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Zachery Allan Starkey is Back with a New Album

Walker Evans Walker Evans
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Photo by Daniel Repicz

Zachery Allan Starkey is known to many people simply as a guy with an eccentric fashion sense. Others may know him just for his dramatic online debates on Done Waiting. But above everything else, Zachery wants to be known first and foremost for his music, photography, and other creative endeavors.

On Friday he returns to the stage to release the first single “No Texting on the Dancefloor!” from his new album coming out later this year. We decided to hit up ZAS to talk about the inspiration behind his sophomore album, his upcoming foray with life post-graduation, and some thoughts about the future of his childroom stomping grounds in Franklinton.

Walker Lee Evans) You released your first album “Solitaire” almost two years ago. What have you been up to since then?

Zachery Allan Starkey) Well, I spent a good portion of the past two years touring and playing in support of Solitaire, my first record. I played more shows in the past two years than I ever thought possible. I also branched out and played in Cleveland and Dayton a lot, as well as Chicago. Playing outside of Columbus was extremely beneficial, as allowed me to see how people who had never heard of me reacted to my songs. The reaction to my music in other cities has always been very positive, so this has recently encouraged me to start work on a new record.

Outside of music, things have been busy as well. I spent a lot of time volunteering for the Obama campaign last fall. Working is always busy, and life in general is always busy. But working on this record has been great.

WLE) Well, tell us a bit more about the new album then.

ZAS) The new record will have ten to twelve short, concise, catchy, melodic, funny, and fun electro dance tunes. It’s very upbeat, and very different from Solitaire. A lot less bitter than Solitaire was, a lot more positive, more melodic, and much more fun.

The Pet Shop Boys, New Order, Giorgio Moroder, Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, Gary Numan, Ladytron, Goldfrapp, Chicago and Detroit House, Euro Disco, and Madonna were all huge influences on the songwriting, atmosphere, and production of this record.

I wrote and performed all of the songs, Bryan Moss recorded and engineered them, Bryan and I co-produced and co-mixed them, and we both mastered the songs. The goal with this album was to create a collection of sleek, shiny, concise, witty electro pop songs. We recorded everything using vintage Roland, Korg, and Yamaha synthesizers, and two drum machines, a Roland 808 and a Korg drum machine.  Everything was recorded directly into a twelve track Roland hard disc recorder, where it was sequenced, mixed, and mastered. There was nothing MIDI-ed on this record either, everything was actually played by myself, by hand. I feel that by recording this way, you get a far greater sense of performance than you would in a record where a computer does everything.

Jessica Nagel, my hairstylist who works at Phia Salon in the Short North, is doing some fantastic backing vocals on some of the songs. So it has been these observations that have provided the inspiration to write these songs. Making this record has been a real blast. Bryan has been a great co-producer, and we have had a lot of fun recording the songs. I have always wanted to make a record with huge female backing choruses like the Sisters of Mercy did on This Corrosion and Dominion/Mother Russia, so its been fun to have Jess come in and sing her backing vocals, then multi-track her voice ten times so it sounds like we have a chorus of her.

I am releasing NO TEXTING ON THE DANCE FLOOR! as a single now, and the entire album will come out this fall. Songs on the record so far will be: Dance All Night, NO TEXTING ON THE DANCE FLOOR!, Cocaine!, Wesley Snipes, Love is a Form of Mental Illness, MDMA, Jesus Looked Like a Movie Star, Speed, Focus Group Disco, and Cockstrong.

WLE) Some interesting titles in there. Were there any specific ideas or concepts that inspired you to start on this second album?

ZAS) I spend a lot of time going out to nightclubs. Mainly because I love to dance and also to observe how people interact with each other. I consider myself to be an amateur sociologist. I do not really drink and I don’t do drugs, so by the end of the night I am usually one of the only sober people in the room. Over the years I have developed a very funny view of nightlife and clubbing in general. Nightclubs full of drunken and high people are incredibly hilarious places. Everyone plays a role, everyone is trying to impress someone, to network, to get laid, to connect, and to communicate. People put on all sorts of strange masks, take on all sorts of strange roles, and ingest many strange substances in attempts to connect and communicate with others. If you watch these social interactions for years from the sidelines it all starts to become very funny, sad, exciting, and sometimes, very strange.

As human beings, we are desperate to communicate with each other. I have always felt, for my whole life, that I lived in a glass box and could not connect with other people, so I have become very interested in how other people communicate with each other.

