Local jazz saxophonist Zach Wheeler was originally from Hickory, went to school at UNC Charlotte for music performance, and has been back and forth to Charlotte his whole life. Zach’s music background started in school, but he really credits extracurricular jam sessions as developing his musical variety and style. We caught up with Zach this weekend in anticipation of hearing his band, Menastree, on Friday.
Tell me what to expect from this band?
Menastree has been together maybe four years now. We had a residency once a month at Evening Muse until COVID. Menastree’s genre is a hip hop, jazz, R&B fusion. It can be energic and laid back, depending on the atmosphere. We are hugely improvisational.
How did the COVID limitations affect you and your music?
I have recorded a lot. Menastree recently went into the studio and recorded the first thing that came out of our instruments and then mixed it. You don’t find that in other groups. I have also been recording stuff from other artists, so keep your eye out for that as well.
Luckily, all of these musicians play with several bands, all around charlotte and beyond. Weddings really never stopped; I’ve got one in Georgia next weekend. I just played a music festival in Pennsylvania last week: they had 3 times as many people as they ever had. In a space like a fair ground where distance feels safe, people are ready to party. As soon as restrictions were lifted a little, we were lucky to start getting calls. Our dance card is filling up fast and my schedule is insane this month.
How does it feel to be back live again?
A blessing. Just doing this for a living is its own blessing. But given the times of last year, it’s good to see people out again having a good time. It’s great for the city to have commerce and fun back on the menu.
For me, it feels like we are used to the precautions of COVID now. It doesn’t bother anyone to wear a mask and maintain some distance. I have found myself accidentally walking around my house with my mask still on. It’s just second nature.
Audiences seem to really want something different now. They’ve seen enough corporate bands and rock concerts. With Menastree picking up so fast, people seem to be looking for a brand new experience and, by design, the music of Menastree is never the same twice. A lot of the scene felt like it had been controlled by the older musicians, but I think demand is widening.
What are your thoughts on the music scene in Charlotte?
I grew up around great musicians. I love the scene here. I go to New York all the time, and because that community has created a specific sound, I rarely meet players as unique and original. Charlotte has some of the best and it has only gotten better. The youngest cats in our band are killing, because they are around great players.
CATCH ZACK WHEELER & MENASTREE THIS FRIDAY AT JAZZ AT VICTORIA YARDS
You can expect mostly originals, with Zach Wheeler on saxophone and keys, Stefan Kallander on guitar, Jesse Williams on drums, and Jeremy Mayher on bass. We might event get a little Vocoder from Zach as well.
CATCH ZACK WHEELER & MENASTREE AFTER FRIDAY
After this weekend, you might catch Menastree at another of your favorite venues across Charlotte. They are also about to release their first mix, with an album coming soon. Zach Wheeler will have his single debut out as well. Info on all of that at www.menastree.com and Instagram @menastree.