Right now us residents on the Northern hemisphere at least triple layer before entering the outside of our homes. The thought of sun, outdoor hangs and not wearing ski underwear seems almost utopian – at least unreal. In Australia, on the other hand, January is the time for heat waves and shorts. And damn fine music to accompany this, too. Meet Great Outdoors, Totally Mild member Zachary Schneider’s solo project. I came across his song ‘I Look Back’ browsing the never-ending cyberspace, and got captured by the music’s repetitive dream-universe instantly.
After a couple of days playing the song almost religiously on repeat I came up for air and decided to reach out to Zachary. Being the trooper that he is he agreed to do a Q&A, which led to a chat about adding marimba to a pop-song, playing in 13 bands at once, and trying to be less juvenile.
1) Hi Zachary Schneider, aka the brains behind Great Outdoors. Thanks for talking to us European Northerners. So, just to get it all started – hit me with 3 words you associate with Great Outdoors:
Hey! thanks for looking down under.
2) Why these words?
These are all pretty literal. The three major types of the ‘great outdoors’ or holiday destinations.
Relating to the music? This album is mostly about relationships and maybe that subject can be boring. However it’s what 90% of pop music is about so I’m guessing it can be pretty good too. Also I guess a relationship could be likened to a mountain. Also I guess I could’ve said tundra too.
Tropical just comes through in this music. I like Exotica, I like Jazz Fusion, I put marimba and kalimba on it…it’s there.
And finally, in this band I’m mostly on my own. I have many collaborators but ultimately this is desert island stuff…hanging out on your own and digging inward.
3) You’re pretty busy music-wise, playing in bands like Free Time and Totally Mild too. In other words it seems like you have your hands full – do you get something specific from Great Outdoors you’re not getting from the other things?
I love shedding on TM or FT but in this band I get to write my own songs.
4) According to Soundcloud you’ve been posting songs for some years now, but it isn’t until now you’re getting serious about releasing a whole album. Why is that?
I get around. There was a point where I was playing in about 13 bands at one time, doing two to three shows in one night. There was no time to do my own thing.
As much as I love playing shows and having fun with friends, a lot of that was procrastination (and maybe for the free alcohol (which is a terrible motivator)). You’re right! I wasn’t taking my own thing seriously. It’s funny; making this record has come with an attempt of straightening out and becoming less juvenile. However Free Time just did a few shows with Mac DeMarco. I don’t remember much, but what I do remember wasn’t particularly graceful. It may have defined ‘juvenile’. I’m still learning how to balance this stuff so I can stay productive.
5) I read an article that pondered a lot about whether it was a dream or a memory you are reminiscing in the song ‘I Look Back’ – can you let us in on what it’s really about?
How vague memory can be when it’s combined with jealousy. Maybe that’s where the dreaminess comes in? Memory’s already pretty sketchy. You get splintered shards of imagery combined with what you think happened. When jealousy enters the equation it can be more about what’s convenient, what you can twist to your cause. Learning to believe your own lies. Learning to drop that and work on yourself.
6) Now we’re on the subject of songs and lyrics; how is your writing process?
Chords and melody come first. I’ll record a voice memo with whatever lyrics come into my head. That can sometimes stay. However my best results are when I listen back to it, sing along and write the lyrics separately.
It’s hard to be proud of your own lyrics, which is why I sometimes take my hands off or just tweak them slightly. Still, I’ll never succumb to the trend of smothering my lyrics in reverb or delay. No-one would ever hear them. I hate that, people should stop doing that.
7) The thing that got me hooked on Great Outdoors, especially ‘I Look Back’, is the subtlety of the repeating melodies mixed with a very dreamy vibe. All in all just very comforting, I feel. What was/is the your intention with Great Outdoors and the sound of it?
I’ve fallen in love with Japanese music from the 70’s and 80’s, such a great attention to detail, but still very simple at times. I want what sounds I decide to keep to be bold, but very warm and well rounded.
On a songwriting level I’m getting into writing things that don’t repeat themselves as much and just expand as they go along. ‘I Look Back’ is a bad example of that, it’s just a good pop song that you can have a lonely dance party to, a favourite activity of mine.
8) Best activity to be doing while listening to Great Outdoors?
Asides from a lonely dance party? Well, at any house I’ve ever lived in there has been an outdoor area close to the stereo. You sit outside, have a cigarette and melt into your chair on a hot summers night with a good record. I hope this album makes the grade for other people in that sense…that’s what it’s for.
(It could be a half decent driving record too).
9) What is the future of Great Outdoors? More importantly; will you visit us here in Europe soon?
Totally Mild will be in Europe again this year! Our bass player Lehmann B Smith is already in Great Outdoors, maybe we can do a couple of joint shows together. I would really love that. I’m already making the follow up albums for both those bands so that’s the primary focus at this point.