Zack Villere sets himself apart by being himself
In a society saturated by high-production, polished content everywhere from films to social media, artist Zack Villere chooses to stay exactly himself. The singer, guitarist, and songwriter independently grew an internet-based following through his unique sound and eccentric personality. Unafraid to be a little weird, Villere makes music that speaks to the outcasts and young people who aren’t quite sure of their place in the world. A week after releasing his second album, Cardboard City, Villere came to Sonia in Cambridge to perform a concert just as candid as his music.
The opening act featured Mulherin, an underground R&B duo of twin brothers Marshall and Parker. Taking turns singing or harmonizing with their equally smooth, emotional vocals, the brothers set the mood with slow and heartfelt love songs. Relaxing guitar strums, drawn-out notes on a keyboard, and occasionally dreamy electronic elements accompanied their voices on their rhythmic ballads. Hearing them for the first time, I did experience points where the melody got lost on me. At other times, I was slightly disappointed by heavily auto-tuned vocals which, though an artistic choice, took away from the rich beauty of their natural voices. A couple of their songs also felt a little too sad and slow for my taste. But the brothers spiced up their repertoire with pieces featuring heavy bass and a steady beat, even performing an incredible cover of Usher’s “Confessions, Pt. II.” The duo unfortunately had to interrupt their performance a few times, once pausing to check a defective guitar pedal and sometimes redoing part of a song. But despite these minor setbacks, Mulherin managed to play songs that sounded pretty and drew on the emotions at the same time.
Following Mulherin’s act, Villere took the stage in a striped shirt, oversized jeans, and pink Uggs. Everything about his entrance was informal: he paused to fix the audio in his headphones, talked to members of the crowd, and jokingly called out to the city of Phoenix rather than Cambridge. The stage was completely empty but for him, his backup guitarist, and a single microphone. When he was ready, Villere grabbed his guitar — a black, pointed one in the style of metal bands that he admitted was purely ironic — and began to play.
There were no drums, no electronic sounds, and no visual effects beyond a few lights. The only sounds came from the guitars and Villere’s soft, captivating voice. He’s a talented singer, yet with simple notes he gave the impression of not trying too hard. That was the case for most of the rest of the night — Villere and his other guitarist would pluck beautiful melodies as he sang the lyrics to songs from Cardboard City and his earlier work. Sometimes his voice would crack a little bit. Sometimes he would be so caught up in the music that his face would be full of emotion as he sang. His lyrics were specific and personal, and he would often play with the rhythm by extending a beat or half-singing, half-talking. All of it made him vulnerable and real.
His songs were short and calming, some slightly sad. Without drums they felt stripped and free-flowing. But he also interspersed them with songs that helped lighten the mood and speed up the pace. Some of his songs were funky, with upbeat electronic notes and a strong rhythm for dancing. Some were so full of joy that they took on an almost youthful quality. But, for the most part, his music was the type to appreciate quietly, swaying from side to side.
Villere talked a lot in between his songs. Showing his sarcastic sense of humor, he talked about his music, his life, and everything in between. He and his fans were essentially on a first-name basis, having quick conversations and poking fun at each other. Even while performing he didn’t take himself too seriously — he played around with sound effects of famous rappers’ ad libs in the middle of one of his songs, or changed every lyric he could to be “Tim Larew,” the name of his manager. Spontaneously getting the idea to pay homage to Clairo, another artist who happens to be from Massachusetts, he gained the crowd’s approval to cover one of her songs and then proceeded to hum half the lyrics because he couldn’t remember. On paper, it sounds like the concert wasn’t much of a performance. But the audience was there as much for Villere as they were for his music.
A lot of artists have personalities that are relatively separate from their work. Their listeners may enjoy their songs but never care to interact with them. Villere’s music, on the other hand, is a complete projection of who he is. After the concert, Villere hung around to talk to fans. I spoke to him briefly, and he was every bit as sweet and genuine as his songs make him out to be. With no embellishments to stand in the way, all of his thoughts and fears and emotions reach his listeners directly. Villere is funny and unconventional. He feels love and hope and insecurity. He is just as human as anyone listening, and he lets it be known. Being so open must take an immense amount of courage on his part. But it comforts those who listen by letting them know they’re not alone.