Interview: Zane Carney Headlines LA’s El Rey Theatre January 26th
Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Zane Carney is known for his work with artists such as John Mayer, Avril Lavigne, Bono and The Edge of U2 in the Broadway musical ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark,’ John Daversa, and his former band CARNEY. Zane got his start in the entertainment industry through acting and has been playing music nearly all of his life, being influenced greatly by various genres including jazz, blues, and rock n’ roll.
Currently, Zane is gearing up for a headlining solo show at the world-famous El Rey theater in Los Angeles, California on Thursday, January 26th. I caught up with Zane to ask him about his upcoming show, his current and past projects, and what he has in store for fans to enjoy this year.
- Q&A guide: AD = April Dalaman, ZC = Zane Carney
AD: Hi, Zane! Thanks for taking the time to be interviewed my MFST today. Can you tell fans who haven’t gotten a chance to see you play before what they can expect from your upcoming live show at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles, California this Thursday, January 26th?
ZC: For people who haven’t seen my show before, a central theme of my live performances is improvisation. Improvisation is a big part of what I like to do live specifically on the guitar. What I’ve heard from audience members who have been to my previous live shows with CARNEY, the band I used to be in, from playing with John Mayer, and those things, it seems like a lot of people would agree that improvisation is a big thing that I do.
Coming to a solo Zane Carney show, the fundamental twist is varied interludes to almost film score sections where the whole show almost feels like once piece of music, which is really fun for me because I get to be free and transition in between keys and create a mood which wouldn’t be possible with improvisation. I will say, I think the vocal still is the star of my shows in equal parts to the guitar. I like the vocals to be really clear and present. I take singing and communicating songs vocally extremely seriously. But I’ve been a guitar player since I was ten, so being into jazz, blues, rock n’ roll, and folk and playing with a lot of different artists over the years behind us when I was younger, there’s so many things I’m into on guitar that I think shine through as well.
AD: Can you speak a bit about the new music you have coming out, or is it under wraps for the time being?
ZC: Sure! Yeah! People have been asking about my new music and new recordings specifically ever since I released my last record in 2014. My first two albums were released independently and I sold them on tour with John Mayer. He had me sell them at his shows and I had them at my headlining dates in Europe and Australia and I did stuff in Asia and America. These next batch of recordings that will be released in 2017 are my first ones released on a major label and really full length debut album with me singing. So, I think the recordings are a byproduct of the last 3 years of growth.
The fact that I’ve been writing with Avril Lavigne for the past 2- 2 1/2 years has influenced my songwriting quite a bit. Just getting to stand next to John Mayer for 3 years on tour and see what he’s doing with songwriting and to see his songwriting skills has been a tremendous help. So, I’m hoping these recordings show my spirit and show who I really am as an artist, more of a breakout emotionally of who I am and what it means to listen to my music. Also, working with John and Avril as songwriters, I think I’ve learned a little bit of how to capture my spirit in 3 minutes, versus 7 1/2 minutes. I love ten minute songs! I love classical music, orchestrated music, and film scores, so there’s always been a soft spot in my heart for ten minute pieces of music. I think it’s important right now to write music that’s 3-4 minutes max that really show what I’m about. I think this next record, my first full length album, is going to be really clear to people what I’m about and I’m excited, and I hope the songs coming from the past 3 years are really clear. It’s not, “Oh wow, this kind of sounds like ‘this mixed with that,’ it’s more of like people are going to come away hearing the new recordings thinking, ‘This sounds like a new sound,’ a little bit at least, hopefully.
AD: How was working with artists like Avril Lavigne and John Mayer, and touring with him? What did you take away from those experiences as far as your stage presence and your song writing. What were some of your favorite moments during your time with them?
ZC: I will say as far as stage presence, the greatest lessons I learned were in my band CARNEY, and side note, that band CARNEY is actually backing me up at the El Rey this Thursday! It’s so exciting! CARNEY was my band with my brother Reeve who has now gone on successfully as an actor. He was the star of ‘Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark’ on Broadway and one of the stars of the TV show Penny Dreadful. He’s also one of the best singers in the world and one of the most creative songwriters. We had a band, and in the that band I had full control of my stage presence and could do whatever I wanted, so I really developed my stage persona and stage presence on that tour. My persona and presence really are authentically me. I found freedom in CARNEY to really dress how I wanted to, to throw my guitar harder with my left hand without being scared that an artist I was playing for would get angry about that, so, I learn how to be true to myself in CARNEY.
