“The Weirdo in the Corner” – An Interview with zacheser

Producer, DJ, and self-proclaimed “burgerdad” zacheser is a “fat motherfucker,” in his own words, but it’s a label he bears with an enormous amount of pride. In fact, it was Zach’s wholehearted embrace of body positivity that lead him to create his label CHUB RUB as a celebration of body diversity, while at the same time acting as a platform to counteract popular narratives that electronic music exists only for a white, heterosexual audience. We caught up with zacheser last week to talk about CHUB RUB’s operations, his forthcoming record Phases, and anthropomorphic food.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

My preliminary question before I start any interview is – what have you been listening to as of late?

zacheser: Oh goodness gracious. What’s been on repeat for me – I’ve been listening to the new Death Cab for Cutie album, Thank You For Today, I’ve been listening to a lot of older, trip-hop stuff, stuff like Air and Zero 7. I’ve also been listening to both the Walker & Royce album, Self Help, [and] Justin Jay’s album Home on repeat. Those have kind of been my vibe for the last couple of months.

Given the variety of influences that go into what you produce, I would expect nothing less from your personal discography.

zacheser: Oh thank you man! Yeah I try to keep things as varied as possible. I feel like it’s really easy sometimes to get burnt out on the amount of house music that comes out – I try, when I’m not producing, in the studio, or in the club, to really focus on listening to something more diverse … at the rate that the amount of house music, techno music, and tech-house has been put out, it’s really hard to keep up with it sometimes.

You previously served as Managing Editor of Blisspop before transitioning over to start CHUB RUB Records. Can you outline what the process of starting your own label was like?

zacheser: CHUB RUB initially started as a secret Facebook group – I really wanted to unite the scene in a way that no one was doing. Everybody in DC – I’ve said this before but, I feel like everybody in DC reps each other really hard, but nobody was really sharing each other’s music and playing it out, and that’s a huge part of building something. It’s about finding the pieces of the puzzle that everybody shares and trying to build that puzzle together, and nobody was really doing that, so I started this private Facebook group. When time came along to come up with a name, I had been toying around with the name CHUB RUB for a while because of personal things in my life, and it just kind of stuck. Within two months we were playing in the Flash bar in DC, and it just started steamrolling. By January it became really clear that, “oh, this is gonna be a label.”

As far as building it, I just wanted to have a good crew of people, I really wanted it to focus, initially, on a lot of my peers and friends, [as well as] DC and Baltimore on the East Coast. It just kind of blew up from there. As far as building a label, I say just find a good bunch of apples, and really cherish those apples. Sooner or later you’ll have a nice little pie that you can share with other people.

You’re an avid supporter of body positivity, with it being one of the core tenants that informs CHUB RUB’s mission as a label. What made you want to channel body positivity specifically into electronic music?

zacheser: There’s no real way around saying it – I’m a fat motherfucker. I’ve been a fat motherfucker my whole life. And as a result of that, as a teenager and as a young adult going into adulthood, I kind of had to come to terms with that. I had my own personal demons that I’ve shared in the past. That’s always been a facet of my adult life – since college really. Going forward, I always made it a point to create as much of an inclusive feeling in everything that I do. Aside from that, as far as LGBT issues, as an openly queer man and along with being an ally for friends of mine who are persons of color, [that allyship] also includes body diversity.

I feel like our scene, electronic music in general, is branded as a very white, heteronormative, traditionally good looking, middle-class thing. And that’s not where dance music came from. It’s inherently diverse, as far as how it was born. And I, as a fat man, I feel like my visibility as a fat kid does a lot to empower other fat kids who want to get into music, or DJing, or producing. And I feel like just having the name CHUB RUB as the name of the label is political in and of itself; the fact that we talk about things like “burgerfam,” or that our mascot is a cheeseburger piñata, we’re flaunting our shit. And everybody in our label is unapologetically themselves. I feel like that message of inclusiveness is important to our brand, and important to the music scene in general.

