10 Sep An Exclusive Interview With Zechariah Goldschmied and Shlomo Gaisin From ZUSHA
Names of people in the Zusha Band: Zechariah Goldschmiedt Shlomo Gaisin
Band members currently live in: Both Zach and Shlomo live in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Grew up in: Zach: Teaneck, New Jersey, Shlomo: Silverspring, Maryland
Family: Zach: Leeann Mor (wife), Raphael Lev (son) Shlomo is still in the shidduchim stage of family.
Education-Yeshivas/ Colleges: Zach: Shalom Rav (in Tzfat), and New York University
Shlomo: Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh, Yeshiva University / Yeshiva College
Type of Chasidus you connect with: Zach: I’m a big chossid of the Tolna Rebbe in Jersualem, but I’d like to connect to all Chasidus. Any Chasid of the Baal Shem Tov is someone i’d like to connect with (although I may disagree, I’d still like to connect!) Shlomo: I connect with the full gamut of the Baal Shem Tov’s light. Each chassidus perfectly encapsulates the fullness of the light of the Baal Shem Tov. When I heard the following story from my Rabbi, Rav Moshe Tzvi Weinberg, I felt a deep resonance with the takeaway. This is a story from the holy Skolya Rebbe who passed away but a few months ago. The holy Baal Shem Tov appeared to him in a dream, standing atop a tall mountain saying: “Come with me and I will show You how one serves Hashem!” The holy Baal Shem Tov threw himself into a deep valley and shattered into a billion fragments and every fragment contained the complete form of the holy Baal Shem Tov. The explanation or anecdote is that in every generation as far as the light of the holy Baal Shem Tov splinters into several heads, there exists in each one a complete form of the holy Baal Shem Tov.
Most popular Song(s): Mashiach, Dov Ber, Shefa, Pashut, From the Narrow Place
Music videos: Ad Shetehe, Mashiach Dov Ber V’Shamru, King Hatikva
Number of Albums: 4 First album came out in: (year) 2014
Name of New album: When the Sea Split
How did you come up with the name for your band “Zusha”?
For about a month we were throwing around a bunch of different names until Elisha Mlotek, an original member of the band threw out Zusha on Motzei Shabbos Chayei Sara of 2013. This name instantly clicked. The Tzadik’s message of radical humility and irrepressible positivity resonated deeply with us.
How did the two of you meet? Zechariah had a roommate at NYU (who would go on to become our first manager) who knew both Shlomo and Zechariah. Both of us were working on separate musical projects, and our roommate felt it was a match made in heaven. Almost like a shadchan…the first time we met, the song “Beis” came down.
Was there originally a third member to the band? What happened to him?
Yes! Our dear friend Elisha Mlotek. After a couple years and a few albums, Elisha felt his neshoma pulling him towards a career in filmmaking. About two years ago he ‘officially’ stepped away from the band to enroll in film and pursue his passion.
Did you both grow up FB’s?
Finally Free From Facebook?? We don’t get caught up in labels, or defining too rigidly where we come from. We’ve been on a constant journey, and Tshuva is a continual part of becoming an erlicher yid. Both of us were gifted a formal Jewish education by our beloved parents, we’ve been blessed to proactively continue our education as we connected to different rabbanim, chevra, chassiduyos and Hashem.
When did you realize that you guys had something special going on?
Our first show at a venue in New York had lines going around the block. For us music was always just a pure, exciting way to connect to Hashem. We were blown away by the response we got from the crowd, and the album eventually went on to make the Billboard charts for top “world” albums. We’re constantly rediscovering the specialness as people from all over write to us that the music is helping them in all sorts of ways, it moves us each time we hear of our music’s remedial effect. Every time we receive a message, it goes from a couple guys making music in brooklyn to saving the world one neshama at a time!
What type of genre of music would you consider your songs?
