I first met John Saturley at Five Guys in early-2016. He was there with his wife Taylor. I was there with my lady, Belinda, and she whispered, “That’s John, the main guy in Zack Mexico.”
That was when I realized Zack Mexico was a band and not just a dude with a stage name. As they were leaving, John and Taylor stopped at our table, and I was introduced to them. Nice guy. Unassuming. I made a note in my mind: “Go listen to Zack Mexico.”
So I did. In a sandwich shop in Nags Head. In that particular joint, there’s “in the back” or “right up front.” The latter was where we ended up.
I’m always interested in pedalboards and “stomp boxes” used by guitar players. Between John and co-guitarist Matt Wentz, there was an abundance of both. “Major monetary investment. Can they use them?” I thought.
When they started “playing,” it was more akin to a sonic assault. Yet, in the best of ways. When they stopped, I was bummed.
In many cases, I go listen to an artist or an act, catch a few numbers, get the gist and prepare to make my exit. Not with Zack Mexico. Stayed for the whole set. They were original, soaring above “competent” and in my mind, “world class.” This “local band” in a sandwich shop. Good God. Where am I?
Bottom line: Read John’s own words. Seek him out and listen. He’s the real deal.
Q: What brought you to the Outer Banks?
A: I moved to the OBX in the year 2000 with my family when I was 12. My step-dad was a project manager for the Outer Banks Hospital.
Q: How would you describe your music?
A: Un-apologetic. I’m always determined make something that I can enjoy without other people's opinions coming into play. I'm a firm believer that you don't owe a listener "good feelings." Often, people don't like music because it doesn't make them feel “happy” or “good.” I like music that makes me feel anxiety. I mean that in a strictly auditory way, not relative to lyric content or genre.
Q: Who is your greatest musical influence?
A: My childhood discovery that I was born with good rhythm and an excitement to decipher what I hear. To ask me why I play is to ask me how can I play. Don’t know. But I know I've always been able to dance.
Q: What is it about music that touches you?
A: The fact that a certain arrangement of notes or chords or sounds can draw a very obvious emotional picture. Show me something sad and I will not cry. Show me something sad, with an equally sad backing track, and I'll let the tears and emotions flow.
Q: What was the first concert you attended?
A: It was Phish and I was 13. I was very curious about the fans. So many strange people and so many drugs, and so many drum circles. I didn't want anything to do with that sort of life. The people seemed desperate or hurt.
Q: Are you self-taught?
A: I am a self-taught musician. When I was 15, my vice principal, a jazz piano player, Dennis Reaser, taught me: "There is no such thing as wrong note or chord." That opened the idea to me that any vibration can be interpreted as music. It's not just a system with perfect recipes. I find dissonance to be elating.
Q: What instruments do you play?
A: I am not an instrument player, traditionally speaking. I can play drums, guitar, bass, piano, and sing a tune. But those things are secondary to what I really practice, which is exploring new ideas. Practicing my imagination is my main instrument.
Q: In what musical projects are you involved?
A: I play in two groups. One is a rock ‘n’ roll band called Zack Mexico, and the other is a solo electronic project called Zack Mexico 2, or John Saturley.
Q: What's your favorite venue to play on the Outer Banks?
A: My favorite venue on the Outer Banks to play is the backyard at the Roadside in Duck. The less security guards, the better. Those fellas are good to have around, but it seems like they provoke trouble instead of waiting for it.
Q: Musicians usually play for those “moments” when everything clicks. Do you have a favorite moment?
A: You would think it would be when you have a crowd vibing at the same level of intensity as you. But, I must admit, when I find the perfect melody, lyric, and rhythm combination at home in my studio. That is the moment of clarity and joy.
Q: What do you do in the off-season?
A: I've always been against being a working musician for myself. I believe when music becomes a job, it becomes a chore. And when your job expectation is playing music to make people feel good, you limit — to almost non-existing — your time spent exploring the possibility of it being a personal therapy or comfort or even fun. I won't give up something that makes me truly happy to earn a dollar.
Q: Who motivated you to pursue music?
A: Myself. My family told me from early on that I was wasting my time. I accepted the consequences of being an artist a long time ago, and it's worth it.
Q: If you could perform with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
A: It would be the Plastic Ono Band. I adore their approach and share many beliefs with them.
Q: If you could choose any time period to play, when would it be and why?
A: Now. I am a product of my environment, so this time fits with me just fine.
Q: Do you listen to new music?
A: I have been enjoying are artists like Jorge Elbrecht — a music producer and visual artist from Costa Rica — and Jakuzi, a Turkish synth pop band from Istanbul.
Q: The music business can be tough. Did you ever consider quitting?
A: The music business is something I've never been apart of. I don't accept money for being a musician.
Q: McCartney or Lennon?
A: John Lennon. He wrote the song of the century: “Imagine.”
Q: Where were you the first time you performed onstage?
A: I did plays in school, but musically, I did an open mic night at Brewing station when I was 17, and the people in the music community could not have turned a colder shoulder. They helped me realize why I separate myself artistically from the "simple kind of man."
Q: When you write a song, is it positive or negative inspiration that drives you?
A: The best song writing inspiration is always negative. Take John Lennon’s "Imagine," for example. A pretty song with a positive message, but it's coming from negative emotions about the world's current state.
Q: Do you have any hobbies?
A: My hobbies, besides music, are studying history, skateboarding, visual art, fashion, cat whispering, and all manner of games.
Q: Your favorite album?
A: My favorite album is Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon" because I found it in my formative years, and it stood the test of time.
Q: Your favorite song?
A: "My Autumn's Done Come" by Lee Hazelwood, because I've never been much for keeping up with the Joneses. The message in that song is my spirit animal. I wish I had written it.
Q: How do folks find out where can you be heard?
A: Follow @ZackMexico on Instagram and Facebook.
Q: If you were me, what question should I be asking you?
A: I would ask more questions about the adversity someone has faced in life. I think these types of questions can help dig deeper into who someone is by finding out what's happened to them and how they handled it. I think adversity forms character and personality more than anything else.