Zach Pietrini, front-runner of the eponymous The Zach Pietrini Band, is the definition of an up-and-coming musician in Milwaukee. Nominated two years in a row for Best Band in Milwaukee by 88Nine Radio, Pietrini is building on his already steady fan base through the release of his newest album Holding Onto Ghosts last month. Pietrini will bring his signature “salt-of-the-earth Americana” sensibilities to our next MilMag Live event at The Back Room at Colectivo on Monday, April 10. (Check out our Facebook Live interview, too!) We sat down with Zach to chat about everything from music to Milwaukee.
How did you get into music? When did you start wanting to do it as a career?
I’ve been playing music since I was a little kid. I started off with piano lessons when I was five and then stopped, but then picked up guitar when I was in middle school and started writing. After that, I threw myself into my music and have been doing it that way ever since. All through high school I was in bands, though none of them were any good, and in college it was kind of the same, but then I took some time off from college to just write, perform and record an album. That was the first one I did, which was about 10 years ago. I’ve been really pushing it and trying to make music a career throughout these past five years.
How would you describe your style of playing and writing?
The words we usually say are “salt-of-the-earth Americana,” which is an everyman’s approach to music. It’s a very accessible genre and that’s what I want. My approach to it is kind of plain storytelling, so you can hopefully see yourself in the people or situations that I’m presenting. On this new record, I tried not to get too far away even from myself. Pretty much the whole thing is about me wrestling through my own junk and trying to figure out who I want to be as an artist.
How does this album differ from some of the projects you released before?
Just from a personal growth standpoint, I think I’m becoming a better writer and also a better musician with each project I put out. But with this one, we knocked it out pretty quick. We just locked ourselves in a house and did it. I got a bunch of guys who’ve just been playing forever to play on it, so they’re seasoned musicians. But really we just worked really hard on the front end, doing weekly rehearsals before recording and constantly playing through stuff. With this project, I also forced myself to be in the driver’s seat because no one else really understood the vision the way I do.
What would you say is the vision for this album?
For this album, I wanted you to feel bits of the past. I wanted you to know that this is something that’s rooted in an older movement of music, but also one that still has freedom to create new things. I wanted to keep it sounding kind of old, but with new sensibilities and language that people can understand and really get into.
What are some of your musical influences, particularly for this new album?
My influences are definitely centered around Ryan Adams and the Cardinals. They released a record about 10 years ago called Jacksonville City Nights that I always cite because they nailed what I’m trying to do perfectly. On the other end of the spectrum for my new stuff is Jason Isbell on Something More Than Free. I am of course also inspired by the old classic Americana, like the Flying Burrito Brothers.
Have you always been located in Milwaukee?
No, I’m actually from the northwest suburbs of Chicago and then I lived in the city for a while. I moved up here about 5 or 6 years ago. It was kind of a last resort, moving here, but I ended up loving Milwaukee. When we moved here, I was actually going to be done with music, but I bumped into some people who helped get me going again. People are really good about giving musicians opportunities up here. I also think it’s unique to have as many people rooting for each other as there are in this city. That’s been really great for this record and to help propel us to the next level.
What’s your favorite venue you’ve ever played in Milwaukee and what’s your dream Milwaukee venue?
The best venue we’ve played so far is Anodyne. We love playing there – it’s just so vibey and they’re so kind. As for my dream venue, I’d love to play at the Pabst. I love the theater’s seating, it has a lot of character and it’s in a good location.
What’s next for you and the band?
We just finished the album release process, and I just got home from being on tour all March. We’re doing a vinyl release show at Linneman’s at the end of the month. We’ve also got an EP we’re going to release that we recorded just a couple months after the full length. I’m going to do some more touring around the Midwest and the south. Basically, we’re building the brand and trying to get more followers and traction. The hope is that we’ll be able to open for a national touring act, hit the road that way and just see what happens.