Arcadia native Brandon Zastrow has spent the past seven years working in different bands, most recently Twin Cities-based Sin City Escape, and touring nationally with artists.
After Sin City Escape broke up around 1½ years ago, Zastrow, tired of the exhaustive, empty feeling of ending a band, decided to pursue a new challenge: He set out as a solo artist.
“It’s a lot of work being in a band, it’s almost like dating four guys at once,” Zastrow said. “So I decided to take a solo shot at it.”
He regrouped, returning to Nashville and Memphis, Tenn., to work with producers and musicians he had come to know over the years. Now all of that progress is paying off.
Zastrow’s debut album as a solo artist, “Collateral Beauty,” drops Friday under his musician’s name I Alone. It can be streamed or downloaded on any music streaming service such as Spotify and iTunes.
Physical copies will be available for purchase through his website, ialoneofficial.com.
“Constant Companion,” the first single off the album, was released Oct. 6.
His songs use a lot of metaphors and symbolism that combine catchy pop beats with hard-hitting rock chords. Or, as he describes it, “it’s like Matchbox 20 on steroids.”
He tends to write about true-life experiences, but thinks he does so in a broad way others will also relate with.
That’s what his producer, Justin Rimer of Memphis, Tenn.-based CrossTrax Studios, thinks is going to be most striking to listeners.
“He’s speaking from his heart about these experiences,” Rimer said. “I can tell that and I know an average listener can tell the difference between something made up and something with real meaning.”
Growing up in the 1990s, Zastrow said some of his biggest influences were bands like Matchbox 20 and the Goo Goo Dolls.
The album also crosses into rock ‘n’ roll, which is what many of the bands he played in performed.
“I’m trying to find that blend of being the catchy pop that’s stuck in your head but also offering something unique that isn’t already being done by somebody, which is difficult,” Zastrow said.
To find that, he said many of his songs started as simply acoustic tunes and his voice. Then he would build off those, adding a drum key here or a bass guitar there.
“I believe if you have a good acoustic song, you can build any style song,” he said. “Then it’s a matter of finding how the song evolves because they definitely do when you add violins, cellos and other tracks and instruments.”
For more advice, he got in CrossTrax Studios with Rimer and started working to improve the tracks.
Rimer, who worked with Zastrow when he was in Sin City Escape, said he appreciates Zastrow’s music because it is real and passionate. When it came to producing “Collateral Beauty,” Rimer said he wanted to exemplify that passion.
“It’s my job to capture the vision the artist has and take them to the final destination of where they want to be,” Rimer said. “He’s a great singer. Sometimes I made him sing high notes he hated me for, but other than that we kept it true to who he is. We pushed him, but not too far out of his reach.”
In the end, Zastrow was thankful for those pushes.
After spending so many years working with bands, going through the process by himself was inspiring but also humbling in that he had to basically restart from scratch.
“This solo career was a starting-over process for me, which was a little demoralizing at first,” he said.
While there are perks such as having total control over the creative vision of the project, that also means building up a new fan base.
He’s learned it’s hard to make himself stand out. Even having someone enjoy his music doesn’t necessarily translate into a successful musician.
“It’s one thing for someone to say, ‘this is good,’ and it’s a whole other thing for someone to say, ‘I want your t-shirt, I want your CD,’ ” Zastrow said. “We live in a society where music isn’t really a commodity value.”
To combat that, artists have to be making exceptional music. It isn’t enough anymore to be “catchy” because so many other artists already are. It means taking a chromatic scale and restructuring the notes.
“When you choose your key, you have basically six or seven (note) choices, and that’s it,” he said. “It’s more about how you organize them, structure them and mess with the tempo.”
The project has been overwhelming in its own way, Zastrow said, but that made the final product even more rewarding.
Through it all, he feels he has stayed true to himself. Which is how he came up with his musician name, I Alone.
“I feel like it’s me against the world in a way because I have something to prove,” he said. “That’s what the main goal of this project was. I thought (I Alone) was somewhat fitting, somewhat catchy and somewhat meaningful.”
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