Technology has also really changed the way we communicate with each other. I grew up in a world without cell phones, email, texting, and instant messaging. I didn’t have an email account until I was 18, I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 23.

With the change in technology comes a change in the ways people interact with each other. People will be out on a dance floor, out at a bar, or walking down the street, giving one hundred percent of their attention to sending a text message on talking on their cell phones. While they do this, they ignore the people right in front of them. They ignore the people trying to say hello and to connect with them in person in order to use technology to communicate with people far away.

So, using the technology brings us closer to people far away, but it takes us away from the people who occupy the same physical space as we do. As the technology to communicate digitally has gotten more prevalent, people seem to communicate with each other in person less and less. They get closer to being far away. This is what NO TEXTING ON THE DANCE FLOOR! and the whole record in general is about. Sometimes, seeing how disconnected people are from one another makes me very sad, because I am by nature a very community oriented person.

Another thing that has really inspired this record has been working out. I go work out at the gym three times a week, and I always listen to dance and electro oriented music. Listening to this music while working out has given me a greater sense of rhythm. Since I started working out, I think more clearly, more quickly, and I write songs much easier. So the gym has been an inspiration as well, believe it or not.

WLE) How do you expect this new album to be received here in Columbus?

ZAS) I hope it will be received well! I think it’s an improvement over Solitaire. My new songs are shorter, sharper, poppier, humorous, more dance oriented, and more fun. My singing is a lot better too, and I think people will enjoy the funnier aspects of the new songs. If anyone listens to the new album with an open ear and an open mind, they will find something about it that they like.

WLE) For one reason or another, you’ve become a bit of a controversial character in the local music scene. Do you think your music addresses that?

ZAS) The one million dollar question I am always asked in interviews!

I have never understood what is supposed to be so “controversial” about me. I am a big, dorky nerd with a stupid haircut who likes making silly dance music and taking photographs. That’s it. I work hard at the music and art I make, and because I am proud of it, I work hard to get it out in the public eye. I don’t think the music I make is better than the music anyone else makes, it just is what it is. I don’t even mind if people don’t like my music, it’s not for everyone.

My parents raised me to always say what I believe, and to do what I feel is right. Everyone in my family is very outspoken and opinionated. Sometimes my views don’t always jive with what some others think and may go against the grain a bit. I am a very emotional person and sometimes my emotions get the best of me, resulting in me putting my foot in my mouth during silly arguments with people.

Some of the songs on Solitaire address this issue, but none of the new songs on my album do. This is something that I decided to stop thinking about and move past some time ago. There is no point in arguing with some folks. I will go on doing what I want, and what I think is right, and if others take issue with what I am doing, then that is their problem and not mine.

WLE) Do you have more plans for shows outside Columbus in the next few months?

ZAS) Oh yes. I plan on playing out to support NO TEXTING ON THE DANCE FLOOR! over the summer while I finish my new record. I have a great live band these days and they are a lot of fun to play with.  We will be doing shows in Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, and Chicago to support the single and the record.

I will also be promoting NO TEXTING ON THE DANCE FLOOR! with a completely absurd, ridiculous, and over the top music video. I plan on making videos for a few other songs from the album as well, including Cocaine!, Dance All Night, and Wesley Snipes. Thanks to Youtube, you can do a lot with a great video these days.

We will also be doing another big show to release the full record this coming fall.

WLE) A lot of your musical influences come from a variety of 80s and 90s music. What sort of newer music, both local and non-local, inspires you today?

ZAS) That’s a good question.

I like Fly Union and The Catalyst a whole lot. I’ve seen them both play a bunch of times. Blueprint is always good to see. I love the Electric Grandmother.  The Black Canary is definitely one of my favorite Columbus bands, and I have always liked the Flotation Walls as well. I was a big fan of the Lab Rats; those guys are each doing cool solo stuff now. The Receiver is good, and so is the Main Street Gospel.  I was a huge fan of Denovo, so I love Melty Melty. Aaron Pickering is a great singer and I love both of his bands, Aether and the Fabulous Johnson Brothers. Andy Shaw Band is great, and so are the Floorwalkers. I liked Red Dahlia a lot, too bad they broke up.

