On their second LP, Columbia’s E.Z. Shakes expand what they can be by getting closer to who they were in the first place
The songs are more narrative-driven, but they still chase quandaries of good and evil, faith and disbelief. They accomplish this by focusing on singer-songwriter Zach Seibert’s experience growing up, bouncing from town to town and church to church with hippie parents, the source of his spiritual wanderlust.
“The Spirit” also showcases a band that’s just gotten more comfortable with each other.
It allows their sound to evolve — pushing out from haunting ballads with indie-ethereal dressing to include airy country ruminations and meaner-than-Tom-Petty chugging rockers. And it made Seibert willing to get more honest with the lyrics — thinking about Jesus, and the problem with religious icons, Seibert opines, “There’s something false about those we admire / The heroes we choose / The things we desire / And there’s something real / That comes with the ones we love.”
Free Times caught up with Seibert to chat about getting comfortable voicing hard truths and the spiritual nature of songwriting. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Free Times: What led you to the narratives you focus on with “The Spirit”?
Zach Seibert: My dad passed a few years ago, and I think it took a minute for it to all sink in and to realize what that meant. And of course that brings back a lot of memories of when I was a kid and how I grew up and how he shaped me.
Tell me about how your experience growing up expresses itself on this album?
If there’s an overall theme, I’d say it’s trying to understand. I grew up Christian, in a Christian household. However, it was a pretty countercultural Christian household. And we went to a lot of different churches, but not for any real length of time.
There’s this psychological thing that takes hold that makes you always feel like you’re never going to be satisfied. And I think it’s the same way growing up in the religious atmosphere I was brought up in. We never did fit in, anywhere we went. We were always the odd family at church. My dad was very tattooed and had long hair. As soon as we walked in the door, they were either trying to prosthelytize us or saying, “Hey look, we’re the church that accepts everybody.”
I think the record as a whole is sort of a tribute to that. Just never being able to grab hold, even though you know it’s there, or you feel like it’s there.
Some of the lyrics seem to frame your songwriting as a similar spiritual exercise.
I’m still sort of in a place right now with my writing where I’m writing about the songs I wrote. Which is silly, but it can be compared to that never being able to grasp — searching for that song that’s gonna do it. You’re never happy as an artist, with what you’ve done. I have songs I’m very proud of, but at the end, when I play them, they never seem perfect to me.
How much did growing together with your bandmates shape this record?
When we started playing, they realized that I can’t stop from writing about these faith issues, because I feel like all life is spiritual. If I can talk about drug abuse, I should be able to talk about Jesus, too, right? All’s fair.
And at first, I think there were a couple people in the band that didn’t understand that, and thought that maybe by being so overtly spiritual, being overtly talking about Jesus and God, that that would damage our following, that people wouldn’t get it, that it would be too controversial or whatever.
With this record, I made a conscious decision that I’m not going to censor what I want to say. And the band really has fully embraced that. At first it was a little hard. I felt like I had to hold my tongue sometimes. With this record, I didn’t feel that way at all.
How much did that familiarity help you push things musically?
We were definitely wanting to push a little bit further. I would have even pushed further, but there was a fear that maybe we would push it too far. I think that’s going to be the next record. (Laughs.)
There’s always a constant wanting not to stand still and not recreate the same thing over and over again. I don’t have any interest in that. I’ve done this, and I want to move forward and see what something else sounds like.
How has hearing other musicians tread similarly conflicted spiritual ground make you feel comfortable doing your own thing?
It’s helped a lot. One of my favorite songwriters is David Bazan. I’ve been listening to him most of my adult life.
Hearing the honesty, the just brutal honesty of being a broken person and wanting this — it does make it more comfortable to see that there are footsteps that have already been trod. It’s already been done really successfully. And this dude wears his heart on his sleeve. And it’s not even the spiritual matters, although it has a lot to do with it, I guess, that draws me to his music. It’s his honesty.
People need honesty. Especially now. Just to hear another voice in the wind saying, “I don’t get it all.”
Oct. 11. 5 p.m. Free. Hunter-Gatherer Hangar. 1402 Jim Hamilton Blvd.. With Jordan Igoe. facebook.com/HunterGathererBrewery.