"I'd always played guitars, drums, bass and everything else, but in that band, I kind of had a limited capacity as just the electric guitarist," Youpa says on the phone from his home in Austin, where he's lived since 2013. "I really just wanted to make something that was completely my own … something that I can always look back on and say, 'Yeah, I made that.'"
With the release of Guitar for Pandas, Youpa sought to showcase a broad range of guitar influences.
The chaotic artwork of the album's cover, an expansive landscape spread out in the shadow of a giant guitar, immediately alerts listeners to the various sounds they are going to hear.
The album's sound is unquestionably eclectic. Between tracks like the groovy intro "Dopamine Dream," the bluesy "Vodka Soda Double Lime," the dancehall-inspired "Dutty Break" and the Khruangbin-esque title track, Youpa flawlessly demonstrates his guitar prowess across multiple genres.
Breaking out of the Americana mold, where he felt he'd gotten stuck, became an essential reason to begin recording the album about a year ago.
"If you listen to the album, there's very little of that [Americana sound] on it," Youpa says. "I didn't want to pigeonhole myself by any means. I really wanted to try and see if I could make an album where basically every song was a different genre."
The album is more than just a testament to Youpa's love of the guitar and all of its versatility.
"Every single sound that you hear on this record is done by me," he says. "It was more so just to show my friends what I could do ... 'cause, quite frankly, I feel like a lot of my friends think of me as just a guitar player. I really just wanted to expand that and show people that I have more to offer in different areas of music."
Once he finished recording the album, Youpa was not entirely sure what to do with it. What had started as a project to show off his skills and potentially book more solo gigs came to a halt when the country's music venues closed in March.
"I sat on the record for a few months and figured out what I should do," he says. "I kind of figured, you know, if everybody's sitting around in their homes, I might as well give them something to do."
Though he was able to book a couple of not-so-well-attended gigs in June before the bars shut down again, Youpa is facing the same problem as many musicians are right now, wondering how best to promote himself and his music.
"I feel like a lot of my friends think of me as just a guitar player. I really just wanted to expand that and show people that I have more to offer in different areas of music." – Zach Youpa
"At this point, it's now looking like live music might not really be in full swing 'til the end of the year, if not 2021," Youpa laments. "So I didn't really want to wait. Typically, people throw a big release party, but if that's out of the picture, I'd rather just have my record out, and hopefully, when everything gets back to normal, I can maybe set something up."
Given the current situation, Youpa can't help but laugh about the recording process for the album.
"I like to think we were social distancing before it was cool," he says. "I did it pretty much myself with the help of a friend of mine … who was basically just pressing the record button for me. We just kind of holed up away in our studio, and then, right when we emerged with our project, the world shut down."
Overall, Youpa is taking the lockdown in stride. Not letting isolation kill his creativity, he's already working on new material. He just doesn't quite know where to place it yet.
"I've always got dozens of songs in my mind at any given time," he says. "There might be a new Zach Youpa record. There might be a new Light Horse Harry record next year. We will just have to kind of wait and feel it out."