Zorch Boomhauer: Zorch Nation

by Traci Nubalo

Hello Second Life music and arts lovers!

I'm Traci Nubalo, and if you've gone to many live music/arts events in SL you may have seen me there or met me. I'm a refugee from the RL music business, formerly an artist manager, tour manager, concert promoter and music journalist.

Arriving here in SL I found myself thrilled with how vibrant and creative the scene here is. I attend a lot of events, and have gotten to know quite a few great musicians, artists, music venue owners and other fellow music/art lovers like myself.

This blog is my effort to report on what makes our music/art scene interesting. It's about the people that make the scene happen and how they work their magic to thrill us and inspire us with their writing, singing, playing and creating. Look at it as the backstage pass that most of us longed for and were never able to get our hands on.

I'm interested in writing articles and stories that are too long and too indepth for the SL magazines to publish. I want to know what it is about music and art that sets our souls free - and how such magnificence gets created. I'm very much into the positive, upbeat aspects of art, so you won't find me dumping on people or putting down their craft here (although a little controversy can sometimes make for a great read lol).

I'm going to try to post here regularly. Might not be a full story every time, but you can probably count on something from me on a weekly basis.

Also, I'd like to ask your help: If you have comments or critiques, please send them to me in SL or email me at
TraciNubalo@aol.com. If you know of a musician, group, artist, event, or music venue that might be interesting for me to cover let me know.

So, enough said!

The first entry in The Word is a piece that I've written about Zorch Boomhauer, one of the most interesting and creative musicians stalking the clubs and concert rooms of Second Life. I hope you enjoy!

Zorch Nation - Part 1
by Traci Nubalo

Every head in the room turns as he arrives from above on his custom, one-man steampowered airship. Guitar on his back, he steps lightly off the machine and strides to the stage without a word. All red hair and attitude, this is clearly a man on a mission. He’s Zorch Boomhauer and this night is his.

After almost two years of kicking musical ass and taking virtual names in the clubs and concert halls of Second Life, it’s pretty obvious that Zorch has arrived on his own as a musical force to be reckoned with. He plays constantly in Second Life and has become one of the most sought-after musical artists in that virtual world. His fans display a fierce loyalty to Zorch the rock star, yet they also relate to him as mad poet-artist, an image in which he revels.

On this particular evening his large group of passionate fans (collectively known as Zorch Nation) is gathered in force in a virtual concert hall to celebrate the release of their man’s most recent MP3 song collection entitled “Shadow and Light”. Decked out in that curious mode of dress known as “steampunk” (think ‘Wild Wild West meets Rock Concert’) they wait excitedly for his arrival and when the airship suddenly appears overhead a palpable wave of delight spreads through the group. For the next hour they will move as one with him, an energy wave which continues until the final note of the final song fades to silence.

I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Zorch during the week leading into the release event. In fact, he was kind enough to invite me to join him at his home, another airship - this one full-size - christened HMS Arrogant Bastard. This name, of course, provided an apt opening question for the discussions that eventually provided the material for this article. (His answer: “Arrogance is a word used by insecure people to describe others who are not insecure.)” And with that, I was off on a wild ride through the twisted, fascinating mind of Zorch Boomhauer.

One of the main themes that surfaced throughout our several hours together is that he essentially considers himself to be a songwriter. I’ve heard him say onstage a few times that he “isn’t sure that he’s even a musician.” Personally, I disagree with his self- assessment, although he would hardly be the first performing artist to take that stance. Years ago I was majorly astonished to hear the great Paul Simon (one of the most accomplished acoustic guitarists of the storyteller genre) claim that his recently-injured hand presented him no career problems since, as he put it, “I’m really not a guitarist, I’m a songwriter”.
But, like Simon, Zorch IS an accomplished instrumentalist. His rhythm guitar work, especially in a live setting, carries with it a clean, powerful presence that serves as the perfect backing for his stories. His technique makes use of a seemingly-endless variety of chordal variations, keeping the texture of the song colorful and interesting. He’s also found a comfortable-yet-dynamic strumming style that blends fluid bottom-end coverage with the excitement and jazzy motion created by the use of intelligently-placed passing notes and phrases.
These are traits, of course, found in many genres of advanced guitar performance, and very frequently in the play of many great acoustic Celtic/folk artists. In mentioning this to Zorch, I brought up Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson as a prime example, as well as the acoustic work of Richard Thompson, both solo and with Fairport Convention. While adroitly dodging either comparison, he did offer a brief but telling discussion of his early influences.

ZB: “I was born in Dublin Ireland, but moved to the USA when I was two years old…I ended up in South Carolina. [My] Dad didn't want me to be a musician because he thought that they are all heroin addicts. My grandfather was a jazz pianist and he used to give me lessons on the sly…I had to practice “on the down low". (This dichotomy would later appear in the lyrics of “Accident of Faith” the opening track on “Shadow and Light”).

ZB: “…my dad insisted on playing traditional Irish music in the house so we didn't lose our culture. That’s the musical diet I grew up on and I didn't really notice how much the Celtic influence colored my music until I came here to Second Life.”

