Edward Burnett talks with Zach AKA Simulated Youth about his new single ‘Money In My Tummy’, the EDM scene and his interests outside of music, namely travelling. An insightful musician from a different genre to the rock scene, Zach offers a refreshingly different view on modern musical production.
RNRR: Hi Simulated Youth, how are you doing? Welcome to Spotlight, it’s great to have you here! Would you introduce yourself and your style of music to our readers who may be unfamiliar with your work?
SY: Thanks very much for welcoming me and for asking to do this interview! My real name is Zach, and I make what I would call “dark dance music.” When I first got into music almost a year ago, I knew I wanted to do something different while still building on my influences. Some of my favorite bands are Crystal Castles and Die Antwoord. Neither of them are dance genre at all, but I like the tones, originality, and message of their music. I wanted to add a similar style into the EDM genre which is extremely generic these days.
RNRR: Well first of all Zach, I have to ask, why EDM? What is it about that genre that ticks for you more than other types of music? As a musician could you ever see yourself crossing genres in the future or is it the dream to always pursue dance music such as this?
SY: It will help explain if I crack open that acronym haha. In the “electronic” side, all my music is created with virtual instruments that I either play on my keyboard or “paint” the notes on my laptop. And with “dance,” of course I do want my music to be energetic and make people want to move. So I kind of use “EDM” as the overall genre in a sense, although of nowadays that is heavily mainstream/commercial. That is why I want to provide a unique offering, because it is an absolutely massive market in terms of the number of potential listeners. I keep listening to more and more EDM, from both professional and indie acts, but, respectfully, it all kind of sounds the same to me. Most EDM these days has a happy/optimistic tone, which I see the appeal and sometimes enjoy myself. But I think offering a more dark aesthetic to this genre both allows me to express my creative side, and gives me a more competitive edge to provide a unique offering compared to what everybody else is producing these days. Aside from my darker aesthetic, I also like to mix in alternative vocals, such as rap style vocals as well, so in a sense I am already blending some different genres together.
RNRR: So with all that process in mind, how long does it usually take you to create a song? As you say there are many layers to manufacturing that perfectly unique sound that’s unmistakably yours so one would assume it’s no easy or straightforward task each time?
SY: I definitely have a process, which starts with the instrumental side first before considering lyrics. I’m just not able to think about songs in a lyrical sense until I have enough of a skeleton built out in the instrumental arrangement. So during that very initial stage, I have an idea for a melody in my mind but I do not know what instrument or what octave will sound the best for it. So there are many, many hours of improvising different notes on my keyboard while testing out potentially hundreds of different virtual instruments. I’ll play several notes across a range of octaves, and then at some point I will hear a sound that I really like. I will then build around that note with similar notes that it agrees with it (in music theory this means working within the same key/scale I guess, although I don’t really know much theory but I can still hear if different notes don’t sound good with each other). Once I have all of the main melodies for the song laid out in the arrangement, after that it becomes a lot easier just to fill in the rest of the skeleton with some percussion, bass, some simple countermelodies etc. Once I think the instrumental is like 80% done, I’ll export and then I’ll start listening to it over and over again while driving or walking around etc. to see what lyrics come to mind naturally. Then after I have some lyrics, it’s a big decision of whether I will try to do the vocals myself, or feature another vocalist (if not both). I say “try,” because more than once I have actually recorded the entire song with just my vocals, and then I decided that it just felt like something was missing. One issue is perhaps that I have a very deep voice which is difficult to mix into music with a lot of bass without artificially increasing the pitch. Another issue is that I guess I just feel a little weird listening to my own voice and it is harder for me to make both objective and subjective decisions. Of course lyrics are important, but with my style of music that is meant to be played very loudly in loud venues like a club/festival, I think it is a little less sensitive to lyrics then perhaps a more traditional pop song or country music for example. So I guess the wrap up my long answer, there is a ton of improvising in my music and although I start with an idea before each song, that idea can change if not be replaced entirely by the time I am done. And I guess also not following any traditional rules of music theory helps somewhat for me to have a unique sound.
RNRR: Is the enjoyment of others, as you mention at the end there, a key reason for why you make the music itself? What goals drive you to create songs and go the extra mile as a musician? Is there a fine balance between artist gratification and listener enjoyment or is it all more about sending out a message?
SY: It’s easy for me to make a bunch of different songs that I find fun creating and listening to, but definitely I want to make sure that at least a decent amount of other people will enjoy my music as well. It’s very hard to define art, but I personally feel that art means creating something original that makes other people think. Not necessarily that the other people like it or agree with it, but at least they stop for a moment to think about it. Most of my songs I suppose I am trying to send a message, especially with my latest release ‘Money In My Tummy’ which is meant to be a somewhat over-the-top expression of how I feel consumerism and greed is totally dominating and in many ways destroying the planet (and destroying culture / originality as many feel they need to dress a certain way or act a certain way to match what media and pop culture dictates is “cool,” instead of expressing themselves openly).
