“In September of last year, I had some songs, and I had some money, and I knew that it was basically one of the last opportunities I would have to play music,” said Zachary Wentworth, the lead singer, guitarist, and songwriting force behind I’m a Lion, I’m a Wolf. For Wentworth, playing music has been a part of his upbringing, providing the backdrop for some definitive experiences growing up. He played with the hope of it paying the bills someday. The dream of making a living out of music is a frugal one, something that countless DIY artists wrangle with day after day.
A senior at Oregon Tech, Wentworth studies Software Engineering and has a job in the field. Between his studies and work, he still has the energy to engage in his classic love: music. I’m a Lion, I’m a Wolf released their debut EP, Know in February of 2016. He said that he didn’t consider “making it” to be the ultimate goal of the release. Rather, it was the thought of putting his ideas into fruition that drove him.
“With my current life situation of just working and going to school, I really wanted to be able to put the songs down somehow,” he told me via Skype. “I didn’t really have any intentions of touring or playing any live shows, I just kind of wanted it for myself.” He and I spoke more about his love for music, the reaction to Know, and his plans for the future.
For those who don’t know, what are the origins of I’m a Lion, I’m a Wolf?
When I started, I didn’t want to like do anything really big with it. It’s important to me [that] I do everything in a professional manner. I tried to do everything the right way. Originally being this solo project thing, I recorded everything aside from drums, just because I’m not a great drummer. It was just me and Dryw Owens also played some parts, and I had a friend of mine write some leads for a couple things. I feel like it was somewhat of a collaboration process, but the songs are mine.
So, you’d say this is much more of a personal passion project, so to speak?
Absolutely. Tom and I have been playing music together for like eight years in different bands and different projects and stuff. I think that this one, for me, is definitely a personal project. It’s nothing where I’m like “yeah, I just want to get huge”. I’ve been doing this long enough. I still do it in a serious manner. It’s important to me, it not like “oh this is a little side thing I do”, I don’t want to downplay it or anything. It’s a big piece of who I am.
It was your music, but it sort of evolved in the studio?
Yeah, definitely. I had skeletons and Dryw kind of spun them into gold, in my opinion.
How long have you been playing music, and what instruments do you play?
I would just say guitar and sing. I play various other instruments, but my primaries are guitar and singing. I’ve been playing guitar since like 8th grade, so several years. I can’t even remember when I graduated. I’ve been playing since I was, how old are people usually when they’re freshman in high school?
So, I’ve been playing since I was like, 13, I would say.
Could you elaborate a little more on your experiences before this project?
Around 2011, I’d been playing for this band called The Crosswalk for a couple years. We toured full-time, and I just played guitar with them, lead guitar. It was different, I don’t know. I was really young, so I think I just gained a lot of experiences from that. Then I played for a Christian band called Love Is out of Sacramento, or I don’t remember where they were out of. But I played for them for about a year. They signed with Come and Live Records, and I quit. I mean that was my thing. I only played music, and I was really serious about it. But I think it was out of some naïve nature, like I thought that “maybe one day it’d pay my bills” and stuff. I don’t want to be super negative about the whole DIY/indie music scene thing, but I just don’t think it’s a viable income option, but I love doing it.
Would you say that you were writing a lot of these songs as part of these bands, or did you sit down one day and were like, “I’m tired of doing this, I’m just going to start writing a little bit”?
I think that the goal for the songwriting for Know, at least, was that there wasn’t a lot of intention, like it wasn’t intentional writing, if that makes sense. I wasn’t like “man, I need x amount of songs to put on this record”, it was mostly as things came up in my life, personal experiences. I feel like the record is a lot of very out there stuff. I feel like a lot of my emotion and thoughts are right there, and really present, just due to the fact that it’s just like a lot of a lot of personal experiences being formatted into song, for the most part. That’s how a lot of the songs started. For instance, the first song I wrote for the record was “No Really, It’s Fine”, and that was just coming out of a lonely place, and that’s kind of what spun everything together from there. I think I was in a good creative flow, and things just happened as they happened.
So, you just kind of wrote as a means of expressing certain things?
Exactly, I think just more as a form of expression than like intentional writing for a record. I feel like it was a really organic process as opposed to a mechanical process of like, “okay, I need to write like this many songs because I want to put out a record that’s this long”, I just kind of wrote them as things happened. When I knew I was going to record them, I began developing the sound that I wanted, and I think that’s where more of the mechanical portion of the writing happened, but for the most part, all of the songs are written with the intention of not having a intention, I guess. I just wanted them to come from a place that was deep and relatable.
You alluded to a sort of sound that developed, and I know that Dryw Owens worked with From Indian Lakes, which is a kind of vibe that I really feel a lot when I listen to Know. Has that band specifically played into it, or was it a more of an influence of Dryw, or just organic sort of construction?
I’m not in any way going to bad mouth From Indian Lakes, but I think a lot of the sound that people hear is Dryw. His style for guitar tones and stuff caused a lot of similarities, I think. I’m not a huge fan of From Indian Lakes. I recorded with Dryw because the last band I played for, Love Is, recorded with him, so I had the relationship already, and I trusted him to do my songs justice. So, I don’t feel like From Indian Lakes is an influence. I feel like it’s an influence that got brought upon because I recorded with Dryw. I feel like my big influences that are prevalent to me, at least, would just be like Copeland and As Cities Burn. Those are probably my two biggest influences.
So, you would say that you and Dryw worked back and forth to put together what kind of sound you wanted?
Absolutely. I think that a lot of our recording process was developing my songs to make them fit together. I feel like the record has a really good flow, and the songs sound like they should be together as a single piece. When I went in, most of my songs were, I would say, three quarters of the way done, structure-wise and lyrics and everything completely done. Mainly what we spent time on was writing more prominent leads, and nailing down the overall sound. There was a lot of back and forth. I think Dryw contributed to the record immensely.
