Bringin’ it Backwards: Interview with Zach Heckendorf

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We had the pleasure of interviewing Zach Heckendorf over Zoom video!

Zach Heckendorf started playing the guitar and writing songs as a 10 year old growing up in Denver, Colorado (he wrote his first composition about the Great Depression while in fourth grade). With school friends, he played in rock bands, but by his mid-teens he was playing local shows, both solo and with rhythm sections. At 16, he released his first recording, an eponymous EP, that “blew things up for me in Denver.” By the time college beckoned at 18, Heckendorf was offered a deal with Republic Records, so he put his studies on hold.

Heckendorf’s style and sound underscores his omnivorous musical tastes and influences. His fluid, contrapuntal guitar playing draws from years cutting his teeth on the work of Jack Johnson and Jose Gonzalez. “When I started out, I played a lot of solo shows, so I had to be my own one-man band,” Heckendorf explains. But he also has the edginess and tuneful sensibilities of pop-punk bands he grew up on: Blink-182, Green Day, and Sum 41. “They were the big ones for me when I was a teenager, so they’re in my blood.”

Lyrically, his work offers a treasure of feelings – there’s both keen observation and heartfelt introspection – that recalls master songwriters like James Taylor, Paul Simon and Carole King. Yet Heckendorf explains that he draws inspiration from hip-hop artists like Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z and Aesop Rock (whom he’s been known to cover onstage). “I soaked up songcraft from classic artists because they’re in the air, but these days I think that the best poets are in hip-hop,” he says. “So while my music can play in the pop space, lyrically I’m coming from the complexity of hip-hop.” He also counts himself a fan of Charlie XCX, Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas. “They’re making some of the best intelligent pop these days.”

Since releasing his self-titled debut album at age 16, Heckendorf has released a series of critical and fan-favorites: The Cool Down, Speed Checked by Aircraft, Artifacts and an EP titled Up. He’s toured the U.S. extensively as a headliner and has supported artists such as Rodrigo y Gabriela, John Butler Trio and Rogue Wave as well as Michael Franti and Spearhead at Red Rocks Amphitheater. His new album HAWK TALK is out now.

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