The debut EP from SUR, Savage Beast came to life during a nomadic journey through some of California’s most wild spaces. Frustrated by the confines of Los Angeles, Northern California-bred musician/producer Zack Arnett built a makeshift studio in the back of an RV and set out on a two-month-long journey. While out on the road, Arnett began creating a sound both gritty and melodic, nuanced and volatile, reflective and deeply life-affirming.
For Arnett—who’s also a visual artist, poet, and self-described American medicinal farmer—the music of SUR arose from an entirely uncalculated burst of creativity. “There was no real intent to make a record,” he says. “It wasn’t forecast in any way: I just wanted to see what it would be like to record and move at the same time. The whole time I was just submitting to what I was feeling in the moment, without thinking much about what the outcome of all that might be.”
Upon returning to L.A., Arnett continued shaping the songs he’d started during his travels, recording at home and out in Joshua Tree. Self-producing Savage Beast and handling all the instrumentation (including acoustic and electric guitar, keyboards, synth, and live and programmed drums), the lifelong musician ultimately carved out a hypnotically textured sound that fully embodies the forces at the heart of SUR: love, violence, and nature. “Once I got back to L.A., the songs changed and evolved and took on a different feeling,” Arnett says. “Some were made in a very tranquil environment like Big Sur—where I’d wake up in the morning and look out the window and the river’s right there—and others really came from the chaos of the city.”
When it came time to name the project, Arnett decided to pay tribute to the place he’s long considered a spiritual and creative haven. “Big Sur is my compass, it’s what compelled me to be a creator in the first place,” he points out. Meanwhile, the title to SUR’s first release echoes the EP’s open-hearted exploration of the conflict within the human spirit. “We try to rationalize everything we do, but at the end of the day, it’s all just animal instinct,” says Arnett. “The EP’s partly looking at how most of us can be very savage people, even when it seems like we’re so put-together and in control.”
Throughout Savage Beast, SUR builds a powerful dynamic by fusing inventive electronic elements with visceral rhythms rooted in native drum patterns. On the soulful lead single “Lean Back,” for instance, fuzzed-out guitar riffs meet with heavy beats and chant-like vocals. Instilling raw emotion into each track, Savage Beast also offers the seductive, shimmering intensity of “Ball N Chain” and the sweeping grandeur of "Stix + Stones.” And on “Restless Heart,” the EP delivers a folk-infused and quietly rousing anthem that mirrors the majestic beauty of SUR’s namesake. “‘Restless Heart’ was directly influenced by Big Sur and the experience of just being there, with the Redwoods and the raging Pacific and everything else in between,” Arnett explains.
With its potent yet poetic use of imagery, Savage Beast bears a cinematic quality that has much to do with Arnett’s visually focused approach to song craft. Pointing to “Ball N Chain” as an example, he notes that the song was sparked by a vision of young love set against the backdrop of a ’50s drag race, a scene that then inspired the track’s brisk tempo and serpentine guitar melody. “A lot of times as I’m working on something, an image will pop up and guide me along,” Arnett says. “From there it expands and builds, so that sometimes I’ll be days into a production and make one little change and it becomes something else altogether. In everything I’m creating I try to relinquish intent and just open up, so that I can be like an antenna for whatever inspiration is coming.”
Born into a family of artists, Arnett has devoted much of his life to his overlapping passions for music and art. “I’ve been making music as far back as I can recall, even if it was just me and my old man listening to music in his truck, knee-slapping along to the drums,” he says. Taking up guitar at age 10, he began to write his own songs at age 12, and soon added drums and keys to his repertoire. Also a former graffiti artist, Arnett is now a prolific painter and created all of SUR’s nature-themed artwork on his own.
With the release of Savage Beast, Arnett hopes that his own fascination with the natural world might awaken a similar sensitivity in others. “I think there’s a real need for us as a civilization to get back to appreciating the beauty and the simplicity of nature, instead of just being so desensitized and having our heads buried in our phones all the time,” he says. Naming rhythm-driven tribal music from around the world as a profound influence on Savage Beast, he’s also embraced a certain sense of purpose with the inception of SUR. “That kind of music channels something that’s deeply ingrained in our DNA—almost on a subconscious level—and that’s what I’m trying to create with my own songs,” Arnett says. “If I can inspire people, even just for a minute, to look a little deeper, do some soul-searching and reconnect with this place where we all came from, then that would be an amazing thing.”