GHS Interview: Johnny Zostant

GHS’s own Alexx Calise recently caught up with 14-year-old guitar virtuoso, Johnny Zostant. Though only in high school, Zostant has the chops, ambition, and resume of people twice his age. Find out what makes this long locked rocker tick… and how he maintains that killer mane.

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You're obviously an old soul. Do you ever feel a bit disconnected from your peers based on what you like to listen to and what you like to play? I actually have heard that a lot, about the old soul. I have three older sisters and the youngest of them, Gracey, also gets that a lot. I do feel disconnected from friends regarding my music sometimes since hip hop and rap is really the most popular thing right now. Most of my shows are 18 or 21 plus to get into, so my friends don’t get to see me play live much either, except maybe at the school talent show. I have noticed recently that more kids my age are discovering rock and metal and really enjoying it, so thats cool and I can suggest bands for them to check out and I enjoy that too. I coincidentally just did a full day of studio work with a young hip hop/rap producer, laying down all kinds of guitar tracks for him, it seems like guitar is steadily working its way into lots of the newer hip hop and rap coming out so I am aiming to get in on that and play on as many tracks/albums as I can and keep pulling in studio work too.

Who are some of your guitar heroes? I can definitely hear you grew up listening to some of the greats like (GHS Artist) Randy Rhoads. Yes, I definitely love the all time legends like Randy Rhoads, Tony Iommi, Hendrix and all those greats for sure. When I first got playing at about 8 or 9 years old, Tom Morello was my favorite, I just loved the huge sound and riffs and power of Rage Against The Machine, I still have a Rage poster on my wall to this day. Then as I really got into playing and knew this was what I was born to do, I starting soloing and shredding and all that stuff so I got really into instrumentalists like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Marty Friedman and similar guys I consider to be total masters, and I still listen to almost every day. However, I am a HUGE fan of Dimebag Darrell from Pantera, great riffs, great solos and I also especially like how he always seemed to remain as much of a fan of music as he was writer/performer himself and always made time for the fans, that’s very cool.

Your dad told us that you book all of your own shows and handle a lot of aspects of your career. How do you manage THAT, touring, AND school? Yes, he wants me to do as much as I can myself, so I actually know what to do when I'm out on my own (he's cool and is always there to help when I do need it though). I actually found that for me, touring and booking go hand in hand, so it's like a two birds with one stone type thing. I perform at 100% effort, every show, no matter what and I make as many friends as I can, not just with everyone who came out to see the show, but with venue owners and the staff too (owner, sound guy, bouncer, bartenders, promoters, etc.), this has really helped me with booking since I am usually always invited back to play anytime (and I totally take advantage of that, haha). During school I usually get home and knock out my homework first thing, that leaves me free for the rest of the night to search for and email venues/promoters/bands, post shows, practice and anything else I need to do to keep playing shows.

What do you like to do when you’re not on the road? Do you actually have time to do anything like play video games or go to the movies? I usually skateboard around at the venues when I’m on the road to kill time, so that’s something that I usually do at home too and I’ve also just starting getting into running and working out. I also love cooking and I make really good specialty omelets, a mean Cubano sandwich, crazy burgers stacked with fried eggs and all kinds of stuff, and I’m always expanding my menu haha!! I play video games here and there, usually when I hang out with friends, but on my own I feel like I’m wasting time when I could be working on songs or something instead. I’ve also recently been binging on Dexter and The Office, both awesome shows!

You were actually referred to us at NAMM 2018 by GHS artist, Rene Benton, who is an awesome guitarist. How did you guys become acquainted, and where in the world did you meet (I say this because Rene is quite the jet setter)? Rene is the best!! I met him at Summer NAMM a couple years back at a booth where he was performing. He let me demo the pedals he was playing and we just hit it off talking gear and playing technique and guitar nerd stuff, haha. I did some Skype lessons with him for a while and besides teaching me how to play 1,000 times better, he taught me about being a pro working musician, having a career in music and the importance of learning different styles of playing and we've just stayed in touch ever since. Now he kind of watches what I'm doing from a distance since he's always traveling the world (literally) and drops in some advice and support when he knows I need it. He introduced me to you and GHS which has been a huge opportunity for me. He actually sent me hand written post cards from Russia and Vietnam this year. He's the most thoughtful and real guy I may have met in music so far, I'm lucky to know him!!

You've gotten to play some pretty awesome events, including one hosted by music historian/radio personality, Eddie Trunk recently. What was that experience like? Did you stump the Trunk? Oh man, that was cool!! That show was an induction ceremony for the Hall of Heavy Metal History at NAMM this past year and Eddie was the host. I got to open the show with two songs and he introduced me, it was awesome. I got to hang out with him and all kinds of legends backstage at that show, it was great. I saw Eddie the next day at a NAMM booth too and we talked about music for a while, he’s just a cool guy. I figured there was no way I could stump the Trunk so I didn’t bother, especially since he even pronounced my last perfectly when he introduced me so that was good enough for me haha!! Going back the previous question about booking shows, I got this gig because the Hall of Heavy Metal History owner happened to be at a show I was playing in NJ and liked my set and the fact that I left everything I had on stage so he asked me to play the induction ceremony in CA that year. See? Booking & shows really do go hand in hand haha!!