Especially when you look at the history of electronic music as being created and pioneered by black folx and queer folx, it’s important to try to prevent commodification and commercialization in a way that takes it away from it’s roots.

zacheser: Right – and also we’re living in a time when people like Scott Diaz who’s a very celebrated DJ and producer is told he’s not allowed to play a party he was booked for because of the fact that he’s a bigger dude. There’s something inherently fucked up about that. That’s just one very small example of the toxic relationship that is being built around dance culture that needs to change. DJs, producers, musicians, we’re not all going to fit some cookie cutter idea of what we’re supposed to look like. And if a people who are a part of the culture think that’s what dance music needs to celebrate, there needs to be a re-wiring of the overall thinking. It’s more important, now than ever, to really stand your ground, if you have a political stance in something, and really speak your mind and make it a facet of what you’re doing.

To pivot back to what you said earlier about “burgerfamily,” you’re a self proclaimed “burgerdad.” I was wondering if you could explain what that meant exactly, as well as the genesis of that monitor.

zacheser: I’ve always been really into cheeseburgers – that’s kind of been my thing. As a unapologetically weird person, and fat person, I was glorifying my body and claiming ownership of it, driving home the fact that I don’t care what you think, I’m gonna eat this cheeseburger. And I actually started routinely handing out cheeseburgers at shows, I wear clothes with junk food all over them. What we like to call our family of people that like our label and the collective and everything, we call it our “burgerfam,” lovingly. And because people call me dad, it just kind of became a quick combination – and I became burgerdad [laughs]. It’s a silly name because we’re silly. That’s kind of our thing.

I really dig the visuals that inform CHUB RUB’s releases, involving anthropomorphic food. It’s really funny and off-kilter; do you handle the art direction of the releases?

zacheser: I do all the art direction. I feel like it’s important as a label boss and as somebody who’s developing a brand to have a hand in it. I do all the album artwork. The reason that we did that is specifically because we’re silly, like I said before. Silliness is a huge factor of what we do. We all feel that being kind of silly and weird and animated and fun is important. Especially now that everybody wants to be super serious and dark and deco. It’s really what we take pride in. I personally enjoy being the weirdo in the corner. I know everyone else that we’ve signed onto the label, and everybody that helps run the label also takes pride in being the weirdos in the corner. So when it comes to the artwork, I say, “what’s the weirdest, most borderline disgusting thing I can do with various junk food items?” Same thing goes for the promo videos we put on Instagram … It’s like, what’s the weirdest thing we can find that fits the vibe of this track, that still captures the spirit of the artist we’re promoting?

I think we came out at the right time [as a label] … you have the Dirtybirds of the world, the Perfect Drivers, the Hot Creations – there’s all these great labels that are thriving on being the outsiders and curating content that speaks to them on a personal label. The fact that we care a lot about curating something that captures our inner-weirdness, there’s no better time to come forward. It’s been incredibly satisfying that people are starting to latch onto labels, musicians, and artists that take pride in doing your own thing. We are so incredibly humbled that our stuff has resonated with people.

One of my favorite cuts of yours is “Song Request (feat. Karli Walker),” as it outlines the experience of having to deal with pushy individuals requesting songs in the middle of a set. When I was listening to it, I felt like there was one line in the song that came from a specific, very real anecdote that played into why you made this track. Can you talk about the story behind this song?

zacheser: What was the line? I wanna know.

It’s the line about Ke$ha.

zacheser: Ok, alright. Before I got into the DC scene, I was DJing a lot of college parties when I was still in school. When I graduated, my family is from Annapolis, which is more of a pop-top-40-Dave-Matthews kind of crowd, it’s white people. So when I would play house music at some of the places around downtown Annapolis, specifically Dock Street – shout out to Panda, one of my good friends who runs shit there every weekend and who helped me get my start professionally as a DJ – I would frequently get requests. I think the bane of any DJ is getting requests, especially if you’re in a crowded, packed club. Like it’s one thing if it’s a dive bar, but if you’re in an actual club and someone comes up with their phone and leans it over the booth with a song, it’s ridiculous.

So I made the instrumental, and I was toying around with the idea for a while. My girlfriend and partner, Karli Walker, who’s the vocalist on the track, because she does voiceover (and because she gets annoyed with me quite regularly), I asked her, “oh, go in the vocal booth in the studio and record the angriest things you can think of.” And get really personal. And she did, because she’s not the house music type, so she had a lot of frustrations to get out.

