An Interview With Newly Singed Interscope Records Artist, SUR, On His Debut EP ‘Savage Beast’ and More!
Posted On 06 Nov 2017
The debut EP from SUR, “Savage Beast” came to life during a nomadic journey through some of California’s most wild spaces. Frustrated by the confines of Los Angeles, Northern California-bred musician/producer Zack Arnett built a makeshift studio in the back of an RV and set out on a two-month-long journey. While out on the road, Arnett began creating a sound both gritty and melodic, nuanced and volatile, reflective and deeply life-affirming.
For Arnett—who’s also a visual artist, poet, and self-described American medicinal farmer—the music of SUR arose from an entirely un-calculated burst of creativity. “There was no real intent to make a record,” he says. “It wasn’t forecast in any way: I just wanted to see what it would be like to record and move at the same time. The whole time I was just submitting to what I was feeling in the moment, without thinking much about what the outcome of all that might be.”
Upon returning to L.A., Arnett continued shaping the songs he’d started during his travels, recording at home and out in Joshua Tree. Self-producing Savage Beast and handling all the instrumentation (including acoustic and electric guitar, keyboards, synth, and live and programmed drums), the lifelong musician ultimately carved out a hypnotically textured sound that fully embodies the forces at the heart of SUR: love, violence, and nature. “Once I got back to L.A., the songs changed and evolved and took on a different feeling,” Arnett says. “Some were made in a very tranquil environment like Big Sur—where I’d wake up in the morning and look out the window and the river’s right there—and others really came from the chaos of the city.”
When it came time to name the project, Arnett decided to pay tribute to the place he’s long considered a spiritual and creative haven. “Big Sur is my compass, it’s what compelled me to be a creator in the first place,” he points out. Meanwhile, the title to SUR’s first release echoes the EP’s open-hearted exploration of the conflict within the human spirit. “We try to rationalize everything we do, but at the end of the day, it’s all just animal instinct,” says Arnett. “The EP’s partly looking at how most of us can be very savage people, even when it seems like we’re so put-together and in control.”
Throughout “Savage Beast,” SUR builds a powerful dynamic by fusing inventive electronic elements with visceral rhythms rooted in native drum patterns. On the soulful lead single “Lean Back,” for instance, fuzzed-out guitar riffs meet with heavy beats and chant-like vocals. Instilling raw emotion into each track, Savage Beast also offers the seductive, shimmering intensity of “Ball N Chain” and the sweeping grandeur of “Stix + Stones.” And on “Restless Heart,” the EP delivers a folk-infused and quietly rousing anthem that mirrors the majestic beauty of SUR’s namesake. “‘Restless Heart’ was directly influenced by Big Sur and the experience of just being there, with the Redwoods and the raging Pacific and everything else in between,” Arnett explains.
With its potent yet poetic use of imagery, Savage Beast bears a cinematic quality that has much to do with Arnett’s visually focused approach to song craft. Pointing to “Ball N Chain” as an example, he notes that the song was sparked by a vision of young love set against the backdrop of a ’50s drag race, a scene that then inspired the track’s brisk tempo and serpentine guitar melody. “A lot of times as I’m working on something, an image will pop up and guide me along,” Arnett says. “From there it expands and builds, so that sometimes I’ll be days into a production and make one little change and it becomes something else altogether. In everything I’m creating I try to relinquish intent and just open up, so that I can be like an antenna for whatever inspiration is coming.”
Born into a family of artists, Arnett has devoted much of his life to his overlapping passions for music and art. “I’ve been making music as far back as I can recall, even if it was just me and my old man listening to music in his truck, knee-slapping along to the drums,” he says. Taking up guitar at age 10, he began to write his own songs at age 12, and soon added drums and keys to his repertoire. Also a former graffiti artist, Arnett is now a prolific painter and created all of SUR’s nature-themed artwork on his own.
With the release of “Savage Beast,” Arnett hopes that his own fascination with the natural world might awaken a similar sensitivity in others. “I think there’s a real need for us as a civilization to get back to appreciating the beauty and the simplicity of nature, instead of just being so desensitized and having our heads buried in our phones all the time,” he says. Naming rhythm-driven tribal music from around the world as a profound influence on “Savage Beast,” he’s also embraced a certain sense of purpose with the inception of SUR. “That kind of music channels something that’s deeply ingrained in our DNA—almost on a subconscious level—and that’s what I’m trying to create with my own songs,” Arnett says. “If I can inspire people, even just for a minute, to look a little deeper, do some soul-searching and reconnect with this place where we all came from, then that would be an amazing thing.”
