Author: John Lucas Kovasckitz, with Zach Winters
I met Zach Winters a couple of years ago, when he and his family came through Boone to play a house show. Zach truly brought the Magic to the room.
Zach’s recorded music is both whimsical and passionate, soft yet fierce. It’s music you put on for a nice game of backgammon, music that you play while you’re cooking a meal with intention…music to pair crackling fires and red wine, and with a good book and your favorite quilt while it rains.
It’s music for the beautifully ordinary moments that you want to treasure further. Your experience may differ, but this has been mine.
Zach and I didn't talk much the night we met, but later struck up a conversation that has budded into a thriving internet friendship. I’ve come to know Zach as a man who drinks life deeply. I’ve come to know him as a worthy chess opponent (I’m 2-0, but the wind was in my favor). I’ve come to know him as a man of bravery.
Zach and his wife, Lane, took the plunge to pursue his music full-time 4 years ago, with their three kids in tow (the first video below - from 2017 - gives some insight into this leap). Zach and his family recently returned to the U.S. after living in Mexico for a year, where Zach produced and recorded his upcoming album. It’s set to release sometime in October (…and I got to add some tasty piano from my living room).
While you wait, check out his past catalog and his surprise EP “Any Other Night” that was just released this week.
Without further ado, here’s Zach.
What made you first fall in love with music? Bonus: I’m also intrigued to know what young Zach Winters was like.
How about three first loves?
Probably my first first love in music was growing up in church where we sung hymns every Sunday. It's an older stone church with big arches and stained glass, and there was something stirring about all of those voice raised in that vast space. And I think growing up watching my father consistently moved to tears on a Sunday morning also made its mark on that early love.
My second first love was when I fell in love with hip hop and R&B in elementary school. At one point, young Zach Winters had a flat top with his basketball number etched in the back of his head. Hip hop and basketball were connected for me through my friends I hung out with at school. I used to record the "Phat(?) 8 at 8" from the radio to cassette tape. I even edited out the radio swear words with a little record button overdubbing... Once I asked my friend to secretly go into the record store in the mall and buy me the new Roots album and put the "On Sale" sticker over the "Parental Advisory" sticker so my parents wouldn't see. Outkast, Tupac, Biggie, Bone-Thugs, Mary J Blige, Aaliyah, Crucial Conflict—these were my loves in this season of life...
My third first love is the guitar.
I think for a lot of people, individual dreams tend to become a lot more stable and safe after having children. This has not been the case for the Winters family. What have been some of the joys and struggles for you and Lane, particularly as parents, who haven’t shied away from big leaps?
Wait—are you saying I'm unstable and unsafe? Jkjkjk... Yeah, my wife Lane deserves a lot of credit. I didn't marry a skittish woman. She's consistently been an optimist and a dreamer and has emboldened me to take steps I might not have otherwise.
As for me, for a long time I thought having children meant a very real death to follow. I don't know where I heard this, but I had pocketed the idea that "once you have kids, your life is over [and it's now only about them]". And there's a way that that's true—giving of yourself and dying to yourself in a new way. But I don't believe it's true in all ways. I think God gives people dreams that are often expanded and fulfilled through children. Kids have a way of breaking me out of my tunnel vision. I thought that having kids would mean God would sort of give up on Plan A and put us on the B team—that we'd forego something big for something normal and lesser. But when I read the stories of Abraham and David and others, I don't see fathers that have to "give up the dream" because of their kids—I see fathers whose callings are meant to be walked out in family, and whose purpose on the earth is intimately tied to their legacy. And I don't think this has to be a strictly biological legacy...
Anyways, joys and struggles? Well, it's easier to get from point A to point B without three kids in tow. And snacks are more important. But I think joys win out easily. For example—Lane and I like to go on hikes. We can't do as many miles with the three, but you know how you get to an opening in the trees and you look out over a vast sea of forest and it's beautiful, so much that you want to share it somehow? Well, now you have full-blown shock of a 3 year old on your back who says something crazy like, "I think I see a beaw down thewe!" and a 7 year old who reminds you that we all need snacks, and a 10 year old who asks great hypotheticals like, "How long do you think it would take to walk to that peak over there?" Plus, kids are amazingly flexible and they sort of get used to whatever is "normal" for them. So our kids can do back to back to back 8 hour days in the car. I personally try to avoid that, but they can do it and we can actually have a good day together without feeling like we're gonna bite each other's throats. And not wanting to biting each other's throats after four annual 2-month tours as a family has been a wonderful surprise and an absolute dream.
You and your family have been living in Mexico while you’ve been working on the new album for the past year or so. How has the change of culture and surroundings bled into your songwriting, and even your outlook on the world and your place within it?
Honestly would love to hear my kids answer the second part [I asked them, but they were less forthcoming and flowery than you might imagine]. Personally, I'm hoping to put out a little Spanish EP or something in the next couple years. Yucatán (the state we were living in) was amazing in ways we didn't know to expect. It has a distinctly different culture of food and dance and dress and sleeping in hammocks. Just like in the US, there's a lot of regional differences between areas in Mexico. I think my best answer to the second part of your question is that I know now that I have many homes all throughout Mexico in which I would be welcomed as family. This is one of the greatest gifts I know.
I’ve witnessed firsthand the influence you have over a room with simply your voice and a guitar. What do you think is at the essence of the magic of (good) live music, and what do you hope to share or to convey with those that come to see you play?
Ouf... I loooooove recorded music, but live music really is a different animal. I don't know that I can name the essence of good live music, but I think a consistent theme I see is artists who are able to bring forward some essential and almost transcendent aspect of what it is to be alive. The great drama of living through song. Life is beautiful and terrible, simple and vague—it's always slipping through your fingers and patting you on the back... It is a lullaby and a fight song. And when an artist can fuse our real human experiences into a moment through sound, and when they bring their own living presence into the room and show us what it means to be alive... I'm trying to find some handles on something I don't think is expressible, because I also think it's as varied as the number of humans there are or have been or will be on the earth... Also, thanks.
Ah, and I would say I hope people feel stirred to be more creative—I hope they desire to be more alive—I hope they see a window into some peace that they might not think they could go to anymore—I hope they feel rest—I hope they feel liberty to cry and/or let their guards down—I hope they feel more hopeful—I hope they feel permission to be themselves—I hope they laugh harder than they were planning—I hope they see a man in love.
Within a pursuit that holds much of your passion and efforts (i.e. parenting, your music, your dreams for the future, etc.) what is a fear that you hold, and what causes you to keep moving forward?
I have many fears. Most of them are useless hypotheticals, like "I could be broadsided on the way across town." Things you can't control for. But time keeps me moving forward. And time also reminds me that I am one frail, fleeting life and I ought to try and live it the best I can.
Maybe a more specific fear in music is when I finish a new album and I start thinking about another, I get afraid that maybe I'll have written my last song—maybe I don't know how to write anymore... And fortunately, I'm usually more curious than afraid, but a white sheet of paper can be a scary thing. But if I'm ever musically grabby, something I'll do sometimes is just waste some music on God. Say some things and sing some things that no one else will ever hear. Give your heart and some of your best ideas, and let them fall to the ground and don't try to collect them... This for me reminds my soul what it is to give a song, and frees me from holding too tightly to my songs.