Born in scenic Whitefish, Montana, offbeat indie songwriter Izaak Opatz has always taken inspiration from Mother Nature.
His parents both worked in Glacier National Park, a place Opatz would also see himself working at throughout the years as well. A life spent enduring the natural world, scribbling lyrics into notebooks, learning different instruments, and contemplating tangled feelings led Opatz to be the sonic storyteller he is today.
Opatz pinballed between Montana and L.A. before finally settling in Missoula, where he now runs his own leather shop and is pursuing a master’s degree at U of M. After meeting long time collaborator Malachi DeLorenzo, the two recorded Opatz’s first album, Mariachi Static, in DeLorenzo’s living room. The album was released in April 2018, and two years later, the two would collaborate again to release Hot and Heavy Handed.
It doesn’t take long to realize Opatz’s musical stylings are eclectic and unconventional, chock full of wry humor and witty lyrics. There is nothing cookie-cutter about him, and his unique sound is refreshing and most welcomed.
Opatz is now T-minus 24 hours away from releasing his latest album, Extra Medium. The album features notable singles, “Chinook Wind,” and “Wild-Eyed George Bailey Heebie Jeebies.”
We got the chance to ask Opatz a few questions about his Montana roots, the new album, and much more.
So what are the origins of Izaak Opatz, and who or what influenced you to pick up a guitar and start writing songs?
Whelp, I first picked up the guitar in high school, but didn’t really start writing songs until I was in college in Missoula, when I lived with my cousin, Frankie. They had been writing and singing their own songs for a long time, and really supported me to give it a try. We shared songwriting duties in a band called Friedrich’s Teeth. I don’t think I’d have gotten into performing music live if it wasn’t for Frankie.
Later on, I went through a break-up that opened up a flood of feeling and I just started pumping out break-up songs. So I started a country band called The Best Westerns and got my first experience playing bar gigs and fronting a band. I wasn’t very good at it, if you’re wondering.
And I see you live in Missoula, Montana. What’s the music scene like there, and what made you choose to pursue your passions there?
Since I left Missoula almost ten years ago, I kind of lost track of the younger music scene, but there are a ton of great bands and musicians here, including Junior, Worst Feelings, Chris Sand, Cory Fay, and Cash For Junkers. After a number of years ping-ponging between Los Angeles and Montana, I decided to head back to Missoula at the beginning of 2020 just because I missed living here, mostly. Easy access to the outdoors, lower cost of living, and just less teethgrinding for someone like me who’s not super accustomed to existing in a city. The pandemic kind of cemented my being here, and now grad school has cemented it further, at least for another year or so.
You’ve got your new album, Extra Medium, dropping tomorrow, April 29th. What are the primary influences and inspirations behind this collection of songs?
Oh, girls and missing stuff. The usual. The album captures those few years where I was going back and forth between Los Angeles and Montana. I was physically going back and forth, working in Glacier National Park some summers, returning to Los Angeles to pursue music, and I was going back and forth in my mind, as well. A lot of pining and grass-is-always-greener uncertainty.
Where was it produced, and how did the collaborators help shape the overall sound of the album?
I recorded the album at my friend Malachi DeLorenzo’s house in Echo Park, Los Angeles. Malachi also produced, mixed and engineered the album and played drums. Our friend (and a great songwriter) Dylan Rodrigue played guitar, bass, and keys on the album, and helped arrange a clarinet part for “Mag Lev Train.” Jordan Bush played clarinet, saxophone, and pedal steel.
So there are a lot more sounds on this album than Mariachi Static, but the process was similar. We tracked each thing pretty much on its own, but talked through how it would all fit together as we were doing it and entertained new, sometimes ridiculous, ideas as we went. Malachi, Dylan and I share a similar aesthetic, which is a sort of serious goofiness.
Do you find determining the order of songs on the album to be a challenge, and how important is that to you?
It was a bit of a challenge this time. Malachi, Dylan and I talked about it and I have had a few second thoughts about the order we came up with, but I’m not completely sure how much it matters. “In The Light Of A Love Affair” was an obvious closer, but we did worry a little about leaving too many upbeat burners in the middle of the sequence.
You seem to have a fun and witty sensibility to your lyrics. Where do you typically find inspiration for your songs, and what’s your songwriting process like?
I find inspiration in my own experience, really. I get caught up in my feelings but I know they’re no different than anybody else’s. I just try to pay close attention and hone in on the details. I’m not sure I would call it a process, but I write in my journal every morning and occasionally something comes out that sticks in my head a little bit or rings especially true. Then I usually wrestle with that little kernel for about two years.
Was there a track on the record that was perhaps the most difficult to write/record for one reason or another?
Hmm, “Wild-Eyed George Bailey Heebie Jeebies” was actually a quick one to write, but I think we struggled to record it because we’d already played it live a bunch and had so much fun playing it that we got kind of scared to mess up the recording. It doesn’t usually work that way, but it does put some extra pressure on the recording. It took us a while to get the screams right, but I think Malachi finally borrowed some off of YouTube, if I can say that.
What does a dream gig look like for you? How about a dream collaboration?
Hmm, there are a lot of different factors that go into a good gig, but I wouldn’t know how to explain any of them. I’m really moved and flattered when my friends show up to shows here in Missoula, even though they’ve seen me play a hundred times by now. I love a nice quiet listening room, but I love a sweaty basement show as well. Some of the best shows of my life have been at Kip’s Beer Garden in St. Mary, Montana, watching my friends dance, just being the backdrop to a sweet summer night.
I’ve never co-written a song with anybody – it’s something I’d like to do more of, but it sounds incredibly uncomfortable to me, so when I say I’d like to do more of it, it’s because I feel like I should want to and not because I actually want to. The musical collaboration I have with Malachi and Dylan is pretty dreamy, I’d say, but those two could collaborate with a cardboard box and make it sound good. And it would be fun.
What else might Izaak Opatz have in store post-release? Touring, regional gigs, etc.?
I have a number of solo shows in Montana this summer, and I’ll be doing an internship in June for my journalism grad program. In July I’ll start a Midwest tour with the band, and another one in August around the West, with the band and our friend Austin Leonard Jones. The Previa is in the shop right now. I can’t wait.
Photo by Kendall Rock