Chuck Schuldiner Project

Friday, March 2, 2012

An interview with Zach Pino

So tonight I had the honor of getting to sit down with music writer Zach Pino, author of The End of the Week as we Know It at Ultimate Guitar, and talk about his work and his thoughts on the industry. I hope you guys dig it!

The audio is HERE

Two Guys Metal Reviews: Zach Can you tell us a little bit about who you are?

Zach Pino: Who I am? Alright, I am a writer and a musician currently I live in Los Angeles, I went to school out here, down at Pepperdine university, it's how I got down here in the first place. I grew up in West Chester Pennsylvania.

TGMR: YEAAAAAH

ZP: YEAHHH

(Laughter)

ZP: I understand you're from West Chester.

TGMR: yes

ZP: That's cool!

TGMR: So how did you get in to writing about music?

ZP: I started writing for some smaller websites. One was like a guitar lesson interview site and another one was this British metal website. So I just wrote for them for free. I built up some skills, the whole idea was to get up a good works published list and eventually I starting writing some features for Ultimate-Guitar.com and that's pretty much what I've been doing for the last several months.

TGMR: And how long have you been writing for?

ZP: When did I start writing about music?

TGMR: Yes.

ZP: Actually it hasn't really been that long. It's been about a year and a half.

TGMR: Have any other writers inspired you?

ZP: Oh absolutely, definitely one of the biggest influences at least when it comes to writing about music is this guy Chuck Kosterman. I started reading him, he has this book which is a collection of his essays called Sex Drugs and Coco Puffs. I started reading that, and his way of making these grand observations about music and pop culture and how they have this greater meaning outside of the fact that it's fun to listen too. And I thought that was really intriguing stuff and in terms of his tone as well. He writes in the first person he inserts himself into his essays and stories. I definitely got a lot of influence and inspiration from him.

TGMR: We see that a lot in your End of the Week as we Know It column

ZP: Yes.

TGMR: Can you tell us more about that?

ZP: More about the column?

TGMR: Yes

ZP: I've been doing that for almost a year which is pretty cool. It started out when Ultimate Guitar wanted a music news wrap up type blog, more for entertainment purposes. I started out approaching it that way, seeing what happened in music news during the week. Obviously some of it is ridiculous and inserting my opinion wherever, which is pretty fun but the more I kept doing it you start to see a lot of repeated themes in terms of the nature of all these stories. Especially when it comes around to the guitar community and metal and rock based music news. So then it became less about picking random stories throughout the week then actually seeing what these stories actually reveal about Rock n' roll culture and all that.

TGMR: I've noticed, a lot of people in the comments will say things like “Why does UG always inspire trolling? How do you feel about that?

ZP: I don't want to say UG inspires trolling. It's what happens with a lot of these stories. Obviously the headlines are their to attract clicks and it's a very staunch opinion to attract some controversy and I notice that a lot of readers have this very immediate reactionary type of response. It doesn't seem like very many people read the actual articles and think about what's going on. And it's just like “Snap decision I don't agree with this” and they hit the comments and that creates a snowball effect of trolling. I think it's funny, I've never really participated in any sort of online forum because to me it seems pointless. It's definitely interesting to read through all those opinionated comments.

TGMR: How do you feel about your own haters?

ZP: I wouldn't say to many people do (hate on me). I don't see way to many. You can gauge by what the comment is whether or not if there opinion is worth anything. Some of them you can see obviously he didn't understand what I was saying at all. Obviously he isn't following this closely he has just picked a certain phrase or quote and is reacting solely to that. But I actually love it sometimes when I get really intelligent comments saying I don't agree and here;s why and that's my goal, to get people thinking rather than just saying “Nyeh so-and-so sucks!”

TGMR: Now can we talk a little about your work with Human Abstract? What do you do with them?

ZP: Well, I do a lot of things, with them, actually two of the members are my roommates so overtime I've gotten to be friends with everybody which is cool. This past fall I was able to go out on tour with them I did merch and light and it was great to have this touring experience. That was the Frak the Gods tour with Periphery and Textures and the Contortionist. That was really cool and I got to write about the whole experience, in the UG blog. It was really great getting to be friends with such a great band and such great musicians.

TGMR: Yes, killer musicians. So do you have any idea what in store for them in the next little while?

