Columbia, SC-based folk/Americana group E.Z. Shakes are about to release their new album, The Spirit (out tomorrow on Pow Pow Sound). Years before forming E.Z. Shakes, Zach Seibert (vocals, guitar) grew up in small-town Illinois, raised on the sounds of heartland rock & roll, hard-hitting punk, and old-school country/gospel music. His parents were hippie Christians who bounced from church to church, searching for a congregation that suited their family’s countercultural ideals. The experience left a mark on Seibert, who developed an appetite for diversity — in art, life, faith, and beyond — that he’d later put to use as E.Z. Shakes’ raspy-voiced, genre-defying, storytelling frontman.
Produced in-house by Furr, The Spirit marks E.Z. Shakes’ dreamiest, darkest, and most driving work to date. What began taking shape as an acoustic duo in 2017 — the year Seibert first teamed up with Hicks, looking to pair his own left-of-center country songwriting with Hick’s spacey pedal steel — has since turned into a cinematic band, its sound rooted in the stomp and swagger of five musicians who’ve all made unique marks upon the fertile music community of Columbia, South Carolina. The Spirit nods to those Carolina roots, with the band recruiting local hero Mitch Easter (the producer of seminal albums by R.E.M. and Pavement) to mix the album at his Fidelitorium studio. At its heart, though, The Spirit is an album that creates its own geography, swirling together a musical map of holy-roller Bible Belt storytelling, heartland hooks, big-city bombast, and southern roots music.
Much of The Spirit finds the frontman making sense of his past and present worlds, with songs that deal with the absence of loved ones (“Thirteen,” written in honor of his late father), the small towns he’s left behind in the rear-view mirror (“Grove Street”), the search for truth during confusing times (“We Want Answers”), the faith that’s kept him grounded (“Making Mistakes”), and the vices that once threatened to derail his path (“Killing Time”). His vocals — raw, rough-hewn, and as sincere as his lyrics — provide the songs’ earthy bedrock, while his bandmates add their own brand of guitar-heavy grandeur to the mix, turning tracks like “The Rileys” and “The Pretender” into sonic swirls of hooks, harmonies, and fiery fretwork.
Hi guys, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
We’ve been good, all things considered. We’ve been doing like most, trying to stay safe.
Can you tell us more about what went into the recording of “We Want Answers”?
“We Want Answers” was finished in layers but began as a live, first take recording. John Furr (our guitarist) recorded my vocals and acoustic live with my acoustic also run through a phaser pedal into a small inexpensive solid state “practice amp” which was close mic’d as the performance was whisper quiet. I played in the same room as drummer Stan Gardner and guitarist John Furr, and the essence of the song was captured. I hummed out a melody I heard which John quickly dialed up and tracked on the Mellotron keyboard. The rest of the band added their parts later.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
It really wasn’t a particular event that inspired the song as much as the constant barrage of bad news. With all the racial tension and division in our country, I felt that I needed to tell that story. That American freedom isn’t truly available to everyone, and hasn’t been. That we cannot continue to stand by waiting for the dam to break, but must stand for humanity. We are fed a constant diet of lies that make it hard to determine what is actually happening, let alone our role in it. The song is as much a cry for truth as a prayer for answers.
The single comes off your new album, The Spirit – what’s the story behind the title?
Well, the title is referring to the ever elusive Spirit of God or Holy Ghost if you will, a concept I’ve been fascinated with pretty much the entirety of my life. How do we tap in? Is it real and how does it work? Was it intended for everyone and if so, why is it seemingly so hard to attain? Ultimately, is it a life changer? If there were a theme to the record I think it would probably be “I’m just trying to figure it out”.
How did your upbringing influence your music?
I grew up in an incredibly musical house. My father was an avid music listener and a record hound. My mother played in a band when I was young and then taught music and directed choirs. On holidays, the family on my mom’s side would all get together and pick gospel standards and mountain tunes together. As a result, both my siblings are musicians. Stylistically, that’s probably where the country leanings of a lot of my songs come from.
What role does Columbia, SC play in your music?
Outside of being incredibly supportive, I’m not sure Columbia plays a big role in our music. I would be writing and playing music no matter where I lay my head. That being said, Columbia has been in the midst of a cultural boon over the last several years that we’ve been proud to be a part of. The music and arts communities are growing like weeds in Columbia, which is awesome to witness. Everyone in the band is a veteran South Carolinian, and being in the capital allows for us to be present in ways that aren’t available to others. The city is a beautiful mix of support – be it supporting music and the arts, or small business – and we all behave like a family here. Being in Columbia, you realize quickly that you never meet a stranger. There is a web of interrelations that expands, exponentially, the longer you stick around, and there’s comfort in that.
Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
The record was written off and on over the last 3 years. My dad passed about 6 years ago and I think it took a couple years for that to sink in. Most of the songs came to me while the reality that my best friend was gone forever was sinking in. With that comes a lot of existential questions about faith and the state of the world and how we interact with it.
What’s happening next in E.Z. Shakes’ world?
Right now, the biggest thing happening is the release of this record. We just premiered our first music video a couple weeks ago, and are working on our second now. Normally, we would be trying to set up tour dates to support the record but with Covid, that’s not in the cards right now. We are playing a few dates in the coming month or two, all outside and socially distanced. We are already talking about recording again. The name of the game is to stay busy and stay creative.