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Acoustic Truths & Electric Lies

Mark Zane talks about his new release. An interview with Chuck Schiele.

Chuck Schiele: Tell us about your new release.

Mark Zane: My new album is titled Acoustic Truths & Electric Lies. It was recorded and mixed by John T. Brown at The Dungeon Studio in Syracuse, and mastered (with additional mixing) by Steve Sopchak at The Square Studio in Syracuse. It contains 11 songs with Part I containing the first five tracks that are generally acoustic and Part II contains the last five tracks, which are generally electric. I say generally because there is also electric guitar on two of the first five tracks and some acoustic guitar on two of the last five tracks. The middle song, “Choppy’s Food Restaurant,” is a commercial break between the two parts. This song is special to me because it’s the first song I co-wrote with my daughter, Janiya. We wrote the song when she was five years old in summer 2018 and it was the first song I wrote in five years, so she helped break my writer’s block. She created a fictional restaurant when she was 2 years old called Choppy’s Food Restaurant. I guess when you’re two you think the word “food” needs to be in a restaurant’s title so people know what’s served. Among other dishes, Choppy’s serves Chicken Parm Soup and Egg Pasquashio. I was able to work the first of these dishes into the song. This is one of two songs on the album my daughter sings with me.

CS: Is there a general concept or theme behind the album? Or, is it a collection of gathered songs?

MZ: The record balances truths and lies and generally the truths part is acoustic and the lies part is electric. Four of the five songs on the Acoustic Truths section are true songs about my family. My mother died after a long cancer battle in 2013 and my brother, Bob, died suddenly less than 17 months later. It took me several years to address their deaths in song. Finally, I wrote “One More Day,” a song about wishing I could see Mom and Bob for one more day. I know that’s a common sentiment, but it’s really how I feel. “Walks with Mom” is the slowest song on the album and the only track without drums. Mom and I often took long walks and the song addresses how I miss these walks. “Uncle Bob” is a song I sing to my daughter about my brother. She was almost two when Bob died, so, of course, she can’t remember him and the song gives some insight into her Uncle Bob. “Paradise” is a duet with my daughter. She often sings with me when I perform early gigs, and the song is about how singing together (whether at gigs or at home) is paradise. The only other song on Part I is “Enough,” a song that deals with many issues we’ve experienced in recent years, including the pandemic, racism, and economic inequality. I teach Sociology at Onondaga Community College, so social issues sometimes find their way into my songs.

The second, electric, part of the album is not as personal as the first part. Some of the tracks contain lies that I, or the song’s protagonist, tell ourselves, but with some of the songs it’s up to the listener to determine whether lies are being told. “Same Old Rhymes” is a song about being sick of hearing so many love and heartbreak songs. This was truly how I felt when I wrote the song, but I usually don’t feel that way about such songs, so when I perform this song live it often feels like a lie. The protagonist in “Cover Band” insisted his band would only perform original songs live, but eventually became a cover band to get gigs because the audience wanted to hear familiar songs. I certainly relate to the protagonist. In “Too Old to Care” I try to convince myself that, among other things, I’m too old to care about keeping up with the Joneses, going gray, or what other people think about me. I still don’t know if I’m lying to myself in this song. The protagonist in
“Stranger in My Bed” is back from war and can’t get the war images out of his head. He can’t adjust to civilian life and feels out of place, including next to his wife in bed. “Annalee” is the only song on the Electric Lies part that relates to my personal life, but it is still a fictitious song. The protagonist tried to make a career out of music, but was unsuccessful so he returned home and felt depressed and alone. Eventually he married and he and his wife had their daughter, Annalee. Their daughter is now four and she sometimes goes to her father’s gigs and in her eyes he’s a rock star, which makes him feel wonderful, so he made it in music after all.

CS: How long have you been on the scene here in Syracuse?

MZ: I moved to Syracuse in 2003 and started performing at open mics in 2005. In 2007 I got a regular gig at Laci’s Café at the Palace Theater (it’s no longer there), and I’ve been performing in the Syracuse-area ever since.

CS: When did you start writing songs?

