As Lovin’ Spoonful singer John Sebastian respectfully pointed out in the 1967 hit “Nashville Cats,” the capital of Tennessee sure has a lot of really good guitarists.
The same is certainly true today. But not all of them are looking to make their mark within the country music community.
New York native Saul Zonana, a self-described “fast-paced Queens guy,” has lived in the Nashville area the past few years, and the pop-rock musician and songwriter says he’s starting to feel right at home professionally.
“Nashville doesn’t exactly breed a bunch of progressive pop bands,” Zonana says. “I think I’m a breath of fresh air around here for the people who get it, and that’s starting to work out for me.”
Zonana, a longtime solo artist whose sideman credits include backing Ace Frehley and Adrian Belew, was “deeply ingrained in the New York music scene” when his wife (an occupational therapist) was offered a job in central Tennessee.
“It was a lot to think about and a lot to leave [behind],” Zonana recalls. “I had a lot of space in a studio in Westchester County in a big house. We had to at least look at the numbers, and the more I looked at the numbers, the more I thought, ‘This [move] really would be an improvement on our lifestyle financially.’
“So then I thought about, ‘How are you a musician and [you choose to] pick up and leave New York?’ And then I realized I was leaving New York to go to another big music scene, so it wasn’t like I was going to have a hard time figuring out how to continue to play music — it’s just going to be a different scene.”
What came as a surprise to Zonana were the geographical benefits that came with being a gigging musician who lived in the middle of Tennessee.
“I didn’t even think about when I first moved here how many states and how many markets I can run and go play in and be back in a day or two,” he says. “So ultimately I’ve turned into what I think they refer to as a weekend warrior guy. On a Thursday, I’m off and running, and I’ll play Thursday night, Friday night and Saturday night, and I’m home on Sunday with my family, and I only drive five or six hours in one direction.”
And while he’s surrounded by country music, Zonana’s musical direction continues to be pop-rock. On his new solo effort, Fix the Broken, he serves as guitarist, singer and bassist — as well as his own producer, a job that’s not as easy as it might seem from the outside.
“You are too close when you’re wearing all of those hats,” he says. “You can think you’re doing something great when you’re not, or you can overanalyze. The ability to give it a rest and come back to it and listen to it when you’re not even expecting what’s coming, and then you can judge whether it’s good or not or whether you like it or not. Instinct is a big one, so if you can maintain instinct, you can have enough of a fresh perspective to self-produce.
“I [took on so much] this time because I had something I had to prove to myself — that I can play all of this stuff well.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Saul Zonana on tour (schedule subject to change):
* Oct. 20: Wild Wing Café — Franklin, Tenn.
* Nov. 3: World Music Nashville — Bellevue, Tenn.
* Nov. 5: Douglas Corner Café — Nashville, Tenn.
* Nov. 15: LAB — Asheville, N.C.
* Nov. 17: Chais Music Hall — Wartrace, Tenn.