Shepherd Express – Zach Pietrini Feature
Zach Pietrini Drops the Broken Bones, Finds Relative Stability
By Joshua Miller
Jul. 21, 2015
For singer-songwriter Zach Pietrini and his bandmates, it was time to drop the Broken Bones. The group formerly known as Zach Pietrini and the Broken Bones had been considering truncating their name for over a year and in the end, it was an easy decision. Some listeners had begun to confuse them with the popular Alabama band St. Paul and the Broken Bones. And the name was just a mouthful.
Of course, changing your band name to one person’s name can be seen as conceited. But Pietrini insists that wasn’t the case here.
“It’s hard for me, because when you’re the person that is pushing the project, you want to make people feel like they’ve got an equal spot at the table,” Pietrini says. “Sometimes that can rub people in wrong ways. I value them equally as much as myself. Our success is based on the entire group.”
Transitions in life are the norm for Pietrini and the band’s lineup has seen its share of rotations, even after recording their latest EP, Highways and Heartache. During our conversation, he rattles off a list of recent life events: a new job, the new record, caring for his wife and their 2-year-old daughter, trying out for “The Voice,” his car dying, his hard drive crashing, etc. “That’s probably one of the themes of my life, is that it continues to be crazy,” he says. “I don’t know why I expect much different.”
But, in terms of music, he feels that things have stabilized greatly since his last album, Death and His Many Faces, and his move from Chicago to Milwaukee. For Pietrini, the band’s album release show at Shank Hall is the start of a new chapter.
“This release show is the big launch of the band as we have dropped the Broken Bones,” he says. “We’re launching this new persona I guess. Kind of a new chapter. All the parts are cast and we have an actual band. We have guys that play really well together. It feels like we’re actually settling.”
The band’s current live lineup features Pietrini on guitar/vocals, Eric Anderson on keyboards, Mike Sancho on bass guitar and John Barrett on drums.
While Death found Pietrini exploring theme of mortality, Highways and Heartache deals with less life-threatening issues like love.
“I think the subject matter on the album is both love gained and love lost. Or hope and despair, where the opportunity is the open road, versus the heartache and pain that comes with that,” Pietrini says. “We were like, ‘Man this is a really bipolar album.’ There’s not a lot of in-between. It’s either really joyful, happy songs or really sad ones.”
Many of the songs are more upbeat than on Death, reflecting Pietrini being in a relatively good place these days.
“I feel like I’m settling into life a bit more,” he says. “It’s easier to identify with the more joyful places in my life and the good things going for me. I’ve gotten older and maybe learned how to deal with life a little better.”
Along with his maturity, his songwriting style has sharpened and become more focused. He says that they could have done a full-length but didn’t have enough time or money (though he says “we’re almost ready to go” as they already have more songs they hope to record). But what they got was six songs of Americana filled with what Pietrini calls his “unified voice.”
“The last one I wanted to make sketches or minuets around pieces of folk/Americana. This time I’m feeling I’m getting more settled into a specific type of songwriting,” Pietrini says. “It’s to say I don’t want to jump around; I’d like to put my feet down. Just sit down in one place, and I think it helps convey my message better, or at least this time around. I tried to limit myself to what I would write this time.”
Some of his new songs draw from seemingly small details in Pietrini life. Pietrini says he got inspired for “Divided Highway” when he and his family were traveling to Door County and he saw a sign that said “Highway divides in two miles” with two parallel lines. Watching the coming-of-age film Mud also influenced the song.
“It got me thinking about being so close to somebody but going the opposite directions,” says Pietrini. “I was like, ‘man, that’s sad.’ So I put my knees up on the wheel and jotted something like ‘out where the highway divides.’ [The song is about] how it pains you to get farther and farther away from somebody.”
With producing the album, he says that it challenged him “to take on a hard producer role with a hard opinion.”
“Sometimes you don’t want to hang out in the areas that you’re weakest in, like I only want to hang out in the singer-songwriter camp because that’s where I’m comfortable instead of really pushing myself,” he says. “This one showed how involved I can be.”