ZP: I don't want to say to much. I know there's whole “Are they broken up are they not broken up” deal going on right now. As of right now, it's this indefinite hiatus, where a lot of new music is getting written, not so much metal. I know AJ is working on a lot of new stuff. Other members of the band are pursuing other stuff for the time being, but there's likely going to be more music.

TGMR: That's... very reassuring.

ZP: (Laughs) It would be a shame for all that music to go to waste.

TGMR: Digital Veil blew my mind...

ZP: Yes, it's a great record.

TGMR: Can you tell us a bit about your own group?

ZP: Again I don't want to say too much. It's the new project that AJ is working on, Brett as well, the drummer, our other roommate, Tassa who is a brilliant classical guitarist studying at USC right now he's on guitar and I've been picking up bass duties. And it's in it's early stages in terms of just getting songs written and demoing and that whole thing.

TGMR: And it's going to be djent right?

ZP: Djent, No, no, no... not even metal.

TGMR: Oh dear

ZP: Not metal at all (laughs)

TGMR: Are we going to leave it vague, a little clue?

ZP: I want to leave it a little vague just for the time being, don't want to say anything to definitive...

TGMR: an interesting question for me in particular, how did you get into metal and heavy music growing up in West Chester?

ZP: That's an interesting question... well thinking back.... I was playing in several bands. You know how when you're in middle school and high school and you jam with your buddies? I was playing guitar with them. I started really gravitating towards heavy music, and old Ozzy records and Randy Roads, just blew me away that guys playing. All my friends where not into metal, and metal was not really “cool”. They where into grunge and post-grunge and alternative type stuff so I never really got because of that. I didn't really have a metal community quite as much as I did later on. Then when I got to college and started hanging out with a lot of classical guitarists in college and I guess because of the nature of classical music and what it demands in terms of technique and composition a lot classical players like of metal. They got me into Meshuggah and Pantera and Lamb of God. I remember when I first heard Lamb of God I was like “Woah, THIS is what metal can sound like”. That's when I started really getting into heavy metal, a little later on when I was in college.

TGMR: How do you feel, about the music scene today, particularly metal?

ZP: I don't know if I can really give that a great answer. Mostly just because now that I'm a little older I'm less into the whole metal scene. I got to see a lot of stuff firsthand, when I was on tour with the Human Abstract and Periphery. Thought that was a really interesting sort of metal scene, because it seemed like pretty much the whole audience was actually musicians. You talk to them and they say “I play guitar,” or “I play the drums”. I think it's very cool that kind of music attracts musicians. I hate the term “djent” but that's basically what it is. But this vein of metal attracts people who really appreciate musicianship rather than metal culture where we just want to go into a pit and kick the shit out of each other. It seems a lot more refined, which is a good thing band's which are definitely highly skilled in a compositional sense and technical sense and the musicianship is great.

TGMR: would you care to explain why you don't like the term djent?

ZP: I don't know, I just don't like it. I don't really listen to it though. Metal likes to be very specific about, “It so and so core music” People want to have it be pigeon holed in one sense. And in a way that can be limiting to what people expose themselves too. And even bands think “We have to adhere to this one sound”. So for me djent is just one more subgenre of metal which already has a ton of subgenres. And I feel that metal could do better if it wasn't as pigeon holed.

TGMR: I dig you, What is the future of music for you? What band?

ZP: Oh man, that's hard to say, because, now I'm more getting into some of the older stuff. Like classic rock, especially the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Queen all these, in my opinion, incredible incredible bands. The songwriting is amazing and the musicianship is great. Also the way they pushed the envelope on what was available to them on the time. Listen to an album like Sergeant Pepper which was extremely revolutionary in terms of production. It's easy to look in hindsight at bands like that and look at the context of what they where working wit hat the time. Now it's harder to do that because we're in it, we're in this time period. And it's hard to say which bands (will get big). Cliched as it sounds, who's going to be the next Beatles? There's definitely a lot of bands out there like Radiohead, they're one of those bands whose sound has clearly evolved over time. They're not afraid to get very experimental in terms of their songs, which is great! I'm trying to think of other bands off the top of my head who will carry the torch of good music. I'm browsing through my iTunes right now looking for something. I think Muse is kind of the new Queen in a way. They're this huge rock band, but I didn't really like their last album so much, their earlier stuff was quite incredible.

TGMR: Now that we've talked about the future of music, how about the future of your writing? Is anything going to happen with the End of the Week as we Know It?

ZP: I think I'm just going to keep doing it. I'm on number 29 this week, so I think when I get to 52 weeks for one year I'll be pretty stoked on that to be sure. I'll just keep doing that obviously just building my writing chops. I want to start writing more fiction. My goal is to write my first book, but that's going to take a lot of time so in the coming years look for that. I'm just going to keep writing for UG because they've been great. They sent me out to the NAMM show this past January, so I got to do some reporting on that which was really cool. So just keep doing that.

TGMR: That reminds me of a question I had for you earlier, like how exatcly did you get a post with UG, I know they get a lot of applications, I applied like 3 times and got no response.

ZP: Oh really? Well if I remember correctly I think I just sent a cold e-mail saying, “Hey” gave a little info about myself “I'm a guitarist with 10 years of experience...” and I referred them to this blog I started with a professional writing class. The point of the class, was to generate a blog and then at the end you have some content to show for it. I just referred them to this blog that I created. And I got a response from them, so they're like “Do you want to do any lists?” Those infamous lists on UG that definitely bring out the trolls. (Laughter) So I did (more laughter) So I did a list of top 10 Underrated guitarists! (Laughter)

TGMR: That was you?

ZP yes that was me..

TGMR: Oh my god, you're the guy who introduced me to Guthrie Govan!

ZP: Yes!

TGMR: Oh my god, that's really cool. (laughter)

ZP: But in a way, it was really cool. I was so na├»ve about the whole thing. I just put it out there. I wasn't worrying about whats the response going to be. Because obviously “Top 10 Underrated Guitarist”s, and it was completely based on my own opinion. I was just like “Oh this guy's better in my opinion, my opinion, my opinion.” But it got this HUGE response and I was like “Woah this pissed off a lot of people.” But then it was good because they hit me back up, UG did afterwords. It generated a lot of comments which is what we want, and we went on it from there.

TGMR: That's mindblowing, at least you got the correct number 1.

ZP: Yes Guthrie is quite the player.

TGMR: yes. So that's a good question, are there any other articles that you're not, proud of, or got a lot of trolls beyond what you expected?

ZP: In terms of feature articles? I've probably written 10 or so features for them, when I just started writing for them I did the holiday articles, which no one wants to write. Like the Thanksgiving feature, which was stupid, how the hell do you connect Thanksgiving to guitar? And the Valentines feature the year before... What else? I did a feature on classical guitarists, that went over really well, one on the Beatles which didn't get as great a response as I hoped for. That's probably just because a lot of young people think it's cool to not like the Beatles. I mean I get it, because the Beatles are so present in the minds of people who pay attention to any sort of music. I can see why people wouldn't be so stoked on that band. To that, I think people just need to listen to the individual albums and not just the greatest hits and everything. But I digress... I think that my features since then got better. I got pretty good at reading the audience and understanding who I'm writing for. “Ok this is the UG audience”. I can anticipate ways the trolling can occur before I even send it out. I have seen it on my blog. It's funny, certain weeks you're not going to hit a home run. There's definitely been some weeks with stress and whatever else is going on, where I'm not producing what in my opinion is my best work, But it's funny because sometimes I'll just be a little more opinionated, a little more black and white with the insertions that I make, and I guess it's funny how that all goes down. You need articles like that sometimes.

TGMR: And the reverse of that? What article are you most proud of?

ZP: It's hard to say, when you write every single week, there are times when I totally forgot what I wrote about last week or the week before. I'm trying to think if there's one in particular I'm proud of... I think the Rock n Roll is Dead article was a good one... It was definitely more my opinion but I thought the theme was interesting. Over several weeks it was like older musicians saying “Rock n Roll is Dead”. It's a cliched phrase by now. But in many senses I did agree with it in a way, in a mainstream sense it is dead. You have to define mainstream though, take a band like Alter Bridge, I don't even listen to Alter Bridge, but they're a relatively huge band, I saw today they're releasing a Live at Wembley DVD, and only the biggest bands get to play there. But nobody who listens to pop music really is going to know who Alter Bridge is. Foo Fighters, I think are that one band, anybody who has listened to any music seriously will have heard of the Foo Fighters, they're the ones keeping rock alive in a mainstream sense. I think the days are over with band's like Nirvana, when even people who didn't listen to rock music knew who they were. I think that now there's not really to much of a focus on rock n roll music, I guess you could say it is dead in certain instances. And not that not great rock music is coming out, theirs still great bands out there, but.. y'know.

