Zach Condon

Zach Condon’s voice is as sure as a sunset. The 23-year-old songwriter and singer of Beirut has a delivery as refined as Serge Gainsbourg, and a croon reminiscent of Yves Montand. But while he is still young by music industry standards, his rise to the spotlight did not happen overnight.

Condon is quick to cite a raw teenage imagination that compelled him to become a musician. It was with him before his travels to Paris, where he spent afternoons watching kids play pawn shop instruments on the streets. It was what comforted him after he dropped out of high school and would stay up late, sneaking wine from his parents’ cabinets, and dreaming about leaving Albuquerque, New Mexico. One could also argue that it was this very same artistic drive that led him to the unpaved streets of Teotitlan del Valle just outside of Oaxaca, Mexico, where he met and recorded half of his latest album, March of the Zapotec/Realpeople Holland, with a local seventeen-piece orchestra of amateur musicians. Speaking over the phone from his apartment in Brooklyn, Condon lies down on his bed next to his cat Orly and says, “I feel that teenage imagination is really important. I feel that my music would be really boring without that really over-the-top dramatic creativity that started the whole thing.”

SOMA took a moment to speak with Condon about finding confidence as an artist, being a pathological liar growing up, and what he considers truly mysterious about making music.

This isn’t the hand or wrist you hurt?
No, that’s the other hand.

How did that happen again?
I fell off a bridge when I was 14-years-old. All of the riverbeds are bone dry in New Mexico, so it got broken pretty bad. It’s funny, when the weather changes it bothers me quite a bit.

Regarding fortune tellers and ancient customs existing in a modern world, I wondered if you are fascinated by the way some things continue to live past trends and time?
Totally. The music I was following down in Mexico had probably been developing in that small area for hundreds of years. I was really attracted to how deep those melodies run. Some are only used for the best celebrations or worst of times.

What do you think you were looking for in Mexico?
A lot happened that year. I was kind of on a big fence in my career. I started to doubt my intentions. However, I also started listening to all of my old music from when I was 16-years-old, and writing little pop ditties for myself. That’s why I released these two EPs together. I was trying to figure out these two halves and which route was better to take. My life is so intertwined with music that if I say something like, “What goes next on the next album,” it’s like saying what comes next in my life.

What did you think you found down in Mexico?
I found some confidence. You know, I never thought of myself as a professional musician. I began to feel like I was cheating or something—like I didn’t have what it took to be doing such epic music.  I went down there and realized that I could kind of demystify it for myself.

Can you comment on the stay at home New York resident Zach and the intrepid traveler?
I’m realizing that I am more of a homebody. Music was just my imagination running wild, so when I had my first chance to be interviewed, I just wanted to create the person I wanted to be. I used to be a pathological liar as a kid. I used to tell people all sorts of shit I never did.

Like what exactly?
Oh God, I used to tell people that I was in all of these crazy adventures that I had never been in. I used to work in this independent movie theater that used to play only a lot of French films. I was convinced that I was born in the wrong country and I told people, long before I spoke a word of French, that my family was French. I would just make it up as I went along.

Can you remember a particular rough spot you were in when you were down on your luck starting off as a musician?
There was a year when I went home and I was recording Gulag Orkestar and I was fucking waking up at seven in the morning and serving coffee and scooping ice cream all day at the Häagen-Dazs in Santa Fe. I felt like I was a complete failure.

So how did you cope with that fear?
Well, my great escape was always music. I had my studio at home and that was enough to keep me proud of myself.

What do you find truly mysterious about making music?
That it’s kind of a phenomenon. Think of hearing church music in your house, like a hymn or something. And then think of that moment when you walk into a giant cathedral where it all of a sudden resonates one thousand times. That’s mysterious. I don’t even know how to explain it other than to attempt to put an image to it.

– Patrick Knowles

This reading is by Lena, who has no idea this palm belongs to Zach Condon.

1. Once they’ve set themselves on a course, any change in direction will be exceptionally difficult.

2. Tactile learner, more than audio or written. This is one who, as a child, tended to take objects apart. Do not give them a screwdriver and turn them loose.

3. Creative sexually, but only with their long-term partner.

4. Has a serious temper which is pretty much connected to anyone who stops him from going his own way.

5. Strong-willed individual, impulsive, but not to a fault. He will go his own way and find a practical way of doing what he wants to do. The initial impulse, however, will tend to come from way out in left field!

6. A perfect evening for this person would be in front of their own fire, wearing pajamas, drinking good brandy with a good friend or two and having a conversation where they can listen more than they speak.

7. Tends to be a collector of things with texture: antique furniture with fine-grained wood or marble surfaces. You’ll never get that really soft old flannel shirt away from him, regardless of the condition of the elbows. Never!

8. Career and hobby will merge early in life. It will be a successful merging.

9. Not overly fond of travel because it contains too many unpleasant textures, such as economy class airlines seats and airport food. They enjoy the exotic destinations, but do not like the travel itself.

10. Will prefer things to cash. They would be more likely to invest in art or land, amassing not a great wealth, but some lovely and possibly valuable collections.