Over the last decade, it’s difficult to overstate Zakè’s (aka Zach Frizzell) impact on ambient and drone music. Whether it’s his solo work, collaborations, or the mountain of beautiful releases on Past Inside the Present, there’s always something elegant and considered coming through. His work is expansive, a sonic manifestation of dream worlds.
Most recently, he released syntheticopia in collaboration with ossa. It’s a new branch of his work that uses narrative foundations to create something that plays out like an engaging, futuristic audio drama. We can only dream of what the future will bring.
I like to start by asking about early memories of sound and music. What are some particular sounds, songs, or even whole albums that really made an impression on you when you were younger and really left a lasting impression?
My earliest memories of music are when my father set up an incredible sound system in our family room back in the late 80s, if my memory serves me right. It included a pair of Onkyo Fusion AV S-51 4-Way Tower Speakers, an Onkyo TX-SV414PRO Surround Sound Dolby Pro-Logic A/V Receiver, an Onkyo M-5160 Stereo Power Amplifier, an Onkyo TA-RW111 Stereo Cassette Double Deck Tape Deck, and an Onkyo CP-1057F Integra Quartz Locked Auto Turntable.
I can remember this, as it was passed down to me years ago! I remember how loud and powerful it was. It was incredible to me. My father was a die-hard classical listener, so my early memories were the powerful sounds of Vivaldi, Handel, Strauss, Wagner, Debussy, Stravinsky, Mahler, Schubert, and Pärt. He had a lovely collection on both vinyl and cassettes. My mother’s collection was strictly vinyl records, and some stand-out records include Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis, Roxy Music’s self-titled release, and Days of Future Past by The Moody Blues. She also shared an affinity for opera music, which I thought was comical in sound at the time. Lasting impressions were certainly the mass amount of orchestral music being played regularly, especially Pärt and Sketches of Spain by Davis.
What made you realize that you had something inside you that made you want to create your own music?
This had to have been around the age of 9 or 10 when my parents made an ultimatum with me. Stop making mouth beats if they purchase a drum kit for me. I always heard rhythms in my head, and I would audibly make sounds. Highly annoying during long family trips. Ha! (Which I still do to this day, and now my son does it too!)
How and when did you first discover ambient and drone music, and how did it make you feel?
Definitely listening to Pärt on my father’s stereo. My mother spoke about artists in Roxy Music who also made ‘space music.’ At that age, all the kids wanted to be astronauts. NASA was a big deal and for her to talk about ‘space music’ was incredibly intriguing to me. Queue the Eno drop here. It wasn’t really until my teenage years that I really appreciated it. Like many, researching and finding new music was a bit of a challenge due to a world with no internet. The public library was an incredible resource for finding music in those early years. How did it make me feel, you ask? I remember pieces and fragments of music that would seriously make my heart drop. I still get that feeling, just not as prevalent as it was in my younger years.
One thing that always strikes me about your work is that there is this emotional undercurrent to it. There’s always so much feeling to it, which makes me wonder if you can tell me a little be about what your compositional process is like and where you draw inspiration from when composing?
Repetition and nostalgia. These are the emotional undercurrents you may find in my arrangements more often than not. The one thing I will never forget about the aforementioned exposure to classical music is the often short interludes or the quiet movements that last just for a moment. Those were my favorite parts, and I wished they would go on forever. Sustained notes and chords are also incredibly powerful. Layers. Lots of em’. Every sound has purpose, and I always intentionally integrate many layers of field recordings, found sounds, etc. I still use that very Onkyo tape deck to process sound before dropping it into a DAW. My approach is archaic and elementary at best, and please never ask me what BPM my music is in because I have no idea. Ha!
Okay, let’s talk about a couple recent(ish) releases, starting with the fantastic syntheticopia collaboration with Ossa. Within your discography, this one has such a distinct feeling and sound to it. Can you tell me a little about how the idea was first conceived and how you all collaborated on the sounds and the narrative behind it?
