Max Shatan, ‘18
When Zach Holbrook was a child, he sang so loudly that the neighbors called the police. It’s an experience that encapsulates his essence as a musician and someone who feels the need to transform his personal struggles through a musical lens. ”I personally need this outlet, and I feel like I can’t kind of censor myself or compromise what I’m producing,” says Dr. Holbrook. Although he didn’t learn how to play piano until after he graduated college, Holbrook has been using the instrument on all of his compositions, which can be found on YouTube and Soundcloud by searching “Zach Holbrook.”
“The music almost always comes first,” says Holbrook about his creative process. He often starts out with a general idea of the song’s subject matter, but this can change completely over the course of writing the lyrics. Musically, Holbrook is influenced by artists such as Grizzly Bear, Will Oldham, Okkervil River (“They’re amazing lyricists”), Yeasayer, and Sufjan Stevens, whose personal acoustic style is evident in some of Holbrook’s earlier songs. He recently purchased a Novation synthesizer, so he is now able to add more complex textures and sounds to his music.
When discussing Holbrook’s music with him, it can be easy to forget his day job as a literature teacher here at BHSEC. Although he says that his job influences his music “surprisingly little,” he does admit it has some effects on his songwriting, saying “one of my tendencies as a writer of songs is to think about the lyrics as being literary or having literary composition.” In addition, the lyrics that Holbrook writes are confessional and personal. When asked about the relationship between having a private life and having a life as a teacher, Holbrook said “It’s something I’ve thought about and it’s something I need to negotiate. With any teacher that’s doing anything creative on the side, what they do in the classroom and what they do creatively certainly have overlaps but they are also things that are separate vocations.”
Dr. Holbrook is one of many small independent artists vying for success in the music business. He believes that the sheer volume of music out on the internet has made it harder to achieve recognition, even though it’s easier to put music out there. Despite this obstacle, Holbrook has found some success. One of his tracks was played by a college radio station, prompting a sharp rise in its popularity on Soundcloud. “It’s the only song that has more than 100 views” says Holbrook about “An Honest Man.” Holbrook plans to take his backlog of songs and put them together into an album, which he will self-release in the near future.
Though his primary concern is his students, Zach Holbrook has proved himself to be as creative and innovative in his music as he is inside the classroom. BHSEC is lucky to have a professor with such varied interests and talents that inform and inspire his pupils and are a testament to the power of personal expression.