By Rebecca Bulnes
By Lee Zimmerman
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We all need a little down time, and Zach Ziskin is no exception.
It was during the late Nineties when Ziskin's former band, Passion Seeds, put out its Release debut, an album that earned the acoustic rock project positive remarks from fans and press alike. Ziskin wanted to transplant the Seeds to Boston, where the band had a successful performance at the Nemo Music Conference shortly after the 1997 release of, well, Release. Instead the band broke up, and Ziskin went into musical seclusion. "It was getting to the point where the music started to suffer," says Ziskin, the force behind the band, who handled everything from the songwriting to the promotion to the managing to the booking. "I didn't have time to write, and I wasn't able to get into a creative place. I finally just hit the wall." Around this time, his late grandmother became ill, and Ziskin stayed in South Florida to be near her. "It just got to the point where it was like burnout. I figured, 'I'm young; I have time to do whatever I want and make another record later on.' I was just trying to get my passion back as far as writing music."
It took a bit of pain to get back to the passion. After Ziskin's grandmother, Ruby Zimet, passed away, he realized all the cheesy clichés were true: Life is too short and should be lived to the fullest, like there's no tomorrow. Fast-forward five years later and a not-so-tan, not-so-rested, but definitely ready Ziskin throws his hat back into the musical ring with Real as the Memory, where colorful pop hooks and Ziskin's falsetto pave the way for chiming acoustic tracks dashed with amplified polish on tracks like "Waking Hour" and "The Jewel," where pacified waves of guitar weave with wah effects and an arrangement of strings fade out the song. On "If the World Could Talk," Ziskin whispers through delicate orchestrations, while dishing out nothing less than quality pop songwriting on "Gravity" and "Falling to Pieces," the song that Ziskin says inspired him to write the rest of the album. "It just came to me, and as soon as I wrote it I knew it was a special song. The creativity started flowing again, and everything started to snowball."
A fan of luminaries Elton John and the Beatles, Ziskin, 28, grew up in Miami then made his way steadily north over a series of moves to Hollywood. ("At this rate I'll be in Ocala in five years," he jests.) Starting out on drums around the age of eight and taking lessons from University of Miami professor Steve Rucker, Ziskin switched to guitar in junior high, marking the point where he decided to pursue music full-throttle. During the early Nineties, Ziskin and cousin Bruce Berman played in acoustic pop duo No End, writing the tribute single "We Will Survive" right after 1993's Hurricane Andrew that landed local radio airplay and, the band says, raised $80,000 for hurricane victims. It was around this time that Ziskin was turned on to the Beatles, whose trademark harmonies inspired Ziskin to take up singing. "That's when I started moving away from wanting to be the guitar hero to just being a great songwriter," he says. Ziskin studied at Berklee College of Music for a couple of years, then returned to South Florida, first performing solo, then forming Passion Seeds.
When returning to the music scene earlier this year, Ziskin decided to reintroduce himself as just that -- himself, using his own name and not one of a collective. "I don't have to worry if the lineup changes or if I want to do a solo acoustic show," he says. "I thought it was time to go out in the open as I really am, which is a solo artist." While there are times that Ziskin prefers going about it on his own, sometimes he needs a little help from his friends, which is where DC-3, which accompanies Ziskin at his live shows, comes in. "With the band behind me, it feels like a band. They add that energy and they're into it and the songs sound incredible with a whole band."
Having landed his "Falling to Pieces" single on the Burst -- Vol. 1 indie compilation as well as an upcoming one from Makeastar.com, Ziskin -- with the help of his wife/manager/publicist Jodi Nabel -- is pushing Real as the Memory as well as the live tour, which will take Ziskin to Atlanta and Jacksonville, where he will perform a solo acoustic set opening for Lemonheads' Evan Dando. "I like playing for people who have never heard me before," he says. "I like the challenge of having to win a crowd over. When you do a show in front of your friends and long-time supporters, no matter if you do good or bad, they're still going to applaud and be behind you. But if you're playing for a brand-new crowd and you suck, they're not going to give you good feedback."