Josh Zuckerman Comes "Out From Under"

by Rocco B. Colella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday August 11, 2006

Josh Zuckerman is a bit of an enigma. He classifies himself as a gay musician - and in every respect he is: he makes music for a living and he happens to be homosexual. What is refreshing, however, is his take on his status of being a "gay musician," a term some may deem restrictive in today's world.

"People just have to label you," he said in a recent telephone interview from New Jersey. "In the marketing world, people have to know if you are pop. They have to know what your target audience is."

Lucky for Zuckerman, this has given him a core audience base. "Being labeled as gay has given me my targeting audience," he said. "You'd expect to have drawbacks on being labeled, but my career has taken off more because of being an out artist."

Upon first listening, however, Zuckerman's sexuality almost never comes in to question. Gender-neutral lyrics, he said, is his way to connect the strife of the gay community what that of every other human being. "The gay community suffers a great deal," he said, a statement that could range from something as big as a hate crime or to something as aching as a breaking heart. "Everybody goes through these feelings." Quite simply, love and loss are universal.

But so is success. Not being signed to a record label and being single may seem like drawbacks, but Zuckerman has found it to be quite the opposite. He records his album through his own record company, PLH Records, and being unattached means that he doesn't have leave anyone behind when touring and promoting. Except his mom, of course, who resides in New Jersey as well.

"She's fine with it," he said, about him going out on tour to promote his music. "What sucks for her is always having to take me to the airport."

With his sophomore album, Out From Under, being released Aug. 15, promotion is key at this point. Spending the weeks before the release around the Jersey and Pennsylvania area at local venues, Zuckerman also will play at the New Haven Gay & Lesbian Community Center in Connecticut on Aug. 13 before his official CD release party on Aug. 16 at the Metropolitan Room in New York City at 34 West 22nd Street.

Brushes with stardom come in small packages for Zuckerman, whether it be independent music listeners who will ask him on the street, "Hey, aren't you Josh Zuckerman?" which happened most recently while strolling down a street in New York City, or when a limo driver picked him up for a show in Kansas City.

"I had a security guard walking along with me," said Zuckerman. "I was told that they had to walk with me. That was kind of a star moment."

"I haven't been using my music for political reasons, but getting people to think about their feelings. We need to be more inner-directed rather than outer."

Even at a small age, Zuckerman wanted to be a star. Instrument lessons began at age 8 with the violin. Mostly classical music, he said, until he was 13, when he first heard a little song by Joan Jett called I Love Rock and Roll.

"It was then that I wanted to turn to rock music," he said.

While Jett and his other early influences, from Bon Jovi to Kiss, don't top his list of favorite musicians today, Zuckerman cannot deny their influence on his music. "These artists had really strong hooks and melodies, which is what I focus on with my music, in terms of hooks and chorus," he said. "Back in those days, people really put on a show." As a child of the 80s, Zuckerman remembers these artists very well and 20 years later tries to incorporate these antics into his own musical and performance stylings.

Writing lyrics comes harder than melodies for Zuckerman, who says that he is "not someone who writes poetry. Instead, putting lyrics to music takes longer than constructing melodies.

"I can write a while CD in a week," he said, a statement which is true of Sensation. "The second CD took a bit longer," he said, adding that some of the songs would just come to him sporadically at a time, taking about a year for the complete album to be written.

"All are more personal, introspective types of songs, driven by those human experiences," said Zuckerman of the songs from Out From Under. "I haven't been using my music for political reasons, but getting people to think about their feelings. We need to be more inner-directed rather than outer."

The sounds on his debut 2002 album, A Totally New Sensation, are inarguably more pop-oriented than "Out From Under," which takes a more rock-influenced route. Lyrically, the new album is stronger and deeper than his debut.

"Basically from the time I wrote the CD and now I was breaking up from a relationship and dealing with being single and what it's like to be single," said Zuckerman. "I was writing all about the ups and downs of going through that."

This ties back to Zuckerman's idea that all human beings relate to the universal emotion of love: both the highs and the lows. Anyone who has ever fallen in love can relate, he added. The songs attest to that. Guilt and Shame, Be Real, and Taking Care of Me off the new album are Zuckerman's favorites - and, not surprisingly, are the most deeply personal of the 13 tracks.

Guilt and Shame, the album's most personal track, is also the strongest, both lyrically and vocally. Zuckerman sings, "Let's take a walk down my past and see/All the people still staring at me/I close the window so fast/Thank God for miracles." An obvious ode to growing up gay, the song is neutral enough to encompass all those feelings of being ostracized and ridiculed that everybody feels at one point. Be Real reflects a lot on Zuckerman's feelings of being alone, but also on the resentment of potential lovers' hiding of emotions ("So let us try to be more in touch with our emotions/Come on take off your mask in life's masquerade.")

The album's opening title track is one of the liveliest although tackling the emotions felt during his recent breakup. Ironically, despite the upbeat tempo of the song, it is one of the few that actually addresses a male lover ("Without you, man, I thought I was nothing/Without you, man, I thought I would die, from a broken heart...")

Since the release of Sensation and now, Zuckerman is still enjoying riding the waves that his music has created. In 2005, he headlined the annual Jersey Gay Pride Parade in Asbury Park and, most exciting for him, his latest single, the title track from the new album, is the number one requested song on Sirius Radio's Out Q Hot 20 list. Kathy Griffin fans may have caught three of his songs played in the background of her Bravo reality series My Life on the D-List.

"My manager knew someone who worked at the production company for the show," said Zuckerman, who added that he hopes to see Griffin when they both perform in Tampa at the same time. "They were looking for music and liked my songs."

And Griffin sure knows her gays.

Besides awaiting the success of his new album, he is looking toward the future as an opportunity to "continue to grow and my fan base to grow," which includes touring more. "I would like to get a good, solid record deal or someone who will finance," said Zuckerman. Although no date has been set for its release, the music video for Out From Under will air on Logo timed around the album release in mid-August.

Rocco Colella can be reached at [email protected]. He was a Cinema Studies and Journalism major at Northeastern University now living in New York City.