Authenticity, serendipity light Emeen Z’s way to debut album
Serendipity is on your side, Emeen Zarookian.
First, he’s a Beatles fanatic. Pick any album, and he can tell you exactly which guitar is being played, the technique used to play it and what technical effects compose the sound. “That’s why I play music. Because I love the Beatles,” he said over coffee in Central Square’s 1369 Coffee House.
Zarookian, 25, like any to-the-core fan (his cat is named Sir Paul), once believed his volume of knowledge could only be applied to his own music. That is, until his employer — Central Square-based video game developer Harmonix — asked him to shoulder the task of authenticating every sound of every strum for its then-top-secret project, “The Beatles: Rock Band.” “Knowledge that I thought was useless finally got put to use,” he said. And that felt good. Like, the I-had-a-hand-in-making-the-sequel-to-the-most-addictive-game-ever kind of good.
And then there was the time he was watching Showtime’s “Weeds” with his roommate. At one point, he hopped up to check his MySpace account, and found a message from a line producer for “Weeds” asking if Zarookian would be interested in letting the network use his catchy song, “You Lit Up For Me.”
“At first, I thought it was a joke, and I asked my roommate: ‘Is this you?’”
Lucky for him, though, the inquiry was real, and he now has bragging rights to a widely viewed YouTube promo for the show. But the song’s origin didn’t exactly take root in cannabis. As an undergrad studying film at Emerson College, Zarookian would often relax on the docks of Boston Inner Harbor. “On one of those nights, I was sitting on the dock, and as I leaned back to lay down, I heard a plunk-splash, and knew my phone had fallen out of my sweatshirt pocket. It all just happened in slow motion.”
Zarookian sat up, looked down at the dark water (too grimy to reach in, he said), and saw nothing — until his phone, sinking quickly, lit up brightly as it faded and disappeared into the murkiness. Although he lost dozens of contacts that night, the phone lives on:
You fell down
Out of my pocket and into the sea
You lit up for me
You fell down
Out of my pocket and into the deep
I miss you terribly
His album, which is set for a digital release in November and a (hopefully) limited-edition vinyl release in December, has been three years in the making. “When I’m inspired, I make music,” he says, and as fate has it, this happens a lot, as he is already planning to record and release another by the end of 2010. But he has stuck with this soon-to-be album, in spite of time passing by, new ideas supplanting old ones, noisy practice spaces, 4 a.m. recording sessions and finicky equipment. “Sure, it’s all annoying,” he said. “But I just get pissed, smoke a cigarette and keep trying.”
The self-released album is expected to brandish a raw, decades-old sound, much like the ’60s Beatles and Kinks styles he so adores. Zarookian achieves this by recording his music in digital and analog mods, then running it back through an analog tape deck at Basement 247 in Allston, where his album is being mastered. Everything else — the writing, recording and playing — was done with his own hands. When playing live, though, as he will Oct. 30 at T.T. The Bear’s Place in Central Square, Emeen looks to hired guns Andrew Sadoway, Matt Sisto, Adam Arrigo and Ken Marcou to pick up everything but the lead guitar and vocals.
Until then, though, Zarookian will leave his Somerville apartment to tour the East Coast with Brooklyn-based Elizabeth and the Catapult and continue to develop the album art for his CD with a friend who, he said, initially approached him with an idea — a mosaic motif — that was the same idea Zarookian had been waiting to share.
Having already toured with E&TC for a month this past summer, Zarookian said he is grateful for the folks at Harmonix for being so flexible. After all, when you’re a go-to resource for developing the first interactive video game featuring the most popular band of all time, shouldn’t touring with a band be considered professional development?