Meet Zaq Baker, the hilarious yet purposeful writer of heartbreak songs (yes, the ones you can’t get out of your head even if you’re not heartbroken). He leads a trio inspired by pop-punk attitudes, American songwriting, and musical theatre. We got the chance to ask Zaq Baker a few questions about his debut album Getting Younger, his start in music, and what the next five years look like for him:
BTS: When did you decide to pursue your music career?
Zaq Baker: I’ve known since I was eleven or twelve that popular music is what I really wanted to do with my life. However, most loving parents will (and probably should) try to deter their kid from their path, which has created some interesting friction throughout the years. I’ve been playing in bands since I was fifteen, but I didn’t get very serious about careerism until January 2016, when I was working as the pianist, co-arranger and co- writer in other pop bands. I started writing songs for my own ‘character’ to sing in early 2017, when I simply couldn’t stop writing for other bands and needed to divert my songs into a new and more personal channel. I didn’t consider songwriting my main hustle until June 2017 — right after writing ‘Spearmint.’
BTS: Who are your musical inspirations that had an influence on Getting Younger?
Z: People tend to laugh when I reference Talking Heads in conversation (which I do all the time). To those people, I say: David Byrne plays a vivid, hilarious character that a lot of neurotic people in the late 70’s and the 80’s found incredibly relatable. Talking Heads also modulate keys a lot between verse and chorus, which is a device I employ heavily on Getting Younger and on my first EP.
I’ve loved Marina and the Diamonds for a long time. She definitely embodies my writing taste. Somewhat obviously, I’ve gotta shout out pop-punk here, too: I’ve listened to Your Favorite Weapon — Brand New’s first album — way more times as an adult than as a teenager. I love Motion City Soundtrack and would cite them as a pretty inescapable influence for the same reasons. I also gave intimate, repeated listens to Tom Petty, Car Seat Headrest, Weezer, Blondie and Fountains of Wayne a great deal in writing this album. Basically, I raised myself on guitar rock and took the same schools of thought to the piano. I hope that gives my work a pretty distinct sound.
I’ll add that I worked in a restaurant for a summer to focus on this record. Those premade front-of-house pop playlists definitely had their own insidious impact on my songs as I wrote and edited them (then edited them) (then edited them again). The values of pop music are my values, too: Let’s emphasize hooks and make the songs as relatable as possible.
BTS: Lyricism seems to be a forte of yours, as your lyrics are detailed and paint a story. Has writing and/or songwriting always been a part of your life?
Z: As a kid, my absolute favorite song was ‘Paperback Writer.’ That’s how I always imagined myself. I told everyone I was going to be a novelist when I grew up. That’s where 100% of the inspiration behind ‘Isolation Chic’ comes from.
BTS: If you could set up your dream tour, who would headline, open, etc. (assuming you’re playing, too)?
Z: It’s my dream tour? I suppose I’d be headlining, then, wouldn’t I?
Seriously, though, my childhood dream would be to open for Billy Joel — if he’d allow it (he wouldn’t).
BTS: Think back to your favorite show you’ve been to—what made it so special?
Z: I saw Paul McCartney with my mom in May 2016. He came to Minnesota smack in the throes of my adult obsession with the Beatles. He’s an incredible performer, and I could talk about his influence on all my influences all day. If I’m being honest, though: I saw M83 at Lolla in July 2016 — not long after Junk came out — and that’s the best show I’ve ever attended. We went to the festival just to see Radiohead, but I was much more moved by M83’s performance in the end. Galvanizing and completely selfless. I’ll never forget the feeling of seeing a young band at the absolute apex of their career, performing with all their hearts for an enormous, very sincerely passionate crowd. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.
BTS: What has been your favorite part of releasing Getting Younger?
Z: My favorite text to receive is ‘Your song was stuck in my head today.’ It’s happened a few times now. People will walk up to me and quote entire lines from the record, which is a pretty spectacular feeling. I wanted each song to be very memorable, and it seems like that’s happened.
BTS: If you could play any character in a TV show, who would it be?
Z: My primary regret in life is not having pursued theatre, and I consider music to be my outlet for that instinct. (Seriously, you should come out to a show sometime.) After years of acting school, I bet I could channel Frasier. Ben Wyatt would be cool. I absolutely love Marcelline from Adventure Time, so… her, somehow?
BTS: In an ideal world, where will your music take you in 5 years?
Z: I’d really like to travel the world, and I want music to be my excuse to do that. I’m on tour in Austin, TX, right now, and I’m having the most fun I’ve had in years.
Hmmm. Until it’s done, I’m extremely buttoned up and insular about my work. However, I’ll admit I think it would be cool to work alongside pop writers on one of the coasts or in England. Professionally speaking, TV placement is definitely a dream.
Check Zaq Baker out! Listen to Getting Younger below: