Photography by Maggie Shannon
Zack Villere’s daily schedule during the COVID-19 lockdown may be a simple one, but you’d struggle to find one better. “I pretty much just wake up, eat some food, watch Gilmore Girls and work on some music,” he tells me, as we both settle in to a Facetime call. Zack is calling from his parent’s house in Louisiana, having travelled home a couple of weeks before the start of the country’s travel restrictions to shoot the video for “Rope Swing,” the hypnotic duet with Dijon from his latest album CARDBOARD CITY. The resulting visuals, in which the two artists swing into a lake, find a boat and row through the bayou, looks like a trailer for the year’s most uplifting buddy comedy. Honestly, I wish it was - that’s something we all need right now.
Villere’s videos are so rich with ideas, and striking shots, that it’s not hard to imagine any of them in such a way – snippets taken from larger films, offering glimpses of narrative arcs, unspoken character development and striking set pieces, all in three minutes or less. From “One 19” to “Sore Throat,” they are woven with nostalgia, beauty, and the contemplative loneliness of early adulthood. I ask if he holds any ambition to make longer-form videos in the coming years. “Yes, totally,” comes his enthusiastic reply. “I have an idea for a cartoon series that I've been just sitting on, and I’ve had a couple of little movie ideas throughout the years. There’s such a connection between making music and making movies - just telling stories, I guess.”
For the moment though, Zack is spending his plentiful spare time in lockdown developing his skills in a different art form. “I'm starting to paint. I'm figuring it out. I feel like I definitely want to get better at it. I don't have the technique, my friend is teaching me how to do it.” Having seen some of the artwork he has shared on Instagram, I ask if there’s any particular subject matter he’s most interested in painting. “Well, I have an idea for a series of paintings for this next album. So I was just like, “‘I have to learn.’” I express my surprise to hear him mention a new album already – CARDBOARD CITY is just a few weeks old at the time of our call. “Yeah, I've been working on it for a while now,” he replies. “The last project, it was just such a weird process. But this project, it's kind of like a return to how I used to feel.”
Artists describing upcoming projects as a return to the good old days is nothing new. You’ve probably read similar sentiments in interviews that have been published in this magazine. But, it’s striking to hear Zack talking this way having only just released his sophomore record. What could have changed in the few years between his debut, 2017’s LITTLE WORLD, and CARDBOARD CITY? “I think with everything that happened after LITTLE WORLD, I got so distracted. I was just in a weird spot. Working on the album, I felt like I had to make myself lock it in. I would set a routine: ‘OK, I’ve got to go to the studio for this amount of time every day and just work.’ That actually helped me a lot, but just the fact that I had to make myself do that, that's what feels different now. I genuinely want to wake up and make shit.” He already has over an hour’s worth of material for the next album, while for CARDBOARD CITY he felt he was “scraping it together, trying to make it to 35 minutes.” If the experience of making CARDBOARD CITY was a trying one, he has emerged on the other side stronger for it. “There was pressure. It was just a lot,” he recalls. “There's a lot of growth, personally, that has occurred in the last two years. There was a lot of shit I had to learn.”
For now, Zack is quick to admit that work on his next project has so far been strictly lo-fi: “The process has been recording these demos on my laptop with my Apple earbud mic. It's all janky as fuck, but I want to just write the songs and then go into the studio, lock in for like two months and just produce it out and really make an effort. With this one, I want to make it a real album. Not like bedroom shit. You know?” I had spent the first half of our conversation conspicuously avoiding that word, “bedroom.” It’s a classification frequently attributed to Zack’s work, but is less a genre than a catch-all term for a generation of young artists making music on their own terms. I ask Zack what his thoughts are on the now-ubiquitous moniker. “It's cool,” comes his typically laconic answer, before thinking for a moment and continuing “It just got wack because it started to be used to define a sound more than an idea of like, “Okay, we're making shit in our bedroom." But my aspiration was never to stay in the bedroom. I would watch videos of Pharrell in the studio and be like, ‘Fuck, that’s sick. I don't want to work in my bedroom.’” I hadn’t previously considered how constrictive the implied creative limits to the term “bedroom” are, but it’s true. Almost every rock band started in a garage, but it’s not a tag that follows them through their careers.
Zack studied the music industry in his truncated time at college (“I really only went to appease my parents,” he admits), and perhaps that time spent analysing the workings of the industry from an outside perspective has sharpened his awareness of its pitfalls. Our conversation continues on to survey the current landscape of music journalism, and I find that Zack is just as interested in hearing my own perspective as his own. I ask if he reads his own reviews. “I definitely do. Yeah, of course.” There’s one in particular that sticks in his memory. “Dude, they called me twerpy. They said ‘twerpy electronic musician,’” he laughs. “And the headline was like, ‘Zack Villere crash lands into the hip-hop game with his witty dork-rap jams.’ What the fuck?”
As our conversation draws to a close, I can’t let him go without asking about the childhood photos he had recently shared on his Twitter. “Dude. They are so insane,” Zack chuckles. He’s right. A true early-2000s time capsule, one image features a preteen Zack Villere sat dressed in full Boy Scout regalia, eyes fixed on a huge PC. The CD case for the 2003 below-average platform game “The Hobbit” lies on his desk. In another, he is playing a baritone sax that looks to be about the same height as him. A silky mop of blonde hair is a constant throughout. “So great. I love seeing old photos like that, it shows the person you were. People grow up and you don't even think about the fact that like somebody could have been deep into the Belieber shit, or been in a band, or been a Myspace scene kid. I love that idea.” Those little eccentricities of everybody’s youth are lost over time. As Zack puts it, “eventually we all just become normal.” But in his music, and the worlds that exist within it, there are frequent flourishes of peculiarity, and sometimes downright weirdness, that serve to keep that spirit alive.
In the wave of nostalgia brought on by those photos, and Gilmore Girls, I ask if looking back had made him think of any advice he wished he could give to his younger self. “Nah, I don’t think so. Sorry, that’s a bad answer,” he laughs again. I assure him that it’s a good answer to what was a bad question. “I don't think there would be any reason for me to get where I am sooner, or do anything different,” he muses. “I was just talking to my friend Andrew the other day about this. We were saying with everything that’s going on, this might be the end times. If there was some biblical shit going on, if all that shit was true and I got saved, I'd be so bummed. Just like ‘Fuck, man. I didn't finish what I was doing. Even if I got sent to paradise, it's like, ‘Damn it. I didn't finish what I was doing. I didn’t get to actually accomplish what I'm going for.’ We agreed that must mean we're happy with our lives and what we're doing. So, that's pretty cool.”
This is story was originally published in BRICK Edition 09.
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