Two years ago, TJ Zindle discovered an unexpected clarity.
With a quiet mind and a fresh creative spark, the Ann Arbor indie-rock artist and guitarist immersed himself in a pandemic-induced songwriting retreat.
“The first couple of months during the shutdown everything felt clear. All the noise was gone, and I was just writing a ton. A lot of it was about mental health stuff and trying to figure that out … because all of sudden, I had time to think,” said Zindle, who’s also a vocalist-guitarist with Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds.
“The hum of life was gone for a bit, and I wrote about 45-50 songs for this record. I also have another record coming out later this year with some friends from another band.”
Those sessions produced Now Let Go, Zindle’s first new album since 2017’s Hold On with All Your Might. Filled with nine insightful tracks, it features an emotive narrative chronicling personal and societal reflections on life, growth and change.
“I’m at the point where it’s not so difficult to be like, ‘Yeah, I’m a real fucking musician,’ which is something that I had never felt like all my life. We all fight that imposter syndrome … we’re all there, every single human,” he said.
“But to be like, ‘I made a pretty damn good record on my own,’ and I got a lot of stuff out … I honestly know I did my best, and it was just me. There was just a lot of power in that.”
Now Let Go
Zindle proudly demonstrates that powerhouse Now Let Go sound as forthright vocals, confident electric guitars and arena rock-sized drums produce an undeniable musical force. He produced his third release and collaborated with longtime Ragbirds’ producer Jamie Candiloro.
“Generally, you go into a big space to get that big drum sound, and we weren’t going out. But there’s a freedom in that. A lot of the vocal takes were a lot more raw, honest and open, and I had the ability to really go for it because it was just me in this room,” Zindle said.
“If I wanted to yelp or I needed to weep for five minutes after, I didn’t have that extra thing in the studio where there’s money, and there’s other people watching, and you’re like, ‘I don’t know if y’all want to see what I’m about to do here, or what I need to do to get it right.’”
In fact, Zindle nails a bold sensibility on the turbocharged Now Let Go bank caper, “I Want It Now,” as frenzied electric guitars, crunchy bass, vociferous drums and smashing cymbals summon an escape plan.
He sings, “You should really think this through/Before it gets too deep/Every time you go too fast/It comes back to haunt me/Can’t you see in my eyes/I’m not playing/I’ve been down this road a few times/I always get away, I always get away.”
“The song is about a guy robbing a bank. In the first verse, he’s getting the plot together, and then he’s got an inside man who’s gonna disable the cameras. I was in character as this guy who robs a bank, and he eventually gets caught on his way down to Mexico. He gets four years (in prison) because he rats the other guy out,” Zindle said.
“I tracked that vocal live in just one take as a scratch vocal right into my iPad in my bathroom to get a tile-kind-of-vibe. I think that’s my favorite vocal on the record.”
Zindle quickly shifts from character mode to real life on the contemplative societal anthem, “The Engine.” Luminous electric guitars, cozy drums and fluid bass remind listeners to trade divisive anger for proactive peace and empathy.
He sings, “What a time to survive/This terror may not eat us alive/But our anger will if the other side/Only deserves vengeance/Ease up on the throttle before your burn out the engine.”
“I wrote that in the summertime when all the protests were going on. All the images that you had were every person, every side, and it was just anger. At the end of the song, I’m just tired of seeing people so angry. That one still makes me cry a little bit,” Zindle said.
“I’ve always tried to write a serene, beautiful song, and I never felt like I got that right until this one. It’s like a ride on a boat on a gentle stream. I love records that have that sound, and it can be a heavy or dark thing.”
After addressing societal struggles, Zindle tackles inner turbulence on Now Let Go’s “Balancing the Chemicals” as hyperactive electric guitar, bouncy bass, thunderous drums and crashing cymbals beckon an emotional equilibrium.
He sings, “Hit my peak/Then I crashed back down to earth again/A wasted week/Turns to month turns to year and then back again/Used and complacent rooftop to basement/Some knots can’t be untied/With an impulse I’ve always denied.”
