Musician Interview with Zach Corsa of Lost Trail
Name: Zachary Corsa
Bands: Lost Trail, Pines, Veiled Valley, Glowing Swords, North Raleigh Deer Cult, Menteur, An Occasion For Balloons, Sleep Chrysalis
Zach – That you still need to tour endlessly in 2015 to build a fanbase. We can only afford to tour occasionally & we’ve managed through solid releases, great press, & collaborations & the like to build a loyal international cult. I think a lot of those old paradigms are falling away, even if folks are resisting it. The Fugazi “get in the van” days are over, which is probably better for all of us.
QRD – How many shows do you do a year & how many would you like to?
Zach – It used to be more, but maybe fifty or sixty these days. We’re about to be paring it back to just a couple of times a year for a number of boring reasons that essentially boil down to the fact that we don’t love playing live or touring as much as other bands & recording is where our interests really lie. We’re also pretty weary of doing the whole “music scene” politics thing in general.
QRD – How many shows does it take before you are in a real groove?
Zach – I don’t know that we ever get in a groove, per se. There’s great shows & rough ones. Our equipment is cheap & antique by design & unreliable & it’s hard to reproduce the layers of the recorded work in a live setting.
QRD – What’s your preferred length of tour?
Zach – The most we’ve done at once is a month. I like shorter trips - we just got back from a week & a half & it wasn’t a show every night & that seemed more enjoyable & rewarding.
QRD – Do you use a booking agent or book things yourself & what are the advantages of each?
Zach – I book myself. I don’t trust someone else to work as hard as me. But of course, doing those peripheral things cuts into the time to actually make art.
QRD – With so many venues no longer having an in house promoter & promotions relying so much more on the band themselves how do you get the word out to cities you’ve never been to before or rarely go to?
Zach – Friendships/established contacts. Facebook events are certainly no barometer of how many people will come. You can be pleasantly surprised or a little disappointed. I think the house venues & places like that work harder than traditional venues these days to get folks in the door. One of the many reasons we prefer playing the former. Venues love to shift one more task they don’t want to bother with off on a musician already loaded down with peripheral responsibilities, then whine when the band doesn’t get enough folks in the door. I think venues could definitely work harder at promoting. It’s endemic here in NC - book an unusual or new band, under-promote the show, then blame the band for a low turnout. It leads to stigmatizing & to that band then seeking shows elsewhere, which hurts the local scene & leads to the same thirty bands playing over & over again (which I guess is what some people want). When bands leave because they’re treated better & appreciated more elsewhere, it’s a good time to take a look in the mirror.
QRD – How do you think the festival circuit has effected touring & do you enjoy playing festivals?
Zach – Much prefer playing festivals to anything else. There’s a dedicated audience that’s there for the experience. We may just play fests in the future. Set-times & such can get chaotic, of course, but I mostly love the fest thing.
QRD – How do your songs change for your live show?
Zach – We don’t attempt to re-create the recorded material live. It isn’t possible. Live Lost Trail is a delicate balance between a rough outline & improvisation.
QRD – Do you keep notes on how to play your songs?
Zach – For the first little bit, until we’re used to a set enough to not need them.
QRD – How often do you have line-up changes & how do they effect the band?
Zach – No lineup changes, the core members are always going to be my wife (Denny) & myself, with other friends filtering in to help out when we need outside help. Denny can’t always play live due to her work though, so we have a few friends we count on for filling in now & again.
QRD – How do band practices differ from live shows?
Zach – They don’t, significantly. Just run through the set once or twice. The only difference is how our house sounds compared to the venue in question.
QRD – When you hear your live recordings are you generally critical or satisfied?
Zach – Surprised at how it sounds from the audience perspective, maybe. I’m critical of how sets went from my end, but not necessarily listening back to recordings. Live recordings are difficult to do well to begin with.
QRD – Do you think of recorded versions or live versions of your songs as definitive?
Zach – I think they’re two very separate & different entities, impossible to compare.
QRD – Is there a song in your catalog you wish you never had to play again &/or one you wouldn’t mind playing every night?
Zach – Lately, we’ve been playing a bit of ‘Spiritual Warfare/Fuck Satan’ at the end of the set… one of the few recorded LT songs we can play live. I love playing that one. It’s a nice, soothing comedown from all the feedback & noise.
