Melodize The Zeitgeist

Starting with “I” multi-instrumentalist Spazz Cardigan is working towards creatively changing our human experience.

Spazz Cardigan performing at Whiskey Jam with drummer Jonathan Odine and producer/bassist Tripp Weir

Leaning against a bar in The Basement East, my buddy Tripp (of Cassio Monroe) is excitedly showing me clips taken during the creation of Spazz Cardigan’s newest music video, Happy Little Pills.

“He plays every instrument — tonight I’ll be backing him up with bass while Jonathan plays drums, but the record is all him. It’s a great project, and Spazz is a very unique talent. I think you’ll love it!” Tripp says before greeting the artist himself, who had just walked up beside me.

During the show, I couldn’t stay in my seat because the urge to dance along was too strong. Spazz didn’t say much in between songs, which was commented on by some of the fans… but they all agreed that it worked. Everyone stayed fully engaged. Spazz Cardigan let the music speak for him.

Chaz McKinney, AKA Spazz Cardigan, outside The Basement East in Nashville, TN

Outside the venue later in the evening, Chaz McKinney is extremely talkative. We spend a good 10 minutes discussing the current state of politics in the US, before making the shift back to his music as he explains where Spazz Cardigan came from.

“A decade now I’ve been putting out records — more than a decade of playing bar gigs. I got to a certain point of burnout with the industry, and with myself because of how I was approaching everything, so I took a year and a half hiatus. I was really just trying to understand everything that’s been going on, trying to remove myself a bit… trying to step outside objectively and dissect what’s going on with the human and cultural psyche, because I didn’t get it. There was so much confusion and… static. And the way to break through was just writing.”

“What inspired that name?” I ask. “You don’t seem overly spazzy, and you’re not wearing a cardigan.”

Spazz laughs. “One: thank you for that.” He pauses thoughtfully, then says, “I was a very spazzy child. And in my my waking life, I have my moments — I think everyone does. It was a nickname that stuck around the family, and particularly around school. A lot of people knew me as Spazz before they knew my actual name… I’d been sorting names for months, and it just popped into my head. I asked my roommate at the time, ‘Have you heard of Spazz Cardigan?’ He says, ‘no, who’s that? What’s he done?’ And I knew — that’s the one! It sounds like a name — and it’s Spazz, I’ve always been Spazz… and I wore a lot of cardigans at the time.”

“I learned, on this record, to not pressure myself about a deadline. To live, let the songs happen, let my life happen, and let that become the songs… because inevitably, that’s what happens. I’ll make what I make.”

You’ve said your music has evolved with who you are at the time. What right now is influencing you as Spazz Cardigan?”

Spazz begins listing a range of musical influences for his new album, “I” including the composer Sun Ra, jazz bassist Charles Mingus, rock band Talking Heads, virtual band Gorillaz, and his two favorite artists — Bjork and Imogen Heap.

“I also had a very hard diet of Kendrick Lamar. To Pimp A Butterfly changed my world. I think it changed a lot of musicians’ worlds, but the day that album came out, it was like a gospel. That was about a year and a half ago, that’s where I was living through most of that record.”

At that moment, a couple leaving the venue walks past and greets Spazz, telling him how great he was, and that they’d love to “get him in a room with a bunch of keyboards, just get weird with it.”

“Bless! Thank you!” Spazz says as they walk away, then turns to me, smiling broadly. “Oh, I love that. That was great! What beautiful people.” He sighs contentedly, and says, “I love the world. I love people so much.”

Spazz Cardigan’s first album, I — available on iTunes & Spotify
“I think that’s really what I want people to get from the record — that no matter what kind of music they like, no matter what line of work they’re in, no matter their partisan beliefs… compassion is the answer to everything.”

Are you planning an album, ‘II’?”

“Yeah, of course! I wouldn’t have named this one ‘I’ if I wasn’t.” We laugh, and then Spazz tells me his plans for even releasing mix tapes between each record. “There’s a lot I want to say in between.”

“What are your hopes for the next stages in your music?”

“I’d like to spend the next year and a half on tour, honestly,” Spazz says earnestly. “That’s really the goal, is just to play bigger and bigger shows, to get the record to more people, and to see how it connects with people — let that influence how 2 and 3 and 4 or whatever sound, and just let the message spread. I want to make the best music, I want to play the best shows, and I want to talk to people.”

“So there will be lots of interacting with fans?”

“Lots of interacting!” He gets more enthusiastic, continuing, “Everything for me, it’s about the conversation, constantly engaging and seeing where people are at, because me telling my story… it’s not an ego move, it’s not because I think people need to hear what my thoughts are… it’s because I think that if you’re going to change the landscape of the zeitgeist, and if you’re going to change the dialogue, you’ve got to just do it. You have to contribute, you have to be part of it. I want to hear where people are at, I want to hear their stories, I want to hear why they like or don’t like the music! It’s all about the conversation.”

“Just dreaming here… what band would you like to tour with?”

Spazz lets out a long breath. “Dream bands?” He paces a bit, thinking. “It would be so unfair to say Talking Heads in their hay day… but really, Talking Heads in the Remain in Light era… Right now, a dream would be Walk The Moon. Fall Out Boy, because I’m a fanboy, and even if I didn’t dig the last record and a half so much, I love Fall Out Boy. Oh! And the 1975. I love the 1975.”

“For me, the songs have existed for 2 years, but people are just hearing them. So my focus right now is playing as many shows as possible, getting this record to as many people as possible and letting them experience it, because I’ve been in it for so long.”

If you were to become extremely successful and there were a movie made about you, who would you want to play you?”

Spazz is quiet for a moment, then says, “I hope they haven’t been born yet. I hope I haven’t seen them because I love new actors. And also hopefully I do enough that somebody I don’t know can play me in like twenty or forty years.”

We have a brief discussion about celebrity doppelgängers, until thunder begins to roll overhead. As we begin to move to head our separate ways, I ask, “Is there any information that you would want to be in this article that I haven’t asked you about yet?”

Spazz stares at the clouds for a moment, then looks at me, smiling.

“That everybody should love themselves.”

To be a part of the conversation with Spazz Cardigan, give him a like on Facebook, a follow on Twitter, and be sure to listen to his debut album, “I,” now available on Spotify, iTunes, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Amazon and Shazam.