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Zach Callison Talks Musical Inspirations & Producing His Single ‘War!’

From starring in shows like Steven Universe to making epic theatrical pop music, Callison does it all

Zach Callison’s shown off his singing skills on Steven Universe for years, and he’s been in numerous Disney roles and DC Comics Animated Films. Now, Callison is ready to show fans a new side to his diverse talents and release music. His first single, the wild and infectious ‘War!‘ blends genres to create a unique sound. He speaks with POParazzi about the inspiration for his new music, what it was like being a producer for the song, and playing at the Anime Los Angeles.

  • Most people know you as a well-established voice actor in productions like Steven Universe. What inspired you to switch it up a bit and work as a musician?

Getting dumped…yelling at a mic is more fun than yelling at a pillow. This record started as a bedroom therapy project and over the course of years turned into my most involved project I’ve worked on so far. I have no plans to slow down on the acting side of things, but it has become really important and personal to me to make my music more than a side passion. It’s my first tape, but I’ve been working on getting started for almost three years now.

  • What other musicians have inspired your sound and influenced your career as a musician?

I take pride in leaving no stone unturned when it comes to hunting for influences…I love everything from doo-wop to reggae. So far, my sound has come from a few things: first, the rock sound I grew listening to my dad play. That paved the way for the alt artists I love now: the Twenty One Pilots, My Chemical Romances and Panic! At The Discos of the world. There’s also the theatrical influence that comes from my roots as a kid in musicals…I love the epic, soaring sound of bands like Muse and Radiohead. Finally, there’s the hip hop, which I only added to my world around the time I started the EP. Kanye, Kendrick, MF Doom, Earl Sweatshirt, and many others made me want to turn sung verses into rap and spoken word, because of how much you could say through complex rhyme and cadence. All of these together make up the genetics of my style.

  • With the help of producers Chase Ryan and Anthony Mazza, you produced your own single, ‘War!’ What was it like working with those producers and being involved in the process?

Life-changing, to say the least. Anthony and Chase have been two of my most important artistic mentors I’ve ever had, and I learned a great deal from them over the course of cutting the record. I was insistent from the very beginning that I be involved with the production as heavily as possible, from conception in the writing phase to the final mastering. It was difficult for me at first because I’d never even used a DAW or a console in my life…a couple years later, and I’ve gotten a hands-on education in making projects because of these two guys. Their influence on my music was crucial, but more than anything, their tutelage has been invaluable.

  • Your single ‘War!’ introduces a woman named Juanita as the feuding lover of the protagonist, who promises to outshine her music career despite Juanita still being the object of his obsession. What was the inspiration behind this single?

Juanita is a pseudonym for a real girl from my past. There was some feuding going on back when our relationship was on the rocks, and she was throwing some public humiliation at me in various ways. I decided that I would throw some venom back for the first time, in the form of this song; she was also a music artist and had been struggling to put out her music for years. Hence, the theme of “War!” is calling her out by saying, “here’s my music, where’s yours?”

  • When did you first realize your passion for music?

I think I could trace it back to the womb…my mom tells me I used to kick a lot whenever my dad’s band would play. From the time that I could talk I was constantly singing along to the radio and songs my parents would play for me, and by the time I was seven my parents had put me in singing lessons so I could do it more. Or maybe they just wanted to be loud somewhere else. It worked out, though; I did my first musical just a few months later.

  • You recently played at the main events hall at Anime Los Angeles. How was that experience?

The ALA show defied all expectations…I honestly had no idea how it was going to go. I hadn’t performed live with a band in over six years, had never performed my own music, and was playing to an audience that had never heard my songs. It really took a turn for the best, though; my band did a killer job, the audience had so much energy and, in turn, energized me. I was soaked in sweat and had lost my in-ear monitors by the time the set was over, which is exactly what I had hoped for. We’ll be playing a lot more very soon.

  • You clearly have a unique sound and style to your music. How would you describe that sound?

In general terms, it’s theatrical alt rock with hip hop influence, but that makes it kind of clinical in my opinion. Most importantly, the style is ME; at the beginning of making my record I swore to myself that I would be anything but generic and would take huge risks along the way as long as they felt true. That’s the sound I want. In other words, in the words of my man Matt Bellamy, it’s “Christian gangsta rap jazz odyssey, some ambient rebellious dubstep and face melting metal flamenco cowboy psychedelia.”

  • You do a bit of singing while voice acting for Steven Universe. How did singing for the show prepare you for your music career and in what ways is it different from singing on the show?

Singing on Steven Universe kept me working the muscle during some years where I wasn’t doing much music-related stuff and also gave me the opportunity to sing opposite some incredible performers from our cast. Most importantly, it taught me how to sing as someone else…someone wildly different from myself both emotionally and vocally. Being very theatrical and “character-y” has become a hallmark of my own vocal style.

  • How is your debut EP coming along? Have you had any memorable stories so far in the creation of the music on it?

We’re nearly done now! One of my favorite sessions from the process so far was for the interlude tracks I’m doing…I got three female singer friends of mine to come in and spend half an hour roasting the hell out of me on the mic so we could sample it and use it as a narrative device. There’s some ridiculous quotes in there if you dig in…insulting everything from my dating habits to the shoes I was wearing.

  • What message or feeling do you hope people take from listening to your music?

The only feeling I want my listeners to feel is “something.” As long as the music drives them to feel emotion, then I’ve done my job. Message is a little different…I want the fans to hear this record as a chronicle of the hardest part of my life, when I fell the farthest, made a lot of mistakes, and ultimately transformed everything about myself. I also want them to walk away from the album knowing that this is just the beginning, that there’s so much more coming on the journey up.

  • What can we expect to see from you in the future?

More music, more video content, more acting work, more live shows, and more craziness. Big plays are in the works, trust.

 

For more information about Zach Callison, visit his official website. Keep up with him on Twitter and Instagram. For the latest music and entertainment reviews and interviews, follow Poparazzi on Facebook and Instagram.

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Written by Levi Linn

Levi Linn is a staff writer for POParazzi who enjoys correcting people who mispronounce "Ciara." He is a Strategic Communications major at West Virginia University - Potomac State. You can e-mail him at levi@poparazzi.org

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