Growing Pains

Just about every rock band worth its guitar picks started off as a garage band, a gang of skinny, hormone-driven geeks who were able to finagle the use of somebody's parents' garage, where they'd play on weekends, annoying the shit out of the neighbors with off-tempo drumming, out-of-tune guitars, and a singer whose voice had broken the week before and had a long way to go before it sounded anything like Robert Plant's. Or even Billy Corgan's.

Passion Seeds, however, is a garage band with a CD, some major-label interest, and airplay on local and college radio stations. A garage band that doesn't have to worry about the neighbors because it rehearses in an industrial complex just off I-95 in Hollywood, where the band's leader, Zach Ziskin, shares office space with his mother's voice-over company, Talkwrite. ("I've been the voice of Burdines for 25 years," is her greeting.) A garage band that doesn't play in an actual garage, but in a bay -- "Bay M," to be precise -- jam-packed with musical equipment (two pianos, half a dozen amplifiers and guitar cases, a sax, a standup bass, and a tangled web of wires) and flanked by an air conditioning company on one side, a dry-ice company on the other.

Ice is exactly what's needed on this steamy Monday night. Bay M's air conditioning broke down earlier today and won't be fixed till tomorrow. And, indeed, an hour into rehearsal, Ziskin's T-shirt is drenched and most of his long, dark brown locks have curled. If he looks tired, it's because he's been working hard lately, pushing the band's debut CD, Release, a product of Z Boy Music, the company founded to produce and promote the band. Because Ziskin is Z Boy, he books Passion Seeds' numerous in- and out-of-state gigs, hawks the CDs (500 sold so far), and sends press kits to record companies and radio stations. The 24-year-old is driven.

"I think there's no limit to what he can do," his mother, Connie Zimet, a former recording artist, says. "Zach has always done what he's wanted to do."

Right now, he wants to take "Here I Am" from the top. Like a few other songs on the CD, this one's about rebounding after a painful breakup. ("She showed me heaven, then she gave me hell.") But it's also about hope, surviving on the strength gained from experience. And hope, when it comes to Ziskin, is expressed through melody -- not just a catchy verse here or there, but an album's worth of memorable, if sometimes overly sentimental, songs. "Melody is king," he likes to say. And melody is evident not only in his crisp, calculated guitar work (one friend calls him "ex-Zach-ly"), but in a voice that stretches both musical and emotional boundaries. Vocally, he's the sunnier side of the late Jeff Buckley, but on Release he sounds just as troubled. Of the album's eleven songs, six make liberal use of the word "pain."

But painful Ziskin's voice is not.
In fact, it's what saves this bleak-looking complex on this hot summer night from resembling a nightmare. Just outside Bay M, where Passion Seeds -- which includes Jeff Kissinger on bass, Scott Graubart on drums, and Steve Kornicks on percussion -- has launched, full-throttle, into "Here I Am," there are plenty of distractions with which to contend: a speed-metal band practicing just a few bays down, the neighborhood dogs howling at the speed-metal band; and a cicada screeching from its perch in a nearby tree. Suddenly cymbals crash in Bay M, amps rattle, congas pop, and Ziskin, his eyes closed, wails of how the love he gave one woman wasn't enough. But still:

Here I am, 'cause I'm your man
And I'm standing in the rain (to be with you)
Here I am, I'm your man
And I'm lost inside the pain

Zach Ziskin doesn't look troubled. In person, he's happy-go-lucky, a wide-eyed young man who smiles so frequently you'd assume that everything comes easily to him.

"He's got so much talent. He's a great vocalist, and he's a great guitarist," says Kimba, music director at Zeta (WZTA-FM 94.9) and host of the radio station's Sunday-night showcase, "Zeta Goes Local," on which Passion Seeds has been featured.

Karen Feldner, who hired Ziskin as a temporary lead guitarist for her band, Trophy Wife, gushes: "I've told his mom, 'Can't we just clone him?'" Ziskin not only stepped in on short notice; his "phenomenal" guitar-playing has done wonders for the band's sound, she says.

Genes are at least partly responsible for Ziskin's musical abilities. With plans to become "the next Ella," Zimet left Indianapolis for New York City at the age of 17 and eventually signed a recording contract. She says Victor Ziskin, Zach's father, "was being hailed as the next boy genius of Broadway" back in the '60s.

"Musical genius," Ziskin says of his father. "Studied with Leonard Bernstein, played [piano] at Carnegie Hall when he was eight, attended Harvard, composed a bunch of musicals."

But after a couple of those musicals fell through production-wise, Victor gave up Broadway and turned to Wall Street, where he made millions. The marriage, however, fell apart, and Zimet moved to Miami in 1972. Zach was born the following year.

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