It was another steamed afternoon in South Austin. In front of a mildly renovated nursing home, a sign that read “A Musician’s Community Center” marked the destination. A home only a hipster could love, with a crooked pathway leading from the parking lot to a makeshift porch underneath a roof that has seen its share of days. At first glance, there’s potential that this could be a humble place—but no.
Once inside, where “Get Well Soon” and birthday cards from grandchildren could have been neatly tacked before, graffiti now politely decorates the walls. Down a hallway, lined with matching doors and heavy locks, you can hear the guitar distortion that is the essence of the South Austin Music Room. However, just beyond the other side of one particular door frame halfway down that dimly light escape, a mismated kind of clicking and clacking leaks through the sound proof room.
Here, in between four dingy corners, wall-to-wall with wires and drum kit, is where the experimental band Zorch makes an approach to their own assorted genre.
But for Zac Traeger (keyboard, omnichord, vocals) and Sam Chown (drums, omnichord, vocals), it isn’t necessarily all about composing the music.
“To me, each song is like a painting, a sound painting,” Chown said. “I can’t speak for how other people write music, but instead of it being like this is how I feel, it’s more about this is the painting we want to make, and then we paint it.”
“We won’t necessarily have chords and parts written for (a song),” Traeger said. “We just know the different colors we’re painting with and the pictures we want to get too.”
After five years in the works, July 23 marked the debut of Zorch’s full length debut album, Zzoorrcchh, via Sargent House. An act both members claimed as a “conscious decision” to wait until the time was right to release the first collection in their musical catalog.
“We both regard the release of albums as something that’s a piece of art,” Traeger said.
But as far as Zorch’s performance goes, the band relies heavily on improvisation. Which is something Chowen half-heartedly mentioned derives from smoking blunts and freestyle rapping back in college, where the duo originally met in Boston almost a decade ago.
According to Traeger, if improvising with anyone besides yourself then it’s about listening and reacting, while not necessarily dismissing ego in the broad sense of the word. “I think everybody’s got it. I teach piano and something I do with all of my younger students is get them to improvise in some form,” he said. “Quick, reactive thought process where everyone’s playing a couple notes while we’re going around the room, and the only thing you can do wrong is not play a note. There’s so many schools of thought about improvising, and so many ways of approaching it.”
For Chown and Traeger, their creative process is very circular in an improvisation sense—record, resample, reuse. An approach the two have continually sought to refine their intended “zany” sounds while using different textures and sound pallets to work with in composition, as opposed to chord-note structured song.
“Instead of it being, ‘Here’s the chord progression I’m going to play on guitar,’ it’s more like, ‘Here’s the sounds we’re working with,'” Chown explained.
Like other musicians, though, long before the duo had ever fathomed being in a band together or taking on their own discrete deliverance of composition, their musical skill set had to begin somewhere.
As children, both Chown and Traeger’s parents enrolled them in piano lessons—a far cry from blurting EDM bass lines and frenetic drums.
“I told my mom, when I was six, that I wanted to be in AC/DC. And she said I had to take piano lessons for four years first, then I could be in AC/DC,” Traeger said. “So I did, and I didn’t like it the whole time. Then, when I finally got the choice to quit and take guitar, I decided to continue since I was already pretty good at that point.”
As for Chown, he claims music has been everything he has lived and breathed since the age of four. “I would spend hours spacing out and making sounds (as a kid),” he said. “Which is how I developed my knack for improvising. I would be in the kitchen drumming on the table, singing stuff. I guess my parents could see that not only was I obsessed with (music) but I had a natural gift for it.”
Though the two were music majors when they met in 2004 in college, their backgrounds were a far cry from each other’s.
Chown, who blames an adolescent taste for alternative-rock on his Canadian upbringing, said he had never been exposed to genres such as metalcore and nu-metal until meeting Traeger during their first week. Over time though, their musical pasts were shaded while each member’s taste organically met to turn into what some describe as “weird.”
“What is weird?” Chown asked. “I guess it’s all a matter of perception or who you ask. Everyone has a different definition or take on weird. I think the music we make is equal parts experimental and pop. For the majority of our songs, there’s a pulse in the rhythm, there’s chord progressions, there’s melodies. If you ask me—I don’t think it’s that weird.”
Traeger continued by saying, “I see what other people are saying for sure. It all depends on watt you define as normal and you define weird as.”
“We want to make each show an intense experience,” Chown said. “Whether it makes you want to dance, whether it makes you want to cry and jerk off at the same time, we want it to be intense for you.”
Stream Zzoorrcchh below.