NJ Artist Spotlight: Zak Smith

Seeded in the roots of the Garden State is a passion and a drive for music of all kinds. From Sinatra to Springsteen, NJ has produced some of the greats, and continues to inspire up-and-coming musicians. 31-year-old Montclair, NJ native Zak Smith is following in the footsteps of these artists with his latest album, Signs of Life.

After picking up the guitar when he was 15 years old, Smith took cues from influences like Neil Young and Kurt Cobain, developing a rock and Americana vibe. “I had a good friend that got me into rock music,” Smith said. “[The guitar] seemed like the coolest instrument to play if you were going to play one.”

Smith’s interest in poetry came alive in a big way when he combined powerful words with meaningful music and became a singer/songwriter. Smith said, “When I heard music, it was like writing but plus something else. The musical aspect made words into something even bigger.”

Once Smith got into music, he was hooked. “I became obsessed pretty early on,” he said, “and I envisioned doing it for the rest of my life.” Smith took the first step at a recording studio in Red Bank, NJ, where he was able to produce a demo and start making connections. He proceeded to play shows throughout the tri-state area, meeting people who shared his passion for music and writing.

“The best way to connect with people is to be serious about what you’re saying,” Smith said. He makes many of these connections on tour, which he considers to be one of his favorite parts about playing music. “Being able to play every night to different people feels like what it’s all about,” Smith enthused. “I would do it every day if I could.”

When writing his music, Smith prefers to develop lyrics late at night and in solitude—sometimes he’ll even get ideas while driving. In regards to what he likes to write about, Smith said, “I’ll write about the typical relationships, but [I like to sing about] more than just that. I try to respond to stuff that’s going on in the world.”

On his new record, Smith noted that his opening track, “Have You Looked Outside,” was particularly difficult to write, because it involved coordinating the chorus with background vocals. “The Universe is Bigger,” however, meant the most to him personally.

Smith explained that growing up in NJ has influenced his love for music and his drive to pursue it as a career. “There are so many famous musicians from around here, people to look up to at a young age. It’s like a tradition,” Smith said.

His advice for singer/songwriters is to “listen to everything you can and write a lot. The first things usually aren’t that good, but keep going. Take in as much stuff as you can, make as many connections as you can. Whatever you’re writing, make sure you feel passionately about it.”

PHOTOS TAKEN by Stephan Alessi