Zeman finds success on his own terms

Productivity has never been a concern for Ontario musician Brock Zeman. By the time he turned 30 years old, the traditional sounding roots-country artist had released an astounding eight records, toured throughout Canada on several occasions and has supported the likes of Steve Earle and Toby Keith in concert. Hard working might be an understatement when it comes to musicians like Zeman.

Over the course of the last year, Zeman has gone from solely creating music to helping others get their music out to a wider audience via his Mud Records label. Of course, the label also serves as a home for Zeman’s material as well, having released his newest record Ya Ain’t Crazy Henny Penny.

From the outset of Zeman’s staunchly independent career, his talent has guided and nurtured him. Like many musicians before him, some of Zeman’s earliest musical experiences came from punk bands while still in high school.

“We were awful, but had a great time,” Zeman recalls. “I started on bass and then moved to guitar and vocals and incidentally, did some serious vocal damage during that time, hence the broken muffler sound that I am stuck with today.

“I wrote all the songs for the punk band and one day, I picked up an acoustic guitar and that was it; everything changed. It has been about the songs ever since.”

Zeman shares that he identified with musicians such as Paul Westerberg, Tom Waits and Townes Van Zandt, as he discovered that they tended to be cut from the same cloth.

“I tended to gravitate towards people who really went ‘all in’ for their craft. I always felt that way about my own material so it gave me a little more confidence to listen to like-minded people doing whatever it is they do.”

Like some of his musical heroes, Zeman isn’t one to rush writing material for the sake of having new product available. While his prolific output seems to be a natural fit for him, he admits that it wasn’t always the case.

“When I started, it took me writing upwards of 30 songs to get one that I actually liked and even then, I didn’t put it on my first record.

“I write nearly every day though and am constantly trying to better my craft.

“Songwriting is something that I feel very guilty about if I don’t get at it every couple of days. I find that is one thing that is lacking in a lot of music these days; there’s no blood. People are sitting around writing a steady stream of songs but it doesn’t really allow the music to grow,” he says.

Not all that long ago however, Zeman took a step back from making music. Disillusioned with the way things around him in the industry were unfolding, he felt it would be in his best interest to take a break.

“I’m back on track now with a new outlook on the whole thing but it was important for me to take a step back and take a hard look at my music and my approach to the industry before diving in again. I discovered that you can moan about the industry all you want but it really doesn’t get you anywhere; I have to constantly remind myself of that.”

Zeman’s downtime was not completely unproductive however. He used the opportunity to launch his label Mud Records, hoping to give other musicians the opportunity to have their own music heard.

“Mud originally started as a vehicle for the music I liked that I felt wouldn’t have a chance for wider exposure unless someone got behind it,” he says.

“I originally put out Robert Larisey’s record Nights Take Forever and after that, it just seemed natural to continue with the label. It has ended up becoming one of my biggest passions. I feel it is just as important to promote the music that you like as it is to write the songs you like.”

Zeman’s show next Thursday evening at Moncton’s Plan B Lounge will feature the singer-songwriter accompanied by one other guitarist as well as a drummer. Though Zeman has played in multiple solo and band formats over the years, he feels that his current band incarnation is probably best suited to what they are looking to convey.

“I really enjoy the lo-fi sound of the trio; it can rock just as much as it needs to. It was a little tricky to get the hang of at the outset but I think that the songs are ultimately being presented better than ever with this outfit.”

Article published in May 20, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript