The Sound of UT: Zach Russell

Morgan-Taylor Thomas

From the hardcore blasts of drums to the melodic tones of a saxophone, Zach Russell seamlessly does it all. The computer science sophomore combines his artistic right brain talents with his analytical left side to create visually and auditorily mesmerizing Instagram reels.

Now, the seven instrument musician hopes to expand his talents by creating music inspired by his life experiences.

The Daily Texan spoke with Russell about his unique mix of jazz, rock and funk, and how social media has influenced his sound.

The Daily Texan: Can you describe your process of making an Instagram reel?

Zach Russell: Usually I start off with an idea of what I want (the song) to sound like, record all the instruments beforehand and arrange and mix it how I want it to be heard. Then, I set the camera up. I have to do this really fast, because I have a big window in my living room, so if the sun changes or goes behind a cloud, then all the videos won’t mesh together very well. I play the song out loud on the speaker, and then go from instrument to instrument as fast as I can, playing along with the song. Then (I) mask out around myself and feather out the videos. The way Instagram reels are now, it’s really easy for me to do … and that motivates me to do more things musically.

DT: What’s your end goal?

ZR: There’s multiple goals with music. I want to keep putting out content that’s fun, but I (also) want to start working on songs to release and albums to put out. Having music as a backup career is really interesting to me. If my songs take off or (if it’s just) something to do over the summer, playing music in Austin, it’s awesome.

DT: How do you think social media such as Instagram shapes the music industry?

ZR: With artists now, they are doing more performative stuff. For it to be engaging on Instagram it has to be visually appealing too, which is another side to the art people need to focus on. At the same time, if you’re making music to be engaged with, it has to fit a certain genre or something that people are into, which takes away a lot of the artistry of the sound that you want.

DT: How did your lifestyle over the past year affect the sounds you produce?

ZR: Quarantine, for a lot of people, was a time where there wasn’t (a lot) to do, (so) you had to spend a lot of time with yourself and deal with some emotions that were being suppressed. That kind of led me into writing a lot more, which, I know I don’t have any product of that to show, but it’s a different kind of music that’s more personal to me (because) I’m able to write songs about complicated emotions I normally wouldn’t talk about with other people.

DT: Why do you make music?

ZR: With posting on Instagram, it definitely feels a bit performative. But (music) to me is so many different things. It’s therapeutic. It’s something I go to when I’m stressed out, when I want to have fun and when I want to just tell a story. (Music) is more than just the single sided thing I’m posting to get views. I just want to share that passion I have with other people too and encourage other people to … spend time creating. That’s what I want to spread with the world.