Young musician back in Steamboat Springs
Steamboat Springs — Denver-based singer-songwriter Zach Heckendorf may be young in age, but his voice and talent convey a different message.
He combines his honest songwriting with rapid-fire guitar picking and infectious hip-hop beats.
At age 21, he signed his first record deal and released his first album, played at Red Rocks Amphitheater and shared stages with Rodrigo y Gabriela, John Butler Trio, Brett Dennen, The Lumineers, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Guster and One Republic.
Although he’s always played music, he recorded four songs on his own when he was a junior at Cherry Creek High School. His music features a dynamic style with influences from musicians like Jose Gonzalez and hip-hop artists Kanye West and Jay Z. For the past three years, he has been perfecting his craft and diligently working on his songwriting.
For the second time, he will be in Steamboat Springs, performing new and old tunes at 8 p.m. Sunday at Schmiggity’s. Earlier this week, Heckendorf called from Denver to speak with Explore about his history in the music industry and his upcoming show.
Explore Steamboat: What is it like performing outside of Denver in a town like Steamboat?
Zach Heckendorf: When you perform anytime outside of Denver and people show up, I’m always surprised and honored. At the last show in Steamboat, a ton of people came out and people of all ages were dancing at the base of the mountain.
ES: When did things really start taking off for you, and what spurred that?
ZH: I was about to go to college and the summer before I went, I got the chance to get on a label. After that, it started building from there.
ES: Is it kind of surreal to be young and already breaking into the music industry?
ZH: I don’t really feel that much of an age gap. I’ve just been doing this for so long I don’t feel that my age really influences what I do.
ES: Have you always had a knack for singing and songwriting or was it someone or something that influenced you to do this as a career?
ZH: I’ve always been pursuing music. I’ve been doing it ever since I was in the fourth grade. I definitely put myself out there in high school and that’s how things started building. But I’ve always been writing ever since the day I started playing guitar. What spurred me to go on with this as a career was the positive reactions I got to my music after shows and what I was recording. I thought it would be a good idea to follow through with it.
ES: What is your songwriting process like and what are some of the things you are inspired by?
ZH: It’s so different with every song. Recently, I started to regiment my songwriting duties and treating it as a job. The idea is that I go to an office practice space with the intention of writing. I’m really inspired by everything. All my friends, people I meet, literature, etc. Throughout the day, I’m always listening to things people are saying or doing and take it all in.
ES: What is it about Jack Johnson and Jose Gonzalez’s compositional styles that you like?
ZH: I definitely think when someone sees an acoustic musician, their mind automatically goes to Jack Johnson. I learned to play guitar by his songs. He’s a big part of what I do. What differentiates me from that, though, is that I listen to a lot of hip-hop and R & B music. So at times I’m not as laid back, but I try to bring a bit more fire while also honoring those initial styles.
ES: What was it like to perform with Rodrigo y Gabriela, Michael Franti and Big Head Todd? What did you learn from them?
ZH: It was awesome. I learned a lot from Rodrigo y Gabriela and how you have to present as much energy as you can every night. I also learned about consistency. Each of these musicians were really good at consistency with every show I watched. They always found a way to bring some new energy and that was inspiring.
ES: What is it about your music that allows you to stand apart from other musicians?
ZH: I definitely am still in the process of finding out who I am as an artist, but I think that I have a unique style of playing the guitar. It draws off of a lot of different influences. My style is very rhythmic because I play it almost like the drums. Not in a way where I am hitting it like a drum but in the way I try to snare hit it usually on that down beat. It’s a very percussive style.
Tickets for the Sunday show are $10 and can be purchased online or at the door.
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It was a love story that brought Jason Erwin to Steamboat Springs from Nashville, Tennessee.