Though he’s enjoyed spending more time at home with his family, Zach Myers has had a busier time than most over the previous 12 months.
Not only have the pair's outdoor, socially-distanced shows been a welcome change of pace to the stadium rock experience, but the more organic writing and recording was in stark contrast to the production of his main band's latest work.
“We did the covers first, doing one or two a day. Then the next week we would write a song a day and record it the same day,” says Zach of Smith & Myers’ Volumes, 1& 2. “So that was a lot of fun. You don't have a lot of time to be over-analytical about anything, you kind of get to live in the moment. I think that's why the record came out so good: you're not nickel-and-dime-ing production and it has a raw emotion to it that I really enjoy.
“The analytics of the Shinedown process are vastly different to Smith & Myers. And that’s why we enjoy Smith & Myers so much, it’s very loose, there is no game plan. With Shinedown it’s so regimented – even the live shows, you've got pyro and lighting, so you can’t stray too far from the map. But with Smith & Myers we can do whatever we want; we'll make a setlist and five songs later that'll go out the window, man.”
Speaking of Shinedown, he’s happy to report that drums are currently being recorded, with the collaborative effort used for the lyrics on 2018's Attention Attention being repeated. Although that does involve trying to satisfy the exact standards of his frontman.
“Eric [Bass], Brent and I all wrote a lot of lyrics for this record, while in the past most of the lyrics were Brent. On Attention Attention we called Brent ‘the Word Police’, and Eric and I made a joke about ‘Defunding the Word Police’,” Zach says, with enough of a tongue in his cheek to dispel any worries that his singer suffers from any tyrannical machinations.
“Brent is very 'Word Policey' about a lot of things,“ Myers continues. “It makes our songs what they are. But I think it got really bad on Amaryllis and Threat [To Survival] where it was like ’Well we've already had the in the song before.’ I think nouns, prepositions and adjectives we can get loose on.”
Taking a brief break between recording and the next run of Smith & Myers shows, Zach is kind enough to sit down in a room filled with 160 guitars and numerous heads (both of the amp and Michael Myers variety) and tell us about his favourite singer-songwriters, emotive guitar players and meeting some of his heroes.
And as he promises, it's arguably the most eclectic list we’ve done to date...
Freddie King – Getting Ready (1971)
“The Texas Titan. It’s a perfect album – every song is amazing. For me, that was the record where I really heard an instrument. I wasn’t just listening to a song. I may have not even known what a guitar was, but I knew I was hearing something that wasn’t just the words to a song.
“I believe I was 7 or 8, a long time before I started playing guitar, but when my guitar playing came into play I started picking up new things and was listening to it for different reasons. Albert, Freddie, BB: if their last name is King, listen to it!”
2. John Prine – John Prine (1971)
“It’s very folky but it was maybe the first time I heard a singer-songwriter. I remember hearing Paradise – which is one of my favourite songs of all time – and seeing a place. Maybe I didn't know what was happening but I could visualise a place, you know?
“Now I hear tonnes of songs like that, where it's this weird escapism thing where I'm in this little town in Kentucky that the song was written about. He's my favourite singer-songwriter and he passed last year. It’s still a big record for me.”
3. Silverchair – Frogstomp (1995)
“In the last five years I have come back to two bands with full force. One of them never really left me, but in the last month I've really gone back to Frogstomp. My YouTube algorithm is now giving me Silverchair every third video.
“It’s also fascinating to me to try and think of a band that made that many records and were done by the time they were 30 years old. ‘You know, we're over this, we're done.’ That's insanity to me.
“I was watching a video of them from around ’96 the other day, and my five-year-old son came in. He's very smart, and he goes, ‘Is that you?’ Because I looked exactly like Daniel Johns. I wasn't trying to, I was probably trying more to look like Kenny Wayne Shepard. But I did look exactly like him, and my son’s seen pictures of me as a kid.”
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble – Live Alive (1986)
“This is the one that made me want to play guitar. I just remember the ferociousness of this Stevie Ray Vaughan record and going, ‘I don’t know what I’m feeling, but something is moving inside of me. I don’t feel like my feet are on the ground anymore.’ And from then on it was over, I was a guitar player from that moment on. Live Alive is a perfect record, as is Live From Austin, Texas. Just hearing a guy make a guitar sound like that was foreign to me.
“People always ask me in interviews what my Mount Rushmore of guitar players is, and I always say it’s Stevie Ray Vaughan making four different faces. I’m not a shreddy guy; I enjoy it. I’m friends with Neal Schon from Journey. I’m friends with the guys from Periphery and Between The Buried & Me guys, who are all fantastic players and can do this stuff that I respect and appreciate. But when I heard Stevie I thought, ‘I want to play like that. I don’t want to be a super fast guy. I want to bend a note so you feel that somewhere.’”
5. Outkast – Stankonia (2000)
“One of my favourite hip-hop albums of all time. Just as a lyric and songwriter you listen to that and go, ‘Man I wish I could write like that’, to have the wherewithal musically to write like that and have those beats.
“There aren’t a lot of albums, even in this top ten, that stopped time for me. It felt new and fresh for me even as someone who is a massive hip-hop fan.