QRD – What do you do to stay interested in your set each night?
Zach – I’m always anxious enough to be hyper-interested, for sure.
QRD – Do you do the same set every night on a tour?
Zach – Yes, with improvised variations.
QRD – How does the audience effect what or how you play on a given night?
Zach – I think the venue & the mood affects how long we go & how loud we get.
QRD – Do you take new songs on the road or stick with released material?
Zach – What we play live isn’t by its nature released Lost Trail material.
QRD – Do you throw in cover songs & how do you select them?
Zach – That’d be hard to pull off with an instrumental ambient/drone band.
QRD – How do you deal with bad stage sound & bad sound guys?
Zach – Sound folks sometimes don’t like us because we’re pretty self-contained &/or really loud. I’m not a shrinking violet of a person, I can hold my own with the Napoleonic tendencies of so many sound dudes. We take some time to set up & tear down & sometimes folks try to rush us -- I don’t let that happen for long. Same for bitching about how loud we get. If a place books us, the volume’s on them. The thing that most frustrates me with sound/club people is how they often ignore Denny’s existence & speak only to me. I try really hard to quell that shit immediately. It’s pretty gross to see that dude/bro attitude still happening in clubs in 2015.
QRD – What do you do when equipment malfunctions on stage?
Zach – I think because of the nature of the music, I notice equipment issues more than the crowd does. It’s not usually catastrophic enough to end a show, but it grates on me, for sure. We just try to improvise on the fly as best we can.
QRD – What have you learned to do to get better sound regardless of the venue?
Zach – EQ pedals cut the natural harshness of reverb & delay a considerable amount. I wish I had picked one up earlier. I have a pretty good mental catalogue of different settings (pedal-wise & guitar-wise) for different situations.
QRD – What’s something you hate seeing other bands do?
Zach – I’m pretty old school manners-wise. Stick around to see the bands you’re playing with, don’t chit-chat over their set. Don’t try to bully them about set times & orders. Our little subculture is nasty enough at times without band pissing matches.
QRD – What’s the best compliment/worst insult you’ve gotten after a show?
Zach – We’ve heard & continue to hear incredibly moving complimentary things about what we do after shows & it keeps us going, but what flattered me almost as much was a show in Burlington, NC recently, where we live. We don’t play in Burlington much outside of our own house -- Burlington is a blue-collar mill town & it isn’t usually the right scene for it. I love our town, but it’s got a ways to go in the culture department. This time I guess we thought it’d be interesting to see the reaction, so we played one of the local bars & were pleasantly surprised that people didn’t outright loathe us. But there was one old typical redneck hayseed couple (they looked like Parrotheads, actually) who were downright furious that we existed in their space. My friend thankfully recorded their reactions -- “How is this even music? Please don’t do that again…what was that?” etc. I really want to use that somewhere on the next album. I take that sort of frightened, bewildered reaction as a compliment. People don’t like their preconceptions challenged. I did tell them I hope I broke their fucking eardrums, though. Childish, but it felt nice.
QRD – Do you ever tour with bands other than your own as a hired hand & if so how is that experience different?
Zach – Not yet. Can’t see myself doing that, time-wise or interest-wise. But when we tour with other bands we obviously all pitch in & help each other out.
QRD – Do you prefer playing with another touring band or just locals?
Zach – They both have their plusses & minuses.
QRD – Do you try to listen to the local opening bands on tour?
Zach – Of course. Why wouldn’t you? That’d be such a dick move to me.
QRD – What makes you like a particular city?
Zach – Enthusiasm & open-mindedness. Easy parking & navigating. Natural beauty. Friendly people. Good food. Is not infested with frothy douches.
QRD – What makes you like a particular venue?
Zach – Respect for musicians as more than just beer-promoting devices. Considering that you’re hosting art rather than just trying to meet a cynical bottom line.
QRD – What do you have for merch?
Zach – Our last batch of T-shirts sold insanely fast so we need to print up more. Those are always popular. Stickers, too. We release much more music than other bands, so there’s always CDs, mini-CDs, vinyl, & LOTS of tapes.
