Interview with Musical Host: John Zahl
by Herb Essntls
A year ago
We caught up with John Zahl, our first Musical Host, who is a Minister and DJ. His mix “I Don’t Wanna Be As Old As You” can be found on our SoundCloud page and below.
We asked you to set the mood for NYC, what did you want to convey with this mix?
I made this under quarantine, and wanted to showcase some fun records. It’s pretty much all “dance music with an edge”, and New York has long been a home for edgy music. These tunes are quite fun, and I think we could all use a little dose of fun right now. I definitely had fun making it.
Both this mix and your other mixes on SoundCloud are at least partly filled with Italo - what is your relationship with Italo, why do you think it’s an interesting/important genre?
Italo is a big umbrella, containing many genres, but it’s basically the best 80s music that nobody’s ever heard. So much of it is genre-bending (Is this pop? Is this club music? Is this rap? Is this funk or disco? Is this music for the beach? Am I at a fashion show in a mall? Am I supposed to be doing aerobics right now? ...are all legit questions that spring to mind when listening to Italo), and I love genre-bending music.
The somewhat unpolished productions, the hilarious ESL, the sparkling productions, the synth-y low basslines, and especially the drum machines, they all really appeal to my sensibilities. Italo is just great music, and most people haven’t heard very much of it. I mean who doesn’t want to hear what a band called “Skeletronics” sounds like?! (see min 35 in the mix for the answer..)
You are an Episcopal Minister and the last time I met you you were DJ-ing at Black Flamingo in Williamsburg wearing your robes (it was a lovely evening by the way, thank you!) - How do you see the correlation between your role as a Minister and your interest in music and DJ-ing?
From the outside looking in, they seem almost diametrically opposed. But in my life they’re pretty integrated. I’m a good minister for the same reasons I’m a good DJ. It’s all about reading people, using great material (be it old prayers from the English Reformation, or Italo records) to remind people about something good that is bigger than themselves and at its core creative.
Plus, both are entirely motivated by ideas of fostering community, or just bringing people together. You know that Eastern saying, “When the sage points at the moon, all the fool sees is the finger”. Both DJ and ministry have to do with pointing. I didn’t make the music, I just point people to it. Same thing in church basically.
David Mancuso had a great (theologically relevant) line: “We don’t play the music; the music plays us”. The Bible puts it like this: “Of myself I am nothing, the Father doeth the work...”. That night at Black Flamingo was really fun!
How do you spend your time right now when social distancing is the norm?
Well, I make a lot of phone calls to my parishioners. And we’re live-streaming our services on Sundays, which is a trip. I never thought I’d say it, but, thank God for the internet. And then I’m cooking all kinds of weird stews and baking carrot cakes and making lots of mixes at night. Also watching a lot of shows at night. My backyard has 70 acres of trails, so I’ve been hiking a lot too. My situation is as good as it gets given the circumstances, and I’m grateful no doubt.
What has your love for music contributed to your life? And for people who are just now, or through our page, discovering music that is from the slightly less trodden path, and maybe wants to discover more music from long time ago - what would be your suggestion for how to find more?
My hunt for obscure records has been going on for many years now. Through music, I’ve met some of my best friends, had some of the best times of my life, and found a wonderfully creative hobby that enables me to express myself.
It’s all about finding new music, and the newest music was already made long ago, not today. I don’t even know most contemporary popular stuff, but when most of it sounds derivative. I always wanna say: “You like Daft Punk (T. Bangaltar)? You should hear the music his dad (Daniel. Vangarde) made ...it’s way crazier!”
I hope the music I’m putting in my mixes is new to most people. So my soundcloud page is a good place to start for an example. Most good DJs are curators, so the best way to find good obscure music is to find the good djs. There are loads. Or, just google “Daniele Baldelli.”
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share some thoughts, and especially the tunes.
Grace and peace, JZ.