SUR will be playing an LA residency at Hi Hat in Highland Park – Nov 8, 14, 21 & 28.
Connect With SUR Here:
Learn more about SUR in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you? Is there music playing in the background? If so, what is it? What music gets you instantly out of a bad mood? What is a song you are loving these days?
– I mainly listen to the Native American Flute station on my Sonos, it floats around in the background as I go about my day, it keeps me zen in this mad world.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory? Was there a time where you thought of doing something completely different?
– My dad would drive my brother and I to school every morning when we were kids, he would crank the classic rock station up in his beat down Dodge and bang on the steering wheel while mumbling the words, after a while I knew the songs too and started to understand what makes a song great, the simplicity of the melody and the natural movement of the sequence, I could tell even at a young age when a bridge was going to come in or when the verse would drop. The bigger the imagination, the better the musician. I never made a conscious decision to be a musician, i wanted to be a pilot.
Why did you decide to go by something other than your own real name? How did you come up with SUR?
– I’m from the central coast of Cali, Big SUR was and will always be my soul’s playground. I learned a lot by being still and listening to her breathe.
Musically, did you approach this year any differently then you did last year? How has 2017 been treating you and your career? What are you most excited about for in 2018?
– 2017 was my most exciting year for music because I got signed to Interscope Records and they are the best of the best. 2018 should be a wild ride.
I always like to ask artists about where they came from and how that city or town has influenced them as an artist now. So how do you think your hometown has affected you and your music today?
– We are all products of our environment and our upbringing within it. I was fortunate enough to have space to roam and a family that embraced art, but we were far from “art” kids, we had to work hard which instilled a strong nose to the stone kind of ethic foundation. Hard work will yield good results, good results will take you to the next step.
What did it feel like releasing your first single, “Lean Back”? What was the inspiration for it? How do you think it prepares listeners for more music from you and your debut EP, “Savage Beast,” set for release next year?
– Finishing things is so important, it’s easy to start but to see it to the end is a fucking struggle so when I can say I’m finished with a project or a song I feel a weight release off my bones. This song is intense, I want it to get people thinking and wondering what’s next.
I would love to know more about what it was like creating a studio in the back of your RV and traveling around in it through the desert, national parks and Big Sur. How did this experience influence the kind of music that you create? How did recording out in Joshua Tree further it all?
– It’s so important to move. Anytime you get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself you’ll find a better you on the other side. I had no expectations for the music on the road, I just wanted to be free and write about what I was feeling. I’m ready for another adventure as a matter of fact…. You??
Do you have plans to play out live at all this fall and winter?
– We wanna go where ever there’s people hungry for a good time and thirsty for strong drink. We have a residency in November at the Hi- Hat out here in LA. Every Tuesday except first week is Wednesday. Come through!!
We are living in a crazy and at times rough world right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? Do you think that new music being created today is going to reflect these difficult times?
– I agree, it’s dark right now. Technology is advancing so fast that humanity is getting left behind. People need authentic music during these times, we need music that speaks deep into the soul and reminds us what we are doing here and what’s most important. It’s good to get mad, I try not to feed into the darkness I’d rather use it as a tool to touch on all emotions in a punx kinda way. Love, Violence and Nature; These are the themes I pull from, hopefully all at once if I get lucky.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
– Anyone who is truly making music from their soul i will forever be a fan.
What do you hope people take away from your music? Do you think there is a message to a lot of your songs?
– I hope to inspire people with my music. I want them to feel what I felt while I was writing the song and I want them to hear something familiar within me that get’s them thinking deeply into their emotions. Go out and CRUSH LIFE FOR FUVK SAKE!!
What advice would you give to a young person who is thinking about becoming a musician one day?
– Listen…. listen to everything and everyone and don’t say a word, just listen. Do a lot of living and experience the world as much as possible, try to see through other people’s eyes, go outside of your comfort zone at all times, create challenges for yourself so you can prove that you’re made of solid gold, hear your voice within and make ALL decisions based on it, Go, Go, GO…..
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers about yourself or your music?
– I hope you SAVAGE BEASTS like it.