Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Singer-songwriter Izaak Opatz looks to move beyond writing about heartbreak

Daily Inter Lake | March 28, 2024 12:00 AM

Missoula musician Izaak Opatz is ready for his next adventure. After finishing his graduate degree, embarking on a West Coast tour, and playing a show at the Under Big Sky festival last year, the singer-songwriter is looking to get back in the recording booth in search of songs that are honest about modern life.

Opatz has had success with his last three albums, “Mariachi Static” in 2018, “Hot and Heavy” in 2020 and “Extra Medium” in 2022. His folk rock songs keep people bopping along as he weaves in stories about his life. As his website states, Opatz is “an ungulate in life’s winter pasture, chewing on and metabolizing disappointment, heartbreak and the other tough stuff into enjoyable musical carbohydrates.” 

He’s gravitated toward writing songs about personal heartbreak throughout his last two albums, also dabbling in writing about nostalgia and place. But this time around, the songwriter said he’s got “plenty of gripes about how things are” in regards to technology and modern life.  

“It's a hard thing to talk about in plain English, but just like, I'm kind of a Luddite in terms of some resistance to technology and the way it's shaping us,” Opatz said. “I would like to get at some of those issues in my songs, but it's a fine line between having kind of a unique perspective and just preaching.” 

Opatz grew up in Whitefish and started trying to get into music with piano lessons at an early age. He didn’t love it, so he tried trombone in middle school. It was the guitar that got him hooked in high school — and he had pretty good company to play with. Andy Dunnigan of the Lil’ Smokies was learning at the same time too, and his dad John would pop in and give the boys quick lessons.

“I didn't realize at the time how special it was. I had some other people helping teach me a guitar that were really important also. But, that was the first time I experienced playing with people,” Opatz said. “John was also just kind of a really good role model — somebody who wrote his own songs and made a career of playing music.”

It took him a while to get comfortable singing, Opatz said. It was his sophomore year of college in Missoula when he began to sing and write his own songs. He started a band with his cousin Frankie, who helped push him into his next chapter as a budding musician.

“I probably would have given up on guitar and kind of plateaued. I'm not like a shredder or somebody who can stay engaged just practicing guitar. So yeah, having my cousin Frankie really was pretty important and kept me interested in music — turning it from this thing I did with friends and for fun into this outlet, someplace where I could express myself and then write songs,” Opatz said. 

In 2013, he packed his bags for Music City. The move to Nashville helped him grow as an artist, putting him in touch with friend and collaborator Johnny Fritz. After a couple of years living and playing there, he moved to Los Angeles where he met his current bandmates and collaborators, Malachi DeLorenzo and Dylan Rodrigue.

It was with those bandmates that he embarked on a tour last July that led him back home to Northwest Montana. They started in LA and worked their way up the West Coast, a familiar route for the band. This time, they played bigger venues in cities like Portland and Seattle.

“It felt sort of added up for it to be a really good tour. We've done it enough times, so you kind of build up an audience and make those connections with other musicians where you can put together a really good bill,” Opatz said.  

Opatz returned to his hometown to play the Under the Big Sky festival, which has around 20,000 attendees. 

“It was kind of a funny juxtaposition. Like, I’m looking at Big Mountain and other places I've driven by a million times, but then it also felt like I was in a different state in some ways. Just how professional that festival is. But it wasn't around when I was growing up, so it felt, in some ways, really foreign, at the same time that it was in a familiar place,” Opatz said. 

This stretch of shows for Opatz came after the completion of his master’s degree from the University of Montana in Missoula. Even though music is important to him, Opatz has his hands in other interests, too. He decided to go back to school during the pandemic and was drawn to the University of Montana’s graduate program for environmental journalism. 

“I was kind of looking for some way to put my shoulder to the wheel, as far as helping people understand climate change and figuring out environmental challenges. It just was part of a pandemic decision, to try a new direction,” Opatz said. “I ended up looking into food production and beef production in Montana, like learning about consolidation in the food industries, it really grabbed my attention.” 

He also has a leather tooling business, making custom belts and guitar straps. A side hustle that d kept him busy leading up to Christmas last year, in addition to taking trips with friends. After completing his master’s, there was a lot of traveling he wanted to get back to after putting it aside for a couple of years to finish school.

“Even though it was only two years, I kind of launched back into all the things I didn't have the freedom to do while I was in school. I've been on a couple bike trips, I guess that was one thing that I really daydreamed about a lot while I was in school.” 

Outside of touring, there wasn’t a lot in the works for Opatz’s music in 2023. But, he is ready to get back in the booth to record new tunes for him and his bandmates to share on the road. 

“I'm hoping to get an album together for the summer, and to record with some of the people that I've worked with for the last couple albums,” Opatz said. 

What would a new album look like? With Opatz over heartbreak and looking at other aspects of life, he wants to stretch his legs writing about new topics. But as he approaches topics like technology and the way it's affected our lives, he said it’s a balancing act to not come across as grouchy. 

“You think of like John Prine songs, and he criticizes certain aspects of life, his time and American culture and stuff, but it never feels like that's what he sat down to write. It’s just his unique perspective, definitely leavened by humor and his kind of warm-heartedness. I feel like he got at a lot of those things kind of slyly. That would be the way I'd love to do it. So, that's the next challenge,” Opatz said. 

Opatz also plays bass in the band Ty Walker and the Humanoids, an “alien band” out of Helena playing what he refers to as cosmic country. 

“The concept is that an alien race kidnapped a human country singer from outside of Roscoe, Montana in 1972, and they've just been practicing for 50 years,” Opatz said. 

Complete with costumes and stagecraft, keep an eye out for one of their “out of this world” shows this summer. They are hitting the West Coast and Montana in an upcoming tour. 

For his own music, he plans on recording his new music in the summer.

“I felt like I wasn't ready just to kind of play the same set again until I have some new songs that work. So, maybe that'll come together and we can look at some stuff in the fall. But right now the focus is kind of recording,” Opatz said. 

Opatz performs on April 5 for the Daily Inter Lake’s Press Play series. Subscribers can join for a unique music listening experience at the Daily Inter Lake office by donating to the Newspapers in Education initiative. Concertgoers can bring lunch or purchase one of three lunch options from The House of S&M.

Tickets and lunch are available at flatheadtickets.com or by calling 406-758-4436.

Find out more about Opatz’s music at www.izaakopatz.com.

Reporter Taylor Inman can be reached at 406-758-4433 or by emailing tinman@dailyinterlake.com.

This story has been updated to correct the name of the band Ty Walker and the Humanoids.