Moving past the creative process, what’s the origin of the name I’m a Lion, I’m a Wolf?
(Laughs) I don’t know, it’s just a name. I think that people really like to find meaning in certain things, so I think I kind of made up my own meanings for it. So, the basic one I usually go with, unless I’m feeling like a jerk and just say “it’s just a band name”, came about [when] I was in an art class. I was in this black and white illustration class, and we had to draw animals that had fur, stuff like that. I had drawn a piece that had a lion and a wolf, and I was like “huh, that’d be a cool band name”. Nothing really cool, but as I’ve tried to develop some meaning behind it, I would just say that the name has the connotation of like split personality. The characteristics put behind a wolf is more of a darker character. When we look into, let’s say, more of like the Christian characteristics of a lion, it’s seen as like, the light, and stuff like that, a genuine good person, a leader, and all that kind of jazz. I think that’s kind of the meaning that I put behind it, like a person not knowing who they are.
It seems like you’ve had some experience with Christian rock. Would you say that faith, [to] any sort of degree, has had any influence upon your work?
There’s one song where I’m talking about faith. Credit to Tom, he wrote some of the lyrics for this song. As I was putting together the songs, I was like “hey, remember this song? Can I use some of your lyrics?”, and that’s how “Proof” came about. The whole idea behind Know. is that I wanted to put this time capsule from when I moved to Oregon to when I recorded that record. “Proof” comes more from a place of doubt. I feel like as I’ve gotten older and been a part of the Christian music scene, and Church World, and all that kind of stuff, I’ve seen my faith go into several different directions. Sometimes I have a hard time saying that I’m a believer, but I know it’s part of who I am. I don’t think it has a heavy influence on my work as much as it probably would if I still worked at a church. Not because the church would push it or anything, but that’s what I would be more involved in. I believe that when you write songs it’s usually setting-based, and right before I recorded that record I was still working at a church. It does have some play, because my religion has been a huge part of my life, but I don’t know.
You said that you moved to Oregon after working at a church. Where were you originally stationed, and what led you to Oregon?
I lived in Stockton, California for 19 years, then I moved to Southern Oregon with my family and started going to school. At the time, I had just moved so I was out of work, and I began working at a small Presbyterian church. I worked there for about three years before transferring to the university that I am at now. I was the worship leader at this Presbyterian church for three year, and I think it was a good experience. It helped me develop my leadership skills, managing skills, for the most part. I think it also helped me realize where I was at with my faith. It helped me to find what things I personally struggle with in terms of believing and owning faith.
With Know, what kind of reception have you received that may have differed from some sort of expectation that you had going in?
Well, I feel like this is the only project that I’ve been a part of where, I don’t want to call myself a control freak or anything but, I’m in control. I think from my prior experience, I know how to do things right that I don’t believe my other bands did right. Aside from that fact, I think how I’ve promoted the record and all of that stuff, and the advertising, we’ve had a really, really good reception. I feel like people received the music really well. No one’s ever been like “this band sucks” or anything like that, but I think we mostly get comparisons a lot, but that’s about it. It’s mostly just been really, really like, “wow, this is something special”. I’m glad to hear stuff like that. It’s always weird because like “oh my stupid little song makes people feel something”, and I think that it’s cool to see that.
Would you say that social media has played a strong role?
Absolutely. We’ve campaigned really well, I think. I think one of the hardest things to do is keep momentum with a record. Usually people come really strong out of the gates, or nobody knows at all about you record. I did some Facebook ad campaigns just to see what it would do. I did invest in my record, so why not invest in people listening to it. As the feedback was coming in, I think that all of this positive energy that I was getting from it pushed me to be like, “oh, people like this, so that means more people are probably going to like this”. To keep things relevant and all of that, we’ve released two music videos, one live, and we also have the video for “Know”, and we want to continue to put stuff out so we can stay relevant. One thing that we talk about frequently, Tom and I, is that because we’re not “big” in any way, people, when they first hear our record, even though it’s [almost a year old] now, it’s new to them. When we get new likes or followers, or people hear about us, it’s new to them, so it’s still relevant to them. I think that our music videos, and all of the other stuff that goes along with that, mostly just plays to our base.
Yeah, I actually found out about you through that Facebook ad.
Yeah, it works. I first felt like this is the dumbest things to do, but all of a sudden, it was weird, we would get explosions. It was never like a consistent you know, three likes a day and someone commenting once. It was always like, we’d be in a drought in the ad when we’d get a couple likes a day, and maybe someone commenting. Then it’d be a random day and fifteen people would comment, and thirty-five likes. I don’t think it attributes as much to the ad as much as it is people telling each other about us.
That’s pretty cool. What do you think has been your favorite part or parts about putting this EP together?
Probably being able to play music with my best friend again. Tom and I have been friends for a long time, and I think that just being able to just hang out with Tom and Daniel is my favorite part. Sometimes I could care less about the music, but it’s just hanging out with my friends, and we get to something that we all love together.
It seems like you’re really enjoying it in that respect. What are your plans for the near future? I know that you’ve mentioned that this is a passion project.
I think that we were planning on having a couple releases between now and the beginning of like 2019, I guess. Well, 2018, I think is our timeline. We’re hoping we’ll put out some more stuff. We’re kind of making a transition piece right now. I wouldn’t say a quote unquote, “acoustic EP”, but a very light version of the kind of direction that we’re taking with the music.
My thanks to Zachary Wentworth with I’m a Lion, I’m a Wolf for taking the time to sit down with me and speak via Skype. Know is available on iTunes, Spotify, and Bandcamp.