Do you have plans to start a band, or do you prefer being solo? Yes, I'm actually in the process of putting together a band right now. Taking my time with it to make sure its all set up right and everything is in place since my plan is to bring solid, experienced musicians into the group with me and start playing shows and get touring heavily right away. I'm deep into the writing process now and I'm really happy with the initial recordings I've been putting together. In the meantime, I have a nice schedule of solo shows lined up for the summer/fall and the venues I'm playing are steadily getting better and the crowds are steadily getting bigger, so I couldn't be happier about that. I also play lead guitar in a five piece that does rock/metal covers, so that's just a really fun way to get out and perform and play songs everyone knows and loves, it's always a good time.

Who would you REALLY like to tour with? Anyone who will have me haha!! If we’re talking current playing/touring bands I would probably say Black Label Society and Hatebreed- amazing bands and even crazier fans that I would love play for!! But, if I could pick a band from any time period, I would pick Pantera in their prime- just based on the insanity and massive scale of the shows I watch from those days (plus I’m a huge Dime fan and watching him play every show from side stage would be amazing for me).

What is your favorite guitar to play? Do you have any go-to pedals as well? I've been playing Gibson SGs for a few years now and they're just solid guitars with a real thick tone that fits my original music well. I have a couple of 2015 Specials because those necks are wider than normal and I find them real comfortable and real fast. I'm always on the lookout for new guitars though and I'm open to try everything. I'm not really a big pedal user, and it depends on which rig I am using. My new/main rig is a Hughes & Kettner Grandmeister 40 tube head that probably has the best tone I've ever played with so it really doesn't need any help from pedals, but it does have awesome built in effects so I use the delay via the foot switch I got with it. My previous, now my backup rig, is a killer Italian made distortion pedal from MEDEA and a Boss DD7 Delay which I run through a clean channel on a Marshall DSL 100 head. I have the tone I want with both set ups and its nice and simple, plus I put on a crazy show on stage and don&'t want to be stuck at a pedalboard the whole time haha!!

How many hours a day would you say you play? Also, tell us about some of your practice methods. Do you run scales, play along with songs, watch Youtube tutorials, etc? I play anywhere form 1 to 12 hours a day haha!! I guess it really depends on where I am regarding show/tour schedules and songwriting. On a typical day I probably play about 2-3 hours running my set list for any upcoming shows, then onto learning any new songs I am adding to a specific show (sometimes I join other bands onstage and they request I play a certain song), and then I usually just play around looking for new ideas, riffs etc. or just play for fun. I have actually spent days and days locked in my room when I’m writing new songs and I'm in the groove with ideas flowing, and that's always awesome. I used to run scales every day for hours, but now I do that less and prefer to find different and exotic scales in my Grimoire, which is a book of pretty much every scale ever created. I feel like that makes my brain think a different way and really gets my fingers out of any muscle memory ruts they might be stuck in so I don’t keep repeating things and I keep growing.

What do you find yourself listening to these days? Any cool new bands we should know about? I listen to a ton of different music to be honest, ranging from heavy groups like Hatebreed to more chilled out reggae inspired bands like The Expendables. I have the song Ride Like the Wind (by Christopher Cross) stuck in my head right now which may get replaced by Marty Friedman, System of A Down or Sublime at any moment if that tells you anything haha!! As far as new stuff, I like Chon, which is a group of insanely talented instrumentalists and I'm a big fan of Uncured, real young guys (maybe 18,19 years old out of NY/NJ) and just great musicians. They're a very heavy band but they mix in lots great soloing which even includes some real nice smooth jazz guitar styles as well, which you don't hear much.

What's your ultimate goal with music? Do you want to tour, be a session player, composer, performing artist, music producer? Yes haha!! I definitely plan to tour as much as possible and the immediate goal would be to jump on some more lengthy tours with well know, established acts, either with my own band or as a guitarist in an established band (or both). I've also been doing more studio work for people and really enjoy that as well so I plan to continue and expand into that area as well. I plan to attend MI right after high school so hopefully a producer role is in there somewhere in the future too.

Do you have any future plans to move out to any of the big music cities, like LA, New York, Austin, Nashville? I am originally from NY and have lots of family there, and I've just now been picking up more gigs and fans in that general area, so that's an option for sure. But, I feel like I will probably end up in the L.A. area since I'm out there at least 3-4 times a year already and I've made lots of good friends and connections. Plus, I plan to attend MI in Hollywood as I mentioned earlier, so that’s most likely where I'll end up, but who knows.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, would you say that all your power comes from your hair? It's pretty amazing, and I'm actually quite jealous of it. Do you use any special products to keep it looking fabulous? Yes, I do get most of my power and guitar playing ability from my hair, so I have to be very careful around anything that could possible cut it off, like ceiling fans or car windows etc. haha!! I guess I just got lucky with my hair, and also lucky that my oldest sister is a hair stylist so she tells me what to use. I actually use Pantene shampoo and conditioner and that's about it.