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original site launched April 1, 2004, .com relaunched October 1, 2004
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|Zach Hill of Holy Smokes
by Sara Huguenard
Editor's Note: I can get pretty caught up in what's hip and trendy and danceable, but occasionally a release crosses my desk that changes something about the way I see music. These discs usually come from people that are real, true artists, people that spend their lives surrounded by, creating, and tirelessly revamping art. Zach Hill's latest disc, Talk to Your Kids About Gangs impacted me in an unexpected way, and it was absolutely necessary that we cover it here at The Wig. As Sara says at the interviews conclusion, please check out Holy Smokes. Or Zach Hill. Or Hella. People like this are what all of this is about.
Sara Huguenard: I’ve been studying your body of work rather intently over the past few weeks. I must say that you have a pretty well-rounded and impressive resume. On the one hand, you have the “musician’s musician”…works that a lot of people have kind of put in a performance art classification but the stuff that has other musicians looking you in that “how the fuck does he do that” kind of awe, and then you have the more commercially accessible stuff, and of course there is your visual art (graphic design, painting). Which is your primary love? Your main focus? Or are you just one of those people who maintains a focus on staying in the moment of all of your projects?
Zach Hill: Hella. We got started in 2001 and have been together ever since. And then there are my other things. I don’t know that any of what I do are really so much “projects.” I don’t really see any of what I do as projects really because everything I do, I do it because I love it, but also I like to keep myself busy with things. And this is what I want to be doing with my life so I want to be in all of it. I am hungry to be educated and so I keep myself moving forward with all of it.
SH: When you combine your mediums do you approach them as an interactive experience, are they completely separate from one another, or does one “follow” the other…for instance when you do album art or t-shirts to promote your music, is it inspired by the music or does it have nothing to do with it?
ZH: It’s kind of hard to say. They are all individual--every project inspires a different idea, but I am a conceptual person. I love to conceptualize. So there are elements of both. Everything has its own place. If there is a message, though, it might be tied to it but it’s not super-premeditated. The methods that I choose are definitely more subconscious than conscious.
SH: A little bit about the Fools Foundation exhibit before we bust into the music. It appears that you used almost everything to inspire you.
ZH: Very true.
SH: Do you approach your music the same way?
ZH: Music is a similar approach. Most of the things that inspire me don’t have anything to do with music. They just come out through my music; I express them through my music. Most of the things that inspire me are not necessarily out of other music, even though I am inspired by other music, other musicians…more out of other experiences, just like, life or things I have seen/heard.
SH: Why cardboard?
ZH: This is actually something I did with a friend of mine. We would get together and paint on cardboard for a couple of hours over a night over the course of a couple of a couple of years--kind of like a sewing circle, I guess, but without the gossip--just to kind of see how many we could get through in a night. We ended up doing somewhere between 700 and 1,000 paintings as a collaborative between us and this is what came out of it.
SH: Was there a goal?
ZH: Just a practice of imagination, really. I do plan to give this more attention in the future. And of course I try to incorporate one into the other, but my main focus right now is in the context of the music and I am really focusing on that. In the future, though, it is definitely something I would like to give more attention to and do more of.
SH: Your new album with Holy Smokes, Talk to Your Kids About Gangs. Being that there is so much just garbage out there we want to make sure that people know where to go to get this because this is really great stuff, and I had kind of a hard time trying to track it down.
ZH: Most Independent record stores. It is on Skin Graft records. It was only released last week, so if they don’t have it, it should be fairly easy to order it.
(Caught!! Yes…the interviewer only looked online…proof positive there is more than one singular lifeline of knowledge tapping us to the outside world…)
SH: Okay--I will admit--I haven’t had the time to get out to the record store yet this week… So, I was given a few tracks and I wanted to say that what I heard was very impressive--it is amazing stuff! Also--it is really cohesive considering that no one would really be able to place any of it into a single genre. Was this intentional?
ZH: No, I mean I don’t really--I don’t set out to make something weird for the sake of being weird. I do like to go about things that create a new experience and I don’t set any limits for myself. I am open to trying new things and experimenting. It’s never a cautious thing, but it isn’t really about intentionally going out to do things to be weird. I try to avoid anything contrived, for the most part. You can hear it when an artist does stuff like that purposefully.
SH: The album’s production seems to have some perfectionism behind it as well…any truth behind that observation?
ZH: Nothing is ever perfect, but there is a lot going on with the instruments, and at moments the music very busy, attacking the senses all at once. So, there is a lot of attention to detail, which you kind of have to do given all of the different directions of the instruments. So it is not that the intent is for perfect, but making sure that everything gets the attention it deserves.
SH: Where was the album recorded? Who produced it?
ZH: I produced it along with a guy named J.R. Thompson and Dan Elkan. It was recorded in Retrofit Recording, Sacramento, California.
SH: But you are not originally from Sacramento…
ZH: Yes. I was – born and raised here.
(Interviewer caught again…with so many projects having some ties to various parts of the U.S., I had somehow gotten confused, thinking that Zach was originally from San Diego. Sorry about that, Zach!).
SH: The song “Pretty much none of us know anything”…interesting name for a song. Any insight behind it?
ZH: That’s a song by Rob Crow. So--I wouldn’t want to speak on his behalf or speculate on what it means. This is kind of interesting, though, how it came about: that particular song was done “by mail.” I started it with the drum track and sent it down to him in San Diego and he wrote all of the music and lyrics around it and sent it back.
SH: “Too Many Wives” is a freaking masterpiece. How did it come about? What is it conveying?
ZH: This was a collaborative effort within the band. Me, Dan and Carson and everyone else. It is pretty self-explanatory, but as well kind of a parody. Kind of about the excessiveness of everything.
SH: That was kind of took away from it…which there is a lot of these days.
While I would have loved to have had more time to speak with Zach it was at this point in the discussion that he had to apologize for cutting it short, as others were waiting on him. Yes, unfortunately, band commitments kept me from cornering him for endless hours on all he has been doing over the past year and about his future plans--of which there appear to be many (keep on the lookout for a new Hella album in the coming months on Suicide Squeeze Records).
I thanked him of course for his time and wished he and his bands great success, of course, before letting him go. But be assured, this is not the last you will hear from the Wig on the pursuits of Zach Hill. We are really looking forward to putting a wealth more support behind Hella and Holy Smokes, as well as all of his other projects because it is so well-deserved. Finding musicians of this caliber and hearing once in a while what the art form is really capable of really reminds us why we are here doing what we do, which is to inspire others to explore, discover, and grow their musical horizons. So PLEASE – check out the new Holy Smokes album – it is AMAZING!
More on Holy Smokes and Zach Hill: www.skingraftrecords.com/bandhtmlpages/holysmokes_pg.html / www.hellaband.com / www.foolsfoundation.org/0406.