Q&A: CMU student, guitarist talks about his passion for music


Zach Surma

Zach Surma (left) playing with his band Poor Millionaires at Diesel Lounge in Chesterfield, MI in 2015.

He’s played Saint Andrews Hall. He’s opened for Poison lead singer Bret Michaels. 

Now, Detroit senior Zach Surma is looking for students to help him take it to the next level. 

Surma, former lead guitarist of the band Poor Millionaires said he was exposed to music at a young age — falling in love with Elvis Presley at just 5 years old. After wanting to start a band or just have others to play music with, he recently posted flyers in Moore Hall and the music building in search for people to jam with.

Central Michigan Life caught up with Surma to talk about his appreciation for music.

CM LIFE: How old were you learned how to play the guitar?

Surma: I was 10 years old when I first started guitar lessons. I knew I was going to enjoy playing. I really enjoyed it from the start. It didn’t take me long to finally realize I could do this. I kept at it and now I’m here, 11 years later, still playing the guitar,

What made you want to play guitar?

Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin was my initial inspiration to pick up the guitar. The charisma behind playing the guitar is important, and Page shows it like no other. I was a young kid that was enamored by the spotlight. The guitarists get all that because of solos and whatnot — sometimes too much.

How old were you when you joined your first band?

I was 16 when my friends and I first got together. We started doing open mics and playing some small venues. When we all turned 18 we started to play bars and clubs. We were big at dive bars, we drew a lot of interest. Most of the bars wanted us coming back because we brought people in.

What was your most memorable show?

I have two that really stand out. After we started creating buzz at dive bars we playeda gig at Freedom Hill. We were one of the opening bands at the Stars and Stripes Festival. We opened up for (Poison lead singer) Bret Michaels. The other would be when we played Saint Andrew’s Hall. It was our biggest show. We played in front of 500 people and the vibe in the room was great. We were feeling it and the crowd was energized. It was just a good moment for us as a band.

What happened to Poor Millionaires?

After we played our biggest show we got full of ourselves — we were young and dumb. We had half of us wanting to go to Central Michigan University and others not so much. Our lead singer went out to Arizona to pursue his dreams in the desert and our bass player got too big-headed for us, so he split, too. After we broke up, I just came up to CMU and decided to put music on hold for a bit while I pursue my degree. I tried to get some people together and start (a band) up here but that never came to fruition.

What made you get back into the music scene?

It wasn’t until last month that my passion came back out while attending a Greta Van Fleet show at Saint Andrews Hall. Greta Van Fleet is supposed to be the next big thing in rock and roll, and they are around the same age as me. I was like ‘they’re playing Saint Andrew’s Hall and I played Saint Andrew’s Hall’. It was cool just to see a group as popular as them playing the same venue I did. It made me realize we can still do it. I just don’t want to think ‘what if’ later in life.

I decided to put a flyer up because I figured it was the most direct way reach people. I was able to put it up in the music and BCA buildings, so I knew I was reaching the creative students. I didn't want to put it on Craigslist because people could be too far away or not the right age group. Putting the flyer up on campus meant that they'd be in my general area and around the same age. 

Why rock and roll?

I have always just felt a connection to rock. Rock and roll gives me an emotional connection. The meaning behind songs are just better. Songwriters pour out their feeling into the lyrics and they bring feelings out of you. The best connection I’ve felt is when I was at a Blink-182 concert with my friends. (We) sang our hearts out with our arms around each other. It brought us all back to our high school days. It was a surreal moment.

I also write songs. Rock songs just seemed easy for me. It’s a way to let yourself go and open up to yourself. Writing music is good therapy in my opinion. If you’re mad, you can write an aggressive song. If you go through a breakup, there’s a sad one. I enjoy the creative aspect to it.

If you could have any guitar, what would it be?

Gibson Les Paul without a doubt. All my idols used one. Jimmy Page, Ace Frehley, Joe Perry and Slash all play on them. Legends play a Les Paul. 

They’re like $2,000, so why not want the most expensive guitar out there?

Interested in collaborating with Surma? Call him at (586) 441-1186, or email him at zach.surma@gmail.com.

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