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He was a happy kid who spent a lot of his time in the studios where Zimet recorded songs, jingles, and voice-overs. At the age of six months, he crawled to a reel-to-reel machine and began to spool the tape like a professional, she claims. He remembers trying, at age six, to buy a tape machine off the Bee Gees, who were recording at Criteria Studios in North Miami. Ziskin, in fact, works part-time as a studio engineer, and he coproduced Release with his friend Greg Schwabe.
But, as technically proficient as he is, his songs wouldn't resonate without the Sturm und Drang included on the CD. Partial credit goes to his writing partner, Bruce Berman, Ziskin's second cousin and Passion Seeds' manager. Berman, at age 37, has seen a little more of life, tasted its bitterness. He gave acting a shot in Los Angeles during the '80s, only to return home to Miami in 1989, the year he introduced his cousin to the Beatles. Ziskin, then age 16, was a guitar prodigy who practiced six hours a day and worshiped Guns n' Roses. Leather pants, the ubiquitous cigarette butt, and a few kick-ass guitar riffs were limited in their appeal, however. "When Zach discovered the Beatles, his whole life changed," Zimet says.
"For me the highest influence is the Beatles," he admits. "They are, as far as I'm concerned, the greatest musical force ever. So I am always kinda takin' my cues from them, as far as songwriting, melody, lyrical arrangement -- stuff like that."
Berman, however, refuses to compare his partnership with Ziskin to the legendary Lennon-McCartney team. They tried that once -- writing and playing together. As the duo No End, they briefly tasted glory with the 1992 song "Somehow We Will Survive," a tribute to South Florida spirit in the wake of Hurricane Andrew. A video of the song, played on local TV stations, featured an 800 number that brought in $80,000 for the Red Cross. When Gloria Estefan hosted a charity concert in Joe Robbie Stadium, No End was invited to perform its song via satellite from a tent city in Homestead. "I was terrible," Berman recalls. Ziskin admits that it wasn't a great performance, and afterward he went solo.
But, in spirit at least, the Lennon-McCartney comparison is apt. The cousins still write songs together, splitting the credits fifty-fifty. "I think my stuff is a little darker," Berman says, "but Zach comes up with stuff that bites, too. 'Beautiful People' is his."
It's also a perfect example of what Ziskin can do with a song. It starts off innocently enough with Ziskin cooing over the congas and a soothing acoustic guitar. But soon he's offering a double-edged look at what's "beautiful": "Beautiful people with beautiful faces/Hide all the loneliness in beautiful places/I know I'll never be that beautiful/Only be what I am, something you can never do."
"Clearer," a song Berman got rolling, is much darker from the start, with odd noises and a discordant guitar thrown into the intro. It's also a wiser song, one that doesn't see everything in black and white but chalks the tough times up to experience: "I learned long ago that/Saying I love you can be a threat/ And I learned that love can always hurt you/ But you must not regret."
One person who doesn't have regrets is percussionist Steve Kornicks, a 30-year-old South Florida music-scene veteran who's given just about every musical genre -- rock, jazz, Latin, and fusion -- a try. But a couple of years ago when Ziskin approached him to play percussion on a demo, Kornicks was impressed by the melodies he heard. He even refused to accept money for his work, saying, "No, keep it, because I know [this music is] going to get in the right ears. Whatever I do for you is going to get in the right ears."
Standing just outside Bay M during a break in rehearsal, Kornicks is still confident. Of the Release CD he says: "I just have a gut feeling that the songs have that sort of vibe where a lot of people will like [the CD] once it gets distributed properly."
The rest of the band has that same feeling, even after only eight months together. Ziskin first formed Passion Seeds in a panic, after a demo he'd submitted to Zeta earned his then-nonexistent group an invite to a local-band competition sponsored by the station in July '97. He quickly gathered together Kornicks and Kissinger (with whom he'd performed before) and, through a mutual friend, recruited then-20-year-old Graubart, a graduate of the New World School of the Arts. The performance went well, and over the next several months, Ziskin finished recording and mixing Release. He then re-formed the band just before the CD's release.
At the age of 29, Kissinger's also been around the musical block. Originally from Ohio, where he played standup bass in a symphony orchestra, he says of Ziskin and Berman's songs: "To me everything is so well-written, it's so orchestrated. Everything is so --"
"Goal-oriented," Graubart interjects.
"It's not like a jam band," the fast-talking Kissinger continues. "It doesn't come across that way, nor do I think anybody would want it to. You know, what you hear on the radio is not jammin'."