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Songwriting, storytelling and sobriety: Zach Moss

Zach Moss has stories to share. As he slid into the seat across from me for this interview, I could see them in the expressive way he moved his hands and the vibrant energy dancing in his eyes when he spoke of his greatest passion – his abiding love for creating music.

Musician Zach Moss with his guitar in Beyond Sober Jaywalker T-shirt
Moss rocking our Jaywalker sober t-shirt after his performance

(Mind you, this is after he performed an hour-and-a-half solo set, in the sun, for a busy charity fundraiser. He was elated; I was exhausted simply from watching.)

It makes sense, though, because at the tender age of 10 after listening to "Led Zeppelin I" on repeat, he knew that becoming a rock star was his dream. He pleaded with his parents for a guitar. He got one. Then, according to Zach, he practiced a lot, albeit poorly. “I didn’t know what I was doing, and I didn’t take lessons, but I did my best. I didn’t know how to practice properly, but my passion for playing always came from my passion for listening to and loving music,” he said.

He fed that passion and love for music for decades, although he didn’t feel like he knew where it, or he was going. It felt good just to play and to sing. As he grew into his teenage years, it was a cathartic way to express his emotions and, at the time, his antiestablishment mindset. When you’re feeling emotionally discordant and disaffected, what’s better than an instrument, an amp and a mic to blast that internal turbulence into the atmosphere? It feels explosive. Satisfying. And, it also helped pave the way for him to make connections in another growing area of interest in his life: drugs and alcohol.

Substance use goes hand-in-hand with music. It’s a truth universally acknowledged (mostly) – a “public secret” since the 60s and 70s for musicians and their fans. For decades, the hard partying of the “rock star lifestyle” was culturally admired – the wildness, the salacious behavior, the incoherent live performances and subculture that was built around following traveling bands to bootleg spacey copies of their songs capturing the vibe of an altered state.

For Zach in his former life, performing music was both enjoyable and an efficient way to get him into drug circles or get paid in alcohol for playing at bars. It can be very much like an addict’s paradise and playground. Until it’s not.

In Zach’s case, his addictions and alcoholism landed him in juvenile drug court, rehab, juvie, jail, detoxes and more stints in rehab until he was ready to move onward into a sober living home, practice a daily recovery program and rebuild his life. At times painfully. Sometimes slowly. But, in this writer’s opinion, always awe-inspiring, “make-the-tiny-hairs-on your-arms-stand-at-attention,” chill-inducing and freaking magical to watch.

“Man, writing and playing in addiction…it was hard. Eventually, I had no instruments left to pawn. It felt like part of me was missing,” Zach said, initially laughing, but his smile slowly faded and his eyes fixed on the setting sun. “The songs I wrote after that first trip to Rebound {rehab} – even with no instruments, I could hear the melodies and the lyrics in my head. I was full of them.”

“My next time at Rebound, they had gotten a piano, and so I wrote more songs there. All the songs on this record came so organically and easily, although it took years of work and attempts at staying clean and sober to get to this point,” said Zach. “Hangman is one of the most difficult songs I’ve ever written. I did it in active addiction, and it mirrored my situation at the time. Lines on the Table I wrote as I was getting sober this last time – I kept losing friends to this disease. And it was a way for me to express some feelings about it.”

Getting sober this last time. Those are such powerful words. Many of us, myself included, experience recovery in fits and starts and stops. Relapse is part of our journeys. And it truly doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we get to where we’re going, and that we never stop trying. Zach is living proof of that fact.

He celebrates his two-year soberversary Sunday, October 9. Which is incredible. Even more incredible? The following weekend, Saturday, October 15, he releases his first professional album, "Dark to Light," with a FREE live performance at Legion Brewing W. Morehead from 7-10 p.m., followed by his music available for purchase on all streaming services at midnight.

"I was scared to share and show myself to people, but I'm sober now and this is how I live. As myself. Honestly."

When I asked him what made him pursue this album, his passion, his dream, now, he slowly smiled and replied, “I always wanted to do this inside my heart. It never really went away. I was scared to share and show myself to people, but I’m sober now and this is how I live. As myself. Honestly. This album reflects how my life, and how I, have changed.”

He continued, “It’s about overcoming that darkness – the long shadow addiction casts over your life and returning to that place of inner light you knew as a child. Being able to capture those moments and express them in a way that resonates. I want to experience life in a way I didn’t before. We can do that in sobriety. And I want to share that with others.

JOIN US at Zach's free album release performance!

Sat., October 15

7-10 p.m.

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