There is this girl called Civil War Generals who writes really nice songs. I am a big fan of Vanity Theft, that’s why they are playing my release show. I love DJ Moxy, and her new band, Titz N Milk, is awesome (which is why they are both playing this show as well!). I am hopefully going to play some keyboards on Moxy’s solo album. Always been a big fan of Ron House and his various bands, because I love his voice. Dave Espionage and True Skillz are both awesome DJ’s. Whatever punk bands Joe Tapeworm and Ratboy are currently playing in are bound to be awesome. Their most recent band, Skagnetti, who I did some keyboards for, was really good.  Times New Viking’s music is not necessarily my cup of tea, but its interesting and I really respect how far they have made it. I’ve been a fan of Wolfgang Parker since I was 14, and also really liked the Cinema Eye back in the day. There are a lot of really cool and interesting bands in Columbus, actually. I tried to mention all of the ones I like here, but I know I have forgotten some… wish I could remember them all!

In terms of non local music… New Order, Depeche Mode, Public Image Ltd., NIN, Curtis Mayfield, Morrissey, Parliament Funkadelic, Marvin Gaye, Giorgio Moroder, Le Tigre, Nick Cave, The Supremes, the Four Tops, The Who, Pulp, and The Cure are the best bands in the world. Those bands, and many others from their era, first inspired me to make music and still inspire me to make music. I grew up listening to them, and a lot of bands these days I think sound like inferior versions of the bands I grew up listening to.

Even a lot of the newer records I have bought recently have been from older bands. I love Neil Young’s new album. I adore Neil Young, I think he is such a genius, and I like just about everything he has done.  I love the new Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys records. I really like the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs record. They have always been great songwriters and Karen O. has such a dynamite voice, but they tastefully added these gorgeous electronic and dance elements to their sound on this new record that is irresistible for me.

I do like a lot of pop music, actually, and I find the production and songwriting on a lot of pop songs to be inspiring, believe it or not.  I loved Justin Timberlake’s FutureSexLoveSounds record, the production on it is brilliant and What Goes Around Comes Around is one of my favorite pop songs ever. I like the most recent Beyonce album a lot. I love Just Dance by Lady Gaga, what a fantastic dance song.  I think the production on Lil Wayne’s Lollipop is awesome and I must say, I do love TI’s single Love Your Life.

Lately though, I have really been enjoying Closer by Ne-Yo. I listened to that song 15 times today. No joke.

Architecture in Helsinki have a single called That Beep that I love a bunch, it reminds me of an old Yaz song.

On terms of electronic oriented music, the most interesting band that’s newer that I like is Crystal Castles. They combine icy electronic dance music with this sort of screamey Kathleen Hanna-esque vocal style from their singer (Alice Glass, is her name), a sort of melding of electro and hardcore, and it’s very exciting and different. They are also fantastic live, they actually play as a band, running sequenced bass with live drums and keyboards, which is a lot more interesting and exciting for me than groups like Justice and Girl Talk, who simply play tracks from their computers. I think doing electronic music live only from laptops is so boring. Get some big, bulky synths and drum machines onstage and play that stuff live!

I don’t listen to much indie rock, these days. For me, I suppose a lot of newer indie groups lack flash, excitement, and drama. The bearded folk troubadour thing that is so popular in indie rock right now just isn’t my cup of tea, and neither is noise and post rock. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with those genres of music; they just aren’t for me personally.

I guess I just tend to gravitate towards music that is very rhythmic and has strong, catchy melodies, and a good amount of drama.

WLE) Sounds like a pretty wide range of music, and a pretty diverse mix. Speaking of backgrounds, I wanted to ask you a bit of what you think about the future of the neighborhood you grew up in: Franklinton. It’s been touted over the past few years as the new affordable place for artists and creatives to buy homes, create studios, and start businesses. Do you think it could bounce back as a more mixed/diverse neighborhood?

ZAS) I think it could, but it is going to take a lot longer than most people think. Franklinton has a lot of historic value and a lot of potential. However, it also has a lot of poverty, crime, and drug problems. It is going to take a long time to redevelop Franklinton. Also, generally when a neighborhood is redeveloped, it means gentrification, and it means kicking out the poor and working class people. That is something I do not want to see happen. There are a lot of low income people in Franklinton, but that is not a crime. A lot of people who live in Franklinton are good, honest, and extremely hardworking people. Those people and their children should not be priced out of their homes and forced to move somewhere even worse in the name of urban development. In Franklinton, there should be room for the blue collar working people who currently live their, as well as for artists, creatives, and young professionals.

Franklinton has a lot of wonderful things. I think Florentine’s is the best Italian Restaraunt in town, certainly one of the most authentic. I have fond memories of eating there with my Grandfather as a child. Tommy’s Diner has awesome food, my father did the fire protection work for Tommy’s and it is a great place with a lot of character. Dodge Pool and Park is awesome, I learned how to swim there. Josie’s Pizza is awesome, my brothers and I spent a lot of nights scarfing down Josie’s when we were kids. The neighborhood has a lot of fantastic buildings that could be put to new and good uses, and the location is perfect. Right next to Downtown, with the National Highway/Route 40 running right through the middle.

