“The kind of alluring character found in old children’s books.” – UTNE
“The main influence is that of Tom Waits. But if Zola has influences, he also has talent.” – VOIR
“To say that De Zola’s creative process and musical style are unique is an understatement.” – SLUG
“Cranks and curdles and clomps around his slithery croon tunes.” – CMJ
“A twisted, dystopian narrative straight from the mind of John Carpenter.” – ELMORE
“Visionary.” – BLURT
When Rahway, New Jersey’s J Hacha de Zola released Picaro Obscuro, the second of his two “urban junkyard” albums of 2016, he insinuated that he might not continue on to make a third, and if he did, his plan was to “lighten up” the sound that he has variously, previously (ominously?) described as “boozegaze.” Turns out maybe he was overthinking things, which isn’t so surprising for a scientist turned auteur.
Indeed, there was a time when J Hacha de Zola was very close to becoming Dr. J Hacha de Zola.
“I am a scientist because of my father,” he says.
And now he is a musician because of him, as well. A year deep into a PhD program after receiving his Master’s in Biochemistry from Seton Hall, Hacha de Zola’s father passed. Hacha de Zola had to quit school to support his mother and the rest of his family, but the situation presented another life change that pushed him into pursuing what was most important to him personally: making music. While selflessness and self-preservation may have motivated the first move, it’s the other side of the coin, the rogue life of an artist, that Hacha de Zola’s mother was seeing when she referred to her son as “antipatico.”
Antipatico (out October 6th, 2017) is the third album from J Hacha de Zola in just over two years and throughout that time, listeners have had the opportunity to hear an artist consistently gaining ground on his own vision and voice. Some artists change immeasurably over the course of three records, whereas Hacha de Zola is actually becoming who he set out to be.
“It is been an interesting exercise making the last two records (Jan., 2016’s Escape from Fat Kat City and Aug., 2016’s Picaro Obscuro),” Hacha de Zola says. “I wasn’t sure what I’d end up with or how I’d feel about what I’d done. It took time for me to become a ‘believer’ in what I’ve been doing, but with this record it’s become something that I feel is truly a reflection of my voice.”
As with his previous albums, Hacha de Zola (and his gaggle of cohorts and underground legends) is practicing his “reductive synthesis” method of, as he elegantly says, “shooting the arrow and painting the bullseye around it.”
Hacha de Zola explains, “I never go to the studio with songs written. I allow the musicians to be themselves and throw all they got at it. Then I’ll go and peel back the various layers to fashion a song from it all. It’s a pretty risky way of making an album because when it’s all done, you may have something that isn’t agreeable to you. Other times, you arrive at something truly magical and the songs take on a life of their own. There’s a certain kind of voodoo there that could not be planned.”
One example of this magical voodoo is the album’s lead single “No Situation,” about which Hacha de Zola says, “I write creepy songs or songs for creeps, but this one is a bit more light-hearted.” Truly, the song is a more accessible turn, though its subject matter is in a familiar lane. “It’s about the joy of forbidden fruit,” he says. “Of finding yourself in the arms of someone you know is completely wrong for you but being thoroughly intoxicated by their charms.”
The dark romanticism continues throughout Antipatico, reflecting the artist’s admitted newfound focus on a more personal side of his work.
“This time, it’s more Lee Hazelwood and Leonard Cohen than Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, or Captain Beefheart,” he explains. Other influences on Antipatico include Nick Cave, Perez Prado, Herman Hesse, HP Lovecraft, and Los Lobos, but Hacha de Zola reiterates that the songs of Hazelwood and Cohen were foremost on his mind, “especially due to their own darkly romantic songs and baritone voices,” he explains.
Even with many disparate influences, the sounds heard on Antipatico will be familiar to fans of Hacha de Zola’s short but prolific career. Returning is legendary sax man Ralph Carney, who is best known for his work with Tom Waits.
“Ralph has become a friend and ally who is always there for me when I need some that ‘something’ to take a tune to a higher place,” Hacha de Zola says.
Hacha de Zola is also joined on Antipatico by one of his heroes, Dana Colley, a founding member of Morphine.
“I grew up listening to Morphine and to have the man on my record is truly an honor. They reaffirmed the idea that it is important to be yourself artistically and to defy convention.” Actually, it is Colley who we first hear on Antipatico, as his horns open the album. “When I first heard it back, I immediately thought “Holy shit!,” Hacha de Zola exclaims.
Also on hand is Frank London of The Klezmatics on trumpet.
“I became familiar with Frank’s work a bit later in life when exploring Klezmer music. I have yet to hear a more ferocious trumpet player in that genre and his playing brought these tunes up a quantum level,” Hacha de Zola says.
Additional parts of the Antipatico crew include another Tom Waits collaborator, David Coulter (Percussion, Jaw Harp), Stefan Zeniuk (Woodwinds) and Joe Exley (Tuba), both of Gato Loco, Hank Yaghooti (Drums, Percussion), Jerry Ramos (Bass, Synths, Drums, Percussion), Lubomir Smilenov (Beatbox Kaval, Gadulka, MPC, Programming), Matt Dallow (Accordion) of Sunny Side Social Club, Ariel Guidry (Vocals), Diego Piccardo (Piano, Keys, Synths), Dane Johnson (Lead Guitar), Geoff Gibbs (Bass), and Gary Lappier (Guitar.)
“It’s quite a cast of players that have helped me make this record,” Hacha de Zola acknowledges. “I am very lucky to be able to take their efforts and apply my name to it, but I was never alone in making this happen and likely never will be!”
It’s that kind of enthusiasm that leads to the belief in the eventual existence of a fourth J Hacha de Zola album. For now, Antipatico, the artist’s third, arrives on October 6th, 2017, preceded by the lead single “No Situation,” streaming now.