Byron Zanos is an award-winning singer/songwriter out of the NY scene. Most recently, his song, “Secrets and Lies” was selected in the Top 20 out of 25,000 entries by Simon Fuller and his A&R team for the first ever American Idol Songwriter which was an additional competition along side this year’s regular show. His song “Pandora’s Box,” from his debut CD Somewhere in the Middle, won a Silver Medal in the Pop category of the 22nd Annual Mid Atlantic Songwriting Contest. Once again, “Secrets and Lies,” received an Honorable Mention in the 06 Billboard World Song Contest, the 06 Singer/Songwriter Awards by We Are Listening, and was a finalist in the 2005 International Song Competition. Zanos was selected to showcase at Atlantis Music Conference (GA), Deweyfest 06 (DE), MeanyFest (NY), 6-Points Music Festival (DC/VA), the NACA Mid-Atlantic Festival (PA), NJ Songwriters in the Round (NJ), Williamsburg Live Songwriter Competition(NY), and was a speaker at a panel workshop "What Makes A Star" at NYU - and all this, in just about a year. His debut CD Somewhere in the Middle, released in Sping 05,was engineered, mixed and mastered by Grammy Award winning engineer/producer Daegal Bennett (Tony’s son). Zanos completed the album under the tutelage of producer Drew Yowell (Phoebe Snow, Sophie B. Hawkins, Herb Alpert). The same team has come together for his new release, Still in a Fight
“This record is in no way somewhere in the middle part deux,” explains Zanos. “Still in a Fight is an art project for me. It doesn’t follow the structure of today’s standard pop/rock record, and it doesn’t follow my previous work. As far as instrumentation is concerned, there’s a lot of electric guitar in it and a lot of space in general, which is a big change from my percussive acoustic playing on somewhere in the middle. There is far more orchestral instrumentation and arrangement, not to mention drum loops and synth keyboards on some tracks. It’s a pretty diverse record.”
“The music really poured out of me on this record,” Zanos says. “I just let everything flood onto the guitar and onto the paper with no barriers and no second guesses. My emotional levees broke down and I didn’t worry about consistency, structure, or anything really. I just kept writing. It started with a single song – the title track, “Still in a Fight” and went on to ten. Every time I thought the record was done, I’d write another track. It was like a painting that I kept adding to – more shading. This actually made the production aspect tough on Drew (produced the new record as well), because every time he thought we had something exactly how we wanted it, I’d add a new part or a new piece entirely and change everything. It was supposed to be a 3 song experimental thing - then 5, then 8, then 10. Furthermore, production-wise, we really did try everything under the sun on some of these songs – and I mean everything. The production on some tracks was like a bad sunburn. In time, you start to heal. Some parts bubble and peel away to reveal a smooth, new layer of skin. We piled the sound on these tracks thick, listened carefully, and then peeled away the layers that bubbled till it was just right. Then you’ve got tracks like ‘If Only’ and ‘Not Alone’ which we were almost afraid to touch because they were just right from the start. Drew did an incredible job producing this record – he knew when enough was really too much. All in all, the making of Still in a Fight was very challenging.”
Zanos’ already fine songwriting has matured since somewhere in the middle. “This is the most honest music I’ve written,” he confesses. “I never stretched the truth to capture a lyric – never deviated from my gut instinct. In fact, for the most part each song was written in one sitting. The words and music had to flow emotionally according to the way I felt at that instant.”
Part of maturity is allowing one’s self to take chances. The results of Zanos’ experimentation are evident on Still in a Fight. “The tracks are both terribly detached from one another and impeccably cohesive at the same time,” Zanos explains. “The lyrics are the obvious connection on the album; the disc is about a failing relationship and the emotions and scenarios it brings about. Many songs on the record are in different time signatures, styles, and use different instrumentation, so the best part of it was writing my way from one song to the next. How am I gonna bring together this blues track and this R&B track in the same piece of music? That was a great challenge! Not to mention, I got to use my classical background a lot more then I ever had before.”
“Basically, the record is a 55 minute pop opera, meant to be listened to from beginning to end,” says Zanos. “However, for those of us with time constraints, the disc is broken down to 10 tracks – each one a story or anecdote in itself – about the manic highs and depressive lows of a failed love. The end result is a rollercoaster ride of emotion in sound.”
In the end we have a pop opera that tells a story of a relationship on it’s last and dying breath. A piece of music that is epic as a whole, yet full of great tracks for today’s “single” mentality.
And speaking of singles…. “You want singles? We’ve got ‘em. What genre would you like,” Zanos kids. “There are tracks on this record that fit into 3 different radio formats, yet they work perfectly together as a whole.”
“This brings a larger issue to the table,” says Zanos. “’The Industry’ says that ‘The Album’ is dead. Well, if today’s listeners want just another single on their iPod, I’ve got a few for them. But maybe… just maybe, ‘The Album’ isn’t dead – it’s just that nobody’s making them anymore… at least not good ones.
Zanos’ candor, in person and in his songwriting, is refreshing. “In a world where everyone’s releases are starting to sound exactly the same, it’s fun to bend the rules,” he says with a smile.
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