Expressive, alternative musicians are beginning to take over the music industry in which creates a new predominance in the rock scene. Avi Zahner-Isenberg is an accomplice to this emerging popularity of slow strums and metaphorical lyrics. You may know Zahner-Isenberg from the Indie pop band Avi Buffalo, yet nearly a year ago, Zahner-Isenberg called it quits, ceasing the band completely. This indie rock artist is more than just a musician, but rather an elusive creative that is always unfolding multitudes of art.
Insider Yasmine “Yas” King interviewed Zahner-Isenberg, talking about future projects, influences, and what it’s like being a (somewhat) emerging artist in the world of rock.
YK: When did you start playing music? What triggered your interest?
AZ: I’ve pretty much been into music since I was very young, messing around on pianos if they were around or singing and whistling, but I started playing guitar when I was almost 13. Both were triggered I think by how much music I was surrounded by. My mom loves music and dancing, and my dad and family were very musical. I grew up hearing a lot of guitar-based music so maybe that resonated with me at a very young age.
YK: What was it like opening for Modest Mouse? What are your thoughts on touring?
AZ: I personally loved opening for Modest Mouse. They are really down to earth, cool, fun people. From what I noticed is that we had a mutual enjoyment of each other’s sets and that was really sweet to share. Touring can be really fun, but really hard too, and there are a lot of factors that play into it. People you’re touring with have a lot to do with it. It’s also important to get a lot of rest and eat well, and that can be difficult to do amidst the excitement and often grueling travel plus you’re in an econo van! Ha!
YK: What’s a day in the life for you?
AZ: Lately just waking up, and trying to get out there and play music. It really depends on what I’m working on but lately I’m working a lot on this project called “Litronix with Kevin Litrow.” We’re finishing an album, putting out singles, going on a little tour in April, and also now recording extra material. With my own stuff I’ve been writing new songs, playing by myself and doing a couple shows with a band as well. I’m figuring a lot of things out.
YK: You parted from your band last year, right? What made you do that and how has that made you prosper as an artist?
AZ: I parted from my band in that incarnation because I felt like we all weren’t on the same wavelength as people or musicians. I was also with some very bad, inexperienced management. They were making touring harder and more expensive than it should’ve been, and they also had their own vision of what my music should be that was making me feel ill! I was already working on the Litronix album then so I just focused on that and on redefining myself as a solo artist. It’s definitely helped. I like to learn things organically from experience and also from people I really admire. I stay in touch with my old bandmates too though because they are musical comrades and friends of course.
YK: Is the music industry just as smothering as it appeals to be? Is there a lot of creative control or is it cut off? What’s your experience with the industry itself?
AZ: Well, how smothering does it appear to be to you? I think it really depends on the artist. What I’ve noticed about and learned from Kevin Litrow (Litronix) who is older than me (40 to my 25), is he knows what he wants in a music video, how he wants to dress, what he wants to express and why as well as the music. Sometimes I think I’m just focused on the music alone, and that’s good, maybe pure in a way, but I’ve been taken advantage of by managers pushing me into funky music videos, even bad press photos, but the creative control thing, to get specific, you don’t want people telling you what to play, or how to make your music at all. It should be up to the artist. Managers and music biz people I’ve noticed will have their own opinions on how your music should sound or what an album should be like, and I think it’s often preposterous and based in very shallow thought compared to what true artists or musicians put into what they’re creating. I’ve learned to fight more for what I believe in the past year and I need to carry that into the next chapter.
YK: To get to know more about your musical influences, what is your all time favorite song/artist and your top 5 favorite albums?
AZ: Top 5 for me as of now are:
- Beach Boys – “Pet Sounds”
- Fennesz – “Endless Summer”
- John Coltrane – “Giant Steps”
- Glen Campbell – “The Capitol Years”
- Can – “Future Days”
I love blues, classical, jazz, noise/sound, foreign music, hip-hop
YK: What are some of your other favorite pastimes besides music?
AZ: I love food and I really love cooking. And I love eating out but it’s too expensive for me honestly a lot of the time. I have a few fun books around but I can get distracted and need to get better at finishing them (maybe I’m almost ADHD? Who knows…) I really love nature, humor, and I’m kind of a hopeless romantic so I get sucked into relationships and crushes too. I also love visual art, I do a lot of that even just on my phone but I also paint sometimes and draw
YK: What was/is it like emerging into the music industry as an indie-ish rock artist? Especially since this genre isn’t as prevalent to the majority as others?
AZ: Playing to smaller crowds I guess, I just didn’t go for huge pop production or heavy bass, click tracks etc., so maybe that made my stuff less radio friendly
It does seem like indie has come into the mainstream quite a lot but because I never toured very extensively I never saw the full benefits of a hard tour and promotion. Maybe if I toured longer I don’t know but it might not be that much of a difference. It’s hard to tell these days what is successful to me. I recently did some work helping produce some trap hip hop type music in Houston, and Litronix is electronic and upbeat, my own stuff coming up will be based in a lot of real instruments like guitar and piano and drums with orchestration and lots of ear candy. I also want to sing well in it, and I hope it attracts people.
YK: What is your largest influence when writing songs? A certain person, moment, etc. ?
AZ: I’d say that my largest influence when writing songs is probably a combination of a few different things. It can be emotions that I’m going through in the moment that I have no other way of healthy channeling; people in my life I even want to express something to but can’t otherwise, etc. And another maybe main influence or reason is to do something musically interesting with the instrument I’m using and with music/sound itself. There’s usually a time when I feel inspired and sometimes waves or periods in life that I’m more active with writing, practicing or both.