[PREMIERE + Q&A] ‘The River’ Is Zach James’ Escape from Past Relationships

Photo Credit: Miles Morales (@nateedwardsss)

By Alissa Arunarsirakul // May 14, 2020

Zach James may be young, but he’s got the maturity of a seasoned songwriter. The Austin-based singer-songwriter has never been one to hide his emotions when songwriting, and he continues to wear his heart on his sleeve for those of us who need to hear his touching storytelling. An impressive collection of five tracks, The River is James’ newest effort that’ll take you through the several tough stages of an emotional breakup. 

On The River, Zach James reflected,

“This project is the culmination of songs that I’ve been working on for about two and a half years now. As a whole, ‘The River’ represents a place I go to internally to ‘wash away’  any negative feelings I have about past relationships in order to finally move on. Like seasons of a year, each song on the project represents a different ‘season’ in the breakup stage of a relationship. Starting with spring and ending with winter, until finally getting to a place where it’s time to ‘lay my liver to rest’ in the river and find peace in sadness.” 

The Hidden Hits has your first listen of The River below:

To celebrate the release of his new music, we recently chatted with Zach James about authenticity, closure, and of course, The River.

HH: For those who don’t know, how did you first get into music?

ZJ: I’ve always known that music is what I want to do, but I really started to work at making it my full time career when I was about 15 years old. When I moved to Texas, I started to play a lot of small dive bar/coffee shop gigs, kids’ birthdays, in front of shops, etc. Any way I could get in front of people and sing, I would immediately do it. I’ve been singing and playing piano and guitar since a really young age but figured out that I love to write as well when I started high school. I would come home and lock myself in my “studio” room, hop on my MacBook, and write for hours. I learned how to work Logic and got some recording equipment so I would just upload anything I wanted to Soundcloud for my friends to listen to.

HH: What led you to relocate from New York to Texas? How did the move affect your music career? 

ZJ: I moved to Texas with my family when I was in high school. My dad wanted to relocate so we just picked up out of nowhere and moved, haha. It definitely was a shock to my family and everyone we know, but the move was definitely one of the reasons why I am still doing music to this day. I didn’t really have much support in my hometown and not many people believed in me or what I was doing, but when I moved to Austin it was like a complete 180. I gained a lot of love and support and it was very unexpected to me. I credit the move for saving my career all the time.

HH: You’ve shared that The River represents some sort of safe haven. Is there somewhere in real life that brings you a similar feeling of comfort and relief? 

ZJ: It’s going to sound super corny, but whenever I’m in any setting playing music is when I feel the most comforted. If I feel super off or just need some time alone, just being in my room writing or being at the studio and making music always gets me out of my head. I can seriously be having the absolute worst day ever, but the minute I start singing or making a song it’s just an instant relief.

HH: Has creating The River offered you some sort of closure? What did it feel like to reflect on the relationship during the writing process?

ZJ: Oh, it 100% did. I really felt stuck on the person the project is written about for the longest time. I think writing each song was just one step closer to moving on from all the emotions I was going through. It’s crazy because even though most of the EP was written with the thought of one person, it kinda evolved into being about a completely different person once everything was completed, so it was kinda like I was revisiting old emotions but they were also there the entire time. It was a very interesting feeling to look back on it while writing though. I remember when I wrote “December,” every emotion I felt exiting the relationship just FLOODED over me. It’s super overwhelming, but I think thats the beautiful thing about writing songs. Getting the chance to reflect and look back on certain experiences can be very emotional, but it ends up being a very cathartic thing when the song is completed.

HH: Your music really does reveal your authentic self that’s unafraid to be vulnerable. Have you always been as open as you are now, or were you more reserved before you pursued songwriting? 

ZJ: Thank you so much, I appreciate that! I definitely had some struggles with being as open as I am now at a young age. I was going through a lot of mental abuse from a lot of people and that really shut me off to being comfortable with myself. Songwriting really was like my only escape. I could be in a situation where I couldn’t quite vocalize how I felt, but then go write a song about it and be able to express myself that way. It took a lot of work and time, but through singing and writing I figured out how to push myself out of my own head and learned to be vulnerable.

HH: If you could collaborate with anyone in the music industry, who would you pick?

ZJ: That is a hard one, haha. I have a list in my notes of a shit ton of artists that I want to eventually work with. But, right now, I think I’d want to collaborate with FINNEAS and Billie Eilish. I’m absolutely in love with both of their music, and their songwriting is insane. I think we’d make some really great music, even if it never came out… just being in the room with them and doing something creative would be wild.

HH: What are your three hidden hits?

ZJ: My three hidden hits are “Makeup Drawer” by Isaac Dunbar, “Haunted” by Bad Bonsai, and “BRKN” by Madison Ryann Ward.

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