Brazilian soul and Californian passion light up music maker
Something keeps bringing Zach Ashton back to Brazil.
One of the first bands Ashton joined was a La Jolla-based Brazilian reggae band. He was the only American in the group. When he went to Brazil to produce a radio show in 2004, he ended up recording an album with a 10-piece Brazilian band at the Rio 8 Fonografico record label. His Bob Marley-esque song “Ocean” has risen to number three on the Brazilian charts. This summer, he will tour in Nicaragua, Berlin and Brazil.
It’s too bad he doesn’t want to be a rock star.
“I don’t care about being in the spotlight and all that stuff,” Ashton said. “I just want people to enjoy the music. That’s all I really want. Eventually, I want to have enough recognition to where I’ve done enough productions that other people want me to produce for them.”
Don’t get him wrong, Ashton loves making music. But, once the self-taught musician has recorded an album, he’s ready to move on to something new.
“I can only imagine Sting, when he goes to the concert. I mean, how many times has that guy sung the song ‘Roxanne?’ ” Ashton said. “There is something lost, I think, when you sing a song a certain amount of time. The emotion is gone.”
Based on this philosophy, the two albums Ashton has recorded are different. He describes “Mellow dia,” the album recorded in Brazil, as sounding like Sting and Bob Marley. Ashton describes “Sweet Nothings,” his second album produced at Strate Sound in Rancho Bernardo in late 2004, as a mix of early Elton John and Coldplay. Brazilian players were flown in from Sao Paulo to play for the album.
Alan Sanderson, who has produced for a long list of artists including Elton John, The Rolling Stones and Johnny Cash, lent his 12 years of Los Angeles experience to both records. He explained that the mix of Brazilian culture with American music gives “Sweet Nothings” its unique quality.
“It’s a Jack Johnson kind of approach, not really a sound,” Sanderson said. “It’s very simple. The songs are very sparse. The players are more schooled in music. When it comes to Brazilian players, you can’t beat it. They’re the best in the world. To bring that into the fold and you have an American songwriter doing American songs about American stuff, it’s something different.”
While growing up in Clearwater, Fla., Ashton liked to write and paint, but did not experiment with music until his young adult years.
“I always loved music. So I said, ‘You know what, this is something I want to be a part of,’ ” he said. “So, I started writing music and I picked up the guitar one day and started playing.”
Even so, he still didn’t think he’d be where he is today.
“I didn’t get serious about it until I was