The particular line about Ke$ha that’s in the song – which is the infamous line of the song – is actually something that happened to me, when I was DJing in Annapolis. A girl came up to me and kept asking, “hey, can you play this Pitbull song with Ke$ha,” over and over and over again. I think she was a bridesmaid or something. She came up like the fifth or sixth time, and she goes, “Listen, I will suck your dick if you play Ke$ha.” And I just flat out looked at her and said, “No, I’m not doing that.” Whenever I think of angry people asking for a song to be played, that’s the one thing that sticks in my mind. And so as my girlfriend was recording stuff, I said, “hey, can you say this line,” she was like, “Really?” And I said, “Yeah, really.” It’s something that really happened, and honestly, I think it makes the song. I think it pushes it over the edge. I’m sorry if Ke$ha is offended by it, but if she’s reading this interview, I just want her to know that people will do things just to hear your music, so you must be doing something right.

You’ve been DJing in DC since 2014. How would you say you’ve seen the scene change since you’ve become involved?

zacheser: The fact that there’s such a wealth of music now, especially since the EDM bubble burst and people started finding things they like other than mainstage stuff, that has really breathed a lot of life into the scene. Over the last four years I’ve seen a lot of parties pop up, a lot of collectives start to work together, I would characterize it as a renaissance. It’s a really good time to be involved in electronic music in Washington DC at this moment. There’s so many people doing great things – Philco and his crew are doing amazing things with the Good Buddies label, [Martin] Miguel is doing incredible things with Better Listen, ROAM is continuing to post the boundaries of what a warehouse party can and should be, The NeedlExchange continues to impress me with how well they just blow minds with their shows. You have so many artists in DC, other than us, like Will Eastman and Enamour … it’s just incredible, the heights that some artists are climbing to at the moment.

And we’re fucking spoiled! In a three mile radius, you have four of the best clubs in the world, in my honest opinion, between Echostage, Flash, U Hall, and the 9:30 Club, plus Soundcheck just around the corner from there. You have fifty events every week that are incredible. We are spoiled rotten … four years ago I would have never envisioned that much growth. We always joke how DC is the next big thing, but really this year, just what we’ve seen in the last twelve months, is remarkable.

Finally, you indicated on Twitter recently that you’re working on a new album, inspired in part by advice you received from your “friend and mentor” Will Eastman. Can you tell us a bit more about what this record sounds like and what influences informed its creation?

zacheser: I have toyed with the idea of making an album for a long time. When Will told me, a couple of years ago, before I formed CHUB RUB and everything – and this was after a party I did, it’s all old news now and water under the bridge – he told me I could do better. That I could try harder and that I was capable of bigger and better things, and that I really had to focus on what makes me unique. To try and find the niche that needs to be spoken for, and tap into that, and really use that as the momentum for what I want to do as a DJ and producer.

The last year has been a lot of ups and downs for me, mentally and emotionally. I felt like I had a lot to say. And so this album is going to capture a lot of that. It’s going to feature some vocal work from myself, which I’ve never done before, and it’s going to span a lot of the influences, musically, that I’ve had throughout my life. As a music appreciator, I’ve always loved things like alternative music, independent music – my first foray into electronic music was seeing LCD Soundsystem, who continue to be my favorite band. I love Prince. I love Dirtybird. I love deep house, disco. This album is going to have a little bit of everything that’s made me happy over my lifetime.

The name of the album will be Phases. I don’t know when it’s gonna come out, probably sometime in 2019, but I think it’s going to accurately depict who I am as an individual and how I’ve gotten here. And I really hope people like it. CHUB RUB has a stacked lineup of releases well into next year, so I have to give everybody that we’re signing some time to shine, I don’t want to overcrowd the label or make it seem like a vanity project for myself, because it’s bigger than I am.

I really hope people respond to [the album], because I’m pouring my heart and soul into it. If people don’t like it, or if Pitchfork gives it a negative review, you can find me at my local McDonalds, stress eating and crying, into a series of Big Macs and apple pies.