QRD – Do you try to have any specialized merch for live shows?
Zach – Just the usual stuff.
QRD – What’s a merch item you think about selling but haven’t yet?
Zach – I’d love to do 8-tracks. Not even in an ironic way. But who would buy them?
QRD – Besides band members, how many people do you bring on tour & what are their duties?
Zach – It’s just us. Or another touring act. DIY or die.
QRD – When you’re on tour, does someone take a father figure role of responsibility?
Zach – I think we share the responsibility stuff pretty well between us.
QRD – What do you do to keep your instruments & personal belongings from being stolen?
Zach – Bring them in to where we’re staying every night even if it’s a pain in the ass. I’ve seen shit go down in person where touring friends have been robbed & I know that at our income level we’d be in serious trouble if that happened. Our usual car is beaten around enough to be its own security device, thankfully.
QRD – Do you rent a vehicle or take out your own?
Zach – Our own, for better or worse. There’s usually something to fix partway through, though thankfully not this last time.
QRD – What’s the worst car breakdown you’ve had on tour?
Zach – The first Lost Trail tour in 2010, spewing oil from my Volvo wagon all over the highway in Port Arthur, Texas… surrounded by oil drilling machinery. Had to stop every 40 minutes to refill the car with oil the whole drive back to NC.
QRD – What’s your ideal touring vehicle?
Zach – I guess it’d be nice to have a van for the space & comfort.
QRD – What plays on the radio as you drive?
Zach – I like fairly loud music to keep me awake. Denny prefers NPR.
QRD – How do you occupy time in the van?
Zach – Ha-ha, you mean car. We tend to stop at every brown sign for a historic district we see. We take a lot of photos. We play ridiculous games like naming a TV show for every letter of the alphabet. The usual.
QRD – What’s your main activity to occupy your downtime when not in the van?
Zach – Catching up on the internet or photography. Or seeking out good local food. We both read a great deal on tour (& otherwise).
QRD – How do you try to find places to eat on the road?
Zach – Googling “best _____ in ______” is a good start.
QRD – What’s your in a pinch fast food meal?
Zach – We tend to bring a lot of non-perishables along with us. Vienna sausages, crackers, drink mix, granola bars, etc. We’re not immune to the fast food thing, though we try to limit it. I guess it’s fun to occasionally do something like White Castle that we don’t have access to in NC.
QRD – Do you try to make any meals for yourself on the road?
Zach – Yeah, we bring along things to make simple meals. Makes life easier. Helps us keep expenses low so we can at least come somewhat close to breaking even.
QRD – How many days does it take before your body is in sync with the touring lifestyle?
Zach – I don’t get in sync. Every single time I’ve toured (which is up to maybe nine or ten times now) I get sick, either stomach flu or a cold or something. Just not one of those people that ever feels physically well traveling. Other people’s ACs always make me sick, too. Don’t know why.
QRD – Do you prefer to stay at people’s houses or hotels & what are the advantages & disadvantages to each?
Zach – Houses for the camaraderie, cats, & lack of expense; hotels for the comfort. Hotel rooms are usually a once-on-a-tour splurge, really.
QRD – Do you have separate clothes for onstage than daywear?
Zach – Ha!
QRD – How many changes of clothes do you take on tour?
Zach – A few. Many pretenses of hygiene go out the window for us pretty early on.
QRD – How often do you do laundry on tour?
Zach – Depending on the length of the tour, once or twice.
QRD – How often do you try to bathe & how do you schedule in everyone getting bathed?
Zach – Despite what I said about hygiene, I do try to shower daily or I feel non-human. Kinda sucks when you don’t get to shower on a given day.
QRD – What do you do when a band member has totally different ideas about hygiene?
Zach – Thankfully it’s my wife. We’ve worked out our living together habits long since.
QRD – How often do you try to schedule a day off?
Zach – Lately we try to do one day on, one day off, it seems like. Unless its a two or three day trip.
QRD – Any tips for not getting sick on the road?
Zach – No. As I said, I fail at this.
QRD – Do you have a set drinking policy (none before performing or a nightly total)?
Zach – We don’t drink. Someone did make pot cupcakes at the last tour stop this time & it mostly knocked Denny out before the set. I just giggled a lot.
