Q&A: Boaz and Zito
Updated: Mar 23
By August Edwards
It's not often I find an album that excites me so much just by its first track that it wins my trust for the songs to come. The 2022 folk album One for a Cello One for a Goat by Boaz and Zito does this, and today I get to share our interview.
Though a duo, they create what sounds like an eclectic, vivacious symphony. Jack Boaz and Eli Zito are working with multiple instruments each, but the magic of their music is honed by threads respect for everyday life woven in all of their work.
The words on this page, this interview transcribed, they hardly capture the charm and whimsy of this duo, but I think the spirit is there. Check out One for a Cello One for a Goat and be sure to catch Boaz and Zito at Moonlight Lounge this Friday or at High and Dry Brewing on April 2.
ABQGR: I notice that you started this project well into the pandemic—did that have any effect on what you were trying to accomplish with this project?
Jack: It certainly affected how we could practice and how we could play. Most of our timeline has been dictated by the pandemic and how we deal with it. We would love to have been playing more live shows two years ago, but it didn’t happen—it’s just starting to happen now. That gave us the opportunity to write more together. We both started as different forms of folk musicians coming from different traditions and places, and it gave us the opportunity—by necessity—to explore the process of writing together.
Eli: The pandemic hasn’t done too much to our music itself—the topics we’re writing about. It seems to affect us more in the way in which we’re going about the music business end of that, which is something everyone in the art and music world is trying to deal with.
You note that this album was recorded in the summer, between farming and construction work. Do you think that this would be the same album had that work not been surrounding these songs?
Jack: No. It would be different.
Eli: Yeah, I think it would be different. I would say that the songs seem to have a little bit of fatigue in them—not fatigue like they sound tired, but I think it’s something that comes up in a lot of our songs.
Jack: It’s a funny thing, because we’re now both full-time musicians, but before, I was farming, and Eli was in construction. So, it’s just this crazy schedule that takes everything out of your body and leaves your mind just, like, there. But then there’s this invigoration—you’re working outside, you feel strong, you’re connected to the place that you’re in. But then all those creative things you want to channel, you can’t. You know? It’s just—yeah. I don’t even know how to think about that summer.
Eli: Yeah, it was a hard summer. Also, I was living in Taos, and Jack was living in Albuquerque. So. when we weren’t working, we were making the drive to practice and record. It was a summer of making music, and work was a lot harder than it is right now. Now we’ve got a lot more time and a lot more creative energy to put towards music.
Would you say that this duo was born out of necessity? Considering the hardships you’ve faced, is it clear that it was necessary to come together to make music?
Eli: I think the two of us, we both have a strong necessity for artistic expression and songwriting—whatever that means—and we’re both really rooted in music. Jack has been playing music for his entire life, basically—starting with classical music and then traveling around Europe. I started playing music in the singer-songwriter realm. For me, music was always really that way of having some sort of artistic expression. We both individually need that, and individually need to be playing music together, and the thing that we found in each other is we have a shared vision of what we want to be doing with that. It seems like this group that we have brings out our individual necessities in a really good way.
Jack: That was a beautiful way to talk about it. And I do think we have a strong appreciation for each other, too, and our individuality and what we can make together. The necessity comes—all the business side is so hard, but when we play music together, it’s the reason we’re reminded why we do this. When we’re harmonizing together or when we’re playing together, it fits so well.
Eli: We’ve been talking a lot about how music is super intrinsic to the human experience. Yet, there’s all of this stuff around, which is the business and commodity end. And it’s really interesting to be in a place where so much time is spent in that, which is something that’s so different from playing the music itself. And sometimes we’ll just be playing music together and be like, wow. This is it.
What’s the significance of One for a Cello, One for a Goat?
Eli: It’s a very literal significance. There’s nothing metaphorical about it. When I was roofing, I did a couple of barter trades—one of those trades was for a cello. The cello is on the album—Jack plays it. And then I did another roofing trade—I fixed up a friend’s roof, and in return I got a goat. And we ended up doing a roof trade for the album artwork, as well.
Jack: It’s an homage, in a way, to all the stuff we were doing around recording the album, all the labor that was put into the art. The art was not just the music we were playing, it was surrounded by our lives and the ways that we make our lives. We’re just starting out as artists and we don’t have all the money to pay people for the album art and everything, but the way that we can interact with people is through the skills that we have. I think it gets to the base of where we come from or how we interact with people.
