The Hyalite Sessions: Cole Thorne

By Taylor Barrett

Learning to play piano in just the third grade, music has been a part of Cole Thorne’s life for about as long as she can remember. Growing up in a family of musicians, it was a tradition, a birthright. With her father playing guitar and her grandparents being touring musicians, Thorne was inspired to follow the same path. After moving to Bozeman and finding some musicians she meshed with, she formed Cole & The Thornes. Together they form a 6-piece band, including Cole Thorne on ukulele and guitar, Jess Atkins on lead guitar, Jordan Rodenbiker on bass, Alex Platt on drums, Adam Burke on auxiliary percussion, and Daniel Wood on trumpet. They released their debut album, Map Maker, in 2018.

Considering themselves a “mountain-reggae infused soul band”, you will hear many influences, from reggae and soul, to jazz and jam music. Together with the Thorne’s incredible vocals and frequent horn solos, you will find something both relaxing and danceable!

Cole Thorne brings us a solo acoustic set with a couple of new songs!

Follow Cole Thorne – Instagram | Facebook

high on you. – Soul Keeping, the EP

Out now, the latest EP from high on you., Soul Keeping. Combining elements of lofi, electronic, hip hop, and vapor soul, your ears are in for a treat! high on you. pairs his versatile lyrical and vocal abilities with us, sharing stories, experiences, and a little piece of his soul. Listen now on all major streaming platforms!

Follow high on you. on Instagram and Facebook

http://www.highonyoumusic.com

The Hyalite Sessions: Joe Knapp

By Taylor Barrett & Colter Olmstead

From the archives, our first edition of The Hyalite Sessions featuring Joe Knapp, initially released June, 2019. Originally a four part series, it is now available in full! Enjoy his incredible singing, songwriting, and fingerpicking, performing four original songs.

Set List: Hold Out / Little A Rag / Find Me in the Morning / Go to sleep….!

Follow Joe Knapp – Instagram | Facebook

The Hyalite Sessions: Zach McKinley

By Taylor Barrett, Antonio Wellman, Max Wellman

Zach Mckinley is a familiar face around Bozeman–you might find him playing solo at Zocalo Coffee House, with his band, Gear Horse, at the Haufbrau, and even taking the stage with King Ropes at The Rialto. Whatever setting you see him in, and whatever genre he’s playing, one thing is obvious, McKinley’s talented. And lucky for us, he’s sharing that talent for the second time this year.. Zach McKinley recently released his latest solo album, Pocatello, following up his release earlier this year, She Don’t Got Time For Losers. For Pocatello, McKinley brought a full band, including acoustic and electric guitar, 12-string guitar, bass, banjo, percussion, and drums. It’s a full house.

Pocatello oscillates between intensely personal, and entirely fictitious songs posed over a multitude of genres. The album puts you in the head of a “Sad Bastard” spinning tales that involve adultery, murder, and the Wild West days of Virginia City. Listen to the album on Bandcamp and check out a few live renditions in our latest Hyalite Session.

Straight to the Source: Blackworm Instruments

By Taylor Barrett & Max Wellman

Andrew Olivo grew up in a place much different than Bozeman, but even though he was born in The Bronx and grew up in upstate New York, he found his home in the Gallatin Valley. Four years ago, Olivo left the East Coast for Montana, and he hasn’t looked back since–finding a community that supports his business of crafting instruments. 

Being an artist at heart, Olivo’s inspiration for the craft has always been inspired by his artistic leanings. Always having a desire to work with his hands, Olivo finds satisfaction in the process of crafting wood into guitars, and especially in seeing, and hearing, the final result. While Olivo’s artist endeavors ended as a luthier, he began through more traditional avenues: drawing, painting and sculpting, which eventually led to Olivo predominately drawing guitars.

Of the many ways his art could take life, Olivo has always had a love for wood because of the variability that it offers. For him, it keeps things exciting, because every new piece of maple or walnut brings something unique and personal to the table. Olivo also mentioned that with this type of art, “everything can speak for itself”, and he enjoys letting the wood tell it’s own story, fostering a sort of symbiotic relationship between the artist and his medium. 

Unlike many luthiers that produce large quantity batches, Olivo’s focus has (and will always be) to build instruments as an art form more so than a means of production. For him, he’d rather sit down and work with the vision of a particular artist than produce large batches of instruments to which he will never know the owner, for him it’s personal.

Olivo’s operation is minimal, and as he mentioned himself, he’s “a 25 year old dinosaur.” After visiting his shop for myself, I can agree. Rather than working with technology and drafting on a computer, Olivo prefers to start with just a few supplies–a pencil, paper, and centerline. This is where the artistic process begins, and it seems more natural. Even though he uses what some in the industry may consider “primitive”, Olivo couldn’t be more content.

Not only is his process of drafting rather minimal, but his shop is home to only the essential tools and machines of his trade. Rather than depending on large machinery, Olivo does a lot of the carving and detail work by hand.

It is this aspect of his trade that keeps his craft true to his vision. In starting out, he had the goal of making art, and it would be easy to think that it was merely happenstance that he was able to make something practical along the way.

Follow Blackworm Instruments – Instagram | Facebook

The Connection II – Album Debut

The Jonathan Kennedy Connection is back with a follow up EP to their release on March 13th.

This time we dive deeper into the electronic folk atmosphere created by Jonathan Kennedy, never halting on his exploration for new sounds and possibilities.

But this time things have changed, a lot has happened since the beginning of the year. From a global pandemic, to the perpetual police brutality that affects the streets of our country on a daily basis––the album’s contemplation runs deep. The Connections II takes us on a journey through many of Kennedy’s experiences.

Listen to The Connection II below and watch the official video for “Acid First”

The Hyalite Sessions: Dillon Mora

Dillon Mora, originally of Kalamazzoo, Michigan, moved to Bozeman to study at MSU and with him he brought his musicianship and songwriting abilities. Originally inspired by playing bass to metal bands such as Metallica, you can find Mora playing a much mellower repertoire of originals these days. It wasn’t until college that he picked up the guitar, but anymore you will find him writing a majority of his songs for solo acoustic guitar. Inspired by running and trails, Mora’s song radiate energy and enthusiasm. From the influence of White Stripes, The Black Keys, and Johnny Cash, you will find yourself listening to what might he considers “alternative folk punk”. Some of Mora’s favorite locals are Left on Tenth, Joe Knapp, and Tsunami Funk. He is currently working on a solo album, which we will keep you informed on the release date!

The Hyalite Sessions: Jacob Rountree

By Taylor Barrett & Max Wellman

Jacob Rountree came to Bozeman for much the same reason a lot of us make it to the college town: to go to school. Jacob came to Bozeman to study engineering but he found Montana to be the perfect place to hone his skills as a photographer and find inspiration to write music. Jacob has a unique ability to tell stories through his songwriting, crafting vocals filled with emotion and interweaving them with interesting guitar melodies. Often strumming the strings and tapping the body of his guitar with his hand to create percussion, Jacob draws influence from indie acoustic artists such as Ben Howard, who inspire him to use his instrument of choice for more than just playing the guitar.

Jacob has a unique sound and an interesting perspective of what it means to live in Montana, and he brings all of this to his music. When playing live, he is accompanied by Marcus Bendon on drums, and Leah Dobby on bass and vocals. We’re proud to present Jacob Rountree in our latest installment of the Hyalite Sessions, and if you’re interested in learning more, be sure to check out our first episode of The Hyalite Sessions: Behind the Scenes.

Set List: Set a Fire / Vertigo / Nothing Arrives

Listen on Spotify, Apple Music, or SoundCloud

Follow Jacob Rountree on Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube

The Hyalite Sessions: Antonio .R.M.W.

By Taylor Barrett & Max Wellman

A lot of you will recognize Antonio as the Hyalite’s music editor––you can find his name on our album reviews and often credited as writing the music we use in our videos. Antonio is a talented musician, so we thought we would showcase some of his original music in our latest Hyalite Session.

Antonio performed his composition, “Tumultuous Bliss,” a song that has seen multiple live iterations over the course of six years. The first time we saw it performed was for his senior capstone project when he was pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Technology at Montana State University. Since then, he’s performed the composition at multiple shows throughout Montana, but it’s not old hat. “Tumultuous Bliss” morphs and changes every time it’s performed, and that’s the point. Antonio is striving to make electronic music that retains the imperfection inherent within improvisation and the human condition, and this session is a prime example of him putting the theory into practice. 

