There’s a lot to be said for knowing one’s place – not in the sense of sitting back and letting opportunity pass on by for lack of confidence, but rather being willing to bide one’s time until things appear to reach their most prime positioning and knowing when to officially enter the arena. Zach Schmidt is a proponent of such school of thought, having spent his fair share of time hitting the boards from Pennsylvania to Oklahoma, and everywhere in between. Far removed from his days of toiling away in customer service to playing out to the Americanafest masses this past month, Schmidt has been through the thick and thin of this thing called music.
Condensing Schmidt’s journey into a single paragraph would be a great disservice to the man, especially when there’s a considerable amount of obstacle that provided impetus to his sojourn to Nashville. After spending time working in the customer care faction of a software company where the phones rang constantly with general woes and wariness of those struggling with the software, music served as a sole bastion of sanity during his time in Pittsburgh. Touring once every blue moon out of tour-unfriendly Steel country, Schmidt had saved up enough cash to make the move to Nashville, living on the floor of a friend’s house to figure things out, knowing he would do everything in his power to avoid anything near the world of “customer care.”
So having bought himself some time in a new town where he knew very few people, Schmidt began making the rounds, heading out to 2-dollar Tuesdays, the 5 Spot, and ended up meeting the likes of Joshua Black Wilkins, Aaron Lee Tasjan, and countless others, having fully ingratiated himself into the scene. But now, Schmidt has something worth setting himself apart from the scene that was so keen on being a part of – not in the divergent sense, but rather, a moment to stand on his own soapbox, after years of championing those around him – in his first LP release The Day We Lost the War. The LP features a whole slew of Schmidt’s songs – both old and new – presented in a manner of unfettered candor, managing to toe the line of homage and inauguration into this new age of country music.
Schmidt and his players got together in Ronnie Millsap’s old studio to witness the actualization of the record, bringing in long-time cohorts such as James Maple on drums, Aaron Lee Tasjan on guitar, alongside long-time players Adam Kurtz on steel and Carter Brallier on bass. The culmination of sounds and experience on The Day We Lost the War is a unique look into the hopeful road weariness of Schmidt juxtaposed against the all-too familiar cynicism of Nashville as a whole. The album runs the gamut of emotional uncertainty and despondency to brazen assertions of lover’s worthiness and actualization.
While all tracks have their merits, TDWLTW wastes no time delving into the depth of Schmidt’s concerns and doubts with love and life, with “Waitin’ On Me” standing out as a ballad of the comfort of death in living a full life, no matter how menial in the grand scheme of things. There’s a sobering reality that lurks just beneath the surface of TDWLTW, with tracks like the aforementioned “Waitin’ On Me” and “Company Man” peering into the subtle realities of love in the long term, and small satisfaction that the memory of lovers long gone can bring. While the primary feeling of TDWLTW is despondent satisfaction, the album isn’t all pontification on loss, it picks up on tracks such as “Dear Memphis” as Schmidt returns from the road, singing of wanderlust being overpowered by the yearning for home and the warm touch of a lover, all the while realizing there’s a limit to any time spent apart.
“Dear Memphis” serves as the finest standout on TDWLTW, as the story behind the song nearly outshines the song itself (but not totally) – following graduation from college, Schmidt took to a cross-country bike trip, which saw him and a large group of other cyclists phoning in to local church congregations for lodging on any given night. One such night, in Cason, Arizona, Schmidt stayed with the wife of a cattle rancher, whose husband would ride back and forth over the Mexico-Texas border at night to drop letters off in the mail every single day for his wife, who was living in Memphis at the time. Every letter had been signed off the same way – “Sincerely, I love you. Tom” – and the breadth of the moment sparked Schmidt into writing “Dear Memphis.”
That’s where the depth of Schmidt’s writing begins to show its truest capability – he runs parallel to the sensibilities of a Whitman-esque perspective on the preponderances of life, love, and comfortable despondency – drawing from both personal experience, and the experiences of others with a deft touch. He never falters in maintaining a sense of self, all the while honoring the origin of understanding.
The Day We Lost The War serves as the idyllic (official) introduction for Schmidt, as his presence in and around Nashville has long been felt by many and is bound to be experienced by even more in the near future. There’s a familiarity to Schmidt’s writing and musicality that recalls flecks of Williams (both Tennessee and Hank) melded with his own pensive perspective, culminating into a work so moving and realized, it can’t help but work its way to the listener’s core almost instantly. Its simple and unassuming, but in being so, makes it all the more visceral. So while Schmidt may not be the most familiar name in the Nashville scene, The Day We Lost the War is so viscerally familiar in its verve and perspective, that it’ll seem like you’ve known Schmidt all along.
The Day We Lost the War is available for download and purchase wherever music is sold or streamed.