I think that the greatest things I learned from working with Mayer and Avril, and I’m still working with Avril, is learning how to communicate really honestly and truthfully with a larger audience. I think that’s what I’ve learned. They’re masters at maintaining their integrity and being true to themselves while speaking to a large audience. As a former and current jazz student, that’s a lesson I think I learn more and more of. I also take inspiration in recording from guys like George Harrison who are clearly incredible on their instruments, but sound a way that transmits the melody and that’s another thing I’m trying to work on.
AD: I know you can’t give TOO much away, but any hints on when your new album might be released? Will any of the new songs be played at your show this Thursday?
ZC: The good news is, yeah! I would say 7-9 songs I’m playing at the El Rey on Thursday are gonna be a live debut of basically my first debut album, which will come out later this year. The new songs work so well with the live band. People who know about me from before know that a lot of my solo shows the past 2 years have been solo, just guitar and voice with some looping thrown in, but a little bit more leaning towards my jazz guitar nature. I’ll do walking base lines, a lot of gymnastic guitar playing and stuff while singing so it kind of sounds like an orchestra or a full band is playing, but at this El Rey show the full band is happening, which means I can really pull off these new songs and really perform them and convey them the way that I want to. I do this song called “Something In The Water” that I’ll be playing at the El Rey. I think I’ll be playing a song called “Doctor, Doctor” that I’m really excited about. I’m playing a song called “After The War” that I’m also excited about too, and a song called “Better Man.” A lot of these will be pretty brand new for the audience, and for new listeners that I’m reaching through this interview, I guess everything’s brand new!
Another thing that’s special about this upcoming show is that I’m going to have 2 rhythm guitar players, including my brother Reeve on stage right, so I can really play lead guitar for this show which is one of the things I’m most excited about! I gotta say I love playing rhythm guitar. A lot of people would compare CARNEY, my former band, to Radiohead and Jeff Buckley. Those songs were filled with guitar parts, so I do love playing guitar parts, not just taking lead solos, but I’m kind of excited about being able to rip really long solos with incredible guitar players backing me.
AD: Our website creators and it’s readers are big comic book fans! I know you were apart of ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark’ on Broadway in New York. Can you tell our readers a little bit about that experience? Were you a big fan of comics growing up also, or did you get more into the comic world afterwards?
ZC: I was working on ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark’ on Broadway and it was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. We became a family, we bonded, and the first 6 months of the show I was onstage. That was Julie Taymore’s vision. Julie Taymore is the director of the imcompraible ‘Lion King’ on Broadway, which is the best-selling Broadway show of all time. I was onstage in her version of the show, so I got to see all of Spider-Man flying and my brother used to say that my role in Spider-Man as the lead guitarist of the show was to be Spider-Man’s soul throughout the show. He would fly around the audience and I would get to do these crazy leads. It felt sort of like you were hearing Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s spirit. I really loved being a part of that show where I could really give to the show. My part was written by The Edge and Bono from the band U2. Obviously, The Edge is an incredible guitar player. I got to do a lot of parts that he wrote and I got to come up with my own stuff. They let CARNEY influence the show a little bit. It was a really special time.
As far as being a comic book fan, the only superhero I was really into as a kid was Superman. I’ve had some deep discussions with friends about this because a lot of people tend to either be really into Batman or Superman. I think Batman is more the guy who uses his resources, money, brains, and whatever he has around him to defeat a villain, whereas Superman is more with his supernatural or Godlike powers. I think kids who like Batman maybe are a little more gritty and rough-and-tough and make things happen and kids who like Superman, like myself, are maybe a little more sensitive and like the idea of more of a perfect Godlike figure to rescue, save, and make things okay finally. I don’t know what happened in my childhood, but I like Superman! (laughs)
AD: I’m more of a Superman fan too! I think we’re in the minority… Most of my friends like Batman more! (laughs) Though, Batman does have the coolest villains, I think. I know U2 played a huge part in ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.’ Have you been always a big fan of their music and do you feel that you received valuable advice from them while working with The Edge and Bono. How do you apply that to your current music?
