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INTERVIEW: ZUSHA

Hi guys, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Actually we’ve been going through a lot recently. With the backdrop of tremendous loss (Shlomo’s father passed away) and incredible joy (Zechariah had a baby son), we’ve just released our 4th studio album. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve released anything and it seems like all these things are happening at once. At times it can be overwhelming, but we are doing our best to embrace life’s challenges and see the ever-present inner beauty.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Tree of Life”?

The song is a very important tribute about being connected to good things. Even five minutes of doing something positive or holy can infuse one’s whole day, month and year with good, wholesome energy.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

Back in October of 2018, there was a devastating shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA in which 11 martyrs ascended on the altar of Jewish faith. We had already written most of the song at that point, nonetheless we wanted to dedicate this melody in honor of those who were affected by this tragedy. The truth is we are all impacted by such senseless hate, notwithstanding we have chosen to respond with kindness, song, and charity. Our hope is that this track can bring a little healing to the world, giving people a dose of comfort and joy during these difficult times.

Any plans to release a video for the track?

We do hope to release a video for this track, we have a wonderful vision for this one in fact, but it won’t be out for some months. We hope to explore the tension between organic habitats and man-made urban settings, between the honesty of the ecosystem and the faux of the artificial, between the free-flowing circuitry of nature and the boxed-in, imprisoning squares surrounding us post-industrial revolution. We live in Brooklyn, NY, so nature is sort of rare. One of the themes behind this song is being able to find the organismic mindfulness that nature can provide, in the context of towering buildings and concrete jungles.

The single comes off your new album When The Sea Split – what’s the story behind the title?

When the Jewish people were taken out of slavery in Egypt enroute to the promised land, they first encountered enveloping of constraints, most notably the sea before them. It was a moment of extreme anguish as the Jewish people were blocked in front by the barrier of the sea with Pharoah chasing them from behind. It was there that G-d performed a legendary miracle and split the sea. That moment was coupled with a powerful song jews sing to this very day in morning prayers. This moment where you once felt there was an unfathomable obstacle and somehow it vanquishes into thin air, is the selfsame feeling we felt when making this album. This album was strung with breakthrough moments, during the course of producing this album as a whole, we felt as if we were drawing upon  the energy of the original splitting of the sea. We pray that when this album pipelines on-tap the sea splitting effect for all who care to take a listen.

How was the recording and writing process?

We went through hundreds if not thousands of voice memos of different song ideas, ultimately settling on 10 songs and 2 voice memo interludes. We felt these songs belonged together and that they carried a certain timeless spark that we felt could continue forever. We tried to incorporate the ‘process’ into the actual record, introducing the original voice memos into a lot of these tracks. We tried to give over a bit of that origin moment. It’s a really cool thing to hear, how a song evolves from conception to birth. As we adjoined the two, we felt like we were joining heaven and earth, stitching all the blessings above to all the vessels below. The finished product contained the rawness, and vice versa. As the composers of these tunes, it is a treat to hear each original thought enmeshed with its’ final product.

How much did you guys intend to evolve on this new record?

We are always seeking growth, continually breathing newness into what we are doing. This was the first album we recorded without our founding member, Elisha Mendl Mlotek (he went on to pursue a career in filmmaking) and so we were forced to confront a lot of new territory in the music and in our friendship. The result is a raw exposure of soul / Neshama as we like to say in hebrew. We tried the “less is more” approach, as we re-explored our roots and fundamental inspiration for making music. Each album has a life of its own, kind of like children…they’re all different and we love each and every one of them! We just try to help each album be the best it can be.

What role does Brooklyn play in your music?

Brooklyn is sort of this confluence of cultures and communities, a melting pot if you will, and that definitely inspires the fusionism in our music. We feel, to some degree, as if we are also a conglomerate of so many beautiful influences. We implore our creativity as a means of unifying the disparate elements and influences of our life, dwelling in NYC, the mecca of multicultural landscapes, helps us see that it is indeed possible.

How did you get to balance the new with the old?

It’s a constant balancing act, sometimes things may tip one way or the other. We do our best to utilize all the gifts and technologies that Hashem (G-d) has given us. We feel deeply rooted in our ancestry and tradition, all at the same time we strive to push the boundaries of what it means to be a Jew, and what it means to be a musician.

What aspect of your own life did you get to explore on this record?

This album was being recorded as I was in the process of getting married and having my first child (a baby boy named Raphael Lev!). It was a very exciting time for my personal life and I feel as though the album became a soundtrack for what was happening around me. The album is an exploration of love and commitment, as well as fatherhood and responsibility. A lot of those big moments in life can seem overwhelming and part of the energy we were trying to capture on the album was that of joy and uplifting happiness. I actually remember my wife (Leeann) came to hear the progress of the record and while we were listening to one of the tracks she felt something in her stomach. She found out she was pregnant a few days later. So this album became synonymous with new life and new opportunities. We tried to make something our kids would be proud of, not something that would be popular this year and then fade away. Our goal is to make something even our grandkids can be inspired by one day. In order to do that you have to push the boundaries while at the same time remain radically authentic.

How did you get to balance the dark elements that happened throughout the recording of this record and the uplifting tone?

Shlomo’s father was diagnosed pretty close to when I was supposed to have a child, so it was very difficult to juggle the two opposite emotional states of two very close friends. I spend more time with Shlomo than probably anyone else, and it was a challenge to be going through something so incredibly joyous at the same time my friend was struggling with deep pain. We managed to give each other strength and encouragement even though we were going through complete opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. We would talk on the phone late at night and even compare how death and birth are so similar in so many ways. The album is a triumph of friendship, we were able to inspire each other to invest positive energy into this project in a way we never thought possible.

Was it easy to dive into these themes?

Definitely not, but something worthwhile is usually difficult and has its challenges. Doing music full time is also not easy, but we believe deeply in our mission. Having a friend that you can be open and honest with helps a lot. It’s a lot easier when you’re able to get something off your chest with zero judgement. That’s what this album was in some sense, a judgement-free zone, where we could explore and share our heart with the world. It was definitely not easy, but in order for this music to be powerful, it needs to be strong. If the music needs to be strong, so do we.

Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

Zach: A lot of the lyrics come from Psalms, Torah verses, or jewish liturgy. These are the words that come naturally to us, and for us it’s a way to infuse a new breath into these ancient vessels. A lot of the words come from the prayers that we say every day. To take something you do consistently but always try to approach it anew is a special thing. It’s where discipline and improv intersect, being able to take a structure and make it dynamic.

Shlomo: few words we say truly fuel our being. When we come across words that irrigate our most arid inner-lands we can’t help but mantra with them. Meditate on them. Cry with them, pray with them. Sing with them. Dance

Any plans to hit the road?

Last year, before we were married and before we had kids, traveling was more feasible. We do still plan to hit the road, but our main goal is to make sure we have Shalom Bayit (peace in the home). Our priority is not to become famous rock stars and travel the world in fancy jets, rather it is to make sure we have a loving, vibrant, caring and luminescent home. In this way we may differ from other musicians out there. We love music, but would never sacrifice a healthy home for a tour. Having said that, we do plan to tour but with a more limited, strategic timeline, only with permission and more over the blessings of our wives.

What else is happening next in ZUSHA’s world?

We have so much music to record! We began investing in a home studio that will allow us to explore and produce much more music than we have in the past. The last album we released was almost two years ago! Our next step is to be putting out more music more often. We have a lot of beautiful ideas and collaborations in the works, but we must keep that a secret for now 😉

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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