Moving across the country remains a daunting task for anyone, regardless of profession. However, a growing independent artist with an already established hometown following will likely have qualms about such a drastic geographic change. Luckily, Derry, New Hampshire’s own JZAC (real name Jerry Zajac) found his way safely and soundly to Los Angeles at the beginning of 2019. Although now operating on Pacific Standard Time, Jerry spoke to me about growing as a person, connecting with fans, and his new album It’s Kind of a Long Story.
The project’s intro track is aptly titled “Move Away,” and aptly produced by Rock Burwell. Burwell, formerly known as Rocky Horror, has been producing and engineering JZAC releases for years, starting in Derry. Jerry recognizes the importance of clicking with a producer, since “[the artist’s] weaknesses can be their strengths.” The duo plus Jerry’s manager agreed on a move out west after tending to necessary preparations. His advice for anyone moving is to “be self aware, be prepared, and roll with the punches.” Uncertainty can be a bitch. “You can’t plan what’s gonna happen in a year. Move smart, plan accordingly, work hard, and things will happen.”
Things certainly did happen. Jerry struck consistency. A freestyle Friday compilation tape and two shelves of singles later, It’s Kind of a Long Story went live at the end of this October. Created over the course of six months in 2020, the album manifests JZAC’s experiences thus far in California, including the self-reflection the year has touched us all with.
“Questions, Pt. 3” is the third installment in Jerry’s inquisitive lyrical series. His approach is pretty straightforward. “I’m just gonna rap about what I know and what I’m going through and what’s running through my brain.” Can questions convey messages more effectively than statements?
Why you looking at me strange cause I stood for what's right?/ Why's it hard to stay grateful 'bout the good in your life?/ Why those negative thoughts just love to put up a fight?/ Steal your happiness from you like a crook in the night
Jerry strikes me as the kind of guy who consistently writes down his goals and maps his progress. Incidentally, January framed his big move, but he’s always been one to look at the New Year with an open mind. “I think its a good restart mentally when you can look back on a year like ‘What were my strenghts and weaknesses? Where can I improve? What do I want to work on this year? You can do that at any point, but I like the idea of the new year [signifying that fresh start].”
Since 2016, Jerry has released a song with a title of the new year. Like the “Questions” series, these tracks afford him an honest release of his thoughts. He reflects on the past twelve months while preparing to evolve his creativity over the next twelve. I wouldn’t be surprised if this JZAC series continues as long as he makes music.
An artist’s approach to change reflects his or her outlook on life. From a fan’s perspective, Jerry watched his inspirations like J Cole, Drake, Kanye and Kendrick Lamar grow with every album. He familiarized himself with their journeys, yet stays true to his own. “If you’re creating and continuing to get better, you always look at your older stuff like ‘Damn, I’ve gotten a lot better since then. That shit was wack.'”
“Peaks” signifies taking a step back from the often hectic music industry, and looking at the people art impacts most. A brief scroll through a JZAC social media page will reveal a tight-knit fanbase that only a small town artist could unite. Jerry has always effectively communicated with his fans as if they grew up together. He believes his responsibility as an artist is to “help people get through shit, provide entertainment, and be transparent that [he’s] a normal person with the same insecurities, breaking that artist/fan barrier.” “It’s 2020,” he continues, “Artists are normal people too. When people resonate and understand that, it builds the relationship even stronger.”
“I’ve never been good with communication in a sense of trauma. It’s never been easy for me to speak about stuff. In songs it just comes natural to me. It’s more therapeutic than anything. When I started doing that and people relate to it, it’s the best of both worlds. This helps me get things off my chest, and people say it helped them get through shit they didn’t know how to get through.”
“Mama Said” rounds out the album with another personal touch. Family is everything. Jerry includes an anecdote from that very day in 2019 that he said goodbye to his mom and left his Derry home to drive across the country. Loved ones fuel his passion, and the auras of those close to him remain on his mind despite the three hour time difference. “Bad things can happen if you’re motivated for the wrong reasons,” he tells me. Family, a fanbase, and an instinct to improve should do the trick, though. Even if you are 3,000 miles from where you grew up.