ZC: The honest truth is that I was not a huge fan of U2 before ‘Spiderman,’ not because I didn’t like their music, but because I hadn’t dived deep enough into their records to really understand how brilliant they were. I was more of a jazz fan as a kid and then I got into Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead, Jon Brion, Fiona Apple, and Jeff Buckley, so I was leaning more into classical and jazz and 70s classic rock n’ roll. U2 started more in the late 70’s-early 80’s so I kind of missed them by going from jazz in the 50’s and 60’s to grunge, so I kind of missed a lot in certain ways, but once I got ‘Spider-Man,’ I was working and learning their stuff and went, “This stuff is brilliant!” It’s beautiful, it’s ethereal, and now I understand why so many churches refer to U2 and their music because it’s holy, the harmonic resolution they have going on.
Then U2 asked us to open up for them. CARNEY opened up for U2 on their final show of their ‘360 Tour’ in New Brunswick, Canada and I got to see them live. On the way up, I listened to every single one of their records on the long drive we had and I was like “Oh my God!” and became a die-hard fan. I think “Songs of Innocence” is amazing! I think it’s a brilliant album and I think they’re incredible.
As far as how the experience changed my thinking, Edge was very, very sweet to me and so was Bono. Bono said some really nice and supportive things to me about my guitar playing. What I learned from them is sort of what I learned listened to George Harrison, which is that it’s the space and clarity of the melody that hooks the listener in to make them feel like they’re part of the journey and Edge is a master at that. I took a lot of notes on that show in ‘Spider-Man’ and tried to learn as much as I could about communicating, because at the end of the day that’s what I want to do. I want to communicate as clearly and without any sort of fluff, straight to the listener’s ear. So, I picked up the things I could learn from them, Edge, Mayer, Avril, and different people to try to put on shows that are wildly extravagant as far as sounds are concerned, but still achieve something that is personal and relatable.
AD: U2 are incredible! Their music really does provide a very spiritual experience. I think those who play music onstage and those who hear it as a diehard fans can understand the church like experience of community and feeling through music. How did you first get into playing guitar, singing, songwriting, and immersing yourself in the entire experience of being a musician?
ZC: I started around age 10 playing guitar. Shortly thereafter, I began playing oboe and really fell in love with the language music, musical theory. I was around 12 or 13 when I discovered Wes Montgomery, and that passion was instilled in my from that moment on. That’s how music kind of started for me. When I was around 18 or 19 I was thinking about going back into acting because I used to act as a kid and David Foster, an incredible Grammy-winning producer, heard me play and asked me to play with Michael Buble. I was a background vocalist in CARNEY. I sang tenor and baritone in vocal jazz groups in high school, but I never sang lead vocals seriously until after Carney broke up. After that, I realized I didn’t only want to play other people’s songs for the rest of my life. I love doing that, but I knew I had other things on my heart that I wanted to share. I went to my voice teacher who helped me become a pretty solid background vocalist in CARNEY and said, “Do you think if I start singing lead that you could help me out?” By 2013 I released my debut EP ‘Confluence.’ My voice back then was still emerging and now I feel not only confident as a singer, I find as much joy singing as I do playing the guitar. I love singing just as much now because I’ve worked my tail off as best I can the past 4 years and it feels really authentic to me. I feel like I’m communicating my spirit and my soul when I perform.
I got into song writing because of Neil Young’s “After the Goldrush.” I did a concert where I had to sing that entire album and my friend Joe Firstmen, who just headlined a festival in Mexico called the ‘Tropic of Cancer Concert Series’ that I also got to perform at, so, Joe and I go back a long time and he had me learn “Goldrush” and we played it in its entirety, and I chewed on those lyrics and I saw what was happening in the song structure and my mind was really blown for the first time. As a jazz musician I always analyze harmony and melody, but to analyze song structure and lyrics was new for me and after that, about a week later I wrote my first song.
AD: It feels as though you take inspiration from many places. Where do you get your inspiration from when you write a song. Is it more of a personal observation in your life or more of a commentary on the world and other things. What do you feel makes a “good song” a “good song?”
