The Deli swings by Grand Avenue Records to visit Cocoe for the first iteration of our ‘PRIME CUTS’ series. He lays it down about growing up in Southern California, moving to Phoenix, and opening the record shop on historic Grand Ave.
The ‘PRIME CUTS’ series is our dive into Arizona’s gems — small businesses, mom & pop shops, galleries, eateries, and the people who make them special.
When you walk into the eclectic home of Nick Zawisa, you can sense there’s more going on here than four dudes living in a quaint, Tempe neighborhood.
The walls are dressed with old cigarette boxes, bourbon bottles, and antique items – all with their own, unique story. As I enter the backyard, I find the Breakup Shoes frontman sipping coffee and enjoying none other than his favorite cigarette, an American Spirit Turquoise. Organic and full-bodied, perhaps like the music he creates.
The Stratocaster strumming lead singer formed Breakup Shoes with three friends after playing in church together. The four-piece is comprised of drummer Matthew Witsoe, Derek Lafforthun on bass, lead guitarist John Macleod, and frontman/songwriter Nick Zawisa.
Zawisa started his musical journey by learning how to play guitar at 16, and soon after performing at his church in front of various peers and churchgoers. When the group determined religion wasn’t for them, but the music needed to continue, Breakup Shoes began.
Their discography is the soundtrack of a revolting youth, that’s just too stoned or lazy to do anything right now… but maybe tomorrow. Harmonious melodies alongside jovial drums keep a smile on your face while Zawisa captivates you with tales of heartbreak and solitude. “The best part of the whole band thing isn’t playing shows or whatever else, it’s just writing,” Zawisa describes as his cigarette lingers, “that’s my thing.”
Unrequited Love (& other clichés), Breakup Shoes’ new album, is the ensemble’s first full-length release following up two EPs – Nicotine Dream (2016) & Tuba(2017). The new record chronicles Zawisa’s year leading up to when it was finished last May. When we asked about where he’s at in life compared to when the record was completed, he responded: “I think all of the sentiments of the album hold true lyrically. I do think musically I’ve moved into a different space. I’ve been wanting to incorporate a lot more electronic sounds into what we do, but this album is very guitar driven. Lyrically though, the title-track was about a girl I was seeing at the beginning of 2017 and I ended up heartbroken. Somehow I was talking to her again at the beginning of this year – same shit happened. I listened to the track again afterwards and thought ‘wow, two years in a row,’ so the lyrics definitely hold true, for me at least, on that track.”
But there’s more to the seemingly impersonal singer than heartache and some catchy riffs. His psychology degree hangs above the desk where he concentrates on his true passion, music. The lyrics he pens are melancholic with a dash of hope. Some melodies he formulates have you daydreaming about the beach. Others will make you wish you were grooving at a sweaty house party in Tempe. “Obviously, it’s all pretty personal to me,” he says, “but I always want to write in a way that anyone can paste their situation into it.”
While Breakup Shoes hasn’t gained heavy traction yet locally, their presence on streaming services certainly has. Australian Youtuber Cartia Mallan featured Nicotine Dream, the title-track off their first EP, in a video last year that gave the group fans around the globe. This year, Breakup Shoes will be playing with Hate Drugs, an indie rock band from California who happens to be their top related artist on Spotify. Because of this connection, Zawisa and the gang will play their first shows outside of Arizona, specifically Los Angeles and El Paso. “I have no idea what El Paso will be like,” Zawisa says accompanied by anxious laughter.
As the sun maintained its glow, Zawisa welcomed The Deli on his secluded back patio and gave us tremendous insight on his work, and what’s in store for Breakup Shoes moving forward.
Do you think there’s irony in the fact that y’all formed Breakup Shoes from playing at church together? Totally. It’s funny ‘cause when you play at church, and I was even working there at the time, everything is for the glory of God. You don’t play instruments for yourself – but then we all stopped going and were playing very much for our own… glory haha, that’s a weird word.
Is there a song you are more attached to than others? On the new record it’s the title-track of the album, “Unrequited Love (& other clichés)”. That song is the one I’m most attached too. It’s probably the saddest song we’ve done, but I mean, I’ve written some real sad songs that will never see the light of day – those are just for me. Even though it was a dark time writing Unrequited Love specifically, I think it is something most people can relate to.
What’s your mindset when it comes to deciding the album artwork?
The first EP Nicotine Dream is a picture of me smoking a cigarette that someone blew a vape cloud in front of, ‘cause you know this thing isn’t putting out clouds. No idea were the influence came for that, just thought that was a cool photo. We haven’t done anything ourselves since then. Christa MacDonald, who does some great design work, did the second EP Tuba.
For the new record, I don’t know if I had a vision. I just saw Adam Zanzucchi’s Hall of Lame work and I love his collage stuff, I think it’s so cool. I mean, I love all of his work, but the collage stuff especially. For whatever reason it really resonated with me.
