Covering the Classics

Whitefish native Izaak Opatz releases his country covers album "Hot & Heavy-Handed"

By Maggie Dresser
Izaak Opatz leaps in a canola field. Courtesy photo

About four years ago, Montana musician Izaak Opatz started heading down to Los Angeles to help his buddy during the “leather season,” or the fall months leading up to Christmas, when his custom leather shop is busiest.

Even as a musician, Opatz wasn’t necessarily crazy about moving to L.A., but with the prospect of work and potential music opportunities, he left Missoula for the big city. While a musical career didn’t seem realistic, it was always in the back of his mind.

After a few years bouncing between doing leatherwork in L.A., trail work in Glacier National Park and living in Missoula near his hometown of Whitefish, he released his debut album, “Mariachi Static” in 2018 and then released a cover album “Hot & Heavy-Handed” with Mama Bird Recording Co. on Dec. 11 of this year.

“It’s mostly a covers album of country songs,” Opatz said. “The initial idea was to do 80s and 90s pop country. It sounded fun to do an original take on them because the production is sort of dorky.”

With nine covers and two original songs he wrote with his college band, the Best Westerns, the covers range from Roger Miller to Dierks Bentley’s “Drunk on a Plane,” which Optaz said he had a lot of fun tweaking into a more complicated rendition.

“A lot of them were radio hits,” Opatz said. “But at their root, they’re all great songs that have been produced on a spectrum of commercial dorkiness.”

The cover album was a product of the pandemic, Opatz said, which fellow musicians Malachi DeLorenzo and Dylan Rodrigue produced from L.A. while Opatz recorded vocals and guitar in Missoula. A cover album was simpler to produce in comparison to an original album while they worked remotely, Opatz said.

Since the collaborators weren’t able to be in the same room during the process, they weren’t sure how it would turn out, but they trusted that the music would come together despite the distance between them.

“The rule on this record was just to not think about things too much and let things kind of stand,” Opatz said. “We weren’t going to all be in the same room so we didn’t really have a chance to overthink everything. Things were just going to kind of happen.”

Before the pandemic hit, Opatz had plans to release his second original album, which he finished recording last winter and describes as “dirtwave.”

“It’s just kind of a nonsense word,” he said. “It captures the in between-ness of music that’s folk-based but has a little bit more of a pop aesthetic catch.”

Opatz also had plans that were dashed for two tours on the West Coast and in Western Montana in the spring and summer of 2020. But he’s hoping to still tour in 2021 to promote the new original album.

While that album is all ready to go, the pandemic delayed the record label’s release schedule, postponing it until summer 2021. As a sister album to Opatz’s first solo record, the second album has echoes of “Mariachi Static” with a slew of breakup songs intertwined with material about the time he’s spent in both L.A. and Montana.

“My inspiration is essentially my diary and pathetic moments,” Opatz said.

Opatz recalls experiencing writer’s block while living on and off in L.A. for a handful of years. Even though his music career got a boost from being in a big city, he says he felt anxiety during his time there.

“I wasn’t really digging in completely,” he said. “I could sense reluctance in myself to be there long-term and full-time. I just wanted to live somewhere comfortable.”

Opatz moved back to Missoula for good this winter, and he’s using his leather skills that he learned in L.A. to start up his own custom leather business, Heavy-Handed Leather, making belts, guitar straps, wallets and more.

While he’s deep in leather season right now as the holidays approach, Opatz hasn’t picked up his guitar much, but he’s trying to write more this winter so he can record again this spring.

“Hot & Heavy-Handed” was released on Dec. 11 and is available digitally and on cassette tape.

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