ZC: Whenever I co-write, I tend to come from a world view perspective. “How does this relate to someone?” When I’m writing for someone else it’s, “How does this relate to you as an artist? How does this relate to the audience you’re speaking to?” You can usually tell the ones written by me based on the lyrics. I think co-writes are a beautiful thing. I think a lot of audience members dog on the modern wave of songwriting where it’s like, “Oh, there are fifteen writers on this…” I get it. I think there are reasons why that can be lame, I totally get it, but then again, Elvis Presley… I don’t think he wrote any of the songs he sang. Frank Sinatra didn’t write most of his own song either. Michael Jackson wrote about 50% of his songs, and that’s amazing, but this idea that the singer-songwriter being the only true artistry has not only been not true for the past fourty-to-fifty years, it also hasn’t been true throughout musical history. To be a singer-songwriter and to be good at it is a really special, world-class thing. I’m doing the best I can to get better at it every day, but someone like Ryan Adams, John Mayer, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, they don’t come along very often. To really be a gifted one is really challenging.
So, for me, when I write my songs by myself, they come out like nothing. They come out within a night or two and they’re done and the lyrics are personal. They’re sometimes a little cryptic or mysterious. I have a song that I’m playing at the El Rey show on Thursday called “Maybe I’m Young” and I think that when people first listen they think it’s about a guy feeling like he’s not old enough or wise enough, but the core of the song is a disconnect between man and God and that man, I sing it as me. I think you can pick up on that just from the verses. I love writing songs that are deeply rooted poetry. When I write songs by myself you can tell.
When I write a co-write, a song that’s more singly, I have a little more playful fun with it and that’s another beautiful, fun expression. I think both are great parts of expression. Like in an athletic game, sometimes it’s fun to watch a dunk and something it’s fun to watch an incredibly, meticulously done play that involves five passes. The thought of passes is much more cerebral, much more challenging. It requires a lot more effort and skill and practice. A dunk is pure athletic skill, gifting, and talent. They’re both beautiful though, like a song. So writing a song that’s for the masses, to reach a lot of people, to strike a chord in their hearts the best I can, that’s just as beautiful as the songs I write at 3am that are essentially poetry put to melody. I like it all!
AD: The NAMM show in Anaheim, California just happened this past weekend and you got to attend. What did you get to check out there this year? We’d love to hear a bit about what you debuted or performed there!
ZC: The NAMM show for me was really effortless and fun this year. Normally when I go to NAMM I do all 4 days there and run into everyone I know, shake hands, and when I started playing with John Mayer people took pictures. This year I went for two days and debuted my Zane Carney Signature Model Hofner Jazzica. I had a signing and debut of it. I played it for some people, and people came by and played it all weekend, so that was one thing I did today. Yesterday, I did stuff with JHS Pedals and a few other things.
I came in this year more as an artist and popped in to mainly do appearances and leave, which felt kind of too easy. NAMM to me is supposed to be crazy! Like, “Oh, I just pop in and leave? Okay, alright, see you guys!” (laughs) So it was a very different NAMM experience for me this year. I had a great time though. It’s so much fun. I wouldn’t say I’m an extreme extrovert, but I do gain energy from being in people’s presence. Of course I go in and hibernate and do my stuff for music, but I really enjoy people and I’d say one of my big passions about being alive is being around people. That may be obvious for most people, but I don’t know. I know for a lot of artists their reason to live is to make music, and for others it’s maybe to write poetry. I live to connect with people. For me, that’s what makes me feel most alive. Music has been a beautiful avenue for that. So going to NAMM is amazing. If you’re an introvert it can be absolute hell (laughs) but it’s really fun. Though, I do tend to lose my voice when I go to NAMM, so I wanted to make sure that I only did 2 days this year because the big El Rey show is coming up and it’s expected to sell out. I wanna give 800 people the best show they’ve ever seen and heard. At least the best show of 2017! (laughs) So I want my voice to be working!
The highlight of this year’s NAMM show for me, and unfortunately I can’t get it soon enough, was the Ryan Adams VCR Pedal. They only had a prototype and they couldn’t give it to me because it’s Ryan’s prototype (laughs). I wanted to use it at the El Rey show. It’s the best chorus pedal I’ve ever heard in my life!
AD: I feel you on that. NAMM is exhausting, but it’s always blast, like a big family reunion and music wonderland rolled into one. I just heard your amazing cover of The Beatles’ hit “Helter Skelter.” It’s so great! Out of the massive Beatles anthology, how did you choose that song to cover?
