Music Preview: Guitarist Nathan Zoob steps out front for solo debut

By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Nathan Zoob has emerged from the studio with the debut EP “Curriculum Vitae,” but you might already know the qualifications of this Pittsburgh-based guitarist.

Since arriving here in 2006 to attend Carnegie Mellon University, he has been entrenched in the local music scene, playing with Mark Dignam, Backstabbing Good People and Wreck Loose. He has also been the first guy to call when putting together a tribute concert or an event like WYEP’s Holiday Hootenanny.

Tickets: $10 in advance, $15 at the door; “Curriculum Vitae” is available Saturday through

“Curriculum Vitae,” his first outing as frontman, doesn’t adhere to a single genre, instead bouncing from the rollicking trip down “Highway 61” on “Dirty Mind” to the Swell Season-sounding “S.O.S.” to the gypsy swing of “Summer Theologica.”

“There’s no through-line as far as the genres or the way I even recorded it, necessarily, but they’re personal, they’re expressions of me and where I was at the moment I wrote them,” he says. “I think when I do the first [full-length], then I’m going to worry about making an album where it’s meant to be a statement from start to finish.”

The 27-year-old Manhattan native’s musical adventures began in sixth grade when, tasked with putting together a song or speech for a school event, he reached all the way back to 1969.

“I had a friend who was taking guitar lessons, and he just learned ‘Pinball Wizard,’ and so the way kids do, he was like, ‘You want to play the song I just learned?’ and I didn’t even think about the fact that I had never performed before. I was like, ‘Sure.’ My parents got me ‘Tommy,’ and for the next two years, my whole world was that album. I started playing guitar by combing through ‘Tommy’ and trying to find like every little guitar piece and getting them exact.”

He was also learning to fingerpick to Paul Simon, who became his main lyrical inspiration, as well, when he started writing his first folk songs at 16. After coming to Pittsburgh to study writing at CMU, he hooked up with Mr. Dignam, a literate folksinger who came here from Ireland.

As he got more involved in the scene, Zoob realized, “It’s a nice place to learn and raise my chops, performance wise and writing wise, and just become a professional, and by the time I reached some of those goals, I was pretty sold on the town.”

He got into the soul-rock band Backstabbing Good People toward the end of its run, and while singer Clinton Clegg went on to form The Commonwealth, Zoob, pianist-singer Max Somerville and bassist Dave Busch formed Wreck Loose, channeling ’70s AM radio.

“Wreck Loose has a sound distinct to Wreck Loose, which is an outgrowth of Max’s writing,” he says. “I feel pretty comfortable that if I wrote something in that vein I could bring it to the group, we could try to slide it in rotation, but if I’m just writing in the manner that I write without concern of whether it fits into a certain milieu, that’s got to be a solo.”

He’s joined in the studio by Mr. Sommerville, bassist Jason Rafalak, drummer Manny Guevara (former Jazzam) and Randy Baumann (yes, of WDVE) on organ.

Given his degree from CMU, it’s no surprise to discover a richness in the songwriting.

“I’m a very verbal songwriter,” he says, “I have the experience of thinking music first as a sideman, but when it comes down to sitting down and writing a song, I’m always going to be worried first about the lyrics and second about the music. It captures my attention for the longest.”

Rolling out his solo project means taking center stage, which is only slightly foreign to him.

“I have played alone on a stage, and I’m very comfortable drawing attention directly to myself,” he says. “As an acoustic player I know how to quiet a room, I know how to make people curious about the next thing I’m going to say, because that is something I have pretty extensive experience with. It’s a different game when you have the power of a rock band behind you because then you just have to up that intensity by whatever magnitude to move up the volume. This is new to me, and I’m excited to attempt it, but it is a different game.”

Scott Mervis:; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.