Firstly, Kaiton (Ossa) and I have known each other for 20 years and recently connected musically. It is crazy because we first met each other while working for a local record shop in 2003. We both shared a deep love for labels such as Warp, Ghostly, Skam, and Spectral Sound. Our first formal collaboration was ‘A Pale Shelter,’ which also included City of Dawn in 2021. syntheticopia was an album strictly between Kaiton and I and included elements of our shared love of early sounds that influenced us greatly. It was quite possibly the most seamless collaboration, as if we were bursting at the seams to finally work as a duo. The genesis of the narrative can be sourced all the way back to the infancy of influential sounds we both grew up on. Space Music, Nasa, and minimal art of early ambient records greatly impacted this album’s trajectory and overall feel. As for the collaboration of sounds, we both had a deep arsenal of fragmented sounds, simple loops, and short soundscapes. We started going through our respective backlogs and chose our favorites to use as the foundation of each arrangement on the album.
What was the biggest challenge with syntheticopia?
Trimming it down after it was all said and done. syntheticopia II?
Tape Hymns especially, but all of the collaborative works with City of Dawn always connect with me on a visceral level. You do a lot of collaborating (more on that in a second), but there’s an even more special connection to your works with Damien. How did you all first meet and become friends?
Damien was introduced to me by Matthew Hanner, who runs Aural Canyon, a few years ago, but I must admit- it feels like we have been friends for many, many years. I thought I released a lot of music, but Damien runs circles around me, ha! Damien gets it. He gets me. He understands my music. I know the same feelings are reciprocated. He is an incredible musician, a beautiful soul, and one of the most passionate people I know when it comes to work ethic. I can’t even count how many songs we have produced together, and it is because we both share the same outlook on production and creation. It is almost scary how similar we are.
With Tape Hymns, there’s a certain fragility and imperfectness (if that’s a word) that adds a new layer and emotional depth to it. What was the mindset and approach for this project that was different from previous collaborations?
Improvisation, imperfection, and cassettes. This is an album we both decided to only share a small sound byte from cassette loops we created. Each sound byte was no more than a minute in length. We both worked independently from those sounds as a guide and then converged what we did together. It was hilarious how incredible the sounds came out. The final piece of these arrangements was utilizing my good friend’s sound library (Thank you, Joachim Spieth!) to add the right amount of zest to bring it all together.
More generally, collaboration is a massive part of your creative practice. I’m always thrilled when you have a new album with someone, whether you’ve worked with them before or it’s entirely new. What is it about collaboration that is so important and meaningful to you in your work?
Collaborating with other artists and passing songs and ideas to artists to rework is one of the most enjoyable experiences when writing music. Co-creation combines the heart, soul, and musical artistry, allowing for a bigger canvas of aural exploration and expression. I have been truly blessed to work with such incredible artists over the years.
I was thinking about your album, Remembrance, the other day. When it first came out last year, it hit me at just the right time and became this world I got lost in when I struggled with processing certain things. Not specific to this album, but how do you think about music and sound as a medium for better understanding ourselves and also connecting with others? And what impact do those ideas have on your own practice?
I must admit, when releasing Pinehaven, Tape Hymns, Orison, and Remembrance all around the same time, it diluted the impact each album should have had. Remembrance is definitely one of my favorite records to date. I have found myself re-discovering it during these winter months and am very proud of the tracks and the album. This is a good preface to your question about music and understanding.
We live in a crazy, busy, fast-paced world. Music should be your hidden place. It should promote self-reflection while fostering stillness, boundless thought, introspection, and eternal contemplation. As a universal language, music is one of the few things we all can appreciate. Different paths, different situations, whether good or bad- music should always be a safe haven for all to come together as one. It is one of the only things we have left that binds us together.
Quick question about Past Inside the Present, as I’m constantly amazed by the output from the label. What made you want to start a label, and what keeps you pressing forward with it these days?
We aren’t promised tomorrow, so today is our most important day. Realize your dream.
What are you looking forward to in 2023?
A lovely spread of incredible new music offerings from PITP, HSP, FMR, and ZDR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!