Artist interview: Musicians, Zee Gachette and Sebastien Heintz
I caught up with Zee and Seb via email ahead of their massive Australian tour. Still soaked in sweat from electrifying crowds at Glastonbury, Z-STAR DELTA (UK) return to Australia with a blistering festival and venue tour, kicking off in September. This time, Zee and Seb will be crossing five states with their ‘Face The Iron Ram’ tour (presented by Onya Soapbox and Muthastar Records).
The pervading myth about Z-Star Delta indicates that the duo was born on the road in Australia. Is that true?
Zee: Totally true! We first came over in 2015 as Z-STAR for some festival shows, which we performed with Aussie musos on Drums and Bass. Then we had the opportunity to play a heap of shows as a two-piece, which was meant to be an “unplugged version” of Z-STAR but those gigs just evolved into something else entirely.
Seb and I had a whole new chemistry. We couldn’t help but write new songs, and create new sounds. The diversity of our musical influences and backgrounds, along with the energy and stunning Australian landscapes and people inspired something completely new.
Seb: It was really later on when we came back in the UK, that we realised what had happened - and we thought the project deserved its own name, and space. Hence, the conception of Z-STAR DELTA down under, and its birth in the UK ;)
Have you toured the Z-Star Delta concept to other places too?
Seb: Yes, predominantly in the UK but it looks like the rest of Europe and South America is calling us in 2018.
How does Z-Star Delta differ from Z-Star?
Zee: So Z-STAR is the mothership. It’s the full-on Rock’N’Roll Psyche Soul project, with up to five musicians on stage. I sing and play electric guitar, as well as write and produce the music. We’ve got a new album coming out in early 2018 - called ’16 Tons of Love’. Then there’s Z-STAR DELTA...
Seb: Or The Delta, as we like to call it, which is the exploration vessel. It represents the confluence of our two universes.
Zee: Seb and I come from very different backgrounds....countries, musical educations, career paths and even musical influences - and yet when we come together as Z-STAR DELTA it’s so effortless and energising. The connection is deep and authentic. It’s all about the music.
Seb: The Delta shows have a lot of light and shade. We’ve got some heavy tunes. We rock out too! But we also chill out, with lapsteel and acoustic guitar...delta blues style. We throw in electronic sounds, crazy vocal effects, looping. There’s a lot of space for experimentation! It’s pretty intense for us on stage, but I love every second. We like to take the audience on a trip;)
What is inspiring you creatively at the moment?
Zee: Being together in a rehearsal room for five minutes is enough to inspire a new song! And being back in Australia is doing it for me! We were at Yama-Nui studios in Keils Mountains with gorgeous Gumtrees all around, and we started our first tour rehearsal by writing a new song...which we performed the next day at Mitchell Creek Rock n Blues Fest.
Seb: Yeah being in Australia, and being in the same room as Zee definitely helps! Which doesn’t happen every day, given that I live in Switzerland. For me - I don’t tend to over think the actual process of writing, all I know is that I need to feel like I’m putting emotion into my work. It also has to feel new and original. Fresh. Lately, I’ve been discovering a real love for electronic music and synthesizers. So you’ll be hearing more of that in the Delta!
Do you think about issues such as brand and marketing strategy for your music?
Zee: We’re lucky that we don’t need to think about that too much. We just go with what feels most authentic to us, to the music we’re creating. We like to keep it as real as possible. There’s no point pretending to be anything or anyone else. And the people we work with all respect that and support us with that vision. At the end of the day, we’re a cottage industry...we’re independents with integrity. I run OH Studios in the countryside in the UK, which is mostly where we write and record, we’ve taken press pics and shot music videos there, done t-shirt screen-printing, manufactured CDs etc.
On our last trip to Oz, in November 2016, we stumbled upon a stunning beach in SA that inspired us all, so we ended up shooting a music video there on our day off. It’s all very organic and natural.
Seb: I guess, we have an ideal plan for the year and then we have to roll with the opportunities that present themselves in response to what we put out there. It’s important to be flexible in this industry.
One of the cornerstones of marketing says that a confused customer buys nothing. Does Z-Star have a different brand presence to Z-Star Delta? Do you deliberately communicate that to your audience in specific ways?
Zee: Fortunately, I’d say the fans get it. We’ve not experienced any confusion. And the good news is that if you like Z-STAR DELTA, you will probably love Z-STAR too. And vice versa. It’s just like a beautiful tree extending its’ branches so you can reach out and enjoy a different piece of juicy fruit from each branch. I also have another project, called SLOW TRAIN SOUL that was released in Australia a few years’ back. That’s my more electronic side. Most fans are pretty savvy and enjoy joining the dots, and discovering all the fruits this musical tree has to bare.
I think we have opted to communicate Z-STAR DELTA in a more rootsy manner...It’s the delta. It’s Denim, not Glitter.
How important is it to you to tour (as opposed to solely being studio artists)?
Seb: We started as a live band and we just love playing our music for people. It’s all about sharing and togetherness. If you think about how people started experience music, it was always live. It’s only later on that recordings made their way out to the world. I truly think that playing live is an amazing opportunity. You get to experience the songs totally differently to when you’re recording them, and most of all you get to sing to a crowd of music lovers that sing with you and respond to the songs.
