It’s hard to know where to start with a guy like Zach LoPresti, native to Waterford, NJ. Music lovers in South Jersey and Philadelphia have likely seen Zach perform in one of his many bands, or perhaps they have attended Beardfest, or know someone who is a member of Zachademy. That one man is able to do so much is impressive in and of itself, but for someone to do all of it so well and (seemingly) effortlessly is truly remarkable. I first heard of Zach when I attended Beardfest in 2014. Beardfest is a festival local to South Jersey that consistently has an amazing lineup, beautiful grounds, and an endless crowd of friendly faces. I saw one performance of Out of the Beardspace and I was hooked. Since 2014, Zach’s projects have grown measurably in many different areas of his professional life. He was generous enough to sit down with me for an afternoon and tell me just how he manages it all…
K – First and foremost how do you classify your own professional life?
Z – I mean, the easiest, simplest thing is professional musician. Because it’s a multifaceted thing, and most of my income comes from teaching, but that’s still being a musician. I’m still using my professional musician skills to educate.
K – How did you start learning music? Or what was the thing that most shaped your musical skills and tastes?
Z – It’s really hard to say, but both of my parents are musicians. Particularly my dad, my mom kind of was off and on, but my dad through his twenties and thirties was performing a lot. He had some bands that got some momentum, particularly in the classic metal, hair metal kind of thing, drawing influences from Kiss and Van Halen and all that stuff. So, you know, growing up even from the time I was in my mother’s womb she used to put Beethoven on and put it on her stomach, all that kind of stuff, just play music for me. And I mean, some of my earliest musical memories are hearing my dad’s tapes of his band’s stuff that they had put out. Even at the time he was working on original music so some of it was current, a lot of it was from the late eighties, and I memorized those songs. I knew them like the back of my hand. So a lot of my earliest, earliest stuff was definitely through that, through my parents and what they were listening to. And my mom was into all that stuff too, but she was also into–I don’t even know artist names. And it sounds almost like stuff you would hear in a massage parlor, or stuff where you go, am I in Arizona? Kind of like, spacey flute music, desert-y, Spanish-esque guitar. So that stuff was cool to have early on. And I think as I’ve gotten older and as more time has gone by, in my teens and stuff I started branching out, taking lessons with people, hearing more musicians, and just being exposed to more music. I realized that there’s a much bigger world.
[So,] yeah, playing with friends, taking certain lessons, going to music camps, got a lot of different influences.
K – Music camps?
Z – Yeah, I went to the Berklee guitar summer course thing, that was a lot of fun I went to when I was 17. There was also this national guitar workshop thing I went to when I was 17. I was involved in the School of Rock and I was on this All-Star program so I did some touring then with John Andersen from Yes and toured Europe with The Butthole Surfers. [laughs] That happened. I did a lot of different things and heard a lot of different music and I still feel like I’m growing. I feel like a lot of my early to mid twenties were about trying to get away from my roots, in a way thinking, “I wish my parents had showed me more jazz and classical,” because I hear the depth harmonically and rhythmically that occurs in those general bodies of music and to me it’s just more powerful or something, or it was. I’m getting back to a point where I’m appreciating my roots but also still trying to really grow, but not wishing I had it different. Because you know, whatever. Whatever you had growing up is what helped shape you, and I feel like I kind of have my own sound and my own thing going because of it.
K – Evidently learning about music and how to play it has always been important to you. What was it that made you start Zachademy and what is your goal/vision for Zachademy?
