Editor's note: This story was written as a part of the Observer's Explorer Post program, which gives high school students the chance to learn about journalism.
“My album drops in like three months. That’s actually crazy,” says Charles Austin-Zimmerman, 16, the musician behind the folk project Toronto In Summer. The album, titled “Truth Be Told,” will be Austin-Zimmerman’s first.
“Recording and school is all I do,” said Austin-Zimmerman, who is a sophomore at Independence High School and participates in the school’s guitar club.
The club’s adviser, Alexander Williamson, recently collaborated with Austin-Zimmerman for a joint benefit show to support A Child’s Place and Crisis Assistance Ministry. Austin-Zimmerman has played for several other causes before, including a Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s charity event. Williamson is one of Austin-Zimmerman’s songwriting mentors.
“He takes advice,” said Williamson. “But he also adds his own twist.”
Austin-Zimmerman’s other mentor, Nathan Storey, is his church youth leader.
This upcoming album is “leaning towards an extreme upgrade” from his debut EP, “Arts and Crafts,” Austin-Zimmerman said.
“Arts and Crafts” was written, recorded, and produced by Austin-Zimmerman in his bedroom with a MacBook computer, a guitar and a piano.
Langley Earnhardt is a fan of Toronto In Summer and liked “Arts and Crafts.”
“My music literally only consists of Watsky, Toronto In Summer, and Twenty One Pilots,” Earnhardt said.
Austin-Zimmerman said his songwriting has progressed since he he released “Arts and Crafts.”
“A lot has happened in the past year, which has given me a lot to write about,” he said. “(It’s) me putting my life into music.”
Austin-Zimmerman sees writing as therapy. He writes because something has happened and uses music to chronicle his life experiences.
“If you know me, you can hear me in my music,” he said.
He finds inspiration in people who mean something to him, like a girlfriend, friend, family member or God. Austin-Zimmerman said he was recently saved and is a devout Christian. His religion shapes his life and influences his music.
Austin-Zimmerman does not claim to be a Christian artist, though. He said listeners do not have to be of his religion to connect to his music. Multiple people can have different interpretations, which reinforces Austin-Zimmerman’s purpose for sharing his music. He hopes his listeners realize that they are not alone in their situations.
“What I can’t say in words, (I say) in music,” said Austin-Zimmerman.
“Truth Be Told,” which consists of 10 songs, has a theme of honesty.
“I wasn’t looking to make an album. It just made sense to put those songs into a project,” he said. “They fit.”
A single from the album, “The Crow Song,” was released in January.
Austin-Zimmerman sang and played every instrument on the track: guitar, drums, bass, ukulele and synthesizers.
Although Toronto In Summer is a solo project, multiple instruments blend into its signature folk-pop sound. Austin-Zimmerman cites Feist and Jason Mraz as similar artists. Artists he grew up listening to, like Jack Johnson, have also inspired him.
Austin-Zimmerman is producing “Truth Be Told” mostly by himself at home.
“Producing my own record makes me appreciate artistry and musicianship so much more,” he said. “There’s something about being able to hold a record that you wrote, recorded, produced, engineered, and everything else that gets you excited.”