As a duo we can take the songs in different directions every night; improvise, develop ideas and create live on the spot. The stage definitely has a crucial role in our lives. Plus we love being on the move. We’re truly grateful to be able to tour Australia from West to East and North to South. It’s such a beautiful and inspiring country.
Zee: Yes, touring is fundamental. Artists’ bread and butter. It makes everything we do in the studio worthwhile, seeing folk happy, inspired, energised. And we get to pour fuel into the songs onstage and ignite them! I like to tour the tunes before we record them. Really break ‘em in!
You have a reputation for an amazing stage show. What is it about performing that energizes you?
Seb: The electricity and the energy of it all. The crowd, the sound, the light, the air, the technicians, the adrenaline and rush of delivering everything perfectly with perfect timing, the depth of our songs, connecting with Zee, connecting with the audience… It’s everything. It’s a just a beautiful community of people that are moved by music, and we feel we have to give it our all every time we get on stage.
Zee: I just love it! And I especially love performing with Seb.
Is your audience in Australia building steadily? What do you attribute that to?
Zee: Yes, it’s growing and growing. You lot seem to really love what we do, what we’re about. Festivals keep booking us, so we’ll keep coming back! Plus sheer hard-work, commitment, and constant professional evolution. Keep moving forwards and upwards! Be a better version of yourself every day. Stay humble, and be thankful for every person that’s made an effort to leave the comfort of their home, the sport channels, Netflix...and be there at the gig! Make it worth it!!
On stage, you are super engaging and totally present. I get that same vibe with your Facebook posts and social media work. Do you deliberately have to get on the socials or is it something that comes naturally to you?
Zee: Well I’m glad you do. I have to be honest, I dip in and out. I might be excited to share a pic on Instagram of a new vintage amp at the studio, and I try to share gig news. But you won’t see me complaining about toothache, or posting an animal pic! I’m not hooked on technology in general - when I’m mixing, recording, writing...I’m present to the music and my phone might have run out of battery hours earlier.
However, I’ve got to say that the sheer immediacy of the artist/fan relationship online these days is amazing. It’s a beautiful thing. I remember when I was signed to a major label (pre-FB days), my only connection was with music lovers after gigs, so I started gathering email addresses - which later became my saving grace when I went independent.
Seb and I are lucky that the third (invisible) member of the band helps with social media! So shout-out to Lucy our manager. I do know, that it takes a lot of work - and she encourages me to get in front of the camera (which I feel more comfortable with these days, it took me a while to warm up to it!), or she switches on Facebook Live and catches moments in the studio when we’re jamming and don’t even realise someone’s filming.
What’s your preferred space to hang out online?
Seb: I would definitely say that Instagram is my favorite. You get to see pictures from around the world. You’re actually traveling through it. And it’s one of the only social media on which you are directly connected to arts (photographs, videos, music etc.). Also, I love to see pictures from my favorite artists in their studios or on stage. I haven’t got time to see many gigs these days, so it’s nice being able to stay connected with them. I’m also quite a fan of YouTube. Just for the same reason as Instagram. There are tons of amazing music videos on it. I don’t watch many movies but I tend to watch tons of music documentaries and live footage from my favorite bands.
Zee: I don’t really have the time for hanging out virtually, I’d rather do it in person. Or have me a brain break with Netflix!
Do you use any scheduling apps or any tools to help you maintain your social media presence?
Zee: Nope, although I can see the benefit. I think Lucy linked the Instagram, to the Facebook, to the Twitter, to the kneebone! We definitely cross-pollinate certain video or gig posts/events.This 'Face the Iron Ram' Australian tour that you're currently rolling on through is massive. How do you give everything you’ve got night after night?
Seb: You know, we feel so grateful to be out here and playing live to all of our fans and friends. That’s the real driving force. We also try to have an healthy lifestyle. We’re not getting wasted night after night,like many Rock n Rollers do! Squeeze in as much sunshine, surfing and sleeping as we can!
Zee: Home-cooked meals on the road where possible, that’s my job!
Do you think about music as a job?
Seb: First of all it is a passion, a long time love for both of us. So, of course, it demands time and work, but it’s only pleasure. We’re both willing to do it because we love it. We’ve got such a great team with our tour manager, Lucy. So it is really easy for us to tour and work together. We all support each other.
Zee: Yeah...good, positive vibes the whole way! To be able to live from doing what you love is an absolute gift from the universe. There’s constantly so much to do, especially if you set yourself high standards, and strive for excellence. But more often than not, when you do what you love, it’s hard to call it “a job”.
Do you have any tips for musicians who are just starting out?
Seb: Be creative. Don’t be scared to go off-piste. Most of all, be happy with what you do, be proud and believe in yourself! Every freakin’ day.
Zee: Appreciate and be thankful for all those around you that support you with your vision. We can only achieve great things together. Find your voice! Also...gather email addresses. I remember thinking MySpace was all I needed. Wrong! And the same thing could happen to Facebook, it already feels like people are choosing to disconnect from it. Make sure you’re in charge, and you’re in contact with your fans - if you’re in it for the long run.