Find Antonio’s music on Bandcamp 

The Connection – Album Debut

By Taylor Barrett

The Jonathan Kennedy Connection, as featured in our Hyalite Session series, is back with his debut self-titled album, The Connection. Previously touring with bands such as The Richard Lloyd Trio and Magic Castles, Jonathan Kennedy now finds himself working on a solo project where he writes and produces music in a quaint cabin, deep in the mountains just southeast of Bozeman. 

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Coining the term “electronic folk,” Kennedy is sure to bring something to the pallet that you’ve likely never tasted before–effectively meshing two genres of music that you might’ve never thought to mix. In the opening track, “Windward,” you will notice a strong blend of synthesizers, acoustic guitar, and vocals that reflect a strong 80s touch, with the song peaking around 1:42 with a combination of vocals, electric guitar, and acoustic guitar. 

The second track, “Strangetown,” begins with the twinkling of a keyboard and an ominous bowing of the violin in the background. Throughout the song, Kennedy reflects on the feeling of living in a town that seems to have come to a halt, never changing, and giving the emotion of being both lost and a stranger. 

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“The Crossing” feels much like the ballad of the album, with a driving rhythm, slow pace, and vocals that reflect thoughts of regret for time passed, but this is quickly followed by what might be the most lively song of the album, “Market and State St.” The song starts with a strong percussive beat, soon joined by a vocal harmony, featuring a wood block for extra flavor. This song is definitely the most accessible, discussing the wisdom and truth that lies within everything in the universe, Kennedy sings: “take a plane or take a spaceship / go get lost in what you know,” followed by a heavy electronic solo of intertwining synth melodies.

The song “Ruby Girl” takes it down a notch with a groovy vibe that will put you on the beach with a beer in your hand with heavy reverb and heavy reverb as Kennedy sings another vocal harmony. Next, on “Star Song”, we enter a trance of electric guitar, wavy synths, and percussion, accompanied by vocals that will leave you in outer space. 

Wrapping up the album, “Revolving Door” discusses the cycles that occur in life and how we often feel like we are stuck in place. Kennedy encourages his audience to break the cycle when he sings “You ever feel like your life is stuck in a revolving door? / Same thing day after day / week after week / month after month / year after year / We gotta put a door stop in that door.”

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For Kennedy, The Connection started as a concept way back in middle school. It’s the idea of an interaction between two things––whether that be spiritual, social, or even drug related. Kennedy is simply trying to make music that exemplifies the bond between two distinct entities, and through his music he seeks to spread his light and multi instrumental talents with the world.

The Connection is set to release on Friday, March 13th and will be available at Cactus Records on CD and Jonathan Kennedy is also available directly at mr.jonathankennedy@yahoo.com or (612) 209-4761. You can also catch The Connection’s CD Release show and grab a copy of the album on the day of its release, the show will start at 8:30pm at the Labor Temple.(https://www.facebook.com/events/536539150597742/)

Stream the album in full below!

The Lil Smokies – Tornillo Album Review

By Antonio Wellman

The Lil Smokies are a bluegrass band based out of Missoula, Montana, and have recently released their third studio album, Tornillo.

Our last album review was for the album, Muir Maid, by the Kitchen Dwellers, and it has been impossible to resist drawing parallels between the two albums. For example, both albums at their heart are bluegrass, the musicianship is impeccable, and neither are afraid to blend different musical elements and genres. Despite this, the end results of each album are totally distinct. While the Kitchen Dwellers fuse bluegrass with psychedelia, reggae, and electronic styles, The Lil Smokies third studio album, Tornillo, contains elements of folk, country, blues, and pop music while still remaining true to their roots as a bluegrass band.

The pop elements are the most surprising, but I find their inclusion to benefit the record. Die hard bluegrass fans and snobs such as myself may mistakenly take this as a bad thing, but recently I’ve become more open and accepting of pop music––even including two pop albums in my top 5 albums of 2019. With that being said, Tornillo certainly isn’t a pop album, but still, elements of pop shine through. The songs are catchy in both the vocal and instrumental lines, and I found myself singing and humming along.

Just like the Kitchen Dwellers did, the Smokies implement effects that bring certain sections of tracks into the stratosphere. The fiddle solo on “Carry Me” is a good example of this, as it employs a phaser that creates interesting rhythms and gives the solo a spacey feel. The dobro lead later in the song uses delays and reverbs to the same effect. The Lil Smokies share singing duty and one major strength of the vocals lies in the lush harmonies on the album. The vocal harmonies are crisp and full and the different timbres of the band’s voices blend together wonderfully. A high point in the album is on the track, “World’s on Fire”, when two vocal lines overlap and intersect while the instruments slowly build, climaxing into a final refrain.

