As the saying goes, too much of any one thing is bad for you. “High” is about that fine line between ecstasy and destruction.
If music is a look into an artist’s personality, shaped by instinct, inheritance, and environment, Zack Joseph has proven his music-making to be a culmination of a life well-lived and yet steeped in tradition. He — a Nashville-based multi-instrumentalist, cellist and singer — has grown to create a strikingly fresh, unparalleled sound that resonates with generations.
Be it a drug, a drink, a partner, or a God. Love can feel like flying, but reliance can lead to losing yourself. It’s something we all struggle with in different ways, but maintaining the levity is an important lesson to learn as we find that balance. For me, this song was a personal reminder that getting lost – even if only to find your way again – is part of the journey, so why not have a little fun while you do it? –Zack
Born along the Niagara River in rural Youngstown, NY, Joseph was immersed in a meld of history and cultures from an early age. As a child, he picked up the cello and engrossed himself in his practice. Joseph was 16 when he was first introduced to folk music by his great aunt. Falling in love with early country and 60s folk lyrical styles, he picked up guitar and taught himself the “Carter Scratch” style. Weekends were spent on his aunt’s farm devouring folk traditions and learning to play mandolin, fiddle and tenor guitar while developing his own unique voice. His first performances were in his church for Sunday community services, playing circles around the choir. All the while, Joseph continued to play cello, becoming a member of the Junior Buffalo Philharmonic and ranking among the top 10 youth cellists in New York State before going on to study cello performance at SUNY Fredonia. Realizing that the conservatory approach conflicted with his own, Joseph shifted his major to music business and his focus solely to folk music, but it would still be a few years before he packed his 1984 Volkswagen Rabbit convertible to make the trek down to Nashville to pursue his solo career.
Once in Nashville, Joseph jumped between bartending jobs while raising the funds needed to record his first studio album. His debut release, All in Time (2014), was the product of many late night studio sessions. The project introduced Joseph as a sonically-rich, melodically savvy musician who pays subtle homage to times past in his songwriting, and yet remains utterly in touch with the nuances of contemporary folk. After the release, Joseph set off on a national tour. His touring continued for the next several years as he continued to work intermittently as a server in restaurants during his pitstops back home.
If was during this time that Joseph navigated another life pivot: his struggle to understand his own sexuality. Torn between rights and wrongs, the faith he was raised with, and the heaviness of this realization, Joseph spiraled. Unfulfilled and feeling astray on his musical and life paths alike, he decided to stop performing and creating music for the next several years to come. “I kept feeling like I was drowning and failing, and I didn’t know how to get out of that hole,” explains Joesph. “It was like everything I had planned, had dreamed, and had thought was important for being a ‘good’ human being was turned upside down.”
After a three year musical hiatus and a lifetime of soul searching, Joseph returned to his musical roots with a stronger sense of self-identity within the queer community. A reflection of authenticity and the freedom that comes with it, his forthcoming album, Keeping Me Sane, is a reflection on life, love and the neverending search for self. It’s the product of navigating relationships, embracing sexuality, and learning acceptance — an illumination of the human condition that leaves us hopeful for more. As Joseph says, “This music is about feeling acceptance, regardless of your walk of life, and knowing that everything will be okay. The process of creating this album was just that for me.” The result is collection of songs that embrace every inch of life, and capture Joseph’s realizations along the way. “I don’t have it all figured out in any sense, but I’ve stayed true to myself and am ready for what comes next.” Keeping Me Sane reminds us all to embrace the freedom in letting go.
His initial album release plans dismantled due to COVID-19, Joseph will return to touring in 2021. For now, he continues to create music while restoring antiques in his Nashville home.
The song starts with Zack’s strong vocal delivery and the catchy hook. The vocal melodies are fun to sing along with, and the pace of the song in the instrumental brings the lighthearted Americana vibes. I really enjoyed the combination of acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and piano as the instrumental. The lyrical direction of the song is also powerful in and of itself, making the song and all around bop!
I got to ask Zack some questions about the release, check it out below!
Describe your release in 3 sentences.
My single, “High,” is about that fine line between ecstasy and destruction that comes with relying on any person, higher power, or substance to make you feel worthy. The album Keeping me Sane as a whole has many of these same themes running throughout and I think most people can relate to this age-old balancing act. Even though the subject matter sounds bleak, “High” is an upbeat song meant to remind us to not be so hard on ourselves as we grow and learn.
What was your favorite part about making “High”?
My favorite part about making “High” was playing around with a more ‘modern’ sound than I’m used to. My past releases have definitely been more old-school folk/country-leaning, and I really wanted this one to feel fresh and new. I think spending hours in the studio trying to figure out what kind of sounds we wanted really paid off and this single is the perfect balance of the past and where I’m at currently.
What was the hardest part of making “High”?
On the flip side, this was also the hardest part about making “High.” The song itself only took me about five minutes to write, but recording it was a different story. We tried many different sounds and instruments and it just wasn’t clicking. We didn’t want it sounding too old-school — but then we couldn’t go too modern either because that’s not me. This was actually the last song finished because it took us so long to crack the code but now it’s one of my favorites of the group.
Was this release cathartic for you?
Oh yes, for sure. I had the highest hopes for 2020 after taking a break from music for so long. I was in the studio again, planning tours, having band practices, and feeling so ready to get back out there. And just like that, everything was put on hold indefinitely. Nashville was hit by a tornado, and then COVID-19 shut down the world. At first, I was devastated. I had these meaningful songs and this burning desire to get back on the road and now I can’t even finish recording – let alone leave my house. It felt like a sick joke. And then one day it dawned on me that each song was very relevant to the time we were all facing, little “quarantine anthems” in a sense. From there, I tried to be more patient and optimistic. I don’t typically cry, but the night I finally heard the full final product, I just couldn’t help myself.
What keeps you motivated?
What keeps me motivated is a desire to experience as much as I can in life and to leave something meaningful behind. Music is the perfect vehicle to make that happen for me. Writing, performing, and touring all give me the opportunity to meet so many interesting people and experience so many different situations and emotions. I get to turn that all into art that hopefully means something to someone — now, or in the future. Just like some of my favorite older artists, it would be really awesome to have someone listening to one of my songs many years from now.
What can we expect next from you?
I really hope to start touring again in the near future and then get started on a full-length album in 2022. Trying to get this ball rolling again and turn music into my full-time career won’t be easy, but I’m very ready to give it my all.
What other artists are you listening to right now?
I have my regular favorites like Dolly Parton and Stevie Nicks but the most recent artist who’s been releasing a lot of brilliant music lately that I’m listening to is Lana Del Rey. I can’t get enough of her.
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions for us!
Be sure to stream “High” by Zack Joseph on all platforms now, and also follow him on social media below!
Written By: Bryce Quartz