The West Side in general, despite some of its economic and crime problems, has a lot to offer. Westgate Park is an awesome Park, and the Hilltop area in general is just gorgeous. Massey’s Pizza, Minelli’s Pizza, and countless other great, cheap, old-fashioned restaurants are all over the West Side.

So yes, I have a great desire to see Franklinton become a hub for creative types. In my perfect world, Franklinton would become a vibrant, safe, urban neighborhood, an economically diverse area where blue collar people, creative types, and all other sorts of people can live comfortably and affordably, creating an exciting and electric atmosphere that will contribute to the much needed revitalization of Downtown Columbus. It won’t be easy, and it could take ten years or more to make it happen, but I remain optimistic about Franklinton and the West Side, regardless.

WLE) Thanks to the stalking power of Facebook, I just read the other day that you’re going to be graduating from OSU this year, correct? How has college life treated you there?

ZAS) I am indeed graduating from OSU with Majors in Photography and Film Studies, and Minors in English, Art History, and Women’s Studies.

I’ve been at OSU off and on since 2001. It’s a great school, and I’ve learned so much there and I met so many fascinating people from all over the world. While the atmosphere at OSU has gotten a bit bland and boring over the past few years due to changes in admission standards that targets a more conservative type of student, I still think OSU is a pretty awesome school. The Wexner Center for the Arts is a godsend and one of the best things in the entire state of Ohio.

I should also mention that I attended the Columbus College of Art and Design for a period which is also a fantastic school. I learned a lot of really important things at CCAD, especially about digital imaging, color theory and painting, and presentation of your work. I really enjoyed going to CCAD but it was just too expensive for me, even with the nice scholarship they gave me. I am glad I went there, regardless. It was an exciting time!

WLE) Does graduation mean that people won’t be able to spot you as easily along High Street around campus?

ZAS) I suppose people will still see me on High Street. I live on High Street. Many of my favorite shops and coffee houses are on High St., and I prefer walking to driving, so I will still be around. I love to support the local shops on High Street. More people should spend money at Buckeye Donuts, Nancy’s Home Cooking, Used Kids, Kafe Kerouac, Kickstart Coffee, Surly Girl, Betty’s, Skreened, Wholly Craft, the Mug and Brush, Rivet, Torso, and many of the other great local businesses on High Street.

WLE) College graduation typically leads to new career changes for many people. Since your graduation is quickly approaching I have to ask; what comes next for you?

ZAS) For the past four years I worked for the Universal Music Group as the Marketing Representative for Ohio. UMG is the world’s largest record company, and I was very good at my job. My bosses at UMG had promised me a promotion and transfer to Chicago, NYC, or Los Angeles. So I figured I had a decent chance at a future working in marketing for Universal.

Unfortunately, no one really knew how bad the recession would hurt the recording industry, and on January 28th, myself and forty other members of UMG’s Field Marketing Staff got laid off. So, my post college career plan pretty much evaporated.

I now work at the Columbus Museum of Art, and I love it there. CMA is a great place to work, and just full of awesome people. I would love to eventually work for a PR or marketing firm and it would be great to do PR or marketing for the Ohio Art League, CMA, or a political, arts, or civic group. I’ve been lucky enough to work solely in the art and music field in some fashion since 2001, so I would like to continue that. If anyone needs a fellow to do marketing or PR for them, I could be your guy! I can sell just about anything! Ha!

But honestly, I consider my real career to be making music, writing, and taking photographs. No matter what sort of job I am working for a paycheck, my real career, my real goal, will be to create things. Being a creative person is what makes me happiest and makes me feel whole, so as long as I can be creative, I’ll be happy working any kind of job. I’ve never really been good at anything really conventional, and I am not even sure if I am really good at being creative, but at the end of the day, being creative is what makes me feel happy.

WLE) Well, let’s end on a creative marketing note then. How about a one-sentence summary of what people can expect at your single release party on Friday?

ZAS) If you come with open ears, an open mind, a willingness to have fun and dance, and a fun attitude, I promise that you will have a great time.

WLE) Sounds good. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us!

Zachary Allan Starkey will release his new single “No Texting on the Dancefloor!” at Skully’s on Friday, May 1st at 9pm. More information about the event can be found by clicking here.

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