August 18, 2010

Zzorrchh: Zac Traeger returns home to play experimental rock show at George's

Schmu (left) and Zac Traeger (right) are Zorch.
Back in 2001 I wrote a feature story on a local high school band for The Journal Times. It was a fun summertime piece about garage bands with dreams of rock star glory. While the band, Detaind, is long since broken up, at least one of its members plays on.

Prairie School-alum and Wind Point-native Zac Traeger is touring the country these days with his band, "Zorch." The Austin-based duo plays experimental rock with keyboards, percussion and a medley of other instruments leading the way. They'll be at George's in Racine on Thursday night for a show at 9 p.m.

Traeger's path to Zorch began in Racine where he played in bands like Detaind and lit up the local music scene before graduating from Prairie and going to school in Boston (Berklee School of Music) for three years. He then finished his general education degree at UW-Madison and moved with his bandmate Schmu to Austin to play music full time.

Today Traeger works on Zorch and teaches piano lessons on the side. It's a good life.

"My goal was to do music as a living, just surviving," Traeger said. "We definitely do that."

The word most often used to describe "Zorch," is "experimental." That's usually a nice way of saying it's music you don't want to listen t more than once, but Zorch's tunes are more refined than someone running tape on a droning guitar while tapping a beat out on kitchen pots. They're real songs - and they're really good.

"Right from the get go we knew what kind of music we wanted to make," said Schmu, aka Sam Chown. "The first couple of times we jammed around it was something that was experimental, noisy, pushing musical boundaries."

They've developed those initial jams into four public released songs that are all available through MySpace. "Zut Alore!" roars to life with synthesizers and spends 4 minutes creating a cacophony of sound that builds to lyrics about a race of super reptiles that secretly control the world.

"We spent a month on the Internet researching the Reptilian Conspiracy," Traeger said.

"Ubododa" is an enjoyable mess of sound with a driving beat that breaks through like an unspoken chorus, and "Moris the Loris" is the closest Zorch comes to a pop song, reminding me a bit of The Beta Band. "Gimme the Axe" is nearly 7 minutes of moody swirls and whistles that explode into a mix of stirring rhythms, beats, spoken word and birds (just listen).

Traeger and Schmu finish up their international tour - they played gigs in the U.S. and Canada (they did this interview from Montreal) - this week and head back to Austin in hopes of landing a record label or distributor. They're chances are good. The band met a lot of people on its summer tour and has some good buzz back in Texas. The Onion's AV Club wrote a great review of Zorch last month, and also featured the duo in its list of 5 Austin Bands to Catch Up on in 2010.

"At this point we're just trying to wait it out," Traeger said. "There's no rush."

Zorch will appear at George's Thursday with The Spliffs and Sylvia Beach. It's $5 to get in, doors open at 8:30 p.m. and music starts at 9 p.m.

For the Zorch historical record, it should be noted this is the band's second concert in Racine. Traeger and Schmu played their first live show in the former Racine Century Market in 2007. The duo spent a week writing new songs for the show. "They're not terrible, they're not great," Schmu said of the first efforts.

Now the band is more comfortable playing spontaneous. "The songs we attempted to write back then were proggy and geeky," he said. "The improv stuff is really organic."

Listen to Zorch here.

Watch a live performance of Zut Galore! ...

And here's Zorch's 2010 Summer Tour video ...

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