TN: Yes, there is a direct Celtic vibe to your music.

ZB: “And a there’s also a jazz vibe, although most can’t hear it because they don’t know what jazz is. I don’t sit around thinking “jazz thoughts”, but I did start out like my grandfather playing jazz piano, so it‘s just ingrained in my musical vocabulary”.

After this brief investigation into his instrumental roots, the conversation shifted to his compositional background and technique. He wears the “songwriter” tag very proudly and always became highly animated whenever the discussion entered this area of his life and career. In discussing his songwriting technique, Zorch made a fascinating claim - one which opens the door to some interesting speculations.

ZB: “Well, I write my tunes very differently from most writers. The words and music coexist from the beginning, and I compose them in my head.”

This is, of course, a most uncommon statement for a songwriter to make. The vast majority will settle on a particular preferred instrument on which they compose. Piano - due to the linear/visual nature of the note arrangement - seems to be the instrument of choice, even among those who don’t perform on the instrument. Z may be the first composer I’ve ever heard say that they don’t write using an instrument. His songs apparently arrive ready to play! In fact, he goes even a bit further:

“My songs are born semi-grown up. I know just how they go! I actually have to learn my own songs oddly enough.”

The implications of this passed me by at first. But one very late night a week later, as I sat - quill and parchment in hand, pulling this piece together - the import of this comment hit me between the eyes. What Zorch seems to be describing is a songwriting technique which relies on a rather direct communication from the subconscious (or even superconscious) area of his personality. In other words, in his case, music and lyrics are being processed invisibly and silently and then delivered to him to edit and complete on the conscious level of awareness!

Of course, such direct internal communication is sought after and cultivated by artists in many arenas. Seeking to “find the groove” they resort to the use of substances, meditation, and many other means. Grammy-winning New Age harpist and master composer Andreas Vollenweider revealed to me in a late 1990’s interview that his songs “arrived” via a process of forcing himself directly from his bed to the harp with exactly one half cup of coffee at 2 or 3 o’clock each morning!

So, Boomhauer is not unique in this area, but he certainly represents a very rare composer in whom the “pre-conscious” process is developed to the extent that the story and melody appear simultaneously and apparently in a rather advanced stage of compositional cohesiveness.

Another fascinating result of Z’s unusual songwriting technique is that since the songs arrive practically pre-written…well, I’ll let him tell it:

ZB: “Because I do it that way, I'm blissfully unaware of things like the composite time signature and/or modalities I'm using until I sit down and try to play them. So my music is never stunted by what I can play. I have to grow technically to be able to play my own songs.”

Along with his father’s Celtic influences, and the ever-present jazz piano from his grandfather, Z describes early memories of enjoying popular artists such as Johnny Cash and The Beatles growing up. But he told me a rather interesting story about his recollection of what caused him to want to write killer songs in the first place.

ZB: “
I remember a friend of mine taking me to a show featuring Joe Ely. I had never heard of the guy, but my friend said that Joe wrote good songs. When we walked in I recall seeing a sea of cowboy hats and thinking ‘Aww crap’, not being sympathetic to country music at the time.”

His interest was piqued abruptly, however, when Ely began to sing a song with these lyrics:

Carmen must have been the devil’s daughter
at least he taught her how to wear her clothes
she lead the men in to the slaughter
and there they fell like dominos.

“…and I was like "Whoa"! Every line of every song resonated. It was the most amazing moment in my life - and suddenly I feel so imperfect and lazy as a writer. I wanted to write great songs!”

(Note: It turns out that “Row of Dominos” was a Butch Hancock song being covered by Joe Ely that fateful night. Nonetheless, the Zorchman must be applauded for recognizing a great turn-of-the-phrase when it appears) .

Zorch also mentions compositional influences such as John Prine and Steve Goodman, but he retains a special connection to the great John Hartford, who inspired him immensely as both a writer and performer. But, like so many really good story tellers, he credits life itself as his most important inspiration.

“In the end you are influenced by everything you hear, every conversation, every uncomfortable moment and every triumph.”

The depth of revelation that Zorch offered in these few hours together is a reflection of the profound honesty he brings to his craft. Many times during these sit-downs I felt Zorch expressing a true commitment to his songs and a deep appreciation for and loyalty to his fans.

During this period of interviews, I also took the liberty of speaking with some members of the Zorch Nation to get their perspective. One response which seemed to encapsulate most of the others came from Lexie Luan, herself a respected SL singer/songwriter:

Lexie Luan: “When I think about Zorch Boomhauer what comes to mind is that he’s a brilliant song writer/story teller. Zorch has written more songs than anyone is probably aware of. He could play for three hours straight and not repeat one original song and they are all quality songs. I find his performances compelling and intoxicating. He digs down deep each and every show, and gives you all he has and doesnt stop till you have been zorched.”

I admit it: I have been zorched!
In Part 2, I interview Zorch (and his fans)
about "Shadow & Light".
Coming soon, right here at The Word!


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