“Whether they’re mental chemicals or actual chemicals, there are a lot of elements to that … you find yourself drinking a lot, you find yourself drinking a lot of coffee and doing this and doing that. I love the concept of we’re all just trying to figure out that balance that we need to get us through this thing,” said Zindle, who wrote “Balancing the Chemicals” before the pandemic.
“This is maybe the seventh song that I’ve written with that title. I really like the outro of that one, and Jamie (Candiloro) just crushes it on the drums. There are so many great little fills and moments in the sound that he got.”
To create those vigorous sounds, Zindle recorded the vocals, guitar and bass in GarageBand on his iPad. That minimalist approach appealed to him after hearing Gorillaz’s 2010 album, The Fall, which featured frontman Damon Albarn using an iPad and only a few instruments to record the album.
“I remember hearing about that and thinking, ‘Holy shit, if they can do it,’ and then I started doing it. Originally, I thought I was doing demos, and then I’m like, ‘You know what, if I push a little bit harder, I can just make these the tracks,’” Zindle said.
With tracks in hand, Zindle shared them with Candiloro, who’s based in Los Angeles. In return, Candiloro added drums and keys to the tracks and mixed Now Let Go.
“We did it over a year once we started working on the drums. I would send Jamie a track, and within a week or so, he’d send me back some stuff,” Zindle said.
“We might talk about a couple changes here and there. I would send the tracks with some version of a drum groove that I would tap out on my iPad. He took those ideas and brought them to life.”
Buffalo and Beyond
Zindle brought his musical vision to life while growing up with sister Erin Zindle in Buffalo, New York. He learned trumpet at age eight, started bass at 12 and added guitar at 13 after hearing Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Radiohead.
“I realized, ‘Oh, I can write songs,’ and then it was like, ‘I can start a band.’ That was all I needed, and that was the choice at 16 or 17, and I thought, ‘I’m gonna do this forever; I’m gonna play guitar and write songs,’” said Zindle, who’s also influenced by The Smashing Pumpkins, Our Lady Peace and Screaming Trees.
In 1997, Zindle joined alt-rock quartet Last Conservative and released four albums, including 2006’s Pretty New Things. By 2005, they opened for Bon Jovi at Pepsi Arena (now MVP Arena) in Albany, New York.
“We were the main support for Bon Jovi at the arena; it was pretty amazing,” Zindle said. “We also toured with a bunch of emo bands and were kind of in that universe.”
In 2009, Zindle ventured to Michigan and joined Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds as a guitarist for their tour. At the time, he had only intended to play a few live shows, but soon became a full-time band member and relocated to Ann Arbor. Seven years later, he released his debut EP, You Have It Coming.
“We kept so busy, especially the first six or seven years when we were doing 150 to 200 shows on the road and going out six to seven weeks at a time,” Zindle said. “It was great to be out there, and that was really the only time that I felt like a real musician was when I was touring, and I had a bunch of gigs.”
Today, Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds continue to tour and have several festivals on their tour itinerary, including Nor’Easter Michigan Festival (June 10), Smiling Acres Music Festival (July 1), Beaver Island Music Festival (July 16) and Mile of Music (Aug. 4-7).
“It’s gonna be so good, especially with outdoor stuff, because that way you feel like you can still do it safely,” Zindle said.
In the meantime, Zindle will celebrate the release of Now Let Go with a new video for “I Want It Now,” which was created by Erin Zindle. He’s also playing June 26 at the Sol of The Lost Tamarack 2022 with The Powerlines’ Shannon Wade (bass) and Jon Brown (drums) in Wolverine, Michigan.
A new album with side project Starts With A Con is in the works, too.
“That’s another one we’re doing all digitally. This is the first record my friends Brian and Nick have ever made. We’ve all got iPads, and since I was working with Jamie (Candiloro), I know how to send the tracks now,” Zindle said.
“All of a sudden, Brian would send a bass riff, and I’d arrange it into a song. They’re both first-time musicians, and there’s a lot of great stuff that happens when you don’t have all the patterns that you’ve learned. There’s a certain freedom to that before you over-hone that instinct. That instinct is the raw shit and the real stuff.”