Z – Well, I’ve been teaching since I was like 17. At that age I could play every Metallica song ever written and I had kids in high school with me who wanted to learn so I started giving lessons. I started teaching [professionally] at School of Rock and that was late teens early twenties and started doing some private stuff on the side. So over the last six or seven years I went from teaching at Rock School exclusively, then to having Rock School and a few students of my own, and that grew to where I was juggling a good amount of private students plus the Rock School thing, and really learning how to teach. I really enjoy teaching now, I really enjoy seeing students excel and be inspired and having a hand in that. So the reason Zachademy specifically started is because I was at the School of Rock in Cherry Hill in 2016 and I was the music director in the school. And I frequently didn’t agree with the management about how things were run at the school, about how we should get more students in, about how we should treat the students there. So lots of things happened over the course of 2015-2016, and I left. The students, as I suspected would happen, all chose to come with me, and that’s when Zachademy was born. Honestly, to where it is now, I don’t 100% know what the ultimate goal is for it. And I’m very up front with the students and the parents that I have my own musical career that is separate from it, although this is a part of it. So I kind of develop it as it makes sense with everything else. But the next step currently–I’ve been operating out of Gradwell Recording Studio, so the next step is to get a building that I’m going to co-own or co-rent with myself, Ethan Feinstein, who has also been a big help with developing the student body, Zach Smith, who’s the other part of musically running Zachademy, and Jeremy Savo, who’s also in Out of the Beardspace. So a bunch of my friends who are teachers, we’re going to go in on a building together and what that actually means as of now, I don’t know yet. But we’re looking for places and we’re gonna figure out how it all works together.
K – You’re involved in so many different musical endeavors, probably more than any other individual that I know. Why so many projects?
Z – Why… I don’t know. I don’t know how deep to get with this but I guess I have a certain idea of human potential, or something like that. And I feel like there are many, many things worth diving into in someone’s life, and I think there are many pursuits that are worthwhile. But I’ve always had this idea in my head of greatness. I want to be great. I want to see my potential all the way through. I want to take the crazy experiences that I experience, my dreams, what I imagine, and I want to make them a reality. And as far as getting there? I don’t know what the best route is, and I still don’t know, but I have things that kind of call my name, that say, “This makes sense.” So I think to answer the question, it’s that I see lots of opportunity coming from different places. There are different people that make sense to work with for different reasons, and I want to, especially at this point in my life, explore a lot of different things and get as much as I can from all of them to collectively build to something greater. And I don’t know exactly what that ultimate thing is, and it’s funny because the idea of me being at my best–there are times where I feel like I am at my best within any project. There are times when I’m watching a Zachademy performance and I’m just like, they sound amazing, I couldn’t be more proud. I’m just laughing consistently because of how great they sound. Or I’m playing something and I just feel totally connected and like everything that I’m playing is what I should be playing. It’s the right thing, I’m not thinking too much. Because I’m very self-conscious too. I totally cripple myself musically plenty of the time, but I don’t know. I do so many things because I’m trying to find the best version of myself, and because I get inspiration from so many different places.
K – Can you name all your projects off the top of your head?
Z – Out of the Beardspace, which is the band I’ve been in for years. Gnarbot, Hungry Ghost. Zachademy, I consider a band because I try to get them shows and stuff. Still do stuff with Nik Greeley and the Operators. And I have other complete side projects that get together once in a while such as Terminal Chank. A horribly named Tiger’s Goods with the guys from Muscle Tough and sometimes Eli from Dopapod, but we have all agreed that if we do perform again, which I think we will, it can’t be called Tiger’s Goods. Sometimes I play with a band called Crispy and the Way Outs. It’s mostly a cover band I play drums for. I think that’s it.
K – What is your personal favorite instrument and style to play?
Z – It’s such a hard thing to answer because.. Okay, guitar. And the reason I always say and what I think makes sense is that, I love drums because they’re so visceral and primal and very technical, to be able to accurately control all four limbs at the same and have them all doing their own things and being in the pocket, I feel like as a drummer there’s a lot of responsibility and I like that responsibility. But as a guitar player you have access to rhythm just like you do on drums, but you can also express yourself melodically and harmonically and, like, ya know, I write a lot of music. I have a lot of ideas, and I want to hear rhythms and I want to hear harmonies and I want to make them. So I can physically say more on the guitar. And I love bass too, and I’m trying to become a more adept bass player, but I’m way, way better I feel on guitar and drums. They’re very natural.
K – Do you have a favorite style to play?
Z – No, I don’t. I love my own style, honestly, which is some mish mash of rock, progressive rock, jazz elements, funk elements, world music elements. I’ve been playing drums for a West-African church for the last three years. So I’ve gotten a lot of that influence in, even though it’s my own interpretation and it probably doesn’t sound legitimate, or something. It’s definitely an influence. But yeah, my own fusion.
K – So, to change gears a little bit: Beardfest. I went in 2014, it was the first small festival I’d ever been to. It’s grown quite a bit since then. Did you imagine all of this for it when you started it?