The title track and final song, “Tornillo”, has a pastoral feel in the music, if not the lyrics, that brings to mind old country ballads. While the track is undeniably beautiful, it seems a bit out of place, dropping most of the instruments and replacing them with a piano. The strength of the album rests in the interplay between the different instruments and the delicate and intricate ways they wind their melodies and lines together, so the inclusion of “Tornillo” feels borderline incongruous.

In the end, Tornillo is full of little surprises––from unexpected synth lines to an eastern influenced dobro solo on “Blood Money”. It’s the twists and turns of what initially seems like a familiar road that keeps me coming back to listen to this album––the unexpected hiding within the expected.

 

The Hyalite Sessions: Mune

By Taylor Barrett & Max Wellman

Mune is a guitar-based solo project by Harley Larson, with an effort to incorporate acoustic and electric guitar arrangements through as many styles as possible. “All of the music I have been working on has been a recent push in my life to explore every avenue I can possibly take for making music and improvisation,” said Larson. “I prepared all new songs for the Hyalite session in the spirit of creating new and original sounds.”

And Larson did just that. This Hyalite session is one that we are having trouble putting our finger on … there’s notes of folk, rock, indie, jam music, and much more that come through with just one guitarist, which is pretty spectacular. Mune brought us original songs that no one has ever heard before, just so we can share them with you. We hope you enjoy!

Set List: Life’s Long Lasting Love / Carpet Ride / The Knock / Minute Man / Minds Eye

Follow Harley on Instagram

The Hyalite Sessions: Amanda Stewart

By Taylor Barrett

With recent recognition from the Bozeman’s Choice Awards for being one of the top three Best Local Solo Musicians, Amanda Stewart brings fluent rhythm and an incredibly powerful voice to the stage. Creating a medley of folk, americana, country, bluegrass, and rock, Stewart ties all of her inspirations into one cohesive and original style. Starting in 2009 with her first show in Missoula, Stewart now tours consistently throughout the local region. When she’s not playing solo gigs at the Murray Bar or Pine Creek Lodge, you can find her playing with her band, Sweet Sage. Stewart’s a local pride of Montana, and it’s easy to see why.

Set List: The Fear / Odyssey / Liar / Out of the Ashes

Follow Amanda Stewart – Instagram | Facebook

Music Year in Review 2019

We love music at the Hyalite, and we listen to a lot of it, joining us as we make it through every day of the year. For all of us, music is a huge part of our lives. While 2019 has been, well, insane, we can’t say there was ever a shortage of great new music coming out of Montana, the United States, and all around the world to help us wake up in the morning, prepare for a party, or just get us through a Tuesday afternoon at the office. Because of this, we decided to share some of our personal favorite albums of 2019, as well as a curated list of our favorite new releases from some really talented Montanans.

It’s been a great year here at the Hyalite, and we look forward to bringing you more profiles, articles, and reviews in 2020. Thanks for all your support and we hope that our playlists might help you find some Holiday Slappers™ to coast you into the next decade. 

Happy New Year,

Taylor, Max, and Antonio

 

Montana Local Releases 2019

 

Taylor’s Top Albums of 2019

 

Max’s Top Albums of 2019

 

Antonio’s Top Albums of 2019

 

Thanks for listening!

Hyalite Reel 2019

By Taylor Barrett

Over the past year I have filmed a lot, from concerts and live recording sessions, to plays and comedy shows, to my first documentary, and sessions in the studio with artists (saving that for the New Year). Here are some of my favorite shots that I have compiled for our first annual ‘Hyalite Reel’. Enjoy!

Featuring: Sundance and The Wilds, Joe Knapp, Freak Out the Musical, The Connection, DASH, Comedy Gate, Andy Armstrong a.k.a Pirate Guitars, Happy Trash Can, Bozeman Community Food Co-op, and Holden Nielson

Directed by Taylor Barrett | Music by Antonio Wellman

The Hyalite Sessions: The Jonathan Kennedy Connection

By Taylor Barrett

Jonathan Kennedy has been playing music for pretty much his whole life, working as a solo artist and playing in several groups, including Magic Castles and The Richard Lloyd Trio. Today, Kennedy goes by The Jonathan Kennedy Connection, and it’s a concept that began way back in middle school. It’s the idea of an interaction between two things––whether that be spiritual, social, or even drug interactions. Kennedy is trying to make music that exemplifies the bond between two distinct entities.

