Review Fix chats with singer/songwriter Zach Callison, who discusses his new single, â€œWarâ€ and more.
The Los Angeles-based musician, voice actor, and actor is known for his work as the voice of â€œStevenâ€ on Cartoon Networkâ€™s hit show Steven Universe, his on camera acting as villain Chuck for Amazon Studios’ Just Add Magic as well as guest appearances on ABCâ€™s The Goldbergs and CBSâ€™s NCIS: Los Angeles. Music has always been a huge influenceâ€” as a kid he watched his father play rock music in the blues bars of St. Louisâ€” an experience that lives on in the sounds he creates today. He’s been featuredon a number of soundtracks including the Emmy-winning Sofia the First and Steven Universe Soundtrack: Volume One, the latter of which hit the number one spot on the iTunes charts. No stranger to the stage, he’s performed in massive musical theater productions at the St. Louis Muny Theater and cover bands throughout venues in Los Angeles, eventually shifting his focus to songwriting.
Review Fix: HowÂ didÂ youÂ getÂ involvedÂ inÂ music?
Zach Callison: Iâ€™ve been singing since I was seven years old. I started taking singing lessons and doing musicals back in Missouri around that time, and that got me actingâ€¦I was always studying and playing music in the background, but it kind of became something of a resume-building, “special skills” kind of thing once I started working regularly as an actor in LA. I was lucky to be able to work the muscle on shows like Sofia the First and Steven Universe, but I didnâ€™t really know I wanted it to be a serious pursuit until I got dumped at 17. Stuff like that tends to be good writing material, for better or for worse.
Review Fix: What are your influences?
Callison: Ever since I was a little guy Iâ€™ve been a huge nerd for music. To this day I make a point of pushing the boundaries of what genres I listen to and take influence from. My roots come from rock; I watched my dad and my uncle play rock and blues venues around my hometown of St. Louis. Thereâ€™s still some remnant of my musical theater days in my sound as well, a product of coming up as a young kid in stage productions.
Once I moved to LA, whole new worlds opened up for me musicallyâ€¦everything from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Kendrick Lamar, Hiatus Kaiyote to my all time favorite, Muse. The most important was the hip hop influence; it only grabbed my ear three years ago, but once I â€œgot itâ€ I knew that I had to adopt it into my style.
Review Fix: Is there a story behind “War”?
Callison: Ha, just a little bitâ€¦â€War!â€ has a lot of words, all of them targeted. This song is my closest thing to a diss track that Iâ€™ve ever written, aimed at the real-life version of â€œJuanitaâ€ that I mention so many times. Juanita is just a pseudonym for a girl from my past,Â chosen in a way so that she would know I was talking to her in the lyrics. When we went our separate ways, she liked to spit venom my way through her friends and social mediaâ€¦this song was me getting up and throwing punches back for the first time. She was a singer who had been been slacking on finishing her record for years, and â€œWar!â€ was me calling her out by saying â€œhereâ€™s my music, whereâ€™s yours?â€ in the most theatrical way possible.
Iâ€™d love for her to clap back at me in a response song somedayâ€¦butÂ six years later, and she still hasnâ€™t released that record.
Review Fix: HowÂ has your sound evolved from whenÂ youÂ first started singing?
Callison: Well, my voice changing in puberty kinda messed things up. Itâ€™s pretty hilarious in hindsight, but was terrifying at the timeâ€¦by the time my voice changed at nearly sixteen, I had been singing for nine years and working as a voice actor for six. I lost multiple gigs afterwards, as I couldnâ€™t really play the same roles anymore.
It was a dramatic change, not just in pitch but in tone; I had a very clear, smooth boy soprano voice for many years. Then, suddenly, I had gained the ability to add a lot of grit and power to my vocals which finally enabled me to make something inspired by the rock I grew up on. I think it was less of an evolution and more of an awakeningâ€¦I never felt the urge to create my own sound and my own music until after I had my adult voice and Iâ€™d had more life experience.
Review Fix: What makes your brand ofÂ musicÂ special?
Callison: Itâ€™s risky, and itâ€™s the quickest way to know what Iâ€™m all about. Risky in that Iâ€™m not out to make something corporate, and risky in that itâ€™s a fusion of sounds that has its own small corner of genre all to itself. I have the dual challenge of not only establishing a musical identity to my fans, but also overcoming my image as “just” a child actor and cartoon character. I love playing my roles, but theyâ€™re exactly that: playing a part. I wanted to playÂ meÂ for a while, and my history coming up in entertainment as a young kid is a rarityâ€¦this record has allowed me to press my coming-of-age into something physical, and thatâ€™s as much a time capsule for me as it is a CD for the fans. Itâ€™s an autobiography of a very unusual upbringing, and thatâ€™s special enough for me to justify telling the story.
Review Fix: Why doÂ youÂ think people should enjoy it?
Callison: I try to avoid asking myself stuff like this, because once I get too into my listenerâ€™s head Iâ€™m suddenly stranded outside of my own. I think theyâ€™ll enjoy for the reasons I can control: musically, itâ€™s well played, produced, mixed, et ceteraâ€¦itâ€™s rock solid on the technical side because of my team. Emotionally, itâ€™s truthful and personal to my life, and has a strong central narrative. Beyond that, people are either going to love it or hate it. Itâ€™s a very dynamic album; has a lot of theatrical highs and lows, and overall it’s pretty dark. Thatâ€™s my style, unapologetically. For a lot of people, thatâ€™s not their speedâ€¦some want their music subtle and lyrically abstract, others want danceable and repetitive. Iâ€™ll lose my mind before the record is even released if I try to talk people into liking it.
Review Fix: HowÂ doÂ youÂ want yourÂ music to affect people?
Callison: I donâ€™t know if thatâ€™s up to me to decide. Instead, I just make it to affect them, period. I felt it necessary to cut this record in small part because I was hearing so much music that didnâ€™t really have soulâ€¦from people I met, and on the radio. I wanted to create something that would compel people who were really affected by it to take their time and dive deep into every aspect of it. Once they reached that point, there would be a whole layer of subtext and intent waiting for them to reward their appreciation. Thatâ€™s the way I listen to music that matters to me.
Review Fix: What are your goals for 2018?
Callison: Drop the record, get out on tour, start up my sketch project again, shoot music videos, play a show out of country, finish more songs, get back to acting class and do some ridiculous scenes, let my 21st birthday get out of hand, wake upÂ two days later, start a revolution just in time to get millennials out of the house for the midterm elections, make contact with extraterrestrial life, invade antarctica
Review Fix: What’s next?
Callison: Thereâ€™s a new single from the record coming soon, and the EP will drop later in the spring of this year! Iâ€™ve also got a ton of YouTube content planned out for the year, music and otherwise.
Review Fix: Anything elseÂ you’d like to add?
Callison: Just a HUGE thanks to the fans, new and old, that have supported â€œWar!â€ and the upcoming project so farâ€¦itâ€™s gotten an even better reception than I could have asked for, and itâ€™s made me realize that taking these projects all the way up isnâ€™t a fantasy like I used to think.Â Weâ€™reÂ taking this to the top together, so thank you!
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