John Zambricki plays by his own rules

[By Rachel McFarland, photos by Steve Dundas]

The singer-songwriter indie/folk musician field is notably full — any newbies wanting to break in are going to find it difficult, and will have to find a niche and do it better than others.  So how does a troubadour from New Jersey find his niche in an already crowded arena?  

John Zambricki is trying to find out….[keep reading]

Somehow, finding his way to Nashville and sometimes LA, he managed to capture one very important audience — the creative forces behind the indie movie Paper Heart.  This serendipitous occurrence led to his song  ‘Airport Goodbye’ being used in the film — as well as a cameo, resulting in a match made in indie-folk heaven.  Cast with Michael Cera, the king of indie films with great music (Juno and Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist), ‘Airport Goodbye’ is the perfect entryway.  It may also hold the key to Zambricki finding his niche in this full world.  He writes his own music, plays his own instruments (guitar, mandolin, violin) and seems to play by his own rules, which may lend an explanation to his strongest talent.  What he may lack in vocal strength, he makes up for in catchy hooks and strong, stand-out lyrics.

With lyrics from ‘Airport Goodbye’ like: “All our best days were spent making other plans” and “In the airport goodbye I didn’t think you would fly, I waited at the gate for you to turn back,” he manages to be sentimental without being cheesy, lovelorn without being emo, and wistful without being depressing.  On  ‘Sarah,’ he captures the sensation of waiting on the sidelines of life in a way that we have all experienced — always wondering when and if you’ll have the guts to jump in.  His lyrics have a knack for evoking basic yet hard-to-explain experiences, like love lost and all those ‘what-if’ moments in life, making it seem possible that he just may be laying the groundwork to stake his claim firmly on the ‘songwriter’ side of ‘singer-songwriter-indie-folk musicians.’

Unlike other musicians in his genre, Zambricki manages to know how to not take himself too seriously by writing a song like ‘Charleston,’ a song that could easily be the soundtrack to life in Southern California.  It’s not hard to listen to ‘Charleston’ and imagine a leisurely bike ride up the strand in Santa Monica with the waves rolling in on one side and the Santa Monica Pier behind you, while the sun is warm on your face and the breeze is light, made poignant by the transient nature of this life in LA and the similar themes in Zambricki’s songs.

With a singular, stripped down sound, I can’t help but wonder what his songs might be like if they were beefed up a bit.  More sound isn’t always bad and I sense that with the right musicians and arrangement, Zambricki’s music could lend itself to a raucous live show, evocative of folk bands of yore, with numerous layers of sound — but not in a cluttered way.  For example, his MySpace page offers up a tease of this on the rock and roll demo version of ‘Airport Song.’  A little more upbeat, a lot more emotion, and a little more of a pop/country sound gives this version more oomph — a standout version of a standout song.  

While he has a ways to go in some sense — it’s hard to find the differentiating factor in this genre and not get lost in the indie/folk abyss — he’s also just getting started, yet has been able to come out of the gates strong with stellar lyrics and great songs that could be the beacon for his future songwriting.  Simple, stripped works are never a bad thing, however, and seem to allow Zambricki’s lyrics to become front and center, keeping his songs focused on his excellent songwriting.  

Maybe he has already found his niche.  



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