MZ: I wrote a little in the mid to late ‘80s when I was in hard rock bands in high school, but nothing I wanted to keep. It wasn’t until late 2003, when I was 31 that I started seriously and consistently writing songs. This was soon after I moved to Syracuse to work at Onondaga Community College (I’m originally from Utica). I’m not sure whether it’s just a coincidence or if Syracuse inspired me to write. I wish I started seriously writing sooner, but I’m glad I eventually got going. I’ve consistently written songs since 2003 except for a five year hiatus between 2013 and the summer of 2018 when my daughter and I wrote “Choppy’s.” She was one when I unintentionally stopped writing. When our daughter was young my wife and I often fell asleep in the living room soon after putting Janiya to bed. I used to write at night, but now I was too tired and eventually stopped altogether. I’ve been writing slowly but consistently for the past three and a half years.

CS: What other writers do you resonate with?

MZ: I love James McMurtry (I’ve been listening to his new album a lot lately), Jason Isbell, Drive-By Truckers, The Bottle Rockets, Todd Snider, Randy Newman, Warren Zevon, Bruce Springsteen, John Prine, and Loudon Wainwright. I’m especially influenced by direct lyricists like Newman and Wainwright because that’s often the way I write. I wish I were a more poetic lyricist, but anytime I tried writing in such a style I haven’t been happy with the outcome.

CS: What do you like best about being a writer, and being a performing songwriter?

MZ: I tried writing fiction (mainly short stories) many years ago and I found the process painful. However, I truly love the songwriting process. I love when I get a melody and/or a chord progression I like and I love the process of trying to add lyrics to the song. I love the challenge because as songwriters we’re restricted by meter and rhyme and I’m always amazed when I complete a song that I was able to stay within those parameters. Although I’ve used my share of partial rhymes. It’s great performing originals live, especially when I receive a compliment about an original, and, of course, when I sell a CD!

CS: Tell us what you think is most special about Acoustic Truths & Electric Lies.

MZ: Having my daughter sing on two tracks. She was five when I recorded my last CD. She had a spoken word part on one song, but she didn’t sing. She was eight this summer when we recorded the new album and was ready to sing. It’s wonderful hearing her on these two songs. It’s also wonderful having three songs about my mother and brother. Writing, recording, and performing these songs have helped me deal with their deaths and I sort of temporarily bring them back to life when I perform these songs.

CS: What are your thoughts on the original music scene here in the Central NY area?

MZ: I’m amazed each year when I see the large number of entrants at the SAMMYS. I’ve been fortunate to hear many of these artists perform live and the songwriting talent in the Syracuse – and Utica-areas is humbling. I love that venues like 443 Social Club, Funk N Waffles, Al’s Wine & Whiskey, and Shifty’s showcase original music. Fortunately, most Syracuse-area performing songwriters include their originals along with cover songs wherever they perform. There were a number of cafes where I used to perform that encouraged original performers and were essentially listening rooms, such as The Buzz Café, Café @ 407, and Creekside Books & Coffee, but they’ve all since closed. Hopefully more such venues will open in the future.

CS: What’s in your near future for your music?

MZ: January is often a quiet performing month for me, but I have three gigs coming up. On January 7th I’ll be at Buried Acorn Brewery in Syracuse, January 14th I debut at The Fiddlehead in Chittenango, and on January 20th I’m at 110 Grill in Destiny USA in Syracuse. I generally perform at 110 Grill one Thursday a month, which is an excellent restaurant and bar right by the carousel.

CS: How do we all stay in touch with you?

MZ: I can be found (along with my upcoming shows at www.reverbnation.com/MarkZane, www.facebook.com/MarkZaneMusic, and at Bands in Town. People can also e-mail me at: zane_mark@yahoo.com. My four CDs can be found in physical form at CD Baby, Amazon.com, Off-Center Records in downtown Utica, and at all my gigs. My music can be streamed on Spotify, Apple Music, on YouTube, and many other streaming sites.

Chuck Schiele
Chuck Schiele is an award-winning musician, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, member of SaltCityChill.com and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write chuck.schiele@gmail.com.