Arts & Entertainment

A Conversation With Nomadic Traveler and Song Writer, SUR

Courtesy of Christine Wolff

Winding roads — ocean to one side, forest to the other. When listening to SUR’s poetic songs, the listeners will likely be transported to any place where the air is fresh and the road is infinite.

California-bred musician and producer Zack Arnett, known as SUR, transforms inspiration from his nomadic adventures into deeply melodic sounds. The artist self-produced his debut EP, “Savage Beast” in 2018. SUR’s hit song “Lean Back” earned the title of the WWE Fastlane 2018 theme song.

SUR performed at Lollapalooza’s Bud Light Dive Bar stage. Amidst all the turmoil at the festival, The Phoenix caught up with Arnett and talked about the artist’s vision for SUR, his music taste and how he views today’s music industry.

How are you enjoying Lollapalooza so far? Have you been before?
It’s not my first time in Chicago, but it is my first Lollapalooza. It’s crowded as fuck. It’s rad. Everyone’s been super cool to us, and I just like seeing a ton of people vibing and feeling happy and excited. It seems like at this festival, people are here more so for the music, whereas some of the festivals we’ve played, they’re slightly more self-absorbed, kind of just there as an activity — for a thing to do, for a selfie.

Lollapalooza does a good job at picking the sets — it’s a little more niche.
Exactly. You can go into a giant stage with ten thousand people, or you can kick it under a tree and watch a low-key band. You can do whatever you want, you just have to stay hydrated. And drunk.

Where did “SUR” originate from?
“SUR” is based off a place called Big Sur in California, where I grew up and where I went back to to make the music. I road tripped out there and started a lot of the records out there, in the desert. I didn’t even know I was making a record, I was just making music inspired by the environment. It became a record later, and we were like “We’re going to call it ‘SUR.’”

Your music reminds me a lot of driving down winding roads through the mountains.
Have you been to Big Sur?

I have not. I’ve only ever been to Los Angeles.
That’s funny you say that because if you go there, it’s exactly what you’re going to feel. I want SUR to be a long road trip, and the first EP was just getting you started to see the terrain, but you’re not quite deep into it yet. The next round of music, the next EP I’m going to put out, you’re going to start traveling into the depths.

Do you do a lot of road tripping yourself?
I try to get out of L.A. as much as I can. It’s very important to me to leave and be inspired. I usually go up to Big Sur and Joshua Tree, when it’s not too crazy hot. I made the record in Joshua Tree, actually. Big Sur and Joshua Tree are my spiritual spots that I go to to recharge my batteries.

Would you consider yourself more of the city or outdoorsy type?
Honestly, I need them all. I couldn’t just live in one of those environments. I’m a traveler, and I need to keep moving.

Where’s your favorite place that your music and your travels have taken you to so far?
I would say the experience of playing festivals is probably the highlight, in the sense that all of this was made by me — I didn’t really have a lot of help. I was really alone, which is awful, by the way. I wouldn’t put it on anyone. To go from that to moving out into the world and being able to travel, play the songs and be at festivals and see what people are up to in New York and all these different spots — that’s a total blessing for me.

What’s your favorite moment from playing festivals and concerts?
South By Southwest was one of my favorites. When we played, it was the perfect timing. The crowd was so into it and pumped. It was an earlier show and we were just kind of breaking the ice a little bit. South By was really cool. I’ll remember that for a long time.

Who are some artists you’ve been listening to that are adding to the culture?
I listen to random stuff. There are some strange bands that have been motivating me. This kid that I met, NoMBe, we met randomly and I checked out his stuff. I really dig him. I listen to a lot of hip-hop and obscure, weird shit. It’s always flying past my radar. I’m keeping my ears fucking wide open right now, and especially because I’m writing right, I’m listening to a lot of different music. I’m taking everybody’s vibe in right now — not even music, just humans and the world. I’m trying to figure out where we are in this world right now.

What’s something you struggle with when it comes to your music career?
There are so many variables with music, which is why it’s such a tough business to be in right now. People’s mood changes from second to second. You could love something one minute and the moon turns a little bit and you don’t like it. Some people don’t have an opinion at all. They just want to party and boogy and fit in, and that’s cool, too. It’s a huge spectrum of things to think about.

Speaking of stars, when’s your birthday?
May 10. I’m a Taurus.

There are five planets in retrograde right now, so things are getting weird.
Yeah, it’s not a good time to make long-term decisions. I feel like it’s always in retrograde, fumbling around life. It makes a little more sense when you can say, “It’s in retrograde. It’s okay, nothing is coming together the way I wanted it to.” That’s part of it – you have to embrace all of that, find the balance, and ride the wave.

You’re all inked up. What’s your favorite story about a tattoo?
There’s a short film on this movie. The tattoo artist is a friend of mine who owns a shop in L.A. called “Broken Art Tattoo.” Somebody was doing a short film based off his work. It was a fairy tale. That’s the most memorable because there’s a film attached to it. I was in it, and they made me act in it, which was weird. It’s called “Shoot For The Stars” on YouTube.

You mentioned released some new music. What can fans expect from it?
I was going to drop a single and take you deep. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be dark and slow. I’m traveling deeper into the psyche, trying to open parts and resonate feelings that I feel. I’m hoping we’ll have a single by the end of September.

Where can people find more of your music?
It’s all over. It’s so preference-based now, where people are finding their music. But it’ll be everywhere.

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Arts & Entertainment Editor

Emily Rosca hails from Chicago and is majoring in print journalism and minoring in French. She constantly searches for the truth — which is better: hamburgers or pizza. Find out what she decides on Instagram @thelokalnomads.

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