Down to the Crossroads: Zach Caruso Discusses Life in the Music World and Relating to Quarter-Lifers
GALO: Your music is described as blues-rock and some of your songs seem very laid-back, almost reminiscent of summer nights spent relaxing on a front porch. What attracted you to create this style of music? And who would you say are some of your influences?
ZC: I think my influences go all over the place. I like creating moods with songs. In blues, there’s standard stuff. Musically, it’s fun, but for me, I think about different melodies and lyrics. A lot of songs have to do with thinking about times of the day — a lot of songs are nighttime music. I like to create atmospheres. For some reason, with this style of music and with older bands like Free, Humble Pie, and Led Zeppelin, there’s a lot of that feeling and a lot of those moods that are created in the music. I am attracted to that and I combine a lot of stuff that I listen to.
I love the bands City and Colour and Rival Suns. I kind of take all of these influences as wide-ranging as they are. I’m picking out points in songs and places where they really create these moods. I study how they do it. Whatever happens, whether it all goes into my head and gets blended and comes out, it’s kind of a mix of blues-rock and everything else. I’m really just trying to create those atmospheres in those songs. As far as blues-rock artists go, Joe Bonamassa is my absolute favorite. Thrice’s Dustin Kensrue is one of my favorite songwriters and lyricists. I think the way he creates music is amazing. Dallas Green from City and Colour — the way he shapes songs and melodies around lyrics is just fantastic.
GALO: Your band is a bit spread out; some of the members reside in New Jersey, while some are centered in Florida. Is it difficult to maintain a solid musical cohesiveness when you’re thousands of miles apart?
ZC: The cool part is technology makes it a lot easier — everything from text messages and phone calls to voicemails — I can record ideas and send them off.
We were getting ready to record this album in January. In the last year or so, I had been doing home demos on my own and sent them off to my bass player, Frankie, who’s basically been my best friend for the past five years now. I sent it off to him and he listened to it, added to it, and recorded it again. He sent it back to me and then I sent it off to my drummer, who lives only about 15 minutes away from me. I can e-mail him stuff before we even get to play, so he knows what we’re doing before I even get there. We can also FaceTime each other and show each other different parts, show each other what we’re working on.
For our shows, I’m able to send over set lists that we’re going to play to make sure everyone has all the songs. We come together and, within an hour, we’re working through the set list because everyone is already familiar with it. I think this is the kind of stuff everyone takes for granted because we kind of grew up with it. We don’t think about things, like how, back in the day, there was no e-mail or anything. When we step back, we realize how easy it makes life sometimes. My friends are thousands of miles away in New Jersey, but somehow we still might be prepared to play a show together without having rehearsed in the same room. It’s pretty amazing.
GALO: As you just mentioned, your band is comprised of bassist Frankie Prendergast, drummer Frank Abrami and vocalist Alicen Ragonese. Is this band fairly new or have the three of you amassed some experience playing together?
ZC: I’ve been really fortunate in that I’ve had a great group of musicians come in and out over the past seven to eight years that I’ve been playing. This incarnation, the guy I’m playing with now — Frank Abrami, the drummer — is probably the newest addition. I just started working with him in the fall of 2013. Frankie, my bassist, has been with me for the past three years now. Alicen’s his girlfriend and they’ve been together almost the entire time I’ve known Frankie. We kind of roped her into helping us out on this last album because when Frankie was recording the demos, he was playing them so often. Alicen was a vocal performance major and she eventually started humming harmonies. Frankie called me one day and said, “She’s singing these harmonies and it sounds really good.” So I said, “Let’s convince her to do it on the album.” She kind of just joined up with us in the winter before we did the album. We initiated her and now she’s an official member.
GALO: It seems like the four of you have a bit of personal history, which can lead to a more comfortable working environment for all. What do you think helps your band create such an incredibly consistent and smooth sound?
ZC: I’ll start off by saying that we’re all Italian, so that’s pretty cool, and we’re all from Jersey. Frankie, Alicen and I are from Jersey. Our drummer, Frank, is from Brooklyn, so we’re all Northeasterners. I think there’s some kind of weird, cosmic connection in that. The one thing that I don’t think a lot of people realize is that you have to connect with people you’re playing with outside of music. If you don’t like each other or get along, it’s really hard to work with and trust each other. Number one, we all love each other. Like I said, Frankie’s been my friend for five or six years now, and [once] he started dating Alicen, she became a very good friend of mine. The three of us have a great time together.
I met Frank, my drummer, through my dad. He was looking for a hobby and he took up percussion. Frank actually taught him; he’s around my dad’s age — a great guy, very laid-back. Personality-wise, everyone in the band gets along really well, and we have a good time together. It’s a very fun environment to play in. Musically, I’m working with very, very talented guys. The one thing I’ve always been taught is to make sure you’re playing with people who are better than you. Make sure you’re surrounding yourself with good people and good players who really push you. Whenever I feel very confident about what I’m doing, I realize I’m playing with these super talented players and it makes you want to play better. These guys have such amazing sensibilities and the vision to know exactly what to play and what to leave out — not to show off, but [rather] how to make the parts really come together at different levels. I think I’m really fortunate to have such intelligent, talented and sensible players around me, who understand what I’m thinking when I’m writing songs.
GALO: You have a pretty large following in Hollywood, FL, thanks in part to a Miami-based indie station, Butterflies Radio. How did they end up featuring you on their station and why do you think your music resonates so much with listeners in that area?
ZC: Butterflies Radio is an Internet indie station. Last year, they started picking up some of our music, and they [currently] have it on rotation. When I was in Jersey, there was also Gashouse Radio, which is a fantastic station. Those two have been the biggest indie supporters so far, picking up our music and helping us with promotion. I think, in terms of Butterflies Radio, the DJs seem really interested in indie music. They’re really into unsigned artists and finding good music — people they think have some talent or something to offer. It helps us put it out there, which is great, all of these unsigned artists [in one spot].