Zack Orr has been just about everywhere. From Georgia and Oregon to New Orleans, London, Los Angeles and most recently Pennsylvania, he has seen things in every city. He’s been to different venues and heard some varied live music, not to mention witnessing the scenery throughout all seasons. The images of that nature he has encountered is the basis behind his new album, Francisco the Man.
The 12-track, complicated, and original concept album plays through the four seasons and all 12 months– in 12 keys. Orr explains the idea for the concept: “I looked at an old clock and came up with the idea of a clock that would tell you the month rather than the time. The idea to match the 12 months in a year to a key and a song came soon after. One of the main themes of the record is the passage of time. I started to equate this seasonal clock with a life span. So I decided to start the song cycle from spring or birth rather than where a normal calendar would begin, which is in the middle of winter or in this case, death.”
The majority of the album was written while living in a boat house in Freeport Beach, located in a small town called North East, Pennsylvania. As a result, the record is a very relaxing listen. His lyrics paint incredibly vivid natural images, and you can feel yourself going through the seasonal changes as the record progresses. Orr’s vocal performance shines on tracks like “We Were Made to Suffer” and on the album’s opening track, the nine minute plus “Thaw of the Cherry Queen”, which he calls his favorite song to perform: “At the end, I trigger a recording of hundreds of birds who had been floating in Lake Erie taking off into flight. It sounds like a large rush of water or a large audience of birds clapping. It’s a wild thing to hear loud and washing over a crowd.”
Although Orr’s main influences are nature and his natural surroundings, he also draws from author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. “He’s the father of a style of writing called Magic Realism,” Orr explains. “Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s work is a good example of a more modern version of this style. These guys can take a fantastic scenario and write about it in a way that sounds totally factual. Several of the songs on Francisco the Man emulate this style. The title of the album, Francisco the Man, is the name of a character from my favorite Marquez book, One Hundred Years of Solitude.”
Influenced by The Beatles, Paul Simon, David Byrne, Bjork, and others, Orr can hide his heavy lyrics behind the sounds of his upbeat voice. The songs are very methodic, as he was a student at Berklee College of Music and learned the craft of how to create a dynamic song, which helped polish his already proven talents.
On first listen, you can take away something completely different from this album than you will the second time. Orr digresses: “At its core, this album is about a loss of innocence. Songs like “Way Out”, “I Should Know”, “Trava Nova”, and “Indian Summer” all look at coming of age from a very personal level. I wrote “Human” and its reprise, “Alien,” during the US invasion of Iraq. These songs are sung from the point of view of an alien looking first admiringly and then shamefully at humans and our inability to coexist with one another. Fundamentalist religion and zealous nationalism are the single biggest threats to peace on Earth. “Alien” has the lyric “With all there is to live for, why die in war?” The first half of the song is a celebration of all that is beautiful in this life. The second half is an examination of the horror humans are capable of committing. In this way, these songs are also about a loss of innocence in terms of a world view.”
If it were anyone else, one might consider that a rude awakening. But, sonically, that couldn’t be further from the truth. As Orr indicates, the world is a twisted place, but if his music is any indication, it all depends on perspective. Sometimes there’s a deep solace in understanding chaos. Orr recognizes this… you should, too.
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