Zach Sobiech: I hope a music career doesn't change who I am

Categories: Q&A
Photo by Erik Hess.
Sobiech played to a sold-out crowd at the Varsity. 

When he first wrote the song "Clouds," Zach Sobiech never imagined it would mean something to so many strangers.

About three years ago, doctors diagnosed Sobiech, now a 17-year-old, with Osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. He's since been told it's terminal, and he could have only a few months left to live. The song was intended as a personal message to his friends and family, but since the video premiered on YouTube last December, more than 2.4 million people have viewed it. Recently, Sobiech signed a deal with BMI and played to a packed house at the Varsity Theater.

Gimme Noise caught up with Sobiech recently to see how he's been enjoying his newfound success.

See Also:
Slideshow: Zach Sobiech Benefit at the Varsity, 2/16/13
Review: Sobiech at The Varsity

Gimme Noise: You recently played a big show at the Varsity. I wonder if you could give me an idea of what that felt like.

Zach Sobiech: It's kind of surreal to get up there and see that many people looking at you. It's one of those things that you're really nervous for five minutes beforehand, but once you're up there and playing, you really get into it and it's really fun.

Your songs are these personal messages. What's it like to realize that they've affected so many people you've never met before?

That's one of the cool parts about music. A lot of times you're writing songs about yourself, and they end up helping other people. So I'm writing these songs for me, and [my friend and writing partner] Sammy's helping me write them, and it's about our relationship and other relationships that I have. But if people can relate to them, then all the better.

Can you tell me a little bit about this BMI deal, and how that came to be?

I was working with KS95. Recorded "Clouds," and it got played on the radio, and eventually BMI contacted us and asked us if we'd like to fly out there. The Hubbard family from Hubbard Broadcasting flew us out there, and we got to meet with them. So they're kind of the royalty company, so they're collecting royalties on "Clouds," and any other music that I put out there, which is really cool.

So how does that work? They collect royalties and you get a portion?

Yeah. They take, I think it's 15 percent off the top of whatever royalties. So I receive 85 percent of that. They are working with YouTube and people who make videos, and they collect royalties on it for me, which is nice because it's a lot of work by yourself.

And have you already started to see some of those royalties, or does that take a little while?

I think it takes a little while. We did set up an account in a bank that's dedicated to royalties. So probably in the next month or so.

Any specific plans for that money?

Probably just help out the family, as far as economic stability. And possibly help out the fund.

How long have you been playing music?

About five years. I started guitar when I was 12. I got a an electric guitar for Christmas, because I thought it was the cool thing to do. I took lessons for two years, and then I was kind of on my own, because I'd actually been diagnosed two years in. And so I kinda started playing guitar whenever I could at the hospital, at home, when I was feeling OK.

What are some of your favorite bands?

So there's Jason Mraz. Passenger is really cool. Ed Sheeran. The singer-songwriter kinda thing -- I'm really into that stuff. Mumford and Sons, too. The Lumineers. That kind of style of music is what I love.

OK, and as you just mentioned, you were diagnosed when you were 14. What did the doctors say?

It was actually November 23. It was a biopsy. They knew it was a tumor there, they just didn't know what it was. So they went in and took it out and ran tests on it. And I think it was a couple hours later after surgery, but I was still completely out of it from whatever drugs they had given me to put me to sleep. So I woke up for probably five minutes. My surgeon was standing in front of me, and he said, "Zach, you have Osteosarcoma." And you know, you never really process those things right away. So It was weird. I thought I was having a bad dream or something, that I was going to wake up later and be fine. Yeah, so it was very simply put, when I found out.

Did they say at the time that it was terminal?

They didn't, because at the time it wasn't. It was in my hip, so it wasn't that bad. This summer is when they actually told me months to a year. So that was in May, I think. They said months to a year.

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