Artist Interview: Zach Mackey

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New to the world of personal expression through songwriting, Zach Mackey has crafted a beautiful, personal narrative in his debut EP, Just Boy Things. The album is an exploration into crafting identity based on your individual truth, and Mackey is open in presenting himself as a gay man, free to be who he feels he is. I got the opportunity to discuss the story behind the EP with him, and it was an incredibly honest and enlightening experience.

I asked Mackey about the personal journey that led him to start this project, “I’ve always been involved with music as a UNC Art graduate focusing on composition, but I’d never had any intention of writing/performing vocals. It just seemed too intimidating. Then, I started doing poetry around my junior year, and I took a good look at who I am through that lens, and it took off. I was also very inspired by Tank and the Bangas; specifically Tarriona Ball’s ability to depict emotions musically.”

Moving into the center of the narrative, Mackey explained that the EP’s concept “comes out of my first homosexual relationship. It became toxic to the point that I actually stopped writing music for about a year. When I finally picked it back up and felt like I needed to express myself through music again, I snuck out of our shared apartment in the night while he was asleep, went out for a long drive, and wrote the song ‘What About.’ Deciding to get healthier and leave for something more promising, I moved out to L.A. where I am now. After ruminating on the whole experience, I wrote the EP as a response.”

Since Mackey is trained in composition, I was curious about the structure of the EP in relation to the narrative. I asked him if the track order was important to the direction, since each song personally addresses someone in his life. He replied that, “Chronologically, it begins at the end of that bad relationship I mentioned. As the album progresses, so do I. There’s a section about my decision to leave, one about adjusting to both living somewhere else and sort of as someone else. It culminates in me coming to terms with where and who I am now, regardless of who believes in me or not, because the whole point or theme of this album is honesty and transparency.”

This was a great segue into our next topic, which focused on how Mackey decided to be transparent with his Christian family, who were a huge catalyst in his revelation, both positively and negatively. I asked him how his family responded to both his coming out, and his creation of the album.“Luckily, my father and my sister were very accepting of me. It went similarly with my friends, and anyone who had a problem with who I am just separated themselves quietly. I appreciate that, because if you don’t want to be around me because of who I am, then you’re free to leave. Won’t miss you. The only real negative reaction comes from my mom. We were super close throughout my childhood, and unfortunately, I’ve watched that dynamic shift so much since I made my happiness a priority. However, that’s what’s truly important: your own safety and comfortability, and that only comes from being honest with yourself.”

I was curious how the decision to conceptualize this self-actualization and honesty as a work of art felt for Mackey, and if he felt any catharsis from explaining himself this way to his family, or if it caused a deeper rift between them. He took a deep breath, saying, “The process of creating this work was incredibly cathartic. I feel very proud and fulfilled in having something I can call my own. When I listen to the EP, I just think, ‘This is mine, I made this, and it will always be true to me.’ The writing was raw, in the moment, no edits. This is me, right now, you know? That being said, the response from my mother was not what I was hoping it would be. Like I said, the rest of my family was very supportive, but I didn’t even tell my mom about it until, like, a week before it was released. When she finally heard it, she was more upset about me coming out publicly like that than she was about me writing this emotional, real song about our relationship and how it affected me. That honestly hurt the most, that I felt like my mother didn’t want me to be who I am.”

Coming to terms with his sexuality and identity took a lot of time and introspection, but Mackey looks to the future of his project and hopes to explore more about himself in further releases, concluding by saying, “I’ve definitely got more stuff coming, and I plan on putting my energy into less heartbreaking content. I want to experience music inspired by my happy, positive emotions. I hope listeners absorb the heartache from this EP and learn to be honest with themselves, because I think that will lead to accepting themselves and exploring their happier emotions, too.”

Make sure you check out Zach’s EP, Just Boy Things wherever you stream, and keep an eye on him for more great tracks!

Luciano Ferrara | @LucianoRFerrara

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