UT alumnus emerges as solo artist with new album ‘Guitar for Pandas’

Dina Barrish

When Zach Youpa looks back at his time at UT, the alumnus remembers performing five nights a week with his band Light Horse Harry at campus bars, the 21st Street Co-op and even the Mohawk in downtown. 

After Youpa and other Light Horse Harry members graduated in 2017, several started pursuing separate projects. Two years later, Youpa grabbed his guitar and headed to a small, DIY studio on Duval Street ready to produce a solo album. 

“I like to think of this project as a time capsule of my early 20s,” Youpa said. “Some of the songs I wrote in the months before the album’s release, and then there’s some songs I’ve had stored away since I was 18 years old.”

Youpa released Guitar for Pandas on Spotify and Apple Music in late June. The album — a mix of rock ‘n’ roll, country, Americana, reggae and blues — incorporates lyrics of love and joy. 

“The album is meant to be a love letter to someone very important to me, actually from UT,” Youpa said. “Love, loss, life. Those are universal themes that everyone can connect to.” 

Formerly the electric guitarist for Light Horse Harry, Youpa set out to play the electric guitar, acoustic guitar and bass, as well as write and sing all the music and lyrics for Guitar for Pandas

“With this project, I have more control to do whatever I want,” Youpa said. “Releasing this project was a big step forward.”

Youpa’s friend and former co-worker Jack Haley offered Youpa creative production assistance and his apartment to use as a studio space. 

“The process of the album was slow and arduous,” Youpa said. “Me and my buddy Jack just holed away all winter.”  

While Haley said Youpa is a perfectionist with a keen eye for detail, Haley described himself as someone who prefers working with what he has to maintain the momentum. 

“I just like to record stuff and engineer stuff,” Haley said. “It gives me a lot of personal satisfaction. I’m glad (Youpa) put (Guitar for Pandas) out during quarantine. Gives us something to listen to while we’re all inside.” 

Despite his collaboration with Youpa, Haley said he doesn’t expect any share of the profit. 

“I understand how difficult it is to be putting music out in the first place, just as an artist,” Haley said. “I was just doing it as a homie — put my name out there, and hopefully I can record for some other people after the potential popularity of the album. I’m happy with my end of the bargain.” 

The Guitar for Pandas cover art features an ancient gold statue, a lottery machine with big red lips and more chaotic and psychedelic imagery.

“I feel that (the cover) artwork gave the album a more personal and eclectic touch,” Youpa said. “I think the colors especially fit the vibe of the music. It really brought the whole project together.”

Drew Scherger, an alumnus who played bass and designed T-shirts for Light Horse Harry,  designed the cover art for Guitar for Pandas. Scherger said the art was inspired by tracks on the album such as “Dopamine Dream.” 

“I tried to keep it how I felt while listening to the music: kind of spacey, but also playful and fun,” Scherger said.

Moving forward, Youpa said he hopes to return to live performance and eventually play on the Stubb’s Bar-B-Q stage.

“COVID-19 has really sucked the life out of the music community right now,” Youpa said. “We’ve all just got our fingers crossed, waiting for (the life) to come back.” 

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to fix one instance of the misspelling of the band name and the description of Jack Haley's relationship to Zach Youpa.