Hailing from Willamette Valley, Oregon (which students of history in fifth grade may remember as the final destination of the Oregon Trail games), Christiana Zollner was immersed in music from a young age. Along with the rest of her family, she was a member of Z Musikmakers, a German folk group with a frankly delightful name; there, she sang and played
the fiddle. By the time she became an adult, she had moved to Nashville, establishing a career as a singer, songwriter, and session player.
“Big Field”, her newest song, doesn’t show off her fiddle skills, but it does show off her sweet voice and her talent for songwriting. A bluegrass-inflected folk song, “Big Field” rides on the back of a bouncy banjo, carrying with it a lovely feeling of forward momentum. Backed by a chorus of airy backing vocals, Zollner sings of the “big field” in the title, singing that she “hopes to cross it one evening”. If it sounds like a metaphor, the truth is simpler.
“Big Field” was inspired by Zollner’s daydreams of running through the enormous wide-open spaces she was driven past as a child. I had similar thoughts as a child, when I was being driven past beaches and forests and bays, buildings off in the distance: I was fascinated with the idea that these places I would never go to in person were real, physical places that
existed without me. It’s a childish thought, but the refreshingly simple way she sings “I saw a big field once”, free of any metaphor or irony, shows that such simple thoughts may be the best.
“The wild freedom of the Pacific Northwest; the sophisticated lyricism of a 60’s folk balladeer; the finesse of a seasoned fiddler – these are the currents that shape the music of indie folk songwriter Christiana Zollner.”
“Walk into any of Nashville’s most hallowed songwriter venues and you’re liable to find Zollner mesmerizing her newest fans.” (bandcamp)
You got your start in music as a child, being a part of your parents’ folk band Z Musikmakers. How did being immersed in that environment so early affect your musical development?
First of all, thank you for taking the time to ask these thoughtful questions! I’m so happy to shine a little light on my processes and background.
From growing up in a family band I developed music as a second language. We would sing in silly voices around the house and in the car (I still do). Because our band’s genre, polka, can come across as funny to folks, it gave us license to be just that.. silly and playful. Musicians make me feel at home.
Z Musikmakers specialized in German folk music. What would you say are some key similarities and difference between the German and American folk traditions?
Oh boy! I know enough about ethnomusicology to know I’m not an expert but I will point out a few things. The German folk music I grew up on was written a century ago and the accordion was central to its sound. Guitar has become a staple instrument in American folk music and incorporates a variety of new instruments brought in by immigrants, one of which was the banjo from Africa – a personal favorite. In both traditions the song structures and chord choices are fairly similar. Both traditions offer danceable music.
You’re currently based in Nashville, the epicenter of country music. What are your thoughts on modern country music?
While I identify as a folk americana artist, I love modern country music! Some of my favorite country artists are Cam, Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Little Big Town, and I really like Brent Cobb. Country music helps me with that afternoon slump when I’m cleaning at work. I love meeting folks who help make the records and write the songs. I went to a Miranda Lambert concert the other night and happened to sit next to a guy who wrote some of the songs on her recent album. My friend whispered to me “Ask him to do a co-write!!” I kind of wish I did, but I did not ask. haha. And every once in awhile a buddy will ask me to play some country fiddle and I have a blast doing it.
If you’ll forgive the boring question, what are your musical influences? I can hear a lot of bluegrass in “Big Field”, for instance.
I think it was Mary Engelbreit who illustrated a poster that said “Bloom where you’re planted.” I incorporate bluegrass musicians when I can. Nashville is full of really amazing pickers. Some of my influences outside of Nashville are… Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, James Taylor, Fleet Foxes, Gregory Alan Isakov, Anna Tivel, N’Sync, choral music, Coldplay, The Avett Brothers, The Wood Brothers.
“Big Field” comes from your daydreams of running through fields as you passed by them in the car as a child. Where do you suppose that desire to run in the fields came from?
I think it was just one of those classic kid dreams “When I’m older I’m going to do whatever I want…” Also, what’s better than a big open field on a sunny day? Gimme a Zyrtec and cut me loose.
You’ve become a fixture of the Nashville music scene. How did you come to know the banjo player, whose instrument plays a prominent role in “Big Field”?
I met Aidan VanSuetendael through an old housemate of mine. She has become one of my dearest friends and we have a ball working together. I love her style and approach towards making music. In addition to writing for our new roots project, Ladyfolk, I follow her to Friday night contra dances and bluegrass shows.
Are you working on any interesting new projects?
I’m excited to be hosting a new show, “Folk Hour,” at Belcourt Taps once a month. “Folk Hour” is an opportunity for me to bring some of my favorite folk artists together in a writers round format. On February 18th, “Lofi Folkie,” my latest EP, will be streaming on all major platforms.
What would you like the future to hold for you?
In my future I hope there are lots of bluegrass jams, better songs written, more meaningful shows, a music festival or two, less lonely people, good conversations, and delicious meals.
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