As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 14 – New York-inspired (Dec. 2020)
Eighteen-year-old New Jersey native Abigail Zachko is already a musical phenom. The Berklee College of Music student was named the 2018 Young Guitarist of the Year. She has released her own music in her band this was planned*, and before the pandemic, was on tour with Mura Masa. Zachko fills us in on how she started playing guitar, how she would describe her sound, and her role as an Elixir artist.
How long have you been playing guitar?
I started playing guitar around five or six years ago.
You’re still a teenager, yet you’ve already released your own music and been declared 2018’s Young Guitarist of the Year. What a great accomplishment. How does that feel?
That whole competition came sort of out of left field for me; I’m still not entirely sure what happened. It was a whirlwind sort of weekend and a whole lot of fun. I think in a lot of ways, the competition sort of propelled me towards a lot of the gigs and opportunities I have now. I find being a younger person in the music industry to have both its advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, my experiences touring, recording, and playing feel more fantastical because I’m meeting new people from all over the world and constantly learning new things about music and the community/cultures surrounding it. On the other hand, it can sometimes feel like I’m at a disadvantage because I don’t have those experiences already under my belt. I think it’s become a balancing act of trying to continue to grow and learn whilst trying to sell myself as an already working professional.
You’re currently a student at Berklee College of Music, which is quite an accomplishment in itself. Has that always been the goal, or did you ever think you wanted to do something different in post-secondary school?
I think once I picked up the guitar, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do anything else. I’d never really cared much for most classes at school and always struggled with grades. I think I’d have rather tried to be good at this one thing and go to a school where I knew I could thrive than to be a mediocre student and struggle through a more traditional college.
Before the pandemic, you were on tour playing for artist Mura Masa. Have you been able to continue working with them in some capacity since the shutdown, or is it still on hold?
I’ve kept in touch with some of the cast and crew and have tried to keep up my chops for the rest of the tour (someday, fingers crossed) post-pandemic. Everyone in the band and crew was really lovely to work with and definitely a joy to talk to whenever I get the chance.
You also have a band called this was planned*. How does being in a band compare with touring with other artists?
I think this was planned* is special in that I composed the majority of the music. I really enjoy creating things—songs, riffs, progressions, etc. I think that this was planned* was a great outlet for that sort of thing. I also sang a bit in that band, which is not something I normally do. I do not consider myself a good vocalist by any means, but the great thing about this was planned* was that it was a space in which I could flex that creative muscle and challenge myself to step outside of my comfort zone without ruining someone else’s creative vision. This is contrasted with me performing other people’s music on tour. I think they both have their value. For instance, the majority of an instrumentalist’s work is going to be playing for various singer-songwriter types and performing other composers’ music, so it’s always good practice to learn from other people’s compositions. I also think playing other people’s music has helped me create my own sound, in a way, and helped me grow as a more versatile musician.
Your sound has been described as math-rock. Do you think that’s an accurate descriptor?
I’m not entirely sure everyone in the math-rock community would agree with that description, but in some ways, I feel like I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from those players. I really like the sound of those open chord voicings and fluttery guitar riffs that have been a staple in that genre since the early 2000s/late ‘90s. I also admire the way that math-rock bands like TTNG and American Football make those odd-time signatures feel danceable and catchy despite their somewhat more inaccessible and heady nature.
Well, how would you describe your sound to someone who’s never heard your music before?
I think I’m always trying to change and get better, so it’s hard to say where music I make five years from now is going to fall on the spectrum. At the moment, however, I feel like I take a lot of inspiration from old jazz players, R&B, and a bit of the aforementioned math-rock/prog.
Do you have any current projects in the works, or are you focusing on school for the moment?
I’m always working on a couple of songs here and there that might be released at some point. I am focusing on school, but I feel like once I’m in Boston, there will be plenty of projects and gigs to announce in a post-pandemic world.
You’re an artist for Elixir. How did you discover their strings?
I feel like I met some of the people from Elixir when I was maybe at NAMM a couple of years ago, and they have been kind to me ever since. They are definitely great people selling a great product, so I’ve stuck with them.
What have you been doing during the pandemic to continue with your music and stay involved with your fans?
I mean, I’ve been trying to keep creating little songs and ideas to put up online. It’s also just a good exercise for me to stay in shape musically. I’ve also played on some other people’s tracks and worked with some people on some upcoming tunes that may or may not be released. I have been suffering a bit from the infamous quarantine burnout that I’ve seen so many other creatives go through in these troubling times. Still, it’s always nice to know that there is something to look forward to, whether Berklee or other musical projects.