Interview with Gio Bard Zero
Gio Bard Zero is a multi-instrumental musician based in Denver. Classical and jazz pianist, singer-songwriter, and guitarist fluent in genres ranging from rock to flamenco, Gio's shows can hone in on a specific niche or take the listener on a cohesive sonic journey. His debut album "Songs of Life and Death" is set to release in August of 2022.
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
My parents put me in piano lessons when I was 6. It was actually a pretty rigorous classical music program through the conservatory in my hometown. But I didn't really start taking music seriously, particularly making my own music, until I was 13 and picked up the guitar. My mom's worst nightmare was for me to be a career musician, so my first major in college was computer science. I eventually realized that I can't do anything other than music. Had I not invested more in a music career, I'd probably be a software developer.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I'm a big fan of ice baths and cold immersions using the Wim Hof method. It healed the tendonitis I got from overdoing fast flamenco guitar lines and in general is a great invigorating practice that leaves me feeling healthy and refreshed. I love standing under waterfalls in nature and going into cold streams, even during the winter. There's a certain amount of yoga and meditation involved in the practice. I'm a big fan of mindfulness practices in general. I feel like the best music comes out when the musician is relaxed and these practices really help me connect with myself and bring out the best.
How long has music been your career?
About 9 years. It's been a full-time job for the last 2 years.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I'm currently based in Denver. We have a very tight-knit music community and I was greatly inspired to start writing my own songs after witnessing the amazing talent at various open mics in town. Many of these musicians have become close friends and continue to inspire me. I eventually started hosting my own open mic at the Corner Beet, which was instrumental to connecting me to all of Denver's music scene. It took me from being a bedroom musician to someone who sees music as a way of bringing community together. I'm originally from Georgia (the country in Eastern Europe), so hearing all these people as an immigrant with my own unique influences from back home has also put a unique twist on my songwriting.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
The best show I played was this June at the Savoy here in Denver. We had a great turnout, my backing band sounded amazing, and everything about the venue was perfect. I had been working on my theatrical act to go with my album and it was the first time playing it in a venue with a real stage in front of a large audience. The entire experience and the audience response gave me a lot of confidence in the project which is very unconventional.
It's hard thinking about what THE worst show I have ever played is, I feel like all the bad ones blur together. One thing they all have in common is a bad/absent sound person and the inability to hear myself or the band on stage. If competitions count, the first time I played at a piano competition I choked up during an easy section of a difficult Chopin piece and had to restart it. That was probably the most embarrassing I've felt on stage.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Dazzle was a joy to play at. Very professional staff and a great stage. I enjoy the Savoy too, a really classy place. It's owned by my friends and feels familiar. Lastly, I feel very at home playing at the Corner Beet, since it's where I run my open mics. I'd love to play more shows at Dazzle. Enigma Bazaar is another venue that's on my radar. The Bluebird Theatre would be great once I have a big enough following and Red Rocks is a dream.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Oh man, that's a tough one. If we're talking local musicians, I'd love to collaborate with El Javi more, he's incredible. I'd also love to do a show with Kiltro, their frontman Chris used to be a regular at my open mic at the Corner Beet and it's really refreshing to see how far his band has come. If it's open season for anyone, I'd love to do a show with David Byrne. Like myself, he also has a knack for musical performance art, I'm a big fan of both the Talking Heads and everything he did after.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into music?
If it's just playing music for fun, then don't take failures too seriously and keep playing, even if you don't think you're getting anywhere. You'll start seeing progress soon and music might just become a way to escape time and stress. If it's a career in music, it's a lot of work and you better love music with all your heart, especially your own sound. I feel like a career in music is one of the hardest things to do and there's not a lot of guarantees, even when you're doing all the right things. But there are great experiences to be had and you'll meet lots of fantastic people, so if you love music, it's all worth it.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?
Relax a little, everything's happening the way it should. Have confidence in your ideas, even the really weird ones.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
"Your Heart" is very meaningful as it was the first song that I wrote that I was truly happy with. It was the song that made me feel like "hey, I can be a songwriter" rather than just someone who throws together sounds with random nonsensical lyrics.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
As far as I know, "Death" is very fun to play, particularly the ending: it gets the crowd riled up and I'm always excited to play it. If we're talking covers, Al di Meola's "Mediterranean Sundance" always wakes people up and is a nice show piece. Seems like everyone has different tastes when it comes to my own songs, my friends all have different favorites. Many people seem to be fond of my cover of Gogol Bordello "Start Wearing Purple".
What is the creative process for you, and what inspires you to write your music?
Oh boy, the creative process for me is very chaotic. A lot of times things happen very late at night. I am usually engaging in destructive habits, eating ice cream, watching TV after a very long day with a surprising amount of energy. Then I will play music intermittently and sometimes I'll find that 4-5 hours have passed and the sun is coming up. Some of my greatest breakthroughs have come this way. On another hand, I regularly take "writing breaks" in the mountains at a cabin on a friend's property. This is the very opposite approach: I will get plenty of sleep, meditate and exercise in the morning, then sit by the creek and start playing. Being in nature inspires me the most. There's nothing like it, I love getting away from the city as much as possible. Fantasizing about very specific scenarios in which the human world might be saved from utter extinction also gives me a lot of inspiration and drive to write.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
Lot of my songs deal with themes of growth and the mystical. The idea that we're put here to do something important resonates with me. Whatever it is, I think we're bad at it as a species but have lots of potential to learn. I'm fascinated with myths, fables, and spiritual stories from all cultures. Some of these inspire my music. Then there are love songs, I'm a sucker for a good love song. And with my upcoming album specifically, the theme of addiction comes up a lot. I lost my father to alcohol when I was 9 and it greatly shaped my view of the world. I myself have an addictive personality and have done lots of work on uncovering the inner workings of it, I think the insights are quite beautiful and I like to share them in my music.
Do you ever have disagreements when collaborating and how do you get past them?
Absolutely. Usually, direct communication works wonders, I don't like tip-toeing. I appreciate working with artists who will speak up if something feels off and are not afraid of hurting my feelings. By the same token, I appreciate collaborators who are open to suggestions. Things can definitely be messy, artists can be very particular and stubborn sometimes, but as long as there's no personal shade thrown, I'm happy being patient and working things out. The hardest thing is deciding not to work with someone because of creative differences, I'm fond of most people and find ending professional relationships to be difficult.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
My album "Songs of Life and Death" is almost finished and I'm very excited to release it. The release party will be happening on August 27th at the Savoy and the album will become available on all platforms in September. I'd like to do different things after spreading the word: definitely some music videos and shows, maybe a tour even. The live show is a bit like performance art, involving costumes and characters, and I'm very excited to share it with more people. Beyond the album, I want to put together shows in Denver that are more than just a bunch of people standing around a dirty venue with beer. I'm seeing more and more local Anything that goes above and beyond to make a concert into an immersive and memorable experience interests me.