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By Steve 'Habibi' Kelk

Foldback Magazine talked to Zac East on why he decided to call time on At The Dakota

Firstly, former At The Dakota bassist Zac East makes it plain that his decision to leave the band at the start of its ascendancy in the national indie-pop scene was entirely his own and was made for the good of the band and for his own artistic peace of mind. Nothing more, nothing less.

Announcing the decision on At The Dakota’s Facebook page on 24 June this year, the band paid tribute to Zac and his major contribution to the band’s success from the very beginning, as both a founding member and early manager. The guys remain on good terms.

Zac’s decision came as a shock to some but as Zac says, it had been in the pipeline for a while. He says that it is an artistic thing and, in order to be true to himself, he had to follow his own path down a different musical direction.

When I said it was my time to leave and gave the reasons I presented, it wasn’t a shock to anyone (in the band). Things had been like that for a while.

Zac’s background, and indeed first love in music, is hard rock (as per his earlier band Zedmajor on guitar and vocals). Zac has also tried his hand at some chill solo acoustic work and produced some strong material in that genre. Playing to those strengths at the beginning with At The Dakota was an asset however Zac found that this clashed with the direction of the band as they gained momentum. He sees his departure as necessary to help the band grow into what it wants to be. Zac explains:

“If I want the band to succeed then maybe the band needs to succeed without me, being the one that is sort of holding them back a little bit. It’s because of my values and because of what I believe in as an artist and as a creative person.”

“When I said it was my time to leave and gave the reasons I presented, it wasn’t a shock to anyone (in the band). Things had been like that for a while. I wanted to make sure it was the right decision to make. I don’t want to cut off my nose to spite my face. We were all trying hard to make things work and I seemed to be the common denominator in things. I can’t say that things weren’t progressing – they were! But my ideas weren’t gelling with everyone else.”

So what are the musical differences?

“Anyone who knows me knows my big passion for the 80’s-90’s Seattle movement – I’m more of a classic rock kind of guy (in the wider sense). I don’t mind touring for ten years and earning my stripes type thing but that’s for me personally. I’m happy to keep playing and building a fan base, based on the music that’s created. But the stuff that I write isn’t always smooth sailing. It can be a bit abrasive, a bit punk rock in that sense. Because of those values, it didn’t fit because the guys want to write music that people can dance to and have a great time and I’m down with that but I don’t want it to be the only reason why music is being created. I need to create music for me and have some relatability to it. I don’t want to just play it because it’s there to play.”

“The band can only get bigger if everyone stays committed and that is when I realised I should jump out now to let that process continue with whoever they chose to replace me. These guys are still my friends and we spent a good three or four days a week, every week for three years together and I didn’t want that to be jeopardised over some ideals and opinions. As things got bigger, it just seemed like the right time to preserve what we’ve got.”

Artistic integrity is important to Zac and he admits he does have a romantic view of rock; the hard road ahead, the hard crowds in hard venues – carving out his creative career and earning his chops from the granite of touring life. It is also no secret that the recent death of Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple of the Dog front-man Chris Cornell hit Zac hard – not only was Chris an idol for Zac, the two had met twice, once some years ago when Chris pulled Zac on stage at a gig and most recently during Zac’s travels to Seattle in 2016 – a chance encounter at the airport. This sad passing further brought home to Zac that life can throw curve-balls at you and that he needed to do what he wanted to do while he still had a chance.

As to the future – Zac says that he has some idea of what he wants to do but he is concentrating on ‘getting it together first’ – he doesn’t want to rush something out “like a rebound from an ex-girlfriend” he chuckled.

So – from At The Dakota to being at the crossroads (there’s another musical reference) – whichever road Zac East chooses to take, we at Foldback Magazine wish him all the best for his future.

*Editor’s note: some conversation has been edited for clarity and context.

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