By Sarah Kitteringham
BeatRoute is proud to premiere the debut full-length by cross-Canadian indie folk act Zaac Pick. Constellations comes out on Tuesday, April 14. Stream the album and read our interview with Pick below.
CALGARY —Gorgeous Canadian indie folk act Zaac Pick is on the verge of releasing their full-length debut Constellations. Lush and orchestral, the album features Pick’s gentle, breathy voice cascading over subdued percussion, occasional string flourishes and sparse guitar. Since the project’s inception in 2009, it’s been remarkably successful, as his precocious songs have already provided the soundtrack to several television show dramas, including One Tree Hill and The Ghost Whisperer. Pick’s previous project Doubting Paris was similarly successful, with songs featured on Joan of Arcadia, The Real World and America’s Next Top Model. Despite that, the project remains independent and funded Constellations with a wildly successful Indiegogo campaign that saw them raise over $16,000 in 22 days. The result is a nine-track record available on vinyl, CD and digitally. To learn more, we chatted with Pick over email, as he’s incredibly busy in the days leading up to Constellations release. His answers are edited for length.
BeatRoute: Your debut full-length Constellations comes out in a week. Despite that, you’re already known – you’ve won awards, been played on huge shows… and that’s just on the strength of your two EPs, Fierce Wind and Whitewater. I can imagine there is considerable pressure for you to record and work on a full album, especially one where your band mates are spread out across three cities (including Calgary). That said, can you chronicle the journey that lead to the finished album?
Zaac Pick: When I recorded the first of those EPs, I had just come out of a band where the four of us wrote together, and I provided melodic textures on electric guitar for those songs. I wanted to focus on songwriting with an acoustic guitar for a while, stripping things away and find my own voice again. Not really having a band at the time, other musical elements were added as more of an accompaniment.
By the time I had written most of the songs that would become Constellations, I’d been playing with the same core band live for a couple years—Josh Cole (bass, keys), Caleb Chan (violin), Brian Chan (cello, keys), Jay Stewart (drums), James Molnar (drums)—and these guys each bring a depth of musicality to the table I wanted to see more of going forward.
There wasn’t really any outside pressure, only internal, wanting to find a way to present the new songs in a fresh way than I’d done before. We started out doing a lot of experimentation with the songs together, eventually recording the bed tracks for most of the songs with producer Jon Anderson at his Langley, B.C. studio. During the process, a few of those bandmates relocated to Calgary and Toronto, one went off to grad school in Montreal. So we just kept the experimenting going over email and Skype, sending files back and forth, mainly between Josh, Caleb and I. It was like Christmas every few weeks, you’d open up some new tracks and have no idea what to expect….
There reached a point last year where we had nearly finished recording everything, Jon (Anderson) was moving to a new studio space, and I was totally out of money to put the final touches on it and get it mixed. I didn’t know how I was going to get it finished. Fortunately Jon offered to give me studio time in exchange for help with the construction, which I did gladly. A few months after that, we mixed the record in the new space.
With a new record almost ready to release after a two-year wait, I still wasn’t sure how I’d be able to actually master and press the thing, but at the urging of a few good friends I decided to go to my existing fans with a pre-order campaign on Indiegogo. It puts you in a vulnerable place to ask for help in that way, but they came through over and above what I had imagined, enabling me to get here, and I’m truly grateful for them. It also meant I could work with a couple of visual artists I’d been fans of for a while, Russell Leng (whose artwork is on the cover), and (Calgary’s own) Brock Davis Mitchell for the trailer video. I had decided on the title of this record a while back, in part a reference to the ‘constellations’ of people that make up our lives, their significance, and the forces that bring us together and pull us apart.
BR: Your music is orchestral, cinematic indie folk. It’s reassuring and beautiful. In terms of emotional response, do you write to evoke a particular feeling?
ZP: For me, music is an expression that needs connection with other people to be meaningful, so I love hearing other people’s stories of how the music has had an effect. Sometimes music moves you on an emotional level, and you just want to dance or nod along and be in the moment. Other times it can move you on an intellectual level too, maybe there’s a line you want to write in your notebook or tattoo on your arm. A lot of my favourite music moves me in both ways, and I think I’m always trying to make music that does both. Hopefully that’s what people are responding to.
As for writing to evoke a particular feeling, I might have a piece of music or scrap of lyric that has a certain feeling I’ll try to amplify or contrast with other elements, but often a song comes with a feeling of its own, and I’m trying to transcribe it somehow. It’s like a thing you see for only an instant, and you’re trying to describe it to someone. A number of songs on Constellations came from some heavier life events around me the past few years, but I like to look for a hopeful thread in them.
BR: I’ve read that you’ve said Constellations is a direct step away from nostalgia. Can you please elaborate on that statement? The song titles to me seem like a step in a direction that allows the listener to interpret through their own lens. “Slow Kind Light,” “Roses” and more seem to move away from the nostalgic old tracks, which incite a particular feeling – here I’m talking about songs like “My Century,” “Finding Christmas” and “Summer Moon.” What inspired this shift in direction and what impact do you think it had on your music?
ZP: Great questions. On previous projects I’ve worked on, there’s usually a bit of an obsession with making the recordings feel timeless, in the sense that they might sound similar to recordings from a tradition or genre that’s been around for a while. So you could put on a record and it could have been recorded yesterday, or 20 years ago. It’s a popular approach I think, especially with singer-songwriters, and I do love a lot of music with that approach. But for the songs on Constellations, I wanted to try and make things sound like they were more a part of the present, not as much the past. As for the titles, most of them started as simple working titles for everyone to reference as the song develops. Usually they get replaced later on, but I liked the open-ended-ness of simpler titles. It leaves more room for interpretation.
Zaac Pick plays Broken City in Calgary on April 21, the Mercury Room in Edmonton on April 22, at Streaming Café in Kelowna on April 24 and the Fox Theatre in Vancouver on April 28. Constellations will be released on Tuesday, April 14. You can buy it at Zaac Pick’s website.AB, Alberta, BC, British Columbia, Broken City, Constellations, Fox Theatre, Mercury Room, Streaming Cafe, Zaac Pick