Z – No, not at all. It kind of grew out of backyard parties at my house. The first Beardfest was just a couple weeks before it happened, me and my mom were talking, and Beardspace as a band, we were about to move to Virginia for the summer to focus on farming and sustainable living. Before we went away we wanted to have a farewell show, and my mom and I were talking and she suggested we make it a bigger thing, invite a bunch of bands to play, do an all day festival sort of thing. It was one day, all day, no one camped, and it was fun. [We didn’t necessarily have] an intention of doing it again. That summer, even though I was based in Virginia on that mountain, I did a lot of travelling. I went to a couple festivals, my first festivals, and one of them was called Rootwire. That was my first festival in the jam scene. I didn’t know there was a jam scene before that. People would say that Beardspace sounded like a jam band and I would look up jam bands and hear Phish and be like, what? I thought we were a prog band. We liked King Crimson and Frank Zappa and we liked Yes and Gentle Giant and Return to Forever, yet in a way all those bands have the same elements as jam bands. So yeah, I saw Rootwire and I saw a huge scene of music, and I was like, you know, there’s no reason one of my bands can’t be on stage as part of this lineup. It was truly that first festival magic experience that people talk about having. As soon as I got back I [told the guys] we have to do Beardfest again, we probably shouldn’t break up [laughs] as a band, and there’s all this stuff we need to do for Beardfest. Consider the Source was the first “bigger” band that we booked in my backyard the next year. We had people camp in the woods behind my house. We had live art, we had some workshops. Whole Foods sponsored us for some reason. They haven’t since which is confusing being that it’s grown so much since then… But yeah, no, I had no idea. None of us had any idea. But the people who are saying yes let’s do this every year and investing in it every year are me, Jeremy, and Sam from [Out of the] Beardspace, and we consciously over the course of the last couple years were like, alright, can we see this going for another decade? Do we want to work this into our lives regardless of whatever else we’re doing? And we [decided] yes. This is a good thing. People really, every year, seem very pleased with it, seem to have the experience that you had your first time [at Beardfest], and that I had my first time at Rootwire.
K – Where do you pull you inspiration from?
Z – It can be a lot of different things. Definitely the other musicians in my scene. And when I say “in my scene” I mean even the ones that are on a much higher level at this point than me like Snarky Puppy or Thundercat or some of the top jazz fusion guys. I get highly inspired by mountains. Anytime I’m on any sort of tour, I make it a point to try to spend time in the nearest mountain range, and I love camping and I love hiking, and I love all of that. I feel so connected to those things when I’m doing those things. But I’m very bad at just being consumed by the daily tasks that [come with] being in all this stuff. So external things, other things not related to music definitely inspire me, relationships in my life inspire me, but then also completely internal [things]. Like, when I say dreams I mean literal dreams that I have that are crazy that put me in a headspace and make me write a certain type of music. Or, again, just that vision of myself that I’m not there yet, I’m totally not there yet. I’ll probably never be “there” because “there” is subjective. But I need to keep going, [there’s] just this need. It’s an obligation to myself. I’ve been saying this for a long time too, but to me, and this isn’t to say that I don’t value the other things about life and my personal relationships and all of that, but to me my main reason for living is that musical inspiration. To me, that’s my main reason for being like, alright, it’s all worth it. All the struggles of life, all the weirdness, dealing with the crazy time period we’re in of 2018, and the political climate. All of this stuff. That’s my inspiration for taking part in society and not just being like, alright, peace, I’m gonna go live on a mountain and do my own thing.
K – What’s next?
Z – Zachademy and getting that to the next level, which might even include getting a second Zachademy group and our own building that we’re operating out of. Working a lot with Gnarbot and Hungry Ghost, seeing where they can go. Finishing the Gnarbot record, which should be out by September, which I’m very, very excited about. And in the immediate future, just pulling off Beardfest again. And it always feels like pulling it off. It’s always like [gasp] dread, more and more dread until it’s happening, then there’s all the feelings imaginable all at once, literally. The horror, the most bliss, everything in between. And once we’re done, it’s like, we did it.[…] And moving into a house with my girlfriend Robyn, I’m really excited about that because I’ve lived in a handful of different places but this is going to be on the same street as a bunch of my other friends and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s gonna be a good thing.
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