“I love Phil Spector’s Ronnettes records and his Darlene Love stuff,” says Zak Smith about the unique mix of modernity and classic rock and roll that he puts out with band the bears his name. “That type of thing, along with Ray Charles and the Raelettes, really influenced the way I think about backup vocals in the band. That call and response kind of thing and ‘oooo’s’ in the background always moved me.”
Zak is joined in the group by guitarist Gavi Grodsky, formerly of Flowdown and Musaic, bassist Dave Smith (no relation), who was with area groups such as The Volunteers and Black Chardonnay, drummer Keith Robinson, who has manned the skins with Marcia Ball and Charlie Robison, and piano player Dov Manski, who also played in Musaic. The band also touts backup singers Jessica Labus and Mela Machinko, who play an integral part in the trade off vocals that Zak likes to employ.
“It’s Americana roots rock,” Zak continues. “Lyrically, my influences are people like Joe Strummer, Leonard Cohen, and Lou Reed. Musically, I think you can hear Van Morrison, late ‘60s, early ’70s Rolling Stones, and a little bit of the Grateful Dead without the jamming. I love the Let It Bleed era Rolling Stones, and Exile On Main Street. Their most Americana-ish and dark stuff is probably my favorite music ever. Also, Van Morrison’s longer songs, the ones where he kind of rides them out like he’s possessed by them, they were a big influence on me.”
The band has graced stages throughout the region including the Starland Ballroom, The Saint, Brooklyn Bowl, Sullivan Hall and Mexicali Live. They’ve also ventured out on short tours all over the East Coast and have even done a short tour overseas, performing at a festival in Belgrade called Beerfest.
With such extensive travel, there’s bound to be a gig here or there that might not fit with what the band does. “We had a really nice guy who used to do booking for us,” Zak remembers. “He was great 90 percent of the time, but he would occasionally book us at far away gigs that we probably shouldn’t have been playing. The one that sticks out right now was at this farm with a reptile petting zoo in it somewhere in Pennsylvania. It was a strange place to play, and we also had to pay to get in!”
Zak writes all of the music and lyrics for the band, and does demos of the songs in his basement studio. He then sends out the demos, along with sheet music, to the band members and puts together rehearsal to flesh them out. “We have a song that we recorded, but didn’t release yet, called ‘Amen Baby’ that goes over great live,” Zak relates. “There’s also a song called ‘Traitor’s Way’ that has a long guitar solo Gavi plays at the end that sounds great. My personal preference is always the songs that have a lot of backing vocal parts. I love interacting with the band like that.”
One of Zak’s goals is to keep writing, as long as he is happy with the results he is getting. “I want to write a billion more songs that I can be proud of,” he says. “I would like to be able to do this for the rest of my life.”
As for the name of the band, it wasn’t hard for Zak to come up with it. But it does sometimes lead to confusion, though not from his last name, common though it may be. “People confuse me with the Zac Brown Band all the time, so maybe I should have put more thought into it!”
You can find out more about the band, including upcoming dates, at zacsmithband.com. You’ll also find on the website free downloads of six songs that he’s recorded but not released on any albums. He also has a free app available, and you’ll be able to view a video produced by RAW that is a great intro to Zac and his music.