Q&A with Zach and his new track "WAR!"
" I love being able to be entrepreneurial at my own pace."
Packed with unstoppable energy, big band sounds, and a whole lot of attitude. The Debut single, "War!" introduces Zach Callison with a sprawling, epic chapter of an intense Hollywood love affair. Produced by Chase Ryan, Anthony Mazza, and Callison himself, the single is a dynamic fusion of sounds that incorporates inspirations from blues rock, theatrical storytelling, and fast-paced rap verse. The unapologetic revenge track introduces Juanita as the feuding lover of the protagonist, who despite his vengeful promise to outshine her music career, is still the object of his obsession. A big band symphony of horns rages beneath Callison's alchemical control of rhyme and diction, spitting lines alongside wild piano (played by Callison) and fuzzy electric guitar.
The Los Angeles-based musician, voice actor, and actor is known for his work as the voice of "Steven" on Cartoon Network's hit show Steven Universe, his on camera acting as villain Chuck for Amazon Studios' Just Add Magic as well as guest appearances on ABC's The Goldbergs and CBS's NCIS: Los Angeles. Music has always been a huge influence— as a kid he watched his father play rock music in the blues bars of St. Louis— an experience that lives on in the sounds he creates today. He's been featured on a number of soundtracks including the Emmy-winning Sofia the First and Steven Universe Soundtrack: Volume One, the latter of which hit the number one spot on the iTunes charts. No stranger to the stage, he's performed in massive musical theater productions at the St. Louis Muny Theater and cover bands throughout venues in Los Angeles, eventually shifting his focus to songwriting.
The sound born from his unique background is a surprising mix of rock hooks, energetic theatrical instrumentation, and hip-hop rhyme schemes that already has his fans excited for the full record. On " War!," Callison presents a preview into the storytelling experience he's crafted throughout his debut EP, "A Picture Perfect Hollywood Heartbreak," due out later this year.
What did you listen to growing up?
Nothing but rock until I was ten or so, that was my dad's influence for sure. He showed me a lot of old and new...Beatles, Zeppelin, Styx as well as early 2000s Maroon 5, Linkin Park and Incubus. To this day all these acts remain favorites, and have made their mark on my music.
How did you start writing music?
I putzed around and wrote a couple little things around twelve or thirteen; one was a nice Christmas song for my grandmother, the other a political rock song about overthrowing dictatorships with my old band. Between those two set I was pretty much set for a while. I only started seriously writing music a few years ago when I broke ground on this EP. I didn't intend to do a record from the beginning...it was more of a personal side project that I took up after I finished a couple songs at home on my piano. Nowadays I'm constantly writing, almost daily.
How did you start voice over acting?
By accident, really. I came to LA for on-camera acting, as the market back in St. Louis was pretty small. At a certain point, my agents started submitting me for cartoon auditions...it had never really occurred to my and my parents that voice acting was something I could pursue. When I was eleven, I booked a radio show called Adventures in Odyssey that ended up being a five-year gig; I got to do a bunch of ensemble records with incredible veteran voice actors like Jim Cummings, Jess Harnell and Will Ryan. It was an invaluable learning experience, and it set me up for work in a field that I didn't even know I could be in.
How are the two different outlets unique for you?
I think the biggest difference is that in my acting, I'm constantly switching gears and playing different parts all the time because I'm a hired gun on all these different projects, and new auditions are coming in every week. On the flip side, my music is all self-made and entrepreneurial as that's the nature of the business. Both outlets have elements of the other, but I'm really enjoying being able to have both in my career at the moment; every month is wildly different and that keeps me engaged.
What inspired "War!"?
A girl I used to know, that isn't actually named "Juanita" like I scream in the song. We didn't part on good terms, and there was a lot of shade being thrown from her and her friends...I wrote "War!" to clap back where I knew it hurt. She's a singer, and has been working on the same album since long before we ever got together; this song is me dropping into the music scene with a loud message by asking her where she's been all this time. I wanted something very theatrical and soaked in flair to punctuate that question, and that's where the grandiose feel of the track comes from.
What has been the biggest challenge in your career?
So far, the biggest challenge has been growing up normally and figuring out who I am while working on building my career. I was homeschooled from fourth grade to the end of high school, and always had major work responsibilities from the time that I was ten. Everything awkward about growing up is magnified when it's under the lens of Hollywood; acne becomes much scarier when you have an audition the next day, and your voice dropping two octaves can be the worst thing that's ever happened when you're banking on playing eight year olds in cartoons. This was reality for me and all my friends that came up together. Nowadays, we're trying to find time to have our crazy college years and go see the world while also grinding out as much of a climb as we can here in LA. I'll never regret coming out west to do what I do, but it definitely gives as much as it takes away.
What has given you the most fulfillment from your experience in the business?
There's so many things...the industry has given me so much so early in my life, and I love being able to be entrepreneurial at my own pace. I love being able to make my own projects now, like this record. I think the biggest reward, though, has been the circle of people I came up with that are just now getting into adulthood after years of child acting and performing. We're a unique and quirky group of kids, and we all understand each other very well because few others can relate to our upbringing and circumstances. Most of us are born creatives and have stayed in the field somehow; once we were all just actors, and now I'm surrounded by writers, musicians, composers, cinematographers, and producers. They're all extraordinary somehow, and for that I'm very grateful.
I'm taking off to Canada when I finish the record, just for fun this time. Then, I'm releasing the album, finishing some new video content, recording for some new cartoons, going on tour eventually, and getting the brakes in my car fixed. They're squeaky.
Follow Zach Callison on Twitter | Instagram | YouTube
Dan Victor is editor of Popdust and producer of Popdust Presents. He is also a music producer, bassist for Low Profile (live hip hop) & The Coldpress (indie rap) and front-man for Ductape Halo (indie rock). Follow on Youtube.
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