WORDS: ISADORA SCHAPPELL '17
IMAGES: ANI ACOPIAN '16
I first heard of Zack Kantor when I was 16. His band, Loose Buttons was a fixture of the New York City scene. They melted my Arctic Monkey’s obsessed heart, with their smartly crafted rock songs (and it certainly didn’t hurt that they were hot high school seniors when I was a sophomore).
Three years later, I have ditched the bright purple hair, The Kooks tee shirts and some of the angst. But I can’t shake the inner fan girl that comes out when I sit down with Zack on a Tuesday night for a glass of wine (bought for its hilariously ugly label and shockingly low price) to talk about his music, his look, and the songs he wants played at his wedding. Zack is the real deal, sweet, serious and undeniably cool.
Isadora Schappell: How did you get started playing music?
Zack Kantor: I started playing guitar when I was twelve. I took lessons but I didn’t like them, so I taught myself through my band. We’re called Loose Buttons. We played around New York in high school. And that's how I started getting better. I was pretty bad at the time, we were pretty bad at the time, but we couldn’t tell.
IS: What was your favorite New York City venue?
ZK: Don Hills. That was the spot. The shows were never 21+, so it was all just a bunch of kids. We would go there and fuck some shit up. My whole high school would come out. It was fun. We once broke the door of the bathroom. No one knows who did it. None of us admit to it. It wasn’t me. And the owner got so mad at us and refused to let us play there after that.
IS: What is Loose Buttons up to now?
ZK: We’re still playing. We play shows over the summer and winter breaks. And they’re coming up for CMJ in a few weeks. We record during the school year. They will track drums, bass, and vocals and I’ll just record a bunch of guitar tracks here and send them to be mixed. We play shows and write when we’re together.
IS: How did you transition from the sound of Loose Buttons to your solo project?
ZK: I’ve always been making music on my own. I’ve been producing music since about sixteen. Two or three years ago I started making these songs that had a very similar style under the name BEAMS. I released two songs this summer. It was all with the help of this Brooklyn label called Cascine. It was really cool; the songs surprisingly got a lot of hits. They released the two songs on a sub-label they run, they release a lot of really good indie pop.
IS: Do you prefer working solo or collaboratively?
ZK: It's a very different process. I like it much more on my own because I’m picky about arrangements. When I have full control I know just what I want and I set things up that way. In a band at the end of the day you are a fourth or fifth of the group and you can control your part, but if another guy really likes his part you have to settle, instead of just getting rid of it. However there is something great about playing with a band. It’s more productive; you set aside time, and like you go in for 3 hours and kill it and then your done. Whereas with BEAMS I just sort of do it between classes and hanging out. Its hard to be proactive and force yourself to do it when its just you, but it is possible.
IS: What songs do you wish you’d written?
ZK: Anything off “Is This It?” The Strokes are the best band of all time.
IS: The Strokes are the white bread of music.
ZK: The songs are perfect. Sure, they aren’t amazing musicians or whatever but they write just perfect pop songs. They were the first ones to do that sound.
IS: What music influenced BEAMS?
ZL: There’s a very specific style of pop music I like. I’m obsessed with pop music but I hate most of it. BEAMS particularly comes from low-fi pop stuff like Washed Out, Tori Y Moi, etc. I’m trying to take that pop sound and combine it with more dark dance-y stuff.
IS: Where does the BEAMS look come from?
ZK: I’m really into graphic design. I feel like the music is one thing, and at the end of the day people are going to come back to your music if they like it but they’re going to click on it in the first place if it looks cool. So if you make something look interesting, it’s almost half the battle to get them there. Obviously it’s about the music but the combo of good aesthetic and good music makes an artist a bit more special. It’s just the type of design that I like: very sleek, minimal, “future pop-y”. It’s super clean, but the sounds are layered and airy.
IS: What projects are you working on at Wesleyan?
ZK: I have a bunch of projects going on, none that I take super seriously. It’s all for practice and about getting better. In Honeylung I play bass. I play guitar tuned down an octave to play bass, clearly ridiculous. But fun. I do it because its always fun to play shows here, anyone who has can vouch for that. And there are just so many people to play with and do shit I wouldn’t otherwise do.
IS: What’s your involvement like with Aural Wes?
ZK: Three years ago Sky gave it over to Cal Hickox and me, and we redesigned the site (a few times). We just passed it down to two new guys, to Zander Porter and Chris Gortmaker. They’re going to kill it. We’re trying to create an archive of all the shows coming to Wesleyan. We want Aural Wes to be a place people can go to find out what’s happening that weekend; we put on a weekend preview of all the concerts happening each week.
IS: What design work do you do?
ZK: Over the summer, I worked in creative strategy; using data and analytics to influence the actual creative of brands like Converse and Budweiser. I don’t want to work in music—it’s depressing. I don't want to be writing about music or management or music business. It’s dealing with something you wish you could be doing, instead of just doing it. I’d rather work at something else and keep doing music on the side.
IS: What song do you want to have playing at your wedding?
ZK: Okay, I’ve thought about this. Have you seen the movie Submarine? Alex Turner did the soundtrack. It’s beautiful and sappy. The song is “Hiding Tonight”.