to give up their art or craft and just move on with their life. But at the end, no matter how hard that part of you tries, it’s never going away. It’s what we’re made up of, and it’s kind of a forever deal.
HMS: Like the Black Book!
Zakk: Exactly. [Laughs]