Kennedy began recording under the name The Jonathan Kennedy Connection after leaving his latest gig playing for Magic Castles. He took his skills as a multi-instrumentalist and recorded himself with a 4 track cassette recorder. After a while, this was no longer sufficient for his vision of where he wanted The Connection to go. After acquiring a new synth and the equipment he needed to run a few programs, he was on his way to producing what he now describes as “electronic folk”. We sat down with Kennedy to see just what he’s been up to. 

The Jonathan Kennedy Connection will release their debut EP in early spring of 2020. Be on the lookout and enjoy the new Hyalite Session!

Desperate Electric

By Max Wellman

For us, listening to Desperate Electric (formerly known as DASH) is a bit like drinking a cold beer on a Friday night. It’s refreshing and laid back, it makes you want to laugh with some close friends, and it also makes you want to fucking party. 

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We sat down with Ben and Kayti, the two founding members of Desperate Electric, and our conversation started with Kayti telling jokes and Ben playing licks on the guitar. Like their music, Desperate Electric is fun, and they impart this energy and charisma into everything that they do.

Both Kayti and Ben grew up in the West––Kayti from Laurel, Montana and Ben from Moscow, Idaho. Attending college in Bozeman, they met in choir and have pretty much been playing music together since, performing along side each other in multiple bands and eventually starting Desperate Electric. The band has been through a lot this past year, but they made it work, and they’re both just happy to be able to share their music.

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Desperate Electric is a full time touring act, playing shows around the country most of the year, but they still see Bozeman as home. There’s a beauty in this––Kayti and Ben are musical nomads, they spend most of their time on the road and there’s no need to root themselves anywhere, but even so, they always find their way back to Montana. When asked about why they see Bozeman as home, Kayti told us that after everywhere they’ve been, they “don’t love anywhere as much as here.” And that’s something to be proud of. 

Part of understanding Desperate Electric is also understanding the current trends in Bozeman’s music scene. While in the past, to make it as a band there was pressure to move to Seattle or LA, more and more you can find bands that tour full time but always come back to Montana, never making the move to the metropolitan areas where many musicians flock to find success. Bozeman is Desperate Electric’s home, and they don’t really see that changing anytime soon.

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Ben told us that Bozeman’s music scene “is hungry … and it’s not the same anywhere else.” With numerous bands and many more talented musicians, it’s hard to find a similar culture. There’s something about Bozeman that cultivates inspiration and draws talented folks, and Desperate Electric harnesses this energy to make music that exemplifies the community.

Kayti told us that their music is somewhere between electro-soul and electro-funk, even though both of them wish they could say that they make music in the genre of “we do whatever we want.” This speaks to Bozeman’s music scene at large. With the amount of talented bands and musicians in one town, Desperate Electric finds support for everything they do, and that’s what makes Bozeman home. They can make whatever music they want and still find an audience.

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Maybe it’s the scenery or the supportive community, or maybe it’s the vast amount of bands playing shows in the Gallatin Valley on a regular basis. Whatever it is, we’re happy it’s happening, and we’re happy to see bands like Desperate Electric find their groove and make a name for themselves outside of Montana without having to pack up and move. At the end of our conversation, Ben left us with a piece of advice for aspiring musicians in Montana: “Don’t move to LA.” And really, we agree. Stay here. Find your favorite local act, head out for the night and enjoy your weekend. It doesn’t need to be much more complicated than that.

Check out Desperate Electric’s second album, Super: The Remix, featuring many of Montana’s favorite bands and musicians, stream their music on Spotify, catch them on tour, and be sure to watch their Hyalite Session where the two perform a stripped down version of their song “Hopeless”, filmed by our very own Taylor Barrett (video below).

Studio photos by Patch William | Live shots by Jonathan Spear

Follow Desperate Electric – Instagram | Facebook

https://www.desperateelectric.com

Kitchen Dwellers – Muir Maid Album Review

By Antonio Wellman

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In Montana, The Kitchen Dwellers’ home state, the new age bluegrass band has grown beloved for their dynamic and energetic live performances filled with blazing fast solos and extended jam sessions. With their growing fame in Montana and around the country, The Kitchen Dwellers have returned with their second studio album, Muir Maid, to show us that they can capture the excitement of their live performances and transpose that onto a record––the only thing missing from the album is the smell of spilt beer and the stomps and hollers from the audience. 