Zach: Music platforms are somewhat limiting when it comes to genres. The genre that best describes us in the classic sense would probably be “World Music.” But that is only because they didn’t have the category, “Music from the Neshama for the Neshama.” Shlomo: I would imagine the most ideal genres would be any of the following if they existed: “Shirei Levi’im”, “transcendent”, “uplifting”, “chasidic folk”, “chasidic fusion” or “immersive”. Everything we create is intended to uplift the listener one handbreadth above the velt with the breath of the Tzadikim and the immersive powers of a mikvah.
Your music is definitely unique. It’s not typical Jewish music. Who did you guys look up to growing up in the music industry? Zach: I always struggled with Jewish music because I grew up listening to the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Bob Marley etc. Jewish music always felt like it was stuck in a certain genre, and time-period. When Matisyahu came to the scene, it was a big inspiration for me. Here was a holy yid playing jewish music but it sounded like nothing I’ve ever heard before. I began to realize Jewish music can be so much more, combining all sorts of flavors and colors to bring about a fresh inspiring sound that can compete with the big names of the secular world.
Shlomo: Dveykus, Avraham Fried, Blue Fringe, Moshav Band, Matisyahu and Rav Shlomo Carlebach ZY”A, the composers of Shabbos Zemiros and niggunim in Tefillah and I mustn’t forget my prolific, melodious brother Jeremy Asher Gaisin, whose niggunim inspired me to write niggunim.
Do you think most people listen to your music and enjoy it right away or does it need time to sink into people’s heads? Zach: It’s hard to say how anyone listens to the music. On our end, we’ve heard the songs hundreds, if not thousands of times before it gets released. We hope that there’s a certain accessibility to the music, where someone can listen and right away feel connected. But we are also striving to make the music deep, yet subtle. Sometimes you won’t notice a certain line or melody on the first few listens and then all of a sudden this moment pops up that you can’t get enough of. Basically our goal is to do both, give people something on the pshat level, but also infuse deeper subtle layers which bring it to the depths of sod/secret.
Shlomo: I’d like to echo Zach’s sentiment. We hope that our songs speak to the listener in the most essential, intuitive way upon first encounter, accessing deeper resonance with the listener through every subsequent encounter.
Do either or both of you play instruments? Which? Zach: I play guitar! But I always love to fiddle on other instruments. Sometimes it’s best to write a song when you’re out of your comfort zone. Often you hear a melody in your head and try to bring it to the physical world, and guitar might not be the best instrument for it, so you have to be flexible.
Shlomo: First instrument was voice, followed by piano, followed by the saxophone. I am of the school of thought that a musical individual can play music on any instrument in the world if they allow the instrument to be “instrumental” in opening their heart. Rav Kook writes that our souls are ceaselessly praying over the course of each day, I would add that our souls are ceaselessly singing throughout the day, that’s why the radio keeps playing music and Spotify never-endingly streams music. Every instrument produces its own tone of sound. Some are more conducive for lullaby-ish music (like a harp), some for leibidig music (like a flute). When I am in a dreamy mood I write with a ukelele. When I am feeling chordal and expansive, I wish to write music on the black and white fire keys of the piano.
Was there someone or a group that you tried to model yourselves after? Zach: I try to model myself after Hashem and his middot.
Shlomo: Shirei Levi’im, Chassidic Niggunim, And Rav Shlomo Carlebach’s Niggunim.
What do you want people to think about when listening to your songs? Zach: I want them to feel good, and feel happy to be alive.
Shlomo: I want them to feel the enveloping support and vivifying presence of Hashem in the present moment.
Is music your full time parnassah now?
Zach: Yes. We are trying to make various keilim for Hashem to send bracha and parnassa into the world.
Shlomo: This is our shlichus. Our talents were gifted to us to serve the Jewish people and elevate the world.
What do you prefer playing more at, simchas or concerts? Why?
Zach: I tend to prefer concerts, because people are there for the music and to connect to that vs. people walking around with a plate of food in their hand, catching up with all of their friends from the community. Although, at the same time, it is very special to bring an energetic kedusha to a simcha.
