For many of us who play music, our lives start in a small town, which then serves as inspiration.
We are friends with the same people our whole lives, graduate in a modest class size, and then do what we have to do to make our music be heard. This sentiment rings true for singer-songwriter Zack Fletcher, who on April 8th released his new album, Ohio Reveries.
In Fletcher’s newest project, Ohio Reveries, the folk singer-songwriter discusses the experiences that shaped his life while growing up in his hometown of Bowling Green, Ohio. The 10-track album was recorded in nearby Canfield, Ohio, at Court Street Recording. Under the direction of producer Michael Estok, each recording features stunning clarity and arrangement. As a classical composer for guitar, this project showcases his exceptional guitar picking and playing, which is not to be outshined by his stellar vocals.
We got to learn more about Fletcher, his roots, Ohio Reveries, and much more.
So I was hoping you could talk about who or what inspired you to pick up a guitar and start writing songs?
Music and art have been important to me for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with drawing and writing and exploring my creativity. My parents inspired an appreciation and love of music and gifted me a guitar for my eleventh birthday. As soon as I began to get my bearings on the instrument, I started trying to come up with original ideas. As I grew older, I found playing and writing was a great way to relieve stresses and emotional burdens, and a way to process things that were difficult to express otherwise.
What was your life like growing up in Ohio? How did those experiences shape your new album, Ohio Reveries?
I grew up in Bowling Green, Ohio, close to Toledo. It’s a small university town with an arts-focused community. I have a loving family and lots of great memories, but as for many, life is full of ups and downs that make you who you are. Through college, I imagined I would move somewhere else, but I stuck around the area and for a lot of reasons have grown to really appreciate Northwest Ohio as a home. I’ve had the opportunity to travel a lot and have come to realize that everything I’ve experienced and all of my relationships branch from this place, no matter where in the world I happen to be. That’s a major part of the concept behind the ‘Ohio Reveries’ collection and artwork.
Your song “The Traveler” placed in the Top 20 in the Guitar Center Songwriting Contest with 7,000 entrants. Tell us a little bit about that experience and how it made you feel as a songwriter.
‘The Traveler’ is a meaningful tune about living for those who no longer can. The contest was a handful of years ago shortly after writing the first draft of the song. It required a live performance video, which my cousin helped me with. The NW Ohio community really rallied behind me entering the contest, and flooded the contest site with votes for my song. There were articles in local papers and appearances on news stations. I think it was exciting for the community to see one of their own do well in a national contest like this. Ultimately, I wasn’t one of the final ten to be selected, but the support from my Ohio home helped shine a light on the song and it really meant a lot to me as a songwriter.
While it may be like picking a favorite child, which song off of Ohio Reveries are you most excited for fans and/or first time listeners to hear? How about to perform live?
The one that seems most urgent or relevant to today is the final track ‘Ignis Fatuus’. The rest of the collection had already been written for a while, but this one manifested just a few months before the ‘Ohio Reveries’ recording sessions. ‘Ignis Fatuus’ translates to ‘foolish fire’ from Latin, and it’s a reflection of the chaotic times we live in. It’s a song about the violence of our history returning to us because we keep following the delusions that lead us to it. It’s a powerful one with a very cinematic arrangement. I’m proud of the guitar work too, which makes it an exciting one to perform live.
How did you get hooked up with Michael Estok at Court Street Recording, and what made you think he and they would be the ideal group to produce this album?
There’s a really great community on the east side of the state near Youngstown surrounding a brewery called Birdfish Brewing Co. that does a lot of great work in the area and hosts tons of great independent musicians. My father-in-law is a big supporter of what they do, and it’s also where he met Michael and got us connected. Michael has an amazing group of talent that he works with regularly at CSR. We did an instrumental guitar EP together in early 2020 called ‘Vignettes,’ and I knew he’d be perfect for the more expansive sounds on ‘Ohio Reveries.’ He’s masterful at producing and arranging, and helped create something in this project that I think we’re both really proud of.
What was your favorite part/favorite memory about recording the album?
We put in a lot of work over a week to get a solid base for these recordings, then Michael took some more time for the strings and finishing touches. I appreciated how supportive and encouraging he was throughout the process. I remember putting myself deep in the context of these songs while doing the vocal parts to the point that I was emotionally moved singing each song. To me, it was a sign I was in the right space to service the spirit of these songs. I also really enjoyed working with Michael to build the atmosphere with electric guitars and synths once the main guitar and vocal tracks were done.
What inspires you most to write songs, and what’s your process like?
Playing and writing music is my way of processing the joys, traumas, and hardships of this living experience. So my songs usually deal with big, often abstract feelings and concepts. But I like to think they translate in a relatable way. ‘The Traveler’, for example, was inspired by a few people I knew that passed away at a young age, and deals with how we can honor those who are gone through our own ways of living. My songs almost always start with the guitar work, which helps guide a melody and theme for the lyrics. Then I take life experience or observations and try to craft something lyrically to convey those ideas.
What does success mean to you as an artist and songwriter?
I’ve had to grapple with this question for a long time, and it definitely shifts and changes. I think there are many components to success, but a big one for me these days is the freedom to pursue what I want to creatively. I’ve grown to appreciate being an independent artist, and though it can be a lot of work, I love the creative freedoms it allows.
For example, in the release cycle for this new collection, I put out a 50-minute ambient remix of one of the singles ‘Banks of Lethe’ called the Charon Mix along with a meditative visual on YouTube. It’s not something I ever anticipated doing, but I had the freedom to explore that creative whim. Success to me also means striving to have these musical pursuits add value to my own life and using this music to impart something and connect with others.
What else might 2022 have in store for you, whether musically or otherwise?
Personally, this year will be like none other. It’s going to be a life-changing one with some amazing things on the way for me and my family. Musically, I look forward to traveling and performing through the summer in support of ‘Ohio Reveries’, collaborating and spending time with friends and loved ones, and conceptualizing my next project.
Photo by Drew Vogey Photographs