Muir Maid was recorded and produced by The Infamous Stringdusters’ Chris Pandolfi. The band spent the last several years touring but still found time to write an album that is as tight as it is refined, an impressive feat in and of itself. While The Kitchen Dwellers are indeed a bluegrass band, Muir Maid blends bluegrass traditions with modern psychedelia, reggae, and electronic styles to create what has been dubbed “Galaxy Grass”. The album is familiar while filled with the excitement of the new, it’s a premonition of what bluegrass is becoming as it thoroughly roots itself in the culture of the American West.

Musical cross germination like this would be impossible without the musicianship each of the band members possess, and each song showcases the band’s talent with memorable riffs and lyrical lines. The main riff on the eleventh track, “Foundation”, asks listeners to dance and have a good time, but with other tracks on the album we’re reminded of the depth of the music with lyrics like: “Ghosts know that God casts shadows”. Muir Maid simultaneously achieves contemplation and thrill, a testament to The Kitchen Dwellers’ abilities as musicians and songwriters. 

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Lyrically, the album takes a page from the traditional bluegrass playbook, complete with themes of love, loss, and alcohol, but the Kitchen Dwellers update these themes for the modern age––painting vivid pictures and telling captivating stories that are relatable for the bluegrass listeners of today.

The second song on the album, “Broken Cage”, starts with a joyous and bouncy instrumental section before singer/banjo player, Torrin Daniels, tells a tale of a lonely life on the road. The juxtaposition of contentment and loneliness in the lyrics is mirrored by the juxtaposition of the reggae halftime intro and more traditional fiddle lines and solos dispersed throughout the track. Like much of the album, “Broken Cage” defies expectations through the seemingly effortless blend of both theme and genre.

Muir Maid asks us to be active listeners with its use of effects and minor keys you wouldn’t find listening to Earl Skruggs or Bill Monroe. This is exemplified on the instrumental track, “The Living Dread”, which liberally employs wah, whammy, and delay effects that send the breakdowns into space before more traditional solos bring the listener back to earth. Muir Maid feels like a celebration of music, what the American West has been, and what it’s becoming. The album takes us on a journey through genres that will remind you of the bluegrass of your grandparents while simultaneously being removed from that tradition. It’s uncanny, it’s beautiful, and frankly, it’s fun to listen to. Once again, the Kitchen Dwellers impress. 

Photos by Taylor Barrett

Learn more about The Kitchen Dwellers and find out about their upcoming shows here: https://www.kitchendwellers.com/

Stream the new album, Muir Maidon all major platforms.

Also, be sure to check out their new music video for “Shadows”, which debuted on Billboard.

Zak James: From Montana to Brooklyn

By Taylor Barrett & Max Wellman

Moving around and music have always been a part of life for rapper and Montana native, Zak James––they’re intertwined and innate within each other. Growing up, Zak moved 28 times and attended six different elementary schools in Montana. Born in Billings, Zak also lived in Butte, Great Falls, and Helena. Because of this, he told us he always felt out of place growing up, and sometimes a little socially awkward, but maybe that’s what brought him to the stage. Music gave Zak an outlet to express himself, a space that wasn’t given to him by the classroom, a space that allowed him to grow out of his introverted nature and transition into the hyper-extroverted music industry. He needed to be willing to speak to anyone and everyone––whether that was face to face or through the microphone.

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Zak started to hone his craft at a young age by writing poems about his hamster and about how much he hated eating vegetables, but since then his music has come a long way. Zak brings a lot to the table, his music is upbeat and positive, but it’s also contemplative. He told us that he just wants his audience “to feel something,” that he hopes to spread positivity and inspiration. And this makes sense because that’s exactly what Zak does in his own life. He told us that if he inspires someone to start “a taco stand” or a small business, he’s happy. 

Zak originally got into hip-hop in the sixth grade when he ran across an mp3 player that was lying on the curb. A lucky find that introduced him to several songs by Nas, songs that ended up inspiring him to start writing his own music and exploring the genre.