Shlomo: I prefer to play music for those who wish to connect and be uplifted, ideally that’s the case at Simchas, concerts, and living room shows!
What is the largest concert you ever played at? (people)
Zach: Probably the Central Park concert, something like 2,000+ people. Shlomo: That time we played for a hasidic mother in Yerushalayim. Every person is a whole world. That was the largest concert in my eyes.
What did performing at the Camp HASC concert, do for your career? Zach: It brought us closer to Hashem! It’s hard to say what any one concert did for us because they all work together. We definitely got to meet some amazing musicians and people, and those connections last until today.
Shlomo: The concert ended on a fortissimo of comradeship and an aftertaste of delight and longing to serve Hashem with Joy.
What’s the history of the song Baruch Hashem? Did you think that it would be sung at every Jewish simcha from that point on? Zach: The song was originally Hinei Matov, and I believe first debuted in the movie Entebi (although I have yet to actually see it). In Tsfat they used to sing the melody with the words Baruch Hashem! A good friend of ours from Pumpidisa, Tzvi Levin, reached out about possibly doing a cover of this. The first phone call initial idea, to finishing the music video, was probably only 48 hours. It all happened so quick but it turned out to be such a beautiful moment and song that will live on forever (we hope!).
Shlomo: Someone showed me a brief clip of Reb Shlomo singing the song to the words “Hinei Ma Tov, Hinei Ma Tov,” I imagine it was an early Israeli folk song that made it to the Chassidic song festival records whose sentiment set the melody aflame to be featured in “Raid on Entebbe” and sung by Rav Weingott in Yeshivas “Shalom Rav.” Pumpidisa and Matt Dubb were excited to recreate the song and generate a music video to inspire. We had no idea it would ignite such a flame to the Baal Shem Tov’s favorite uttered words of a Jew: “Baruch Hashem.”
Please tell everyone about your new album.
“When The Sea Split” is a masterful combination of spiritual lyricism, layers of organismic instrumentation, and rhythmic dexterity, escorting the listener into a soothing inner world. It tears apart the waters to reveal the depth of a soul-longing adventure that keeps you hooked from beginning to end.
How long did it take for you to make the album? Zach: The process took about a year and a half, although a lot of that time was spent preparing and refining each song. We start with hundreds of niggunim and we whittle it down to what we feel is the best and most appropriate, cohesive fit together. The actual recording process only takes a few weeks, but post production and layering, takes time. The biggest reason it takes so long is everyone has a busy schedule and between touring, and our producer working on many beautiful projects, it took about a year and a half.
Which song, do you predict in two years from now, will be the most popular off of this album? Zach: Right now it seems like “From the Narrow Place” is a good contender. Based on some initial streaming data, it seems people are resonating with that song. I would say the sleeper song would be Wonders. We’re working on a music video for that now, and hopefully that should give this melody the spotlight it deserves.
Shlomo: “Tree of Life.”
Are there any YouTube videos for any new songs off the new album in the works?
We are planning one for “Wonders” to be released within a month or so, and we have a couple in the works to be released a few months down the road (BH).
Any plans for Chol Hamoed Succos?
Zach: We will be in Eretz Hakodesh! With G-ds help. We’ve been going to Israel for Sukkot for 5 years now and are very excited about playing some shows and connecting with our Israeli brethren. We are also hoping to collab with some musicians while we’re there.
Shlomo: As Zach expressed, we will be in Eretz Yisroel! We look forward to walking upon the holy soil, breathing in the enwisening air of Eretz Yisroel, visiting Bnei Eretz Yisroel, and basking in the light of Lamed Vov Tzadikim in Eretz Yisroel.
Is there something that we did not to discuss that you would like to tell Jewish Vues readers? Zach: We love Hashem!
Shlomo: We love Torah! And we love Klal Yisroel!