Mark Zito is too hard on himself.
The Melbourne-based musician, a master of synth-based sadness who records and tours under the name Fractures, is a relentlessly productive writer, an enticing live proposition and the true definition of an up-and-comer.
But just try telling that to him. As far as Zito is concerned, he is running behind, and talking to him makes it clear that he has an intense, self-imposed schedule, the likes of which would easily have other musicians buckling under the pressure. He doesn’t just work on his music: he works on his music, taking to songwriting with a dedication that is surprisingly rare in the creative industries.
“I’m getting on a bit in musical terms, so I just thought if I was going to make my play, I had to make it now,” Zito says. “I made the call to just be poor for a while and give music a full-time crack while I can. The poor aspect has definitely held up; definitely keeping up that end of the bargain,” he laughs. “Though I have got a little support network. I mean, I’ve got people I can lean on if I have to.”
But it’s not just economic issues that have been blighting Zito’s decision to fully dedicate himself to his intimate, deeply humane brand of pop electronica. He’s also had to deal with a host of other troubles, the kind of setbacks that commonly make themselves known as soon as one decides to transform their passion into their full-time job. Ultimately, Zito has found that his working methods have had to adapt to the change.
“You can’t just expect that you’re going to be firing hot from nine to five. That’s not always the case. It can be a bit disappointing when you spend a day in the studio – or in my case the second bedroom – and it’s not always the case that anything comes of it. So it’s … not always as romantic as you imagine it when the decision [to go full-time] is about to be made.”
That said, no set of odds is insurmountable – particularly when you have an attitude like Zito’s, one driven by a clear goal and a real sense of purpose. “I know how I work well enough,” he says. “I had similar periods when I was younger where I could have a week to myself. So I’m pretty aware of how I work during the day. Over the space of ten hours, maybe 12 hours, I’ll just have little allotments where it’s not working and I’ll go away and I’ll do something else. But it’s definitely not super structured because my attention span is far too short.”
Nonetheless, once again, Zito saying that his attention span is sub-par feels like a case of the musician being overly self-critical. After all, he not only has the attention to write and record an entire debut album – a hooky collection of broken, brutalised anthems called, optimistically, Still Here – he also has the mental energy to keep a number of other musical plates spinning in the air. Fractures isn’t his only project; it’s one of a series of musical explorations that he has categorised and carefully separated in his mind.
“Since I finished the album … the Fractures stuff has probably slipped down a bit in terms of priority. I’m pretty interested in pop music and stuff like that. So that’s kind of jumped to the forefront, and I’ve concentrated more on doing those sorts of things … But I don’t set out to tick a box as much as I did when Fractures was the main player.”
One imagines that it must be difficult to decide which project a song belongs to when it’s only in its formative stage – a little like trying to pick an occupation for your child before they’ve even been born – but Zito has an intuitive sense of his material, and allows his writing to steer itself.
“When I make it, I know,” he says, laughing at his own vagueness. “It just kinda comes out and I go, ‘OK, that’s probably for that pile, that’s for that one.’ When you put it side by side, when it’s juxtaposed, it’s probably more obvious which is the pop stuff and which is the Fractures stuff … it just makes itself obvious. It’s pretty early on when I know where it’s heading, so that definitely informs the rest of the process.”
That sense of intuition also assisted Zito when he made Still Here, an album which ironically stands as the most carefully structured and intricate-sounding work he has yet released. “The album perspective never really entered my psyche,” he says. “Maybe occasionally I’d kind of go, ‘Oh, are these [songs] going to be cohesive?’ I kind of ended up resting up on the idea that my voice would kind of be the central focal point. I decided I would just wait and see how the rest of the process kind of worked itself out and turned out.”
Certainly, that voice – pained yet defiant, hurt yet powerful – defines the record, as too does Zito’s own admittedly depressive world view. “There was never a plan, but the songs are all relatively…” He stops, trying to find the words. “Well, not downbeat exactly, but certainly heavier tonally and with lyrics as well.” He laughs. “That’s just what I peddle in, for whatever reason. Depressing shit.”