There was something about rap that resonated with Zak. Growing up without much of a father figure, he could relate to the artists that share their story of also growing up in a single-parent household. What inspired James the most was that despite the odds, these artists he respected and admired had confidence and were able to spread their messages––whatever they may be––through rap. Zak told us that at a young age this was empowering, and that’s when he realized he wanted to do something similar with his own life.

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Because of Zak’s deep connection to his Montana roots, he told us that he includes references to his home state in every project that he produces––giving a shout-out to the home and culture that helped shape who he is as an artist. Zak also credits Jesse Frohreich, a.k.a. Farch, with helping him refine his lyrics and put them into motion, mentioning that he had a lot of content, but Frohreich’s advice helped him toward finding his own style and voice as a musician. James also mentioned that Eddwords is currently one of his favorite artists out of Montana.

On a broader spectrum, Zak draws influence from some of the contemporary greats, including Mac Miller, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and Joey Bada$$. He enjoys the fun-loving spirit of Mac Miller, the accessibility of J. Cole, the talent of Kendrick Lamar, and all he could about Joey Bada$$ was that he “is on another level.” All of these influences can be heard in Jame’s style and within the variety of musical genres that he dabbles in.

While Zak grew up in Montana and sees it as his home as an artist, he recently moved to Brooklyn, New York, following his dreams and trying to make a name for himself. And you can bet his songs aren’t about his pet hamster or his disdain for broccoli anymore, now they’re about who he is, what he’s done, and what he hopes to achieve.

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Moving to New York wasn’t easy. James had to leave his family, his friends, and his growing fan base behind, but, like a lot of people who move thousands of miles away, he finds comfort in social media and the fact that he can move across the country and still bring his music to his friends and fans back home. While it was hard to leave Montana, he told us that it was more of a celebration than anything else:  it “was like a big send-off,” with nothing but love and support from his home-state fans. He told us that this was something special about Montana, something he hopes he can also find in New York. He told us Montana has “a close-knit community where everyone cares,” and “people will go beyond themselves to support you just because.” 

Not only did the support from Montana help drive Zak to pursue a career in the music industry, but it also allowed him to refine a style that was separated from the standard geographies of hip-hop. Zak brought up that since Montana is landlocked and in a space outside of the East or West Coast, it was easier for him to acquire influences in a different fashion than you might expect. Rather than growing up in New York and being inspired by Jay Z, or growing up in Los Angeles and being inspired by 2Pac, he told us that artists from Montana have the ability to freely pick and choose their influences. As a result, he mentioned that in the Montana hip-hop scene, it’s harder to define what sub-genre is most prominent, instead, it’s just “all over the place.” And you can find truth in Zak’s insight when you hear his music and the artists that he collaborates with.

Zak works alongside Eric, a.k.a. Numerik the Scientist, Michael Graef, and Reid Graham. You will also see James collaborating with Montana filmmaker Colter Olmstead for a majority of his music videos, and bouncing song ideas off of Chloe Gendrow and Josh Edwards––helping him develop a creative space through the presence of his friends and fellow artists. 

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Music has helped Zak grow out of his introverted nature; it’s allowed him to unearth and manifest the culture of his communities and spread his story. But the biggest part of hip-hop for Zak is the freedom it allows him as an artist, saying: “sometimes, I just enjoy dancing and being goofy.” 

You will also find Zak creating in more arenas than just music. James has his own clothing brand alongside the help of his close friend, Oscar Fossum. Now in Brooklyn, Zak recently launched a new line of hats under their brand entitled, “Badmouth”, with the slogan, “Speak for Yourself.” In short, the dude is versatile.

Whether it’s writing lyrics, performing on stage, acting in music videos as multiple characters, or designing his own clothing, Zak’s charismatic personality is nothing shy of impressive. His desire to spread positivity, love, and a general passion for life is frankly wonderful, and as someone looking in from the outside, it’s easy to see that this is only the beginning. 

Badmouth

Get a feel for Zak’s music and style with a trip through his music videos, the making of his first full-length album, and our interview with James himself.

Also check out Zak’s latest music video, “I’m Not Concerned”, produced by Jak Flames and Eric G. the Scientist, and filmed by Michael Graef, with assistance from Mick Pengilly.

Find Zak James on all major platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, SoundCloud, Amazon Music, and through the links below. Also, be sure to check out Badmouth Clothing and their newly released hats.

Follow Zak James – Instagram | Youtube

Badmouth Clothing: http://www.badmouth.store/