Zak Tillotson, who goes by the stage name Zechariah Lloyd, won First Place in the “Blues” category of the 2020 International Songwriting Competition with the track “Down To The River.” This is a true blues song to the very core, with a great rhythmic musical base to set the stage for bluesy rock guitar riffs. Zak sings from his soul using lyrics that tell a story about life. His voice gives you southern blues vibes with great power and authority. I had the privilege to interview Zak about “Down To The River,” his musical inspirations and his future projects.
Where are you originally from? Where are you located now?
Originally from Vicksburg, MS. That's where I grew up and got into music. I currently live in Oxford, MS. I chased a girl up here in 2009 and never left.
When did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career as a musician?
My father was a drummer and my mother was a pianist at the church where i was raised, so music has always been around me and a passion of mine. I was about 17 or 18 when I actually started getting serious about music. Began playing with some touring bands at age 21 and that's when I really began to think about it as a career option.
Who is your biggest influence/inspiration to become a musician?
My mother and father are two big inspirations, but not in the way you would probably think. They were in a gigging band together before I was born and were pressured by their families to go the "straight and narrow" route once I came along. Though they played at church while I grew up, I always could sort of tell that they were meant to do it, wanted to do it. And I wanted to be that FOR them - to show them that you can succeed at what you've been blessed with. When my son was born, that sort of just amplified that same desire - to be a role model of being confident in what you feel called to do and do it.
As far as musical influences, on drums - mostly John Bonham. He's the master of the "double bass" sound with just one drum pedal. That translates to some of the percussive stuff I do. Sometimes I can't help but feel that Bonham back beat while playing guitar.
On guitar, though, Stevie Ray Vaughan was my first introduction to the blues. His emotion that was expressed through his playing really inspired me. Also Derek Trucks - the way he makes his guitar sing always gave me chill bumps. He always seemed to play with a level of sincerity and emotion that, I felt at the time, was unmatched by other players 90% of the time. That combined with the positive message of his original tunes really inspired me to try and focus on authenticity, emotion, and sincerity with my music.
What genre of music do you consider yourself to be?
That's always a tough question to answer. I consider myself a "Blues" artist for just one reason. That reason being that the majority of my songs are written about my pain and experience with feelings of blues and sorrow. Some people don't agree because I don't wear a zoot suit or because I don't play the standard list of blues cover songs that 80% of the circuit "blues" players cover. That makes me a square in a circle shaped box these days - not fitting into the normal Blues scene or circuits. But my songs have always been my prayers, my pleas, my meditations - my way to process getting through hard times & heart break. I firmly believe ( and I think Fred Mcdowell would agree ) that's the realest definition of "The Blues" there ever was.
What was your inspiration for writing the song that you submitted for the International Songwriting Competition?
“Down to the River” is the first single from my upcoming EP with Plaid Dog Recording out of Boston, MA. That should be finished around the end of July. Keep an eye out!
It's a song about who I am and where I'm from - physically, musically, and spiritually. Lyrically, it starts with the Blues folklore story about meeting the Devil and trading your soul for wealth and fame, then moves to the story of my folks and my hometown. Finally ending with where I am now. The chorus is a sentiment to that desire I think we all feel at times - to find some peace and get our mind right.
What do you hope for listeners to take away after listening to your song/music?
As I said earlier, most of my music - to this point - has been my way to express or get through experiences in my life, whether good or bad. My hope is for the listeners to be able to identify with those feelings I express and say "I've been there too." Not to get too preachy, but the music is just a way for us as people to connect, and THAT is what it's all about. We're all in it together. You aren't alone. If my music can connect with you on some level, maybe that will help you connect with someone else.
What is your favorite song that you’ve released and why?
“Change is Comin',” off of my self released EP from 2019 is probably my favorite song I've released so far, though the quality from that EP may not be the best. That song was kind of the apex of my music career beginning. It's a combination of two songs that were half written. One day I was writing and looking at the two and it just clicked. It's a song about knowing that something better is coming, knowing that you have to make a change, and trusting that you're being led in the right direction. It's about heartbreak and hopeful outlook all wrapped up into one tune.
Who were your favorite musicians growing up? Do you feel that they played a role in influencing your music today?
I was kind of a weirdo growing up. I was into a weird group of music. Some of my favorites were: Weird Al Yankovic, Rage Against the Machine, Tool, The Blues Brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Led Zeppelin.
I definitely feel like these acts influence the music I play today, but in different ways. The Blues Brothers and Weird Al both gave me a sense of "Music is fun" growing up and I definitely try to embody that at live shows ( sometimes we cut up pretty good lol). The other influences have had an effect mostly on my writing. With the exception of Tool, the other bands had a certain level of "rawness" to their sound that I was always drawn to and try to emulate both in live performances and in recording technique. The musical mastery of Tool was mesmerizing to me. It made me appreciate "stepping out of the box" so to speak, in relation to music. I definitely try to do that when writing.
If you could collaborate with any musician throughout history, who would you choose and why?
Wow, putting me on the spot! This may seem like it's coming from left field, but Chris Cornell. His voice was the first voice I felt like mine was similar to when beginning to sing, so I latched on to any and all of his material that I could get a hold of. His lyrics always seemed mysterious to me and I really dug that. Just always loved his songwriting style and would have loved to work with him. I actually have a song I'm working on that he is the main inspiration behind.
Do you have any new projects that you are working on?
Absolutely! My second release, but my FIRST professionally recorded and mastered release. It's an EP titled Down to the River, which is the single for it. I'm recording it with Mike Davidson and Plaid Dog Recording out of Boston, MA. We're scheduled to finish recording towards the end of July and set to release Early August 2021. Also the drummer and lead singer for a Power Trio called: The B3. We just opened for Drivin and Cryin and Riley Green at the Mudbug Festival in Natchez, MS. We're working on our first studio album at the moment. Last, but not least, is my 6-piece full band, Southern Groove Redemption. We do a lot of my original material and write some together as a band as well. Based out of Oxford, MS and play regionally.
Are you planning on touring/performing any shows in the near future?
I currently have about 50 shows on the books for this summer ( May - August ) most of them are regional to Mississippi and Southern Louisiana. But I'm always down to book more! Looking to book up the Fall currently and I love to travel! Check out my website for specific dates and show locations.