J Hacha De Zola | Icaro NouVEAU | CABALLO NEGRO | MARCH 29Th, 2019
“This is an Urban Junkyard record.”
It’s a descriptor that J Hacha De Zola – previously described by UTNE as “the kind of alluring character found in old children’s books,” and by PASTE as simply, “a wild man” – has been casually using over the course of three album releases. With the upcoming full–length Icaro Nouveau (out March 29th), the Rahway, New Jersey–based musician defines the genre in detail.
What is “Urban Junkyard?” Download an in-depth doc by J Hacha De Zola here.
Produced by iconic engineer John Agnello, a career–long cohort of another “J” – J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr, and most recently the man behind albums by Waxahatchee, the new Hacha De Zola songs are described by the artist as full of “villains, spells, desires, romance, danger, redemption, and revelations.”
He adds, “and a eulogy,” referring to “Ode To Ralph Carney,” about the late, legendary saxophone sideman of Tom Waits (and many others), who served not only as a player, but more importantly, as a spiritual guide for Hacha De Zola over the course of the latter’s young career.
“My heart aches,” Hacha De Zola says about the man he calls “Johnny Marinara” on the tune, directly lifting Waits’ own nickname for Carney, as called out following a particularly gnarly solo during a late–80s appearance on “Late Night with David Letterman”. The “Icaro” of the new album’s title speaks to that aching; the word refers to “language taught through other worldly sources intended to heal those who hear it.”
Indeed, Carney was Hacha De Zola’s compatriot in developing the Urban Junkyard sound that now has a life of its own on Icaro Nouveau.
“He was an integral part of this sound. He was my secret weapon,” Hacha De Zola says. “His horns were ever–present, as was his input. Not having him around for Icaro Nouveau was unsettling for me.”
Fortunately, Carney’s spirit was still in the room, and helped Hacha De Zola get in touch with his creativity in a new way, with greater depth. More specifically, the “Nouveau” portion that completes the new album’s title.
“I’ve been developing my own new language, through the elements that are most familiar to me,” Hacha De Zola explains. “My neighborhood – ‘mi barrio’ – where I’m from, and the diversity of cultures and vibes there.”
“Environment is everything,” he continues, “There’s power in the intent behind words and in their delivery. You might not even understand a certain language, but can get a sense of the intent when it’s spoken.”
You can feel it in the Urban Junkyard.
Hacha De Zola’s day job is as a biochemist, and as such, he wrote what amounts to a dissertation on the origins behind the meaning of Urban Junkyard. In abbreviated form, he states the following:
“Urban Junkyard is my hand grenade to explode accepted forms of existing music. It is a deconstructionist approach to music composition, and not only of music, but also of poetry and lyricism, drawn from the past. I blow them up, and the resulting fragments are allowed to reform to create my own musical universe. It’s an acquired taste, with strong spices, and an underlying chaos.”
He continues, “This music works in the service of the mind, as opposed to being intended to only please the ear. I want to dismantle any excessive loyalty to any particular musical idea and look for the more fundamental or primal aspects that might lie below the surface. I never wanted to be committed to one thing. I’m more interested in musical ideas than musical genres.”
Hacha De Zola offers the song “El Chucho (Hooko)” from Icaro Nouveau as an example of this.
A standout track from Icaro Nouveau, “El Chucho (Hooko)” is a “bit of a marching band type thing,” according to Hacha De Zola. “An urban folk tale about a villain, the kind of guy who would cheat you, steal your girl, and stab you in the back. He’s also a silver–tongued charmer. Every neighborhood barrio has a guy like this.” The song is a smart follow–up to the album’s opener and lead single “Anarchy,” which swaggers in like a Cab Calloway number, complete with a sauntering trumpet accompaniment.
Beyond Hacha De Zola’s Urban Junkyard philosophy that dictates his approach, there is the approach itself. His methods of writing music and lyrics, to production and packaging are documented in the unedited, thoughtful analysis of the genre. Scroll down to read it in full.
As an artist who rejects genres, while also offering a definition for one at the same time, it is notable that Hacha De Zola also rejects his own. The most current Hacha De Zola release is the four–song “Syn Illusión” EP which is comprised of all–Spanish language, 80s–era, synth–driven songs in the vein of Berlin or “Flashdance”. The Urban Junkyard found in “Blade Runner,” perhaps?
Icaro Nouveau contains its diversions, as well.
“I feel the pressure to actually write a ‘song’ sometimes,” Hacha De Zola says. “Even just for myself. It’s a challenging endeavor and sometimes maybe I do it just to hear a love song.”
Some of the tunes on Icaro Nouveau ARE love songs in the traditional sense, including upcoming single “Super Squeaky,” described as “a song of penitence and compunction.” In other words “guilt,” – so it MUST be a love song! Other tunes were performed and written on the spot (“Hollow Trees,” “Hacha’s Lament”), and some are just party songs, intended to be fun, not challenging.
One thing that Hacha De Zola does describe as both fun and challenging was working with producer Agnello for the first time.
“He would really push me, but I was amazed at the attention he paid to every detail. He produced so many records that were important to me as a developing artist, and we had lots of fun recording all kinds of instruments,” Hacha De Zola exclaims, before beginning to run down a small list including “Tubas, Vietnamese Moon Lute, the Bulgarian folk instrument called a Gaida, also known as the ‘inflatable goat,’” and then suddenly reminding us, “This is an Urban Junkyard record.”
Icaro Nouveau, the latest album by J Hacha De Zola arrives on March 29th, 2019.
06/21/2019: Jersey City, NJ @ WFMU's Monty Hall (w/ The World / Inferno Friendship Society, Black Wail)