By Kimber Fountain
Oscar Wilde put forth the notion that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life,” arguing that the inspiring beauty of life experience is only truly appreciated because artists teach us how to find the wonder in the seemingly mundane. Zach Tate grew up among the Ontario towns of London, Windsor, and Toronto, not too far from Texas Road, a rural street that runs through the southern part of Ontario where Canada collides with Michigan. It is well-known by residents of the province for mysterious happenings and suspected paranormal activity, and years later while living in Los Angeles, Zach released his first album also called “Texas Road.” Then, in the true spirit of life imitating art, his journey would eventually put him on an actual road to Texas.
This Wildean theme prevails even further with the fact that Zach Tate’s sultry style and hard-hitting sound was in development long before he ever stepped foot in the Lone Star State. Yet, so authentic is his Texas flavor that he has released four albums in the ten years since his arrival here. “While I was living in LA I just started to get curious about the Texas coast, people told me there were palm trees,” Zach remembers. Palm trees in Texas? It did not seem possible, but on his first visit to the Clear Lake Area he was sold.
As a kid in Canada, his family was not one full of musicians and recording artists, but it was one full of appreciation for the art form. It was also socially connected to The Band, a Canadian-American group that contributed significantly throughout the 1960s and 70s, probably best known for their collaborations with the genius that is Bob Dylan. “For my very first birthday my parents gave me one of their albums,” Zach recounts. “That seems weird, right? Giving a record to a baby?” he laughs, “but they played it all the time.” All the while, he began to feel himself drawn also to the rambunctious styling of Chuck Berry.
Zach wrote songs and played in bands all through high school, “but we never got out of the barn,” he says, and then explains, “Here you have garages, in Canada we practice in the barn.” It was not until he moved to Los Angeles that he began performing, and The Zach Tate Band was born. After moving to the Clear Lake area, he started attending open mics and networking to find musicians. “It was a slow evolution,” he says, and The Zach Tate Band lineup has continued to evolve throughout Zach’s many years of performing and recording. It also can vary from one live performance to another.
Between both acoustic and full sets, the members of the band who perform on any given night will differ, depending on the venue. At times the full band will play, but “sometimes there are only three of us, sometimes two,” Zach shrugs and smiles, “sometimes just one.” But no matter the number of them on stage, their live output is crisp and oozing with the preciseness of professional musicians, while never losing their trademark grit and homespun sound. “I am really impressed with Zach,” says Lynn Raggio, lead guitarist, who has been playing in various bands since the 70s. His admiration stems especially from the brief, but prolific years in which Zach has released five albums, but also from the fact that he makes sure they practice. Lynn also explains of their live production, “He always uses his own equipment, never the stuff provided by the [venues], which is a lot more work,” Lynn admits with a laugh, “but he wants to make sure that our sound is always consistent…he is one of the best band leaders I have ever played with.”
And even the smallest of their ensembles resounds with a power and pathos that is astoundingly and accurately captured in their fifth and most recently released album. “Serious Man” was recorded at Sugar Hill Records with eleven different musicians, including current band members Raggio (lead guitar), Anthony Puskus (drums), and Gary Graham (keys). A fantastic listen from beginning to end, meticulously crafted songs summon searing guitar riffs and sensual saxophone solos, and they reveal a paradoxical coupling of melancholy yearning with fast and loose confidence. The album’s essence is rooted in a vintage (but super-clean) mashup of Zach’s inspirations Berry and Bob, while the lyrics titillate with as much genius wit, articulate staccato, and sexual innuendo as those of Dave Matthews.
The opening track “Fishing Song” is unabashedly irreverent, “Telephone” is absolutely stunning in its musical showmanship, and more than most of the songs evoke a sentimental familiarity without losing the band’s edge, but that is especially the case with “Paintin’ a Picture.” Most notably, all of the songs manage to be distinctly different while still distinctly marked with the band’s bold and biting Texas spirit. “I think a lot of artists get wrapped up in thinking ‘does this sound like me?’ But I don’t think we should consume ourselves with that,” says Zach. “The goal is to write a good song,” and Zach attests that even artists like the Beatles and Elvis, “covered a lot of ground.” The result is a collection of highs and lows, rocks and rolls, and pleasures and pains that make you think, laugh, cheer, and cry, and in the end it leaves you wanting more.
Legendary actress Katharine Hepburn was once asked what ‘star quality’ is, and she replied, “I don’t know, but whatever it is, I’ve got it.” In the same vein, it would be quite a difficult endeavor to quantifiably define what “Texas quality” really is. Perhaps it is that unbridled spirit of independence and confidence, or maybe that unstoppable tenacity in the face of adversity and heartbreak. Or maybe it is just strength and a high tolerance for pain, or the ability to bend instead of break. Who knows…but whatever it is, Zach’s got it.
“Serious Man” is available at live shows and at www.zachtate.com.
To see Zach Tate in Galveston, click HERE.