“If you listen to a song like State Of My Head by Shinedown, that’s a hip-hop beat. And there’s a song on the new record that’s a bit like that; it’s fun and laid back.”
6. Garth Brooks – Ropin’ The Wind (1991)
“If Stevie Ray Vaughan is the reason I wanted to play guitar, Garth Brooks is the reason I wanted to play guitar onstage. By the time I’d met him I’d already seen him 17 times. When I met him, I gave him my signature PRS and I thought that was it. Then at the show he played it onstage.
“I started crying, and when I say crying, I mean like a seven-year-old girl who met Justin Bieber. This was my hero as a kid. I never wanted to be like Stevie Ray Vaughan or Freddie King, I wanted to play like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Freddie King. I wanted to be Garth Brooks, I even dressed as Garth Brooks with a telephone headset on.
“So Ropin’ The Wind was a big record for me, and song-wise it had all these hits on it. It’s one of those special albums where time stood still for me. And now I can call Garth Brooks a friend of mine, which is crazy.”
7. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
“You hear Black Dog and you go, ‘What is this?!’ I always called it ZOSO because of the symbols on it. After Stevie Ray Vaughan making we want to play guitar and Garth Brooks [made me want to] play guitar onstage, Led Zeppelin made me want to be in a rock ’n’ roll band. That's the three steps.
“We were rehearsing for The Sound Of Madness tour in SIR Studios in Nashville. We’re in Studio A, and there’s a band in Studio B that sounds like a country or folk band, but their singer is slaying these Zeppelin tunes like he’s Robert Plant.
“Me and Brent go to the bathroom to take a piss, and then some blonde, curly-haired man walks in and takes a piss in the middle of us. There was a pause and we realised that it is Robert Plant.
“I washed my hands, of course, because I was going to shake his hand. I am at the point where I am not ashamed to take pictures with people – life’s too short – while Brent has never asked for a picture with anyone in his entire life who isn’t in his family. But outside the bathroom Brent says, ‘Excuse me Mr Plant, can we take a picture with you?’ And he said, ‘Sure.’ It was perfect, but really surreal.”
8. Jackson Browne – Running on Empty (1977)
“I'm a song guy. I love Jackson Browne but I wasn't into any records; I would have cassettes and fast forward to the songs I liked. I really discovered Running On Empty in 2012 when we were on tour in Michigan. I'd just gotten into vinyl, and at this place in Grand Rapids I bought Sports by Huey Lewis And The News – with a signed flyer from the show on that tour where someone had bought the vinyl – and [Jackson Browne's] The Pretender.
“I love The Pretender, but I open it up and it was the Running On Empty vinyl in The Pretender sleeve. I thought ’Man?! Come on!’ But I put it on and heard all these songs that I'd always skipped over, and thought, ’These are great songs’, and even as big Jackson Browne fan as I am, I'd never listened to The Load-Out, and wow! What a song! That record did a lot for me as a songwriter and getting back into Jackson Browne.”
9. Oasis – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? (1995)
“Another band that I’ve got back into in the last five years. I loved (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? when it came out, and probably listened to it every five months throughout the years.
“We were in a car in Manchester and Don't Look Back In Anger came on, and I said ‘I’m going to play that tonight.’ Eric and Brent asked why and I said, ‘That song is like the national anthem of Manchester. I’m going to sing the first three words of the song, then walk away and the crowd will sing the rest.’
“They said, ‘Doubtful’. Then that night I sang, ‘Slip inside the eye of your mind’, walked away from the microphone and then the crowd did sing the rest. Now every time we're in Manchester we do it. And since then I’ve got back into them with full force, so they’re now in my top five rock bands of all time.
“In the first couple of years of rediscovering https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejHCtdc_3v8 I was Team Noel, but I think my stance has switched. I think I’m Liam all the way now. I think they’re both great on their own, but I’ll be honest, with only two Liam solo records out, I’m taking Liam all day. Dude, that first album, As You Were, is a fucking rock ’n’ roll album.”
10. U2 – The Joshua Tree (1987)
“My favourite album of all time. I’m literally getting chills talking about it now. I remember the first time I heard that organ into that guitar I felt like crying, and I didn’t even know what it was. It was almost like discovering a religion, where the Holy Ghost comes into you and you’re not even on the ground anymore. And With Or Without You is my favourite song written ever. I got to see the anniversary Joshua Tree tour, and every U2 show I've seen is the best show.
“I was this close to meeting them one time, but I declined, I thought, ‘I can't, what if they're having a bad day?’ But I’m perfectly ok with that. They’re the biggest band in the world for a reason. That album is how you be in a rock band and write good songs, with meaning. It’s not just about balls to the wall guitars, it’s got textures and layers.
“I listen to The Joshua Tree now and hear a new sound every time. That’s the be all and end all of rock ’n’ roll records. It’s got everything. It touches all the bases of rock ’n’ roll. It gives you the same emotion every single time.
“There’s no way, when they made, that those four guys are sitting there, going, ‘This is gonna be fucking special.’ I think they’re saying it’s great, but they don’t realise how special it is in the moment. I don't think anyone does, and that’s the beauty of making music. The fans let you know if it’s special or not.”
- Smith & Myers – Volume 1 & 2 is out now via Atlantic.