The 33-year-old producer just released a collaborative debut album, The Art Of Vibe
Zack Sarkissian is an Armenian-Canadian music producer living in Laval and making his living in the music industry, notably sound engineering for artists like Yngwie Malmsteen, and Foghat, and festivals such as Osheaga and Jazzfest.
He frequents Marsonic Studios where he has a studio to write, record, and jam in. Zack doesn’t happen to be his first name, however. He said “Zack is my artist and brand name. Zohrab is my given name.”
Growing up in an Armenian household, one would find a smorgasbord of genres emanating from the speaker. The influence of traditional Greek, Armenian, and Arabic features only one side of the coin. The radio would introduce Sarkissian to a variety of pop artists such as Cher with “Believe,” and the phenomenon that was The Spice Girls. Rap, hip hop and R&B were other genres that made themselves known in his world in the shapes of Tupac, Biggie, and Nas, to name a few.
Over time, he started to notice patterns in the songs, igniting his interest to understand and develop music.“I’d hear the [musical] scales that they were using and I understood and started to speak the language more because these genres are all based on the blues.”
Metallica is the band that got him to pick up the guitar for the second time — his first time being by his parents, before Sarkissian declined their offer to pay for guitar lessons. “For eight years I never had the intention of picking up an instrument and playing, till I felt the instrument woke me up. I heard that initial ‘DUN, DUN DUN DUUUN’ of the guitar,” Sarkissian said, referring to the recognizable opening to one of Metallica’s fan-favourites.”
At 16, Sarkissian did not envision himself becoming a producer or a mixing engineer, or even working as a live soundman — that’s definitely not what he had in mind. Yet growing as a musician means evolving into something one would not have thought of before. “Being a guitarist is what I wanted, being on a big stage, playing in front of a hundred thousand people, touring the world, that’s definitely what called to me.”
As the internet became more prominent, Sarkissian quickly discovered that metal was just one thing that called to him. What drew him to metal was, “the sound and the freedom of expression to be able to talk to the guitar.” From metal, he changed his sights to classic rock and hard rock, inspired by guitarists like Joe Perry from Aerosmith to Saul Hudson (Slash) from Guns N’ Roses.
Through these genres he noticed that they all held a common thread: the blues. B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Eric Clapton all entranced him, but nobody did it better than Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“It was like thunder hit me. As a kid, I remember watching wrestling with my grandparents and I distinctly remember Hulk Hogan’s intro had SRV’s cover of ‘Voodoo Chile,’ and so when I heard it again all those years later it floored me.”
With this newfound passion for multiple genres of music, Sarkissian found himself in a five-piece band called Monroe. They released a five-song EP called “The Art of Marvelous” which was recorded at Wild Studios outside of Montreal.
Eventually though, he had tapped out Montreal in terms of the musicians that he worked with and the venues that he was playing at and wanted a change. The Sunset Strip called to him, just like it called the members of Mötley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses and The Doors. But he didn’t just want to go there as a musician; more so as a sound engineer.
While there were schools in Montreal that taught with the same music curriculum, they didn’t interest him for a number of reasons. “I can go to L.A., go to school there, not too far from the Sunset Strip, with amazing weather and the beach, or stay in Montreal and pay a little bit less but learn from last year’s students who have no credibility per se,” said Sarkissian. Instead, he described how it was fulfilling to work and learn from acclaimed sound engineers in L.A. like Barry Rudolf (Lynyrd Skynyrd), David Isaac (Michael Jackson), Jerry Christy who worked on a number of Chaka Khan albums, and Jim Morgan (Eddie Kramer’s understudy).
Since his graduation at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, Sarkissian has done sound engineering for artists like The Winery Dogs (featuring Billy Sheehan from Mr. Big and Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater) and Gilby Clarke. Additionally, he has done sets at Ironman and Blues Festival.
Sarkissian advises upcoming bands and artists on the harsh realities of the music industry and how oversaturated it is. He added, “Learn social media. It’s your best tool. And learn the business, because you can easily get screwed.”
When asked about the longevity of bands nowadays compared to 20th-century groups and artists, he said, “It’s disheartening, not because the band is not good enough, it’s more of how the industry has made it out to be.” Nowadays anybody can make a single on a laptop, it’s easy, and the market itself wanting a specific sound and look has made the industry oversaturated.
Sarkissian and his old friend Jay, known by his stage name Jaay Noir, would dabble in their own genres; the former with rock and roll, and the latter with hip hop. In 2019 it clicked that they should mesh their styles and put out an album together after a series of successful singles. The style of music on the album ranges from country, R&B, reggae – with rock and hip hop being the predominant genres.
Sarkissian and Noir would learn to write songs together. Some songs were written within a week, while others would be spread out over months. The initial tracks took longer because they had to learn to collaborate, however, according to Sarkissian, “It all came naturally, an organic process.”
Sarkissian released the album in October this year, christening it The Art of Vibe, featuring songs like “Unde The Vermillion Sun,” and “Poison Ivy.” It is now available on all streaming platforms including YouTube and Spotify.
For now, he is keeping his future collaborations under wraps, but in the meantime, Sarkissian hopes to network with more musicians and continue to explore new horizons in the music industry.
Photo by Saro Hartounian