ZC: Thank you! I’m actually going to be performing “Helter Skelter” at the El Rey on Thursday! The reason I chose to sing that song is that I had surgery on my voice about 2 years ago. We discovered that I had a birth defect that was causing my voice to hemorrhage and get swollen a lot and I was developing polyps almost every other month. We finally solved that, and once it was solved I started developing a new part of my voice which is this sort of Steven Tyler range, screaming, high rock n’ roll vocal. So, as an exercise I figured, well, now that I can do this in my vocals lessons, I’d love to pick a song to do it with and I picked up “Helter Skelter.”
It’s just really fun to sing, and it also shows off the guitar because there’s a huge guitar solo that I do differently for the record but I just go into this sort of droney power chord land and I do whatever harmony I want on top of it. I can go major. I can go minor. I can go kind of Egyptian. I can go double harmonic. I can go all of these different ways. It’s a really, really fun song to do live. The cover I did on YouTube is just a guitar and voice cover. The way I’m going to do it at the El Rey is gonna be, for me, one of the highlights of the show. I already know it. It’s gonna be so fun!
AD: Do you have any words of wisdom or advice that you can give to any aspiring musicians or anyone trying to do what they love in the industry while maintaining their sanity and happiness in such a fast paced, difficult yet fun, industry?
ZC: If you meet someone who’s figured out how to do it the right way, please give them my number, 555-(laughs) I mean geez, it’s wild! I don’t do things perfectly at all. Heck, I do this in my eyes, like, 5% correctly… But my goal, which I achieve about 5% or less of the time (laughs) is to live it day by day. So, “Today’s challenge is…” When I wake up is sometimes as musicians we work so late that when I wake up it’s like, noon, and that for a lot of musicians can be a really depressing experience like, “Oh man, the day’s already gone. How am I gonna get my emails done? How am I gonna get all of my gigs booked? How am I gonna deal with my management if I have management yet? Oh man, I woke up too late!” There’s a lot that goes on with musicians on the inside, the emotional aspect of it, but the important thing is staying strong and saying, “Nope, you know what? Maybe I woke up a little too late, so I’m gonna maybe get these three things done and tomorrow I’ll wake up a lot earlier and get the rest of the work done then.” And so, taking it day by day is very important to me.
Another thing is finding joy. If the practice session is not fun, if you find no joy in practicing, maybe the performance aspect is not for you. Not in the sense that you shouldn’t be performing, but in the sense that you might get not joy out of it. But if your someone like my friends who I went to college with, or like me even, I love practicing! It’s my favorite thing to do in music, even more than rehearsing, and sometimes even more than playing live onstage! I love practicing. So if I can find passion in that, that keeps me going. Because if worse case scenario, if I have a terrible day and a gig doesn’t sell the way I want it to, I can always go back to practice. That’s kind of the home center that keeps me sane. That’s the best advice I can offer, and that’s the advice I try to give myself.
The cool thing is, if you don’t find joy in music in one area, you can find joy in music in another area! I know guys who find so much more joy in managing artists than they do in playing, and they’re happy doing that. I know people who find more joy in singing than playing guitar, and they can do that. Even if others say you’re better at something else, what do YOU find joy in? Discover whatever it is, and do that! Author Howard Thurman has a great quote about that which says, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
AD: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat, Zane. As we wrap things up, what do you have coming up after your El Rey show? What else can fans look forward to from you this year?
ZC: I have some pretty creative stuff coming up. I’m definitely planning on recording the new material sometime before April 1st this year. We’re hoping to have the entire album done by April 1st. Then, I’m also planning ongoing on tour, opening for different people, doing some headlining shows, probably opening for some bigger artists with new recordings in hand!
Be sure to catch Zane Carney’s headlining LA show with opening acts Corey Harper and Aly Ryan at the El Rey Theater (5515 Wildfire Blvd.) on Thursday, January 26, 2017. The concert is open to all ages attending, with doors opening at 7:30pm and the show beginning at 8:30pm. Tickets are $18 for general admission presale, and $40 for VIP which includes meet & greet, acoustic performance and more.
*** Buy your tickets before they sell out here: http://www.axs.com/events/326152/zane-carney-ticket
Stay up to date with latest news on Zane Carney here:
- Website www.zanecarney.com
April Dalaman covers entertainment for MFST. You can follow her on Twitter at @AprilDalaman.
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