Hailing from the small town of Magnolia, Texas, Zachary Knowles has paved his path in the music scene with anthemic, authentic tracks that blend uplifting pop and R&B influences to tackle important themes of mental health. His latest project, Goalie, takes listeners through his trials and tribulations of struggling with anxiety and “being his own goalie.”
Knowles’ parents had fueled his love of music at a young age, gifting him a light-up keyboard in first grade, but his drive to create music was a hidden passion, overpowered by the culture of a sports-driven town. As a teenager, Knowles partook in all the activities expected of him, like playing on his high school basketball team with the same kids he’d also gone to elementary and middle school with. Music lingered in the background, an escape from the anxiety and sense of displacement sports brought him.
After amassing support from his closest friends on a few private Soundcloud tracks, Knowles decided to ditch sports and focus his energy entirely on music, coming home from school each day and writing “as much as he could.” He quickly earned tens of thousands of Soundcloud streams on just his early material before releasing his first official EP, Magnolia, a tribute to his upbringing in a small Texas town, and the heartbreaks and life lessons that came with it.
Though Knowles has been able to intertwine his journey with his music, it can still difficult to speak about mental health so bluntly. When he began putting out music, he knew his anxiety infiltrated his songwriting, but he wasn’t comfortable being “fully vocal” about mental health yet. “Honestly talking about mental health issues is a little bit of a newer thing that I’m being more upfront about, but it’s always been in the music,” Knowles said.
Goalie, however, is “specifically about mental health,” making it much easier for Knowles to outwardly speak on his experiences with anxiety. “It’s been cool because in conversations like this, it gets brought up a lot. So I get to talk about it super openly, which feels really good,” Knowles said.
But to write about his mental health journey, Knowles had to first make sense of it. “I think whenever you’re in the midst of hard stuff, at least for me, it’s hard to write because there’s so much going on in your head,” Knowles said.
After putting out his last album, tendency to be a loner, he found himself in a “weird headspace,” and took a step back from music, letting the album go off on its own. “I [needed] a breather for at least a month to figure out where I was at mentally,” Knowles said. “I think I just reflected enough on like who I was and where I was, to the point where I finally had some mental clarity.”
Finally on the “other side of the hill,” Knowles flew to LA with a newfound understanding of his mental health journey and dove headfirst into writing new material. Knowles wrote over twenty-five songs for Goalie, with only seven making the cut for it’s carefully crafted story. Contemplating self-sabotage, the leading single, “JUST STAY FOR ONCE,” twists tension and affection with rock-influenced drums and guitar riffs alongside quick lyricism. Knowles sings, “I know sometimes it seems like I just want you gone gone gone / But don’t think twice, just stay for once.”
Knowles drew his inspiration for this track from the infamous fight scene in The Notebook, where love interests Allie and Noah scream back and forth, wondering why they keep grasping at fights to keep their messy relationship afloat, but attribute this constant conflict to their overpowering love and passion. However, Knowles isn’t speaking directly to a significant other, but instead is trying to convince himself not to run away from a relationship out of fear of his own insecurities. “Battle it and freaking work through it, because it’s worth it,” Knowles said on fighting this urge.
“CRUSH” – immediately following “JUST STAY FOR ONCE” on the EP – is a standout track, symbolizing “the one good day in the midst of many bad,” says Knowles. “When you’re going through stuff mentally, there’s days where you’re on a high, and it’s like a great day, and then it feels like you quickly go back down into these alleys,” Knowles said.
Later on the project, the tracks diverge from relationships and explore self-doubt from a broader perspective. On “WRONG SIDE,” Knowles sings: “Lights out ’cause I just can’t shake it / A fake smile but I just can’t fake it […] Losin’ my head, why do I even try? / Why am I always on the wrong side? / Can’t catch my breath like every other night.”
Knowles has made strides with his own mental health, expressing that he’s found ways to cope with and lessen his anxiety. “I think that I’ve experienced enough of it to where I’ve established good lines of communication,” Knowles said. “I’d like to think that I’ve gone through enough to where, if I do have sudden like bits of anxiety, I’m good at identifying it, and telling someone.”
Knowles emphasized that opening up about your struggles is the biggest way to attack them and avoid getting stuck in your own head. “The minute that you tell someone like, ‘Yo, I’m not doing well,’ it immediately becomes a million times less bad,” Knowles said, also sharing that he’s started his own practice of answering truthfully when asked about his headspace. He’s found that being open about his own mental health when asked a question as simple as ‘How are you?’ has sparked conversations with his friends on mental health beyond the “surface level convos.”
With his vulnerability in Goalie, Knowles hopes that his listeners will be encouraged to speak out on their own mental health journeys: “The project was very much a way for me to process stuff that I had gone through and speak about it in my own way. So, I think I would just encourage people to speak up if they’re going through something. There’s so many ways that you can be expressive of yourself and process your emotions. I think a project that is very honest and real and vulnerable could potentially encourage people to do the same.”
Listen to Zachary Knowles’s EP Goalie