A Muse's Muse Interview
with performing songwriter, Che Zuro
conducted by: Jodi Krangle
I first heard about Che Zuro through the IndieGrrl mailing list (see http://www.indiegrrl.com/ for more information.) and was really impressed when I heard her music. I even spotlighted one of her songs in particular in The Songwriter Spotlight section that was once here. And let me tell you - if enthusiasm is one of the major keys to getting yourself heard, you'll be hearing a LOT from Che! And soon!
Question: How did you get involved in music and songwriting? Was it a gradual thing or do you recall a particular incident that got your started?
My whole family is musical! When I was a baby, my crib was set up next to the stereo, with my Dad's jazz music blasting out of the speakers, and I would be sleeping with a smile on my face!
Keyboards always fascinated me - and I was drawn to them everywhere we went - so my parents finally sent me for lessons, but I found myself restless with having to learn standards, while rock 'n roll and Motown were ruling the airwaves. Around age 9 or 10, with NO female guitarists out there as role models, I begged for an electric guitar, and suprisingly received the one I had lusted after at the music store! Mum and Dad were real supportive of this new endeavor, and bought me an amp the following year.
I guess word spread about the "chick with the electric guitar" and as a junior high school student, I was asked by a high school neighbor to audition for his rock band - and then joined! We did only popular cover tunes, and played where young people could play (school dances, parties, etc.), until half the band graduated from high school and went off to college! My next band included a bunch of brilliant kids who lived in the next town, and went to a different school. They were incredible musicians, poets, knew musical theory, had unbelievable gear, and introduced me to jamming and writing songs. The band, Misfoundry, even went into the best studio in Pittsburgh and recorded a 4 song demo - this was truly a turning point for me!
When I moved to Southern California and found lots of bands playing original music, it prompted me to write more and more - especially with being in a band that was playing out alot - it was great to be able to add new songs on a consistent basis! Performing what I write, especially a song that comes straight from my heart, that other people can relate to, learn from, feel, etc., is the most amazing thing about playing music!
Question: Can you tell us a little about the events in your life that have led you to the release of this latest album?
Some people are just hungry for music that they can relate to - like the people that come to see me again and again. Because I perform at places where I play from 35 minutes to sometimes 3 hours, I get to introduce new songs to my fans quite a bit. (Or old songs that have been re-vamped!) And I have been getting requests almost as long as my first CD, "10,000 Jalama Road" (pronounced "ha-LA-ma") has been out, for my NEXT CD filled with all of these other songs... Of course, now that CD #2 is almost completed, they will start bugging me for CD #3!!!!!!!!!!!
Some of my newer songs I wrote while reaching back into my past to resolve some issues - it is almost like finally closing the door on that episode of my life... or looking at what happened from a different point of view - from where I am NOW in my life, and how that event was an important stepping stone that has helped to mold me into the person I am today. We songwriters are lucky to be able to do this - saves alot of therapy money!
This next recording will be another hodgepodge of songs from the serious to the quirky, but thanks to the talents of friend/co-producer/multi-instrumentalist Bernie Larsen (El Rayo-X, Melissa Etheridge, Cry on Cue), the sound quality will be great! And I think I wont wait so long to record #3!
Question: So which of your songs do your fans ask you to perform the most? And can you talk a little about that song or songs? How you were inspired to write it? How it came about and developed into the song you perform today? Was it all out on paper in 5 minutes or did it take you three years of revisions? (Ok - that's a bit extreme... but hopefully you understand what I mean. ;))?
Actually, one of my newer songs, "Tied Your Baby Down", is heavily requested!!!! It's one of those up-tempo, yet swampy blues kind of tunes, and it surprises alot of people the first time they hear it!
Bernie Larsen showed me another different way to tune a guitar, which he said would probably inspire me to write a couple of new tunes. And he was correct! Went right home, re-tuned the axe, and voila, this swampy-thang came right out, in a matter of minutes!!!! (And when I played it for him, he didn't recognize the tuning - because it was DIFFERENT than what he had actually showed me!) If I had four hands, I could play slide with myself on this song, because it is so much fun!!!!
Anyways, everyone that hears it, taps their toes and comments on it after every show - not realizing that the tune is about an abusive relationship. The lyrics are rather sophmoric, but with the pulsating rhythm, anything more profound would probably get in the way......
"Give you a last kiss??? Never never
Are you the one I'll miss? Never never
Cage me up once more? Never never
I'm walking out the door forever and ever....
Tied your baby down
Tied your baby down
Tied her to the ground, ground
Tied your baby down...."
When my friends Brie Howard - Darling (Boxing Gahndis, Carole King, Jimmy Buffet) and Tisa Adamson (Trinity Street, Diva Crockett) sit in with me, this song gets WILD with all of the background vocals and percussion. "Tied..." was one of five songs from the new CD that they sang on!
Question: Do you experience writer's block? Or do you believe such a thing exists? If so, what do you do to get yourself out of the slump? (I ask this of all the people I interview and I'm always amazed and delighted by their answers.)
Writers block..... hmmmm.... Actually, I write in spurts. I will have a bunch of different songs on the burner, or have microwaved a few quickies, and then.... silence.... But THAT time, the time that alot of songwriters call "writers block", is certainly used for hunting and gathering. Reading the newspaper and finding stories that can be incorporated into songs, watching your surroundings with intensity, listening to what friends say about life's certainties (and uncertainties!), being open to whatever may come your way. The time will come again to sit down and put all of these ideas together - to form songs!!!
