Almost one year ago, Zach Gilleran and Dakota Smith (both also of Lipliplip Hands) performed their first show as Zach and Kota’s Sweet Life. After assembling a set of material in the music room of a house Smith shares with fellow musicians, the drum-and-guitar duo has honed the two-man band dynamic to create a distinct sound and now looks to up its performance frequency and put out an EP in the coming months.
So what’s in a name? Local acts often address the seeming absurdity of their monikers by noting that “all the good names are taken.” Zach and Kota’s Sweet Life is a not-so-subtle reference to Disney Channel program “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” and although the duo’s names offered too good a coincidence to pass up, the identifier goes surprisingly deeper than a cheap chuckle.
“It works on a few different levels,” explains lead vocalist/guitarist Dakota Smith. “Beyond using our names, it kind of limits us to being just Zach and Kota and requires us to keep it a two-piece. So it’s kind of a commitment thing. Another thing I find interesting about it, as far as the lyrics go, it’s not super heavy. The running themes throughout the songs are identity markers, how you identify yourself, and dealing with the ideas of static identities versus what changes over time. So Zach and Kota’s Sweet Life comes off as this celebration of life, or these almost arrogant guys who think they’ve got it so sweet, but then when you hear the words, it’s a little more complex; it’s a little more serious than the name implies.”
As perhaps unintentionally implied, the songs of Zach and Kota’s Sweet Life are indeed short and “sweet.” Leading off each set with the band’s theme song (which repeats the act’s name throughout), the duo proceeds into a flowing catalog of compositions that change shape and pace with a remarkable frequency given their brevity. Zach and Kota succeed in creating a full sound with only two instruments, largely through use of guitar looping and dueling vocals. The duo mindfully strives to avoid any resemblance to other renowned two-piece acts like Black Keys or White Stripes, and does so with a sound made uniquely recognizable through echoic, staccato vocals and constant changes in tempo.
“What’s funny is after every show we hear different things,” says Smith. “My No. 1 fear is that someone’s going to say, ‘You sound like The Black Keys’ or something. But what I hear is, ‘You sound like Arcade Fire’ or ‘you sound like Modest Mouse.’ I’m thinking that must be a compliment. I don’t listen to Arcade Fire much, but for a two-piece band to draw comparisons to a 12-piece band, I’ll take that any day. That’s not what I expected.”
The band is presently finishing tracks for a release within the next three months. Given the conciseness of its songs, Zach and Kota look to compile an album’s worth of songs with the length of an EP.
Despite the perceived challenges of creating a dense live performance with two players, Zach and Kota’s Sweet Life claims to be primarily a live act. Working with a loop station tested the act’s musicianship early on, but now stronger for it, the act thrives on stage.
“I think it makes it really accessible to people watching it,” says Gilleran. “There’s only two people on stage, so you can follow everything that’s going on. They know exactly what they’re hearing, and they can see it being done.”
“It’s meant to be a live band more than anything,” elaborates Smith. “We feed off the crowd and play better when people are there nodding their heads. We’re into it. I’m singing as much as I can, but I can’t wait to get away from the microphone and move a little bit and be as entertaining as I can. I feel like that’s what you’re supposed to do. It’s very head-rocking music.
“And I think the name alone lightens people up. It’s not like we’re naming ourselves ‘Dark Vultures’ or something super heavy. They expect something light. I like that. We like people to feel comfortable and come watch us and hang out. There’s no ego. We don’t get up there trying to prove something with sour faces. You see a lot of that and it’s upsetting. We’re really proud of how it’s going and what it’s become, and we’re excited to get out and play as much as we can.”
Saturday night Zach and Kota’s Sweet Life takes the stage at The Well alongside Gamenight and Spades Cooley. The show starts at 10 p.m. and admission is $5.
The duo is also slated to perform at The Groundswell Collective on March 20, though further details were incomplete at press time.
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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