Medium Zach: As I do more, it just makes me want to experiment more

Categories: Rap/Hip Hop
Photo by Tommy Ellis

Producer and rapper Medium Zach of Big Quarters recently dropped his first solo effort Valued Input, a three song project. The unveiling comes in conjunction with a show at Icehouse this Saturday featuring a new direction in his material.

Gimme Noise sat down with Zach to ask about the project, working with MaLLy, Meta, and Slug, and how he's developed to this point.

Is this your first solo project?
Essentially yes. This is the first thing that I've released under the name Medium Zach. Primarily most of my releases that I've had a hand in releasing or making have been Big Quarters. Since I was 16 I've always wanted to make a production record where I work with rappers and release it. As I grew, it always manifested into other things. Being young and making songs with other people, it would progress into other things. That's how I would land beats on other people's records. The things I was getting tired of was records not coming out. It was becoming obvious that if we wanted our music to come out we had to put it out ourselves. We did that with some instrumental projects, a couple of beat CDs with Fam Feud, and then our first [Big Quarters] project we came out with in '04. Me and Brandon knew we had something different in terms of chemistry and material, so we just put all our energy into that. It was always off to the side that I was working with other people. Right now, I just feel like I'm at a different point in my career and artist life that I'm confident in how I work with people and that I can make a song with someone, finish it, put it out. It makes sense. 

The record with Mankwe brought you to the stage performing production alongside her singing.
I wanted to play the background of that record. I felt like it was important to produce an artist and let the artist be the focus of the record and the project. That's the only other record that came out where I produced it. We had worked on that for a few years and we had no idea how anybody was going to respond to it. As I do more, it just makes me want to experiment more and get more stuff out there. The great thing about performing with Mankwe is that people do get to see that I'm the person on that record. Rather than just be on the record, I get to play the shows with her.

How has your production method developed through the years?
That's a layered question, I could way talk too much about that [laughs]. Every stage that I've been through beatmaking, I'd always focus on trying to do something that I would want to do that I didn't understand [and] do it a few times until I got the hang of it. In making sample-based music early on, it basically taught me how to play keys just by ear. Sampling a bass notes and playing a bassline on a beat, it just grew over time where I started using single sampled notes to play instruments to create sound collages, and that eventually led me to creating my own synth sounds with the sampler. In 2006 Mux Mool got me a copy of Reason, he showed me how to set up the sounds, and then I started rewiring it into Pro Tools. I started having access to way more synth sounds and virtual instruments, and I started incorporating that with sample-based beats, and then I started getting curious about working with musicians that played instruments. 

Basically, the only instrument I had was a saxophone and a thumb piano, so I started working with a guitar player. I grew up being a visual artist more so. Although my background is hardware samplers where I gotta edit by ear and lay stuff by ear, I'm very much a visual, hands-on learner, so once I dove deeper into Pro Tools, I just kind of go nuts with it. I worked more with session musicians on the recent Big Quarters record. The material had become more advanced and my technique and editing had become more advanced, but it's still the same process.

I wasn't charting any music out, I couldn't tell anybody what notes to play, it was really based off the communication of working with the guys in the studio. Over the past few years I've been learning some music theory and learning how to play piano. I used to collect small instruments, just shakers and toy xylophones and the recorder, but then I've recently been able to collect more legit instruments by good fortune. Valued Input is just the first thing. Part of what I'm debuting at the show on Saturday are my solo songs, and my goal with my solo projects is that it's only me doing everything. Production, instruments, recording, video, artwork... I always like to challenge myself to the point where it's too much. Maybe like, not efficient.

With Party Like A Young Commie and Somos No Joke, I took 30 songs, worked with different musicians and did mad editing to revamp those tunes, and basically all my production on those records, I collaborated. That was the most Brandon beats on any of the records, but any of my beats, I collaborated with another musician. My vision for those records, especially Party Like A Young Commie, is I wanted it just to be everybody involved. I wanted to have somewhat of a Roots vibe, the idea that, it's Big Quarters but there's like 20 people involved. That was my goal with it, and now my new challenge is coming back to what it was like being 16. Coming off of a few Big Quarters records over the span of three, four years, I want to challenge myself again in songwriting, try new things. When I was thinking about the scope of what I eventually want to do, these were the three songs that I was most proud of and I liked how they fit.

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