I believe that life is like a rollar coaster, and this quiet period of no songwriting could be like the flat parts of the ride - before or right after the excitement....
Question: So how did you get started in this business of being a performing songwriter? What were the steps along the road that you recall and what would you advise others just starting out to watch out for?
I guess my "big break" was when I was introduced by 2 guys I barely knew, to a well-known producer who was putting a band together. My audition went so well, they asked me to join right on the spot. Well, of course, this was an opportunity to get my foot in the door and possibly be involved in getting a major record deal, and as a musician/singer and songwriter, I agreed!
The next night, the entire band, the producer, the two guys who made the introduction, and a couple of the bands road crew all showed up at my house with contracts for me to sign! It was insane - trying to read the entire contract with vultures circling, and also no legal representation.... I ASKED for a day or so, so that I could take the paperwork to a lawyer, and they said no, either you want to be in this project or you dont. These are the terms, and you sign or you're out.
....Now a side note.... When you are young and don't know anything about the business end, you can only make decisions based on how badly you want to play music and make a living at it. There was compensation and room to grow in this project, and it was a decision that I felt I couldn't chance passing on - although I am almost positive that if I would have DEMANDED to get a lawyer and take a few more days, they probably still would have wanted me to join the band....... But it was a decision made, and even to this day, I am happy that I made it....
The deal was that I would sign half of my publishing rights to the producer, and the other half would go to the two flunkies who introduced me to him, as a kind of finders fee. At that time, I hadn't a clue about what "publishing" was, and was curious, and even asked, (and they tried to explain, but it didn't make sense in the circus-like atmosphere of the evening) but I ended up signing the contracts after being heavily pressured.
The end result was we had a major label release, I became one of the two major songwriters in the band, and also started my "professional career" in the music industry. We (the songwriters) along with the producer and a few outsiders, wrote like fiends - using any line of lyrics or any guitar riff to start, and would hash out a few songs a night, and then the band would work the tunes up the next day at our 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. rehersal.
I didn't make alot of money on this, and I retained my songwriters portion (of course) but I would NEVER trade the education that I received during this entire process! Believe it or not, I have fond memories of the band, and giggle at some of the things that we went through!
My advise to up and comers is to not be afraid to sign a not-so-great deal.... Sometimes one can hold out for the "perfect deal" and it never comes.... sometimes one has to be satisfied with 50% of SOMETHING rather than 100% of NOTHING!!! (Wouldn't you rather make 50% of a million bucks???? :) Try to make it work YOUR way, but if you can't, make it a learning experience, try to gain something from it - meet everyone you can through it, be professional in your words and actions, and you will come out of it a well-respected songwriter or artist!
And remember, there's a loophole in every contract!
Question: Sounds like it was a worthy experience, Che, despite the fact that it didn't work out. What happened with the deal? Where did it eventually go? And what have you decided to do with your career as a result of it?
The band lost the deal, but since we were virtually a tax write-off for the label anyways, it really didn't matter. There were so many things WRONG with that entire project - they sent us out individually on promo tours to our respective hometowns, where the radio people couldn't understand why the listening audience couldn't even go to the record store and buy the record! In my hometown, the main record store received only 5 copies of the album.... THAT WAS IT!!! There, it could have sold thousands of copies, since I was a known artist!
Since then, a few of us have played together in some bands, mainly for fun. The whole experience and other experiences that I personally have had with the big record labels have been horrid. Performing on my own, and doing my own records has been much more satisfying - if something doesn't get done, then I have only myself to blame. Running your own label and your own career is a tough job - one wears alot of different hats - but it is so exciting doing the work and seeing the benefits of it all, rather than being in the dark with some huge record label. I feel more in control of my own destiny than at any other time in my musical career - and I really like that.
And the possibilities are limitless!!!! I enjoy being the performing songwriter, but also with my songs in some films and T.V., and the possibility of having other artists cover my material is just amazing!!! Being a songwriter gives me so many options for now and also for the future!
Question: Can you tell us a little bit about what you're working on now? Where can people hear your music? Where will you be performing in the next short while?
Right now I am trying to finish my long awaited 2nd CD, which still has no title (I have a little "name Che's CD contest" going on right now!) - and once again I am doing the art work, and all of that stuff, so it is taking me longer than I had really expected. This CD will more than likely be available in alot of places, including a few of the big music sources online, as well as in alot of different retail outlets. There is alot of work ahead of me, booking shows, sending out packages for reviews, setting up CD sales in small retail outlets, etc.
This fall I will be mainly performing in California, trying to saturate my home base, which includes Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Bishop, Mammoth Lakes and points in between! Plans for the spring may include mini tours from Pittsburgh to Baltimore and Washington, and Cleveland to Chicago. Just me and my guitar!!!! And I am looking forward to performing songs from both of my CDs in your town!!!!!
You can read more about Che Zuro at http://www.checheche.com/ including a full bio and a frequently updated journal, which includes more than just music stuff! Snail mail address is c/o Youghiogheny River Records, 1107 Fair Oaks Ave pmb 206, South Pasadena, CA 91030, and 24/7 music hotline number is 323.860.9876! Che's first CD can also be purchased through http://cdbaby.com/whiting . Keep checking back for info regarding the 2nd one! .