Listening to Apres Pompeii is like taking a road trip. Musical influences come and go like highway signs but you have the security of being in the same vehicle with the same people. Zack Taylor Weiss, multi-instrumentalist and producer, was reared on Hair-metal and 90’s pop music, air guitar and irony. He spent a year listening exclusively to country music; another with hip-hop. As a teen, he paid his dues as part of the warped-tour crowd before falling in love with the indie scene. Though, you would never guess any of this from his music. Combining the genre-hopping of artists like Janelle Monae, the acoustic sensibilities of the folk-revival, the narrative elements of bands like The Decemberists or The Dear Hunter, and the anthemic swells of indie rock, Apres Pompeii sets out to create music that is equally challenging and aesthetically pleasing.
Though, no verbal description can do justice to the songs. Weiss’s time studying English literature and creative writing is a huge influence on his latest album, Empty Ship. He constructs an album like one constructs a novel, building from a place of character and emotion and letting that give rise to plot—to movement. Songs that stay in one place, with traditional structure, are utilized to stand resolute in a particular emotion. Songs that grow, transform, and mutate continuously build on emotion or shift the foundation as a means of developing story. Often times, despite the mish-mash of genres, the songs complement or react to the songs immediately preceding them. Whether moving between beach-pop and Radiohead-esque trip-hop or grunge and avant-garde, Weiss always seems in control—molding his voice to suit his needs. He growls over guitars in “Political,” howls in “The Hive,” croons on “Shoreline,” and utilizes sparkling falsetto on “Brother.” He touches on nearly every genre and somehow reveals threads between them.
Weiss has been writing since he was fourteen years old. Some of those early songs show up on Empty Ship. “The Point II” and “In Houses” are both at least five years old. These tracks show a slightly more simple arranging style than others, yet they hint at the inventiveness of newer tracks, changing tempos or keys between sections. Weiss gained traction on YouTube posting cover songs regularly in songs covering many genres. One week he would post a Fleet Foxes song, the next Britney Spears, after that, Elvis. When asked about these covers, Weiss said, “it was a really great way to deconstruct songs. If there was a song I liked, I sat down and studied how it worked. Eventually I started putting my spin on things, showing more of my hand with increasingly intricate arrangements. It also helped me learn my way around my recording equipment.”
His covers have a ramshackle, do-it-yourself feel, though his album is notably more polished. This is a feat considering the album was recorded in three different houses on a personal lap-top over the course of three years. “I really wanted to do this myself. It was a hell of a process and the learning curve was something I could have never anticipated or prepared for, but I wouldn’t take it back. Not for all the studio sheen in the world. I think there’s something magical about having total control over your work. Sure there are imperfections—flubs, wrong notes—but what’s interesting about perfection? The next album, though, that’s when I’ll tighten all the nuts and bolts.” There is a charming imperfection about the album, but it’s not your typical lo-fi bedroom recording. “Being that guy, singing hushed acoustic songs in my bedroom? That’s not where my head is right now. Some of my favorite records are by artists like that, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do this.”