RNRR: So in a way, your music breaks with convention but not just in the genre and stylistic sense but also at its very core with a message such as that. It’s good to be different and break with the trend is the firm message from your latest release. With that point on the brain, I’d like to add a little fun into the questioning by asking what mainstream things do you get up to in your spare time that you know many people like or do? Equally, what are some hobbies of yours, aside from the music side of things, that you feel are truly unique to your day to day life?
SY: This will probably be my least interesting answer yet haha. Unfortunately I fell victim to the whole “work work work” mentality for almost the last 8 years since I got out of college. I did a lot of travel around the world while working which was great, but I really did not have any passion that entire time. Then when I finally got back into music late last year, it has now become by far my main passion/obsession in a sense. So really in my free time, if I’m not doing music these days, I would either be playing with my dog, relaxing outside or maybe traveling a little bit although travel has been reduced due to Covid. Oh yeah, I guess one new hobby of mine would be chopping wood / working outside, as random as that may sound. I recently moved from Arizona to Michigan and have been cleaning up around the house here. Tons of old dead trees covering the ground so I’ve been working at least a few hours every day outside cleaning everything up. It’s nice working in the sun, plus it’s exercise and I can see the progress happening every day.
RNRR: Some great hobbies there and of course staying in shape via anything including wood cutting has been very important with the numerous lockdowns and lack of outside contact due to Covid. Travelling is a key staple in a lot of musicians lifestyles with “life on the road” being the chosen path. Where in the world have you not traveled to but severely wish to and where in the globe, as a musician, would you love to play your music?
SY: As far as playing music, there’s a big dark electronic music in Berlin and all over eastern Europe, and Russia too. So it would be cool to do a bunch of shows over there. More on the leisure side, I would love to return to Cambodia and Thailand again again because I made many friends there during my previous travels.
RNRR: Keeping it on the leisure side but combing that with music itself, who are some musicians you’ve seen live that you’ve loved? Are there any that you’re desperate to see live? How important is live music to you?
SY: I think live music can be an incredible experience, but music in other places such as films or even just listening in certain circumstances can also be quite impactful. It would be really cool to see Aphex twin live, especially as I missed the chance when he was in Houston a couple years ago. Back in my high school rapping days I saw The Roots live which was my very first concert and definitely a special night!
RNRR: The Roots must have been a great first gig for sure! Are you a big watcher of ‘The Tonight Show’ where they of course currently serve as the house band? What else do you like to unwind from the music with on the TV?
SY: Recently I’ve been into watching random documentaries and docu-series on Netflix and Amazon. They have everything from a playbook for being a tyrant, murder mysteries, alien/area 51 stuff etc. Easy just to pick a random one, and unwind while learning something interesting.
RNRR: There’s all sorts on there in the way of documentaries, I ended up watching one about an art theft over in Boston back in 1990! So finally bringing us full circle and back to the music, what are your aspirations for the rest of the year? When December hits, what are you as Simulated Youth hoping to to have achieved?
SY: Well, a big decision I’ve made recently is that I am not going to invest as much into traditional promotion. The biggest make-or-break for musicians these days seems to either be getting onto a Spotify editorial playlist, or getting a movie sync deal. So I’m going to just start releasing more songs faster, as often as 1 new song every 3 weeks because that will give me more chances to get onto a Spotify editorial playlist. I’m not going to worry as much about fancy digital artwork or digital videos. So definitely expect more live recordings or more “indie-budget” stuff. That current effort could be better spent releasing more songs [laughs]. So I guess to answer your question, by December hopefully I’ve gotten onto some Spotify editorial playlists. Aside from that what promotion I do will focus more on my local area, to hopefully grow enough fan base here to do some performances starting this winter or early next year at the latest!
RNRR: Finally, you know I can’t let you go without asking the all important question. Every guest has to tell me at the end of the Spotlight, what is your desert island disc? What album, only one, are you taking to a remote desert island and why?
SY: Mobb Deep’s ‘The Infamous’. Such a good album, pure traditional rap. I have every song memorized. Enjoyable to listen to, fun to rap along, and it also gives me a strong sense of nostalgia from my high school days.
RNRR: Great choice but even better reasoning there from you! Thanks for being such an insightful guest on this time’s Spotlight. All that remains for me to say is that all of us at RNRR wish you the very best of luck for the rest of the professional year and we look forward to hearing what you produce next!
If you would like to find out more about Zach or Simulated Youth and keep up to date with his latest releases, the links to all his socials can be found below via the icons: