Teacher of the Month: Zach Chang-Otanez and his new EP
Zachary Chang-Otanez, Teacher Coordinator at Quarantunes, built on more than a decade of music experience to write and produce his recent EP, Coronal Mass Ejection. The title is equal parts an allusion for the current pandemic and an astrophysics reference, since Zach wants to not just pursue music, but pursue astrophysics as an academic career. Zach would describe the music on the EP as alt-rock, a mix of Red Hot Chili Peppers and even the Foo Fighters. The sound is best described as “dreamy” yet diverse, with tracks ranging from excited and upbeat to relatively mellow.
A lot of heart went into Coronal Mass Ejection. Zach technically started making a lot of the EP’s content in middle school. It was a passion project for all of high school, and the finishing touches were made recently in his junior year. The project was fully completed in January of this year, and released in February.
“There’s no real intellectual process,” Zach jokes about creating his music. It all usually starts in his room, with his guitar, messing around until he hears something he likes and goes from there. First comes the lead guitar, and then the rhythm guitar. The vocal melody fills in after this, and the bass and drums come last, but not least.
Zach’s able to write most of his songs by ear alone because of his history in music. He started on drums at 3 years old, which might be why he says it’s the instrument that comes most naturally. He was entirely self-taught on the drums, and learned to play by listening to his favorite bands like Coldplay and the Foo Fighters. He credits the School of Rock organization for some of his most formative musical years. Starting at age 10 and going on for 4 years, it was there where he picked up guitar and bass in a similar fashion, and got to meet new people and take some official lessons to learn real songs. School of Rock was where Zach started his hard rock band and joined a heavy metal band, both of which are still active today. His musical upbringing heavily influenced the way he picks up music today, and even how he teaches it: his band members are usually played a demo to pick up on new music.
Despite his natural inclination to listen and compose by ear, Zach still says he’s focusing more on music theory than he used to. His parents always encouraged him to learn it, but he’d resisted most of his life up until now - to this day, he says he doesn’t know why. Taking AP Music Theory finally made him consider the key more when he was writing music, and a lot of his new, unreleased material built more upon a theory-based foundations.
What most surprised Zach about making his EP was the sheer amount of time it took to make.
“Part of that was because I was being a bit of a perfectionist,” he admits. It made the EP sound better, but extended the process by a bit. Also an obstacle for Zach was the fact that he was relatively new to making and mixing music. He was aided by his father, and didn’t realize till it came down to the point of producing the album how useful that knowledge would be. There were instances where he couldn’t communicate properly to his father the type of sound he wanted, and quickly had to adapt to the lingo of music production.
There’s a collaboration on the EP on the track Afraid of the Dark, with Quarantunes founder and member of the band Reverie, Julia Segal. Collaborating in a pandemic was strange. Julia came over to Zach’s home studio and sung in a bathroom so as to maintain adequate social distance, and despite the difficulty in communication, the sound quality turned out great. Stardust actually ended up being Zach’s favorite song by far on the EP in terms of end result.
The last question I had for Zach was this: “Just for fun, if you could collaborate with any other artist in the world, who would it be?”
After just a few moments for thought, Zach said Dave Grohl. He grew up on Grohl, his biggest music inspiration, and he’d attend lots of Grohl’s shows with the Foo Fighters.
“To be able to collaborate with such an accomplished musician would be really fun, especially if we write, like, really similar songs in style,” he says. “He also just seems like a really cool guy.”
Zach’s EP, Coronal Mass Ejection, is out now on all available streaming platforms under the name Zach C-O. Give it a listen sometime this week to brighten up your day. And keep your eyes out for a piano EP coming from him sometime soon.