Down to the Crossroads: Zach Caruso Discusses Life in the Music World and Relating to Quarter-Lifers
Musicians deliver a piece of their souls every time they step on the stage, sometimes with the delicate pluck of a guitar string, the wild thrash of a drum, or an entrancing vocal croon. They give it their all with each attempt to reach a tender note, and although some of their audience members may forget these intense performances a few weeks to months later, the tidal wave of emotionally connecting with a group of strangers in the moment is exhilarating for every participant. It’s what drives many persistent artists and, ultimately, presents lucky listeners with immensely talented virtuosos. It gives us frontmen like New Jersey native Zach Caruso, a blues-rock aficionado who’s channeled his extraordinary gifts into a series of passion-laced albums. In his most recent contribution to the rock world, Might Be The Rain, Caruso transforms personal trials of past relationships into gritty and profoundly honest lyrical confessions.
The level of openness easily perceived within Caruso’s lyrics may seem daunting to others. However, the Florida-based artist, who’s described himself as “not much of a talker” in his personal life, finds simplicity in sharing his thoughts through his music. For the inarguably versatile guitarist/vocalist, his songs collectively serve as a form of escapism — a way to truly connect with fans while getting a few things off his chest.
“I’ve been in love with music, and what gets me through tough times is writing and listening,” Caruso said, reflecting on the notion of relating personal tales. “If I can share that and do that for one other person…that’s what it’s all about.”
Caruso may not be the next Eric Clapton or Robert Plant — after all, who is? — but he’s an artist in his own right, one who knows what most of us are going through and how to meaningfully convey it. Instead of typing out long-winded rants on Facebook or indulging in virtual confessions on a blog, he’s taking pen to paper, fingers to strings, and firing out exciting, rugged tunes. His albums are prime examples of what happens when a professional writer explores the art of rock music while staying true to the relatable, down-home nature that forms the core of the blues. It is poetry at its core. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that he has a near-raspy, soulful voice that will send chills down your spine as you watch him work his magic on the six-string.
Recently, the mysterious and reflective Caruso, who breathes music like he does air and enjoys a good cup of cold coffee, discussed Might Be The Rain with GALO, shedding light on his motivations as well as explaining how he finds a restorative avenue through his songs.
GALO: Might Be The Rain is your fourth album, and it’s been said that some of the songs contain a bit of a vengeful undertone against the women in your life. Aside from a personal candidness that can be found in many of the songs, how does this record differ from your previous ones?
Zach Caruso: I think I’ve matured since the last album. And I think as you go from album to album, it has to mature. Lyrically, as a songwriter, I’m at the strongest point I have been, as far as writing the written word and putting it all together. I’ve never been interested in bland, predictable lyrics, so I keep pushing myself to take things that might be very normal and make them interesting as a songwriter. It’s the same with guitar playing — I feel a lot stronger.
The guys I’m playing with really pushed me to come up with some killer ideas on this album. I think the main theme of the album is the maturity in my voice and guitar playing. I’m coming into my own and I’m becoming very comfortable with how I’m writing, playing and approaching it. It’s my fourth time in the studio now; the first and second albums were learning processes. You don’t know how certain things work, how to mix, or how to record. Now I know exactly what to expect and I know how I want the guitar to sound. I know how to get that sound. I can convey what I want. Whether I’m playing a guitar solo or talking to the engineer about getting the right guitar sound, I think it’s just a matter of growth and maturity.
GALO: “Nobody Knows My Name” is the first single released off the record. Why did you feel that this particular song was the best reflection of what was still to come?
ZC: There were several reasons why that song just worked for the first single. The way I wrote it was very out of the ordinary, and it happened all at once. Songs usually come to me in pieces — I’ll get an idea and have to work on it a little bit. But [with this song], I came up with the vocal idea [very quickly]. Within an hour, I was walking through my apartment and I started singing the whole vocal melody out loud. It came together really quickly, and as soon as I wrote it, I noticed it was a nice, catchy, upbeat rock song.
There were a dozen people — friends and family — that we asked about the songs. We sent them three songs from the album, just to see their opinions. After a while, I can’t think about or listen to my own songs anymore. So, we asked their opinion and, unanimously, everyone said [that it should be] “Nobody Knows my Name.” The concept, that idea of I’m still here — no one knows I’m here, but I’m still doing it and it’s my fourth album — it felt like the perfect first single to put out. The planets lined up to that song, and I felt it was a very good indication of what to expect with the album.
GALO: Most artists record songs with the inner hope that a message is reaped by their fans, while providing listeners with the ability to gain a sense of strength and unity that comes from a passion for similar music. What do you hope listeners realize about your newest record?
ZC: I’m 27 and I’m a young adult, but sometimes I feel like a kid. I guess what I’d like anyone to take out of this [album] is that I want them to know that it’s okay to not have it all figured out; it’s okay to not be sure sometimes and to be a little scared of what’s going on or what’s going to happen next.
Some of the songs on the album are about failed relationships — yeah, it happens, but it’s okay. You get through it and keep on breathing. Some songs like “Nobody Knows My Name” are directly about playing music and being an artist. You’re trying to carve out a niche for yourself and playing gig after gig, but people aren’t remembering you. You’re playing your heart out five nights a week and you get up the next day to do it again, but it’s okay. My dad always says, “It’s not just the destination, it’s the journey. It’s all part of life.” If anyone can listen to it and feel a little less alone, a little more at ease, if they’re feeling lost or down, I’m right there with you. You’ll be fine.
GALO: Independent music site CDBaby compared Might Be the Rain’s lyrical composition to that of Bob Seger with the “smoothness of John Mayer.” In your words, what is the record’s overall tone?
ZC: It’s probably our most cohesive album. The songs that I wrote [before] were usually very folky and some were more rock. They kind of went all over the place. This time, I let myself record whatever came to mind over the two years between my last album and this one. I rolled with a specific idea in mind for this album; I wanted that older blues-rock sound and I wanted to have a little bit of an English blues sound. A couple of songs almost have a dance ability to them, and that wasn’t something I’d heard on the other albums. You have mellower and somber tracks like “Might Be The Rain,” [and then] the hard-hitting rock songs like “One of these Days.” I think there’s a really good flow in the album. There are ups and downs, some that you’ll bob your head to, and some that you’ll have to be in that kind of mellow, nighttime mood for. It kind of takes you on a ride from start to finish. When you listen to the album, it opens and closes with static-like radio noise. The whole album is kind of a throwback sound, so I wanted there to be an idea of turning the radio dial a step back in time a little bit. You’re going through these eight songs that have this older song, and when you turn the dial again, it’s gone.