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Behind the Mic: Isabel Zacharias

Takin’ Off, Mon-Thurs 3-6pm

Every Monday-Thursday when you’re driving home from work, Isabel Zacharias guides you on a smooth trip through new and vintage sounds strung together by their upbeat, soulful feel. Here we take a minute to catch up with Isabel and find out more about her life on and off the air.

How did you first get into radio?

The day I arrived at UO in Eugene, I walked heavily jetlagged into KWVA, the campus station, and within a week I was the proud owner of a midnight-2am slot. I ended up hosting all kinds of shows there during my four years of DJing: jazz and funk, soul, classic folk and country, small-label indie rock, This American Life-style storytelling — radio is such an amazing expressive medium, and I explored a lot of takes on that.

What would surprise people most about what you do in your personal life?

I’m a writer! Maybe that’s not that shocking. I’ve written journalistically for places like Willamette Week and Oregon Quarterly, and I write poems, stories and songs. They are usually about my friends and family and ideas of growing up — again, not that shocking.

Aaaand some shameless self-promotion: I’ve got a solo acoustic single coming out later this month on the label/artist collective Making New Enemies’ annual Group Picture compilation, and I’m working on a chapbook of poems called All 10 Fingers All 2 Hands, forthcoming in 2018. I work on zines and other projects at Portland’s wonderful Independent Publishing Resource Center. My house hosts regular open mics that celebrate local DIY artists and feature touring bands — I’ll invite you to the next one.

When you aren’t listening to the music you play on KMHD, what are you tuned into?

I’m super interested in “indie rock” — not just the music categorized that way, but the term itself and how its meaning has evolved over time. I’m in my 20s, so the indie rock golden age of the late ‘90s and early 2000s is the sound I grew up on. A few favorite albums: Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot It In People, Pavement’s Brighten the Corners, Life Without Buildings’ Any Other City, Yo La Tengo’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (of course), the blue Weezer self-titled (of course), Belle & Sebastian’s Tigermilk — I could go on. I also get seriously excited about ‘60s folk revivalists (particularly women), contemporary R&B, riot grrl, new wave, lo-fi and freak-folk. Ask me about early K Records.

Tell us about an interesting hobby you have.

I like yoga and I sometimes like cleaning and I like talking to my old friends from home on the phone. I guess that’s three hobbies.

Where do you live and what are some of your favorite neighborhood spots?

I live in SE Portland just off Clinton, my favorite street in the city by far. I love running on the waterfront, but the best part is getting there, passing the old rental houses along the railroad and waving at people smoking cigarettes on their porches. I don’t even mind waiting for the train because I love listening to music and spacing out on the skyline. Clinton Street Record & Stereo is a staple, and there are few neighborhood hangs better than the Clinton Street Corner (as the kids call it), with Dot’s and the Clinton Street Theater on either side — though I’d honestly rather you not start hanging out there if you don’t already.

If you could bring someone back to life from jazz history and hang out with them for an afternoon, who would it be and why?

Nina! Nina, Nina, Nina. She’s a real guide for me: deeply in touch with her emotions and humanity but walking always on a foundation of self-respect and choosing never to apologize for that. I would love to ask her about the activist identity, the artist identity, and all the ways they can interact and weave into each other — she wove them so masterfully.

So often femme musicians are expected to be nice and pretty and innocuous. Instead, she was an artist. At times, especially on stage, she was an absolute assassin. I always find it helpful to try to channel her — her ownership of her soul, her sense of inherent worth.

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