TGMR: But part of that article, which I agree was really cool, but there's a lot of people going, “Oh I'm going to bring rock back”, even Ke$ha.

ZP: oh yeah yeah her..

TGMR: But do you think she could actually bring it back as a mainstream thing, or would it be “rock” in the sense that Nickelback is “rock”

ZP: Oh yes, oh god (laughter) I'm very vocal about my disdain towards Nickelback. It's really hard to say, you never know whats going to happen now who's going to come out, because you haven't heard it yet. And she's like “Oh I'm going to bring rock back”. You might make a rock album and it might sell really well, but unless it's absolutely amazing and it gets people who love rock music to like it too it won't bring rock “back”. It's not just like “Oh this is my rock album” and all of her fans listen and like it, but unless it gets this unanimous support... I don't think that's going to happen. It does look bleak , because it's like... You go back to the Nickelback sort of argument. I still don't understand how anyone can like that band. It's like what happened in the 80s with hair metal and it went into the mainstream. And technically, sonically it was metal with electric guitars and riffs and guitar solos, but really it was just pop songs disguised as metal. And I think that's what this sort of Nickelback, Creed “post grunge” things. Technically it's heavy and has a sonic drive but they're just like these pop songs with no real substance. It's very hooky, they have very memorable melodies. People gravitate toward melody. But people listen to them on the radio and go “Oh Nickelback, they're a heavy rock band!” When actually... there's so much more out there. But then again they're laughing all the way to the bank. So...

TGMR: How do you feel about that, that there are people like that. How about an example in Paris, last time Nickelback came they sold out one of the bigger 20000 person venues, and Tosin Abasi and Guthrie Govan are coming to play a venue that seats like 300 and its less than 20 bucks to get tickets. How do you feel about that dichotomy?

ZP: In that way it does make perfect sense, the only people who are going to really appreciate Tosin Abasi and Guthrie Govan are guitar players themselves. Because it's such an instrumental, sort of progressive, very flashy on guitar. The only people who are going to be impressed by that stuff are the people who understand the mechanics of the guitar. When you see Guthrie it's like “Oh My God that guy is amazing. I want to watch him play because I cannot do that” But if you show it to anybody who doesn't even play the instrument or isn't even that into it, there's nothing in the music that's really going to speak to him. I realized that a couple years ago, I was on a big Paul Gilbert kick and I went down to the NAMM convention. I remember Paul Gilbert was giving guitar lessons and I thought it was the coolest thing, and I was like “Oh my god this is amazing Paul Gilbert is the greatest guitar player in the world”, but in many ways he's not. Obviously he's been able to sustain a career for himself which is great, he's extremely good at what he does, but there's a reason why Paul Gilbert isn't played on the radio too much. It's because it's very guitar focused music. And once I started to realize that... A high level of musicianship and ability isn't necessarily good. I think that's the case with a lot of metal music as well. I used to think “Why don't people like this band? This band is clearly incredible.” but they have no context to understand it to understand whats going on in a musical sense. It does make sense why a band like Nickelback is selling out and Guthrie Govan is nowhere near that in terms of commercial success.

TGMR: So, we're nearing an end here. What is it that you love so much about music?

ZP: Oh man... everything, I don't know, it's always been something I gravitated toward even since I was a young kid. I now personally it speaks to me and then just the more you come to understand it and understand music as an art form and how expressive it is. Check this out, if you ever want to like expose yourself to different music, I know a lot of people are hesitant too. Especially younger people who are into rock or metal. Get into classical music and have someone who understands classical music explain it to you and you realize that rock music is the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is possible in music, and there's this whole vast landscape of exploration that can happen in music and it's very humbling when you listen to Beethoven and stuff like that and it's like “Oh my god this is music in it's highest art form.” That's where I'm at right now.

TGMR: So then quickly, who's your favorite classical musician?

ZP: That's a good question, I would say for pure enjoyment, and I'll keep it around guitar, is Andre Segovia because he pretty much pioneered the classical guitar in the modern sense. He was the first one to elevate the guitar from a parlor folk gypsy type instrument to a revered classical instrument. And I just have recordings of him where he's recording on this very primitive recording device and it's 1920 something. They only have one take because editing doesn't exist and he does it in that one take, brilliant, brilliant performance.

TGMR: He is amazing, let's just wrap it up now, any final comments?

ZP: Not really, thanks for taking the time to interview me, that was pretty cool.


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