Art Born Out of Generosity
Zach Pietrini is making a big name for himself as “Milwaukee’s Americana Crooner.” He has been playing locally for the past five years and has released five albums, with his 2017 release, Holding Onto Ghosts, identified as one of “The Best Milwaukee Albums of 2017 (So Far).”
Zach Pietrini and his band greeted 2019 with a new release, Denver Sessions, and held a release party spanning two nights at Twisted Path Distillery in Milwaukee’s Clock Tower Acres neighborhood.
Playing to packed houses in an intimate listening room venue on Friday, January 11 and Saturday, January 12, Zach Pietrini brought his own special style of Americana to enthusiastic audiences. On Friday night, Zach Meyer opened for Zach Pietrini with a solo set of personal songs. Saturday night’s opener was Chicago-based singer-songwriter, Paige Hargrove.
Both of the opening artists have personal links with Zach Pietrini. In addition to singing and performing, Zach Meyer runs The Coalroom, a Milwaukee-based production studio. Meyer mixed and, along with Zach Pietrini, co-produced Holding Onto Ghosts and Denver Sessions. Paige Hargrove is a close friend from Zach Pietrini’s days in Chicago and recently toured with Zach in a number of shows in the southeast.
There is a unique story underlying Denver Sessions. Just after completing Holding Onto Ghosts in early 2016, Zach Pietrini got a call from a friend who was a fan who offered to fly the band to Denver and sponsor studio time. Zach jumped at the chance. The band completed seven songs in 20 hours in a live session. He’s very proud of how the band connected in the studio. With good reason when you hear the intensity, vibrance and mood of the album. Paraphrasing Zach–when art is born out of generosity, it can be much better, much more emotional and honest.
Backed by his four bandmates, Zach performed all of the songs from Denver Sessions during both nights of the release party at Twisted Path. The band also performed a number of songs appearing on Holding Onto Ghosts. Zach also used the party as an opportunity to showcase new music he’s been developing.
All of the songs were written by Zach, with the exception of “Mile High Fire,” which was written by Eric Anderson, Zach’s long-time keyboardist and frequent partner on acoustic shows.
The songs are very personal to Zach Pietrini—they tell the tales of lost love, desperate hopes and the challenges faced by many singer-songwriters in crafting their art while paying the bills and raising their families.
Inspiration and Emulation, Not Imitation
Sit down and listen to certain of Zach’s tracks, like “Learning the Hard Way,” and images of Tom Petty flow into your ears. Zach smiles when you tell him that and says that he was raised on Otis Redding and Tom Petty and that “those guys are still big guys to aspire to.” Zach says that he’s “not exactly like an R&B guy but certainly Petty and his writing style are very much an influence on me.”
While Zach’s song-writing is influenced by others, he brings his unique style that he labels as Salt-of-the-Earth-Americana. The Americana genre is perhaps most populated by Southern artists—many located in Nashville and its surrounds. That’s an area that Zach describes as the home of Americana and where its roots are. Zach almost moved there from the Chicago area. Instead, following job opportunities, Zach and his wife moved to Milwaukee, where he is raising his family.
The benefit for us in having Zach Pietrini here—expanding Americana to the North with a distinctly Midwestern focus.
One random tidbit we learned during his shows this weekend: Zach Pietrini does not like smartphones. He expressed his frustration during the show about having to give up his flip phone. He’s irritated that his carrier ‘just doesn’t support them anymore.” Eric Anderson commented that Zach’s finally being dragged into the 21st century.
A Personal Conversation with Zach Pietrini
I had an opportunity to sit down with Zach prior to his album release. Here is an edited extract from our conversation:
If you look at the classic definition of Americana, it’s a blend of country, rock and roll, blues music and R&B. How you get to Salt-of-the-Earth-Americana?
For the salt of the earth part, I want my music to be accessible. I don’t want to get too funky with imagery or with telling stories that are not my own. I want to be honest in my music and I want it to come through. It’s not pretentious. Anybody is welcome. That’s the attitude we were hoping to convey. These are the stories that we are used to.
I don’t want my music to convey the impression that you aren’t cool enough to be here. Being relatable, truthful and honest. That is a lot of what I try to strive for. That’s why we chose the phrase.
You bring a lot of your personal experiences into your music.
Yes. For me, it’s hard to tell a story convincingly if it’s not mine. It can be done here and there, but that’s just not me and how I approach my music.
Think of all the genres that exist. I think Americana is one of the more honest—one of the places where it’s more acceptable to sing about yourself and your experiences. To just be plain. Americana lends itself to telling the truth.
There’s a kind of push and pull of sweat versus inspiration in Americana. You have a good story and you put it through your own lens. This genre lends itself to allow you to give your perspective. That is what attracted me to Americana and it’s the reason I listen to a lot of these artists, like Jason Isbell. That’s what I want my music to do.
I don’t want people to take me to a different place. I want them to show me the beauty that’s right here.
Do you prefer playing in a large or a small venue?
It varies. Some of my favorite shows are house shows. The whole point of my music is telling honest stories and huge venues and festivals may not be conducive to that.
It’s different. If you play at a large venue or a festival the set list will be drastically different from a house show or a listening room. Festivals will have lots of energy while listening rooms or house shows will be much more intimate.
The performing side of me loves the big venues with huge PAs—the story teller in me loves house shows and listening rooms.
Is it fair to ask where you see yourself in five years?
Gee, right now we are thinking month to month or day to day. I have two young kids and a lot of time is just focusing on them—sometimes our days just involve getting through work, putting the kids in bed at night and then crashing on the couch.
I would love to be doing more touring and recording. Perhaps I will get into producing. I’ve co-produced all of my own records. I would love to put in some distance and produce other people’s projects.
I am a multi-instrumentalist and, as I am getting older, there is less of a need for me to be the person in front. So maybe I will get more involved in other projects where I’m not the guy.
No matter what comes in the future, I will still write. Writing songs is a non-negotiable for me, whether I’m playing, touring or not.
What’s Next for Zach Pietrini?
Zach and his band will be going on tour through the Midwest and will make an appearance at South-by-Southwest in Austin in March. Following that, they will continue to tour through the South and Florida before heading back to Milwaukee.
Given the success of Zach Pietrini’s reception locally, as his national footprint grows, I think it’s safe to say he will be writing, performing, and telling his stories for a long time to an ever-expanding group of fans.
If you like to connect with authentic story-telling, give Zach Pietrini a listen. Even if it’s on your smartphone. Zach won’t care.
Tue 7 PM CST22 guests