As one might guess, nature is a major part of SUR’s journey. Also known as Zack Arnett, he once set up a recording studio in an RV and traveled through deserts and parks making music—including the Big Sur, considered one of California’s most beautiful regions. That journey planted the seed for his Savage Beast EP, which features heartfelt songs about “love, violence, and nature.” His sound blends electronic instrumentation with folksy drumbeats—think Stories-era Avicii plus the American Authors.
We recently had the chance to chat with SUR over the phone. Our conversation covered everything from his transformative journey to his single “Lean Back” to the “weird language in [his] head.” You can follow along below.
TYF: You recently played Firefly. What are your favorite memories from the experience?
SUR: Hooo! (Laughs) Favorite memories from Firefly… It was, like, 150 degrees while I was playing a show, and the sunscreen on my face while I was playing guitar was dripping into my eyes and stinging my eyes, and I couldn’t see. And I was thinking to myself, “Well, if you can you can play this song this way, then you can play it any way.” I saw it as, like, an endurance challenge. I felt pretty good about myself then.
TYF: Your story as a musician is pretty interesting. You made a makeshift studio in the back of an RV and set out on a journey throughout deserts and parks. What are your favorite sights that you saw on that trip?
SUR: Favorite sights on that trip… The trickling river in Big Sur at 6:00 AM while I was making a song called “Restless Heart. Just being in the quiet of Big Sur while playing music.
TYF: Which location was your favorite?
SUR: I say Big Sur was my favorite.
TYF: That would make sense because of your name.
SUR: (Laughs) Love it there. There weren’t a lot of people when we were there. We kind of had this spot all to ourselves.
TYF: Were you with friends?
SUR: It was my friend’s RV that I was in, actually. He’s an actor, so he can afford an RV.
TYF: What did you take away from that experience that you feel you couldn’t have gotten by just staying in LA?
SUR: I think it it would be similar to the experience you get when you’re listening to music in your car and you’re driving around. I equate it to that. You’re on the move. You’re feelin’ new feels ’cause you’re in different environments. And if you’re making music based off of feelings, then you’re making music based off of the environment that you’re in. And I think that’s pretty beautiful.
TYF: Very true. Now let’s talk about your Savage Beast. Your song “Lean Back” has some pretty interesting lyrics about guns and curses and souls and things. What inspired that?
SUR: I felt, when I was writing that song, a bit of darkness in the world that we’re living in, and that we’re in a bit of a dark place. I wanted to search that… And you know, I feel there’s a lot of people left behind in this world. There’s a lot of situations where people aren’t fortunate enough to even have an opportunity to make a right decision. Like, there isn’t a right decision. Some people are so backed up against the wall in life that they don’t even have the opportunity to make a good decision, you know? I wanted to write about that and also speak to the fact that everything happens for a reason, and at the end of the day, we really can’t control what’s going on, so sometimes it’s best to not focus on that.
TYF: You’re a former graffiti artist. What kind of graffiti did you create?
SUR: I was young. I guess in the beginning it was just tags and stuff like that, and then I started doing characters and big pieces and multicolor pieces. I was definitely not at a point where I would say I was a great graffiti artist. I was good, though. I moved over to the canvas after I got arrested for it.
TYF: What kind of art do you usually create when you’re painting?
SUR: I mean, art. (Laughs) What do you mean, “what kind”?
TYF: Like, what are your favorite subjects to paint?
SUR: I make weird shit. I make weird characters in my head that I always draw. When I paint, I usually paint them, and then sometimes I have this weird language in my head that I try to pick out. I pluck that out. I like painting the sky, the colors of the sun setting, things like that. But yeah, the same way I make music, I don’t think about it too much. I just kinda go with it.
TYF: “Characters” as in writing, like letters and numbers, or “characters” as in people?
SUR: Well, some of it is “characters” as in “weird faces,” and sometimes “characters” as in “a language that is coming from somewhere else.” I’m not sure where. I think it’s alien.
TYF: Have you ever had any alien experiences?
SUR: Oh, l wish. I would do anything for that.
TYF: I’ve talked to two different musicians who’ve said that they may or may not have seen extraterrestrials. I think it’s an interesting question to ask.
SUR: Yeah. I know a lot of them that are very into it and would say the same thing. It’s definitely a thing that musicians are very curious about—those aliens.
TYF: It’s a natural thing to be curious about.
TYF: You’re an apothecary in addition to a musician. How did you get started in that line of work?
SUR: I just started growing the plant, the marijuana plant, and did a lot of research on it. Through growing it, I started kind of getting attached to it, and then the more I learned, the more I was impressed with it—the more I understood its healing powers. And then I was using it on myself. And then I learned how to make it oil out of it and turn it into a salve, a topical salve you put on your body for aches and pains and whatever—like, anything. And it worked immediately. It was crazy. And I just made it in my kitchen. And then I started giving it to my friends, and it was working for them too. One thing led to another.
TYF: Since your EP is called Savage Beast, if you could be any kind of mythical beast, which kind would you be?
SUR: Oooh, mythical beast! I’d be a centaur or some shit.
TYF: A centaur? Centaurs are pretty cool.
SUR: Pretty cool beasts, man. They still have opposable thumbs, but they can gallop like a horse. I fuck with that. Except I’d be a centaur with, like, a .50 caliber machine gun strapped to the back of my horse carriage. That would be my addition.
TYF: An untraditional centaur. All right; is there anything else you’d like to say to the readers before we wrap up?
SUR: Well, I want to say that I think it’s important for us to focus on what’s happening right now in the world and not to bandwagon it. I think it’s crucial that we look at the root of the problem as opposed to the surface of the issue and not to not to jump on a bandwagon. I guess I’m speaking directly about the immigration and what’s happening right now. It’s more about the countries that they’re fleeing. There’s a reason that people are immigrating here. It’s because their country is run by gangsters and is corrupt and the money’s not going in the right places, and we need to focus on that as opposed to just family being torn apart, because that’s just an outcome of something far more important.