Zola Road leads to Walker’s Bluff

By Jake Saunder

The steady sounds of acoustic guitar shuffle in. Voices then meet the melody in a dual-part harmony.

Fresh off the release of its latest album, “The Way You Burn Me,” new local band Zola Road is on its way to a follow-up while meeting the demands for performances in the surrounding area.

Zola Road keeps things intimate, never shying away from the acoustic center they have established, which showcases its vocal talent.

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The Harrisburg-based band is led by Megan Wren, a junior studying radiologic sciences and Brian Smith.

The Daily Egyptian had the opportunity to talk with the duo before their performance at Walker’s Bluff Winery in Carterville this Friday.

When did you form Zola Road?

Megan: I think it was the end of 2012 in December, and we got more serious about it in January 2013. Then we started play in like April at different venues. We never got together until recently for the music, but we’ve known each other for five or six years.

Brian: We started writing songs and learning songs. We had played a Christmas party for somebody and we really liked the sound so we decided to take it and run with it and had quite a bit of success in 2013, and we have all kinds of things lined up for 2014.

What are your individual roots that influence the music you make together?

Brian: I grew up in a musical family and learned how to do harmonies. She did too, and that’s kind of the bedrock of what we do. The strength is really in her vocals I think. Growing up, I was able to practice all the time, which was really good but really awful, because nobody will smack you in line quicker than someone you’re related to when you’re flat or sharp.

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Megan: I started singing in church when I was eight and then it led on to singing the national anthem at basketball games around town and minor games and at SIU. Then (Brian) and I got together.

Describe your sound and what makes it unique?

Brian: We’re an acoustic duo, so it’s just the two of us singing and I play acoustic guitar. We kind of move toward pop or folk. We write songs and cover some top-40 stuff, country stuff and older songs. We’re able to put a unique twist on stuff that exists.

Megan: We have a wide variety of different genres that we can do. We kind of mix them to make them our own. We’re kind of folky but we can also take a Lady Gaga song and twist it into what we do, kind of bluesy and country. We’re kind of all over.

Do you play mostly covers or originals? How does this work into live shows?

Brian: Depends on where we are, like if we’re doing a longer thing, but probably half and half. If it’s shorter, we’ll do more songs off our record so people will buy it. But if it’s like Walker’s Bluff, we’ll probably do half and half, maybe even more covers than originals.

Megan: He wrote most of our original songs, so we do play a certain amount of originals and cover songs to fill time slots, however needed. We’ve got maybe 20 or so original songs. Our originals are kind of on the country side, but we do covers like Billie Jean.

How does the songwriting process go?

Brian: I generally write the songs. I’ll pitch them to Megan and we’ll work out arrangement and harmonies and stuff like that. We collaborate and it’s a good time.

Megan: He will write the lyrics and we’ll get together with the guitar and I’ll put in my little quirky inputs and stuff on how we should make the words hit the music. So he’ll run some words across me and I’ll be like ‘yeah, it’s fine’ and then with the guitar, we’ll form our songs.

What are your feelings on playing at Walker’s Bluff this weekend?

Brian: It’s one of the best places we play. The crowds are always fun. The atmosphere is great. That venue is just amazing. It’s always at the top of our list of places that we like to play.

Megan: We absolutely love playing at Walker’s Bluff, it’s got an awesome setting, it’s just real chill and people just sit there and listen to you and it’s really peaceful. We’ve been playing over there for a while now and we really enjoy it.

Jake Saunders can be reached by email at [email protected], on Twitter @saundersfj or 536-3311.

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