QRD – What’s a lesson from touring you keep forgetting & re-learning?
Zach – No one else is going to be at a show at the load-in time. Ever.
QRD – What do you do the week before tour to get ready?
Zach – Grocery store. Inventory. Finishing up non-tour band business. Practice.
QRD – How long does it take to convert back to day-to-day life?
Zach – I can convert back pretty quickly. Denny often has to go back to her day job immediately.
QRD – How do you test for personality conflicts between band members before touring?
Zach – We’re married. Personality conflicts are part of what we do. We get by.
QRD – How has touring effected how you feel about playing in your hometown?
Zach – It’s made me appreciate touring more & more. Nothing more humbling than playing for a hundred-plus passionate people in Brooklyn, then coming home & playing to six or having trouble booking shows. Thanks, NC!
QRD – How do you feel about fans putting live cell phone videos up on YouTube?
Zach – I don’t have a problem with it. As long as people don’t spend a whole show behind a screen. Experiencing is more important than capturing. Flash photography while I’m trying to concentrate on a set bothers me more.
QRD – Do you see touring as mainly a promotional tool for your new albums?
Zach – No. Kinda unrelated. Our stream of releases never stops. Touring is an excuse to play for more than six people & to see old friends & photograph old buildings & such.
QRD – Do you try to practice as a band while on the road or just stick to the performances?
Zach – There’s no real way for us to practice on the road.
QRD – Do you have time to practice your instrument while on the road?
Zach – Not usually, but I’ve been playing for twenty-four years & our music isn’t super technically complicated, so it’s fine.
QRD – Does your time with your instrument go up or down on the road compared to normal?
Zach – It seems about the same.
QRD – Do you try to hit museums or any touristy things while you travel?
Zach – Absolutely, that’s another reason to travel. We live & breathe that shit.
QRD – Do you try to get any rudimentary grasp of a language before touring in a foreign country?
Zach – Never toured abroad, which is a shame because most of our biggest fans are in the UK & other parts of Europe. Attempted to play in Canada & got kicked out due to lack of a work visa, lost four shows. Bummer.
QRD – Do you have any pre-stage rituals before each set?
Zach – Nah.
QRD – Does “what happens on tour, stays on tour” apply for you?
Zach – Nope. My wife is my bandmate. She doesn’t always tour with me, but touring’s not like that for me. Mark Kozelek, King of the Assholes, once said something snarky about how “If a dude who’s been touring for years & years says he’s never cheated on his spouse, he’s lying.” That’s bullshit. I’ve never even been remotely tempted. Touring doesn’t change that I’m happily married & not remotely willing to risk my family for some stray out-of-state hijinx.
QRD – Have you ever or would you like to do a bus/train/mass transit tour?
Zach – Yes. That’s likely the future for us. Just need to work it out logistically.
QRD – What are your favorite & least favorite seasons to tour?
Zach – I prefer fall & winter as a person by my nature. Winter is a little tough for traveling though, so I prefer fall. My favorite season. The best weather.
QRD – If money were no object, how many months a year would you spend on the road?
Zach – If money were no object, I wouldn’t tour at all. Just play a few fests a year around the country/planet.
QRD – What would make you start touring more or start touring less?
Zach – I guess I’d tour more if some big label signed us & made it more comfortable -- a driver, hotel rooms every night, etc. Otherwise, nothing would make me tour more. Touring less is about to start happening shortly because I want to turn down the hectic nature of my life a bit & just create my art.
QRD – What’s something that would cause you to cut a tour short?
Zach – Family emergency? Probably not much else. I’ve run out of money on tour before, had car issues, & have always found a way to soldier on.
QRD – What could happen to make you stop touring?
Zach – See above.
QRD – What’s something about life in general that you’ve learned from touring?
Zach – If people in your hometown/home region don’t get what you’re doing, odds are it says more about them than you. Go to another town & you’ll discover this. A wider perspective on the world outside your door is invaluable.
QRD – Anything else?
Zach – I’m weird. Most musicians love touring & playing live & all that. I don’t have a typical musician’s personality, I just happen to love making music. So take everything I said above with a Morton’s industrial-sized barrel of salt.