What’s something that you’re looking to accomplish when you’re performing these songs live?
Jack: I would like to engage people. I feel like music is this strange thing that gives permission to people to feel emotions in a public way, and so you’re at a concert and you’re having a shared experience that may be different for every single person, but to have that emotional experience in a public setting, or just allowing your body to feel that because the music moves through you—that’s what I think the service of music is, really. That’s all that I hope—is to create that connection with people, for the audience, for each other.
How does Hungarian folk music and mariachi music compliment each other?
Jack: I think very well. I studied Hungarian folk music in Budapest in 2018. My family is Hungarian, so I went to learn the language and the roots. It’s interesting music. Like what happens in our song “Cure the Morning"—in Hungarian string bands, you have the melody instrument, which is like the violin, and then you have two or three other violins or basses, and they’re just doing rhythms like that. It’s usually in an irregular meter. But it can also be fitted into a four. In that way, mariachi uses those rhythms. The rhythmic elements that are behind the melody, they fit.
Eli: What’s going on in “Cure the Morning” is the Hungarian side is the melodic part, and the mariachi part is only the rhythm. So, we’re not mixing mariachi melodies with Hungarian melodies, or Hungarian rhythms with mariachi rhythms. It leads to a really cool, surprisingly complimentary song.
Jack: The melody is a little bit—if you were to play it in the context that was with a Hungarian string band behind it, it would sound different. It would be a little bit more windy and a little bit more off a rhythm. Mariachi rhythm also uses crazy fast string parts. They are going so fast. In that way, that virtuosic style compliments each other.
What’s something that you love about New Mexican music, or music from New Mexico?
Eli: I would say the thing that I really love about New Mexican music—and I think it’s the same for folk music around the world—it’s definitely based around an experience. It’s very cultural. Mariachi music is Mexican music, New Mexican music has different styles all over the place. Where I come from, in northern New Mexico, the style is Norteño. It’s a specific type of northern New Mexican music, which begins around northern Santa Fe and ends around the San Luis Valley, and it’s this very small, very specific, super Spanish-influence, very Mexican-influence—but yeah, it’s very cultural and it’s about having spaces where people can get together and can be playing this music, also sharing food, there are specific dances that go with the whole thing. I think the thing that I like most about that is the space it provides for the people who are playing and the people who are listening.
Jack: Like how it reflects human experience, the day-to-day experience of living.
Eli: Yes. All of this music came at a time when people weren’t famous musicians. They could be well-known, but there was no one making a bunch of money off of it. So, it was very rooted in day-to-day experience.
For example, generally, the wintertime was when you played a bunch of music and wrote a bunch of music. Come spring when farming season would start, there would be this last day in springtime when everyone would get together, you’d play a bunch of music, and then you would put down your instruments for summer. Then you would work, and then you would do the harvest. And after that, you would get your music back out. So, it was rooted in seasons, survival.
Mariachi music is a different type of folk music—there were traveling mariachi bands through Mexico and southern New Mexico. They would travel around sharing songs that were really just the news from what was happening in other villages down South. That was the way in which people got their news, it was storytelling, and they were like the newspapers of Mexico back then. It’s very necessity-based in a lot of ways.
Jack: I do love the fiddle here. It’s edgy in a way. I like things that are not perfect. I like things that are not sugar-coated, and not put into a nice, shiny box and presented. I like things that have a little bit of edge that reflects everything around them still. That’s how I am. I think I definitely connect with the seasonality of things that happen in New Mexico in a really huge way. That really helps to remind me where I am at any time—it grounds me.
Eli: There’s this concept of the resolana, which is a word that now just means community space. Originally it was referring to the south-facing adobe wall, which is where everyone would get together on colder days and the warmth of the wall would warm everyone up, so it was this community space where the musicians would gather. Everyone would play music against the resolana. Now, it’s a word that’s used for whatever that space is. David Garcia wrote about how in Española, one place like that is McDonald’s now. It’s Española's resolana, where people will spend hours just drinking coffee there. That came from the southside facing wall where musicians would gather.