Juggling deadlines doesn’t leave a lot of time to sit through opening artists. Generally, I arrive for the opener’s last song or two, hit the dressing room, introduce myself, mooch a beer, and then go grab some space to catch the headliner. Out of respect for Varsity Theater manager Erik Stromstad’s blueprint-worthy professionalism, I got to Alicia Wiley’s recent gig early—and was nailed by the ZMO Trio. First number to last, they cooked.
ZMO standing for Zachary Miles Ojeda (vocals, bass), the band play Ojeda’s compositions: beautifully written jazz-pop, with fine talents Shawn Vaughan (piano) and Andrew Thornbough (drums) backing this brilliant musician strong as a brick wall. If you were there, you know what I mean. If you weren’t, pick up The ZMO Trio (Soup Bowl Records), the follow-up to 2007’s solo outing Letters to Lindsay.
The ZMO Trio offers six top-shelf cuts. Point in case: the melancholy but by no means maudlin “I Guess I Expected You Would Take Me Back.” It relates a reflective slice of life pretty much everyone’s been through. Ojeda sings, in his trademark style that haunts like a specter, “It’s funny that when I want you back / You’ve forgiven me and moved / But I didn’t forgive myself / Now I’m stuck where I / I don’t belong.” The words are set to a soundscape that intrigues at every turn, with minor chords inventively layered in textures that keep pulling you in. Indeed, this fairly describes the disc: songs that, once they’re in, refuse to leave your mind.
Comparison to The Police is unavoidable. Not that Ojeda owes anything to Sting, just that he’s a profoundly gifted singer-songwriter-bassist doing his thing. And, hand to God, Zachary Miles Ojeda is only 21 years of age.
Dwight Hobbes: What courses did you complete at McNally Smith?
Zachary Miles Ojeda: I’ve completed a lot of random courses with really long names in which I didn’t learn much. I sort of have trouble attending class and in class I’m just detached. But I’ve got one more semester left. The most important classes I’ve taken have been with Terry Burns and Jay Young in a private lesson setting.
What clubs have you most enjoyed playing?
I’ve played a lot of clubs, coffee shops and bars. You know, the Varsity, Fine Line, 7th Street Entry. In April I get to play at the House of Blues in Chicago. I think my favorite to play, hands down, is the Varsity, because of the vibe and size.
How’d you come to be on the bill for the February 19 show at Varsity Theater?
Well, it’s just a perfect example of networking. I met Alicia [Wiley] at one of my gigs in November of last year and pretty much said “I play bass.” Next thing I knew, we started playing together. When one of her original bands cancelled she asked me and I said yes. And then the ZMO Trio was on the bill.
Who’re your strongest music writing influences?
Hands down [it] is Nobuo Uematsu. He is the composer for most of the Final Fantasy video games. His songs and melodies have been with me since I was a kid. Also, I draw from Samuel Barber and the beauty and movement of his melody lines and Olivier Messiaen for his structure of harmony and resolution.
I listen to a lot of Wayne Shorter and recently been diggin’ into a lot of Miles Davis solos. I don’t really listen to much pop or rock and roll, but one group in particular that I’ve always loved is a band from Denmark called Mew, just real dark and beautiful music.
Strongest lyric writing influences?
None, really. I don’t read much or have a lyrical hero. I draw from experience.
What made you decide on Shawn Vaughan and Andrew Thornbough for the band?
I’ve tried many different trios, and the one you saw at the Varsity show is what I want. Andrew and Kevin. When we play it’s so great because we all feed off of each other so much.
Any thought to eventually going solo again?
I’m finishing up [composing] the upcoming record, The Small Hours. We’re going to record in August.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.