He’s a good friend of mine, so it’s cool to know that I have people in the circles I walk in that can create incredible art for us. So it’s not that I necessarily have had visions for the artwork, but more so friends that did.
Breakup Shoes album cover (front)
Breakup Shoes cover (back)
I feel like a lot of us in our generation grew up, hit middle school, and got into a hardcore/emo/punk phase. Is that something that holds true for you? It’s kinda weird, I hit that phase really late. Middle school and early high school I just listened to rap. I don’t think I got sad until my senior year of high school, and then I was like oh shit – emo music. This is good. This is what I need right now.
You mentioned listening to lots of hip-hop & rap back in the day, who are some artists that are completely unrelated to your sound that you draw a heavy influence from? Let’s think… well, it’s hard to say someone who isn’t related at all. One of my favorite albums of the last few years is Sour Soul, the Ghostface Killah & BadBadNotGood record. That sort of jazz BadBadNotGood plays has heavily influenced me. I’m not sure how many straight major chords I actually play in songs, I typically prefer using jazz chords. I would say jazz in general has influenced me a lot. That even tends to be the type of hip-hop I gravitate towards.
Have you had any awkward interactions with fans? I’m not great socially, so almost every interaction with a stranger that’s stoked on our music is awkward. I don’t really know what to say after “Oh man, you guys were so good,” and I respond thanks so much. That’s really all I’ve got going for that. It’s the most awkward when I’m talking to someone noticeably younger than me from the 21 & Under sections. I just don’t know what to say – am I supposed to ask about your life? Maybe? I just don’t know what’s happening in those situations.
What are you hoping listeners takeaway from the new album?
I tried to structure the songs on the album in a way that starts happy and ends happy, but the middle majority of songs are a bit of a downer lyrically. If you listen to it in its entirety, it’s essentially a journal of my year, and I feel that a lot of people can relate to the sentiments I share. I guess I’m hoping people takeaway that yes, life is pretty shit a lot of the time, but there are still things worth enjoying – which is what my last year has tried to be.
From previous conversations we’ve had, someone referred to what you create as “guitar music,” what other random negativity have you faced?
Well, especially with the first stuff we put out, we heard “You guys sound like Mac Demarco,” all the time, which is NOT an insult by any means. Typically it’s never in a negative way, but there are some people who have formed strong opinions on Mac Demarco. I’m not sure why, he’s a great man.
I don’t really like being in a space where you are only compared to one artist, but I will say our first stuff was heavily influenced by Mac. It doesn’t feel good to feel like you’re creating something novel and being pigeon-holed into another artist’s sound, not your own.
Opposite of that – what are the positive experiences that have kept you motivated to keep making music?
I’ve gotten some messages from strangers on social media saying how much they appreciate what we are doing, how excited they are for new music, and how they see themselves in the lyrics I’m writing.
More recent stuff centers around a theme of loneliness. Even though I talk about relationships with other people, it’s from the point of view of a fairly lonely, pessimistic person, so it’s cool to know people see themselves in the same position.
The highest compliment I’ve been paid at a show was when some stranger came up to me afterwards and complimented my banter. The music thing we practice all the time and I’d like to think we have it locked down, but the banter and interacting on stage isn’t something you can just practice so I really digged that.
How are you so infatuated with Brian Wilson?
When most people think of the Beach Boys they think Surfin’ USA and their first stuff, the popular tracks. My infatuation with Brian Wilson started when I watched his movie Love & Mercy, the story of him creating Pet Sounds. That’s a top 5 favorite album of mine. Listening through that portion of his career is really gnarly. He had a vision in his head for Pet Sounds that he was trying to get out, and he uses ridiculous sounds throughout his music to get there. It’s really cool to see he created exactly what he envisioned. Even though the song is super popular, if you listen intently to Good Vibrations, that track is fucking crazy.
Do you think you’ll name your first born child Mac Demarco or Brian Wilson?
I’m gonna have to go with Brian Wilson. Little Brian.
What are you hoping Phoenix grows into in the future?
It would be great if Phoenix became on of those places that every band played a show, they don’t skip it on their way to California. I think it’s a goal to create an environment that’s welcoming to every artist. People want to play here, rather than it being another stop on the way. It’s happening already, and the art scene is growing a lot. There’s cool shit happening, it’s just not everyone knows about it yet.
As the crowd congregated in Crescent Ballroom Thursday night, Breakup Shoes cultivated a funky and whimsical atmosphere. Elated headbangers grasped the energy flowing from the stage, making for one memorable night. As the show proceeded, Breakup Shoes ended on their rendition of George Michael’s Careless Whisper and Nicotine Dream. To say the least, it was euphoric and poignant all at the same time.
Breakup Shoes released Unrequited Love (& other clichés) March 1st. Take a gander at any streaming service, or even better, buy a copy from the man himself. Might as well snag a shirt while you’re at it. To us, the album is an anecdote you can get lost in at any moment…
How do we know?
We’ve been blaring it in the car all week (thanks for the advanced copy Nick).