We all remember a time in our lives when we first heard music that would alter the rest of our existence.
For me, it was a high school summer when I first discovered the world of marijuana and The Grateful Dead. I remember wondering if there was anything as mystical and magical and wonderful as this combination. Specifically with this combo there are a few roads one can go down, and luckily for me, I didn’t turn into the guy selling bowls, tye-dye shirts, and veggie burritos at various Dead-related shows.
For Wisconsin Americana indie rocker Zach Pietrini, it was artists like Petty and Springsteen that changed the course of his life. But as he got older and found himself multiple years into the music industry himself, the curtain to that mysticism and magic had been lifted. He experienced firsthand the never-ending grind as a musician and songwriter.
Dealing with these conflicting feelings that were once held so dear in youth is a common theme in Pietrini’s newest album, Rock & Roll is Dead, which dropped September 23rd.
While Pietrini may sing about the death of rock and roll and the magic it once seemed to hold, this project is the perfect example of artists like him keeping the genre alive and well. Rock & Roll is Dead is a stellar display of musical versatility, seasoned songwriting, and heartfelt introspection. Pietrini crafts a one-of-a-kind ode in a way only he can, and the heart and soul he put into this record doesn’t go unnoticed.
We got to talk to Pietrini to learn more about the album and much more.
So can you talk about who or what got you into songwriting?
Well, I recorded my first record in Chicago. One or two years before, a friend played me Ray LaMontagne’s first record, Trouble. It was Springsteen and Petty-type classic rock before that, but I was really enamored by Ray’s album, specifically the song “Burn.” It was a career-altering and deeply resonating moment. This was a very specific marker for me and my musical trajectory.
What does a day in the life of your songwriting process look like?
Multi-tasking as a family man and songwriter is something I’ve adapted to, as I often work on songs while intermittently dealing with the needs of my young children, who – naturally – serve as an inspiration as well.
So let’s talk about the new album, Rock & Roll is Dead. Can you breakdown how this collection of songs got put together?
The album is one part ironic, titling the album what it is, seeing as though the album is itself a rock and roll album. It alludes to the deeper theme in the album of perspective- that’s what it comes down to. Whether it be relationships, dreams, longings, etc.
The title track is about how music in a lot of ways saved my life. It was mystical and amazing as a young kid. It had such a profound effect on me. Fast-forward some years where you put your blood, sweat, and tears into it, and you’ve seen the machine and what’s behind the curtain. And you’re seeing what it actually is now. When you have this sacred love demystified, you think to yourself, “is this still something I can love today?”
A lot of songs deal with this idea. Looking back on your life and that kind of thing. The song “Seventeen” in particular deals with this. We look at things as binary, or a memory being positive or negative, when in fact it’s how we acknowledge both. Thinking, “This is the greatest time of my life,” or things you realize have to change. It’s about growing up and shifting your perspective. There’s beautiful and harrowing things that happen, and somewhere in between is your real life. The record is a lot of what was it, what is it now, and can you still hang.
Where was it recorded and who helped produce it/work on it?
It was recorded outside of Milwaukee in Pewaukee, WI, and I co-produced it with Kyle White. We did most of the record ourselves. My keys player played on some tracks and vocals as well, Eric Anderson. Me and Kyle did it all for the most part otherwise, but mastering was done by Justin Perkins of Mystery Room Mastering in Milwaukee.
Did you have any singles off of this album, and if so what were they and when did they come out?
So I had “What are We Now” – my first single – come out August 5th, and also filmed a music video for. And “Seventeen” dropped September 2nd, also with an official music video.
Can you talk about the opening track, “Dead End Town,” and your closing title track? What made those songs good bookends to open and close the album?
I chose to open the record with an upbeat banger, as my songs can often tend to be more in the introspective, morose, and somber vein. The record is a nod to classic albums like Born in the USA, to which I borrowed sonic inspiration from. I loves the raw palpable energy so many songs on that album offer, and he starts with the title track in that record to kick things off.
The closing track – and title track – just felt like a closer. It [gets] louder and is more anthemic with gang vocals and loud guitars. It’s a banger to ride out with. It just made the most sense to me. The end should be loud and like the world is ending.
Is there a song on the album that was the most difficult to write/record for one reason or another?
“Seventeen” had three different versions, but I’m glad we landed on the one that we chose. It just wasn’t sitting right the first few times. That unidentifiable X Factor eventually came around. It took time to get on the same page, but we worked through it and it clicked.
What has been your favorite or the most rewarding part of making this album?
I would say it’s that I’ve had way more of a proactive role in the making of it. In the past, I’ve relied on musicians around me. They’re good musicians, but I took more control of the creative reigns this time and executed my vision. No one will know better how your songs should be than you. I’m really proud of taking a risk and deciding to take on a bigger role with this one.
What messages or feelings do you typically try to convey in your music?
Well, I don’t love a lot of pop music. If a pop song comes on if I’m on a dance floor, fantastic. If it comes on when I’m trying to feel human or connect with people, it seems to work against that desire. I try to present themes representing a full picture- a picture that isn’t so crystallized it’s too specific. I kind of shed light on ambiguity- the ambiguity of life. Things are never as cut and dry as we want to make them or are presented to us. I try to live in that space. It’s a lonely thing to hear a specific experience that you can’t see yourself in. Finding out who you are, and who you’re not, and seeing yourself the way you are or want to be portrayed. Loving something even though it doesn’t work out. Honest introspection- that’s what I strive for.
What are one or two pinnacle moments for you as an artist? I see you played with/shared a stage with acts like Huey Lewis and The News, Ray Wylie Hubbard…
In 2017 was The Zach Pietrini’ Band’s first LP. Since relocating from Chicago to Milwaukee, it was our first EP. We played a show at a 200-person club, worked our asses off on promo, and ended up over-selling the show. We knew the door guy, and he kept cramming people in. The head count was 280, and all the people were excited and amped up. It’s one thing to pack a place with your friends, it’s another with new traction and new blood. It was a memorable night of people singing along and having a great time. It stands out as a great picture of where I hope my career moves.
Opening for a big act is fun, but people aren’t there for you. Opening for Huey Lewis you know, we never before walked out in front of 5,000 people sitting there, so that was a new and exciting feeling. It was a big deal for sure. Muscle-memory takes over, you strum the first chord, and then it’s off to the races.
Catch Zach Pietrini On Tour:
September 30th – Milwaukee, WI @ Anodyne
October 5th – Madison, WI @ Bur Oak
October 6th – Milwaukee, WI @ SoFar
October 7th – Kenosha, WI @ 58 Below
October 8th – Rockford, IL @ Mary’s Place
October 13th – Arlington Heights, IL @ Hey Nonny
October 14th – Kokomo, IN @ Coterie
October 15th – Fishers, IN @ House Show
October 20th – Franklin, TN @ Kimbro’s
October 21st – Nashville, TN @ Bowery Vault
October 22nd – Memphis, TN @ Hernandos
November 3rd – Sheboygan, WI @ 3 Sheeps
November 4th – Green Bay, WI @ Coffee Wizards
November 5th – Minneapolis, MN @ Astor Cafe
November 10th – Appleton, WI @ Gibson Music Hall
November 11th – Spring Green, WI @ Slow Poke
November 12th – Clinton, IA @ The V’ue
November 17th – Kansas City, MS @ ULAH
November 18th – LaCross, WI @ Leo & Leona’s