UPDATE - May 29, 2013: Bittersweet recognition: Billboard reports that Zach Sobiech's inspirational folk ballad "Clouds" debuts at No. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100.
UPDATE - May 22, 2013: Zach Sobiech recently succumbed to the rare bone cancer that inspired "Clouds," his heartbreaking yet inspirational goodbye song to his friends and family. He was 18.
A statement released by Zach's family confirmed the tragic news, noting, "Zach's life ended just as he lived, embraced by the love of his family, friends, grace and music."
In tribute to Zach's brave and inspiring attitude, watch his "Clouds" video below and check out our Q&A with the web sensation originally posted January 17, 2013.
There are countless musicians posting their songs to YouTube, but none have a back-story as powerful as Zach Sobiech, a terminally-ill Minnesota high school student.
But it's possible you already know that, considering his work has recently become an online sensation.
Three years ago, Sobiech was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a cancerous bone tumor most common among growing teens. The cancer progressed in 2012, and the 17-year-old was given just months to live. When his mom suggested he write goodbye letters to loved ones, Zach turned to his guitar. The result was "Clouds," an acoustic ballad that already has 1.7 million YouTube views and nearly 8,000 comments.
Now Zach is racing against time to record as many songs as possible. And everyone touched by his story is being encouraged to donate to the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund.
Fuse recently phoned Zach at home in Minnesota. His mom answered and said that Zach had rushed home from school for the interview...
Hey Zach! Tell me about "Clouds"—was it written for anyone in particular?
"Clouds" originally started for my girlfriend Amy. During the writing process I thought about it and I wanted to make it less romantic because I realized that there were so many people in my life that meant so much to me. It started out with Amy, then it encompassed everyone that I love and care about.
Fans online have praised your message and hope, especially under such dire circumstances. What helps you keep your head up?
My situation is one of those things that you can’t dwell on, or it will bring you into a dark place. So music is that thing that keeps me going. It lets me express myself without throwing this huge burden on everyone. It’s something everyone can relate to, which is amazing. And if it helps others too, then it helps me heal that much more.
What goes through your head when people say, “Wow, that Zach is a real inspiration”?
You think, "Oh, they’re just saying that." But I’ve heard stories from people online. One was a drug addict and another had suicidal thoughts, and they said I helped them with that. That’s the kind of thing that I cannot believe. It’s the coolest thing in the world to hear that.
When you were diagnosed with osteosarcoma did you immediately turn to music?
With my diagnosis I pretty much lost my legs. I had surgery on my left leg and I couldn’t really use my right leg, so sports were out of the question. Guitar was something that I turned to really quickly. Music didn’t change for me; basketball did.
How many hours do you think you've spent playing guitar in the hospital?
Oh wow... at least a couple hundred. They wouldn’t let me plug in the electric… [laughs]
Do you think music has a healing quality?
For sure. Music is definitely medicine. For me it’s a way to get my emotions out. I’m not a public emotions kind of guy. Like, I keep things bottled up, but my outlet is songwriting and just playing guitar, and that definitely helps with my healing process.
Who are your big inspirations, musical and otherwise?
There’s always mom and dad and my grandparents. Musically I’m a big fan of Ed Sheeran, Passenger and the Lumineers. And I get inspiration from everyday life. I try to see the good and beauty in every day and that’s what I write about. It’s just the simple things, like looking outside at the sunset. Or sand castles and how you can mold them and create anything you want. That’s the theme of one of my songs, it’s about sand castles and building a life with someone you love, even though you have so little time.
If you could collabo with any songwriter today who would it be?
Bon Iver. I’ve heard stories about him going into the woods and coming out with an album, and that’s pretty cool. Or Passenger. He has such a wide variety of songs, from really funny ones to extremely sad ones. Jason Mraz. Those guys just know how to write.
I saw your tweet about seeing Jason Mraz live...
Oh yeah. I really enjoy Jason Mraz. He’s a cool guy. I got the priviledge to meet him, too. He’s a really down to earth, which is just really cool.
When did you first get into music?
I really started to get into music when I was 12 and started playing guitar. But just this past year my singer Sammy Brown and I got into performing and writing our own music. We perform together as A Firm Handshake. I started writing my own songs the past couple years, on and off. But the past few months Sammy and I really started working on songs, mostly together. We’ll usually plan a day, sit down and write a whole song in that day.
“Clouds” has become so popular online, but you have many other songs, too. Can you tell me about some of those?
Yeah, we have a CD with three covers—“Nantes" by Beirut, “Bitter Heart” by Zee Avi and “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver. Then our originals that haven’t been as big as "Clouds" are “Blueberries” and “Fix Me Up.” But we’ve been writing quite a bit more and have a few others that we’re working on now. We plan to record those, so hopefully we can get into the studio soon and get those finished up.
You’re still going to school. Are you becoming like a class celebrity for all your music?
Kind of! It’s weird. I walk into school and get looks. Tonight I’m actually playing the national anthem for the basketball game with Sammy, so you get those opportunities, too. I played the national anthem at a football game in November too. That was cool.
With treatment and sudden musical fame, is it hard to stop and be a normal teenager?
I have those days where it’s go, go, go. I get the weekends to myself to do normal things, hang out with friends. And I try to make it to school as often as possible to keep normal elements to my life. But I try to enjoy everything that’s going on. I’m a video gamer. I play Borderlands, Halo and sports and racing video games. Netflix is my life. I’m watching Friday Night Lights. I’m only on the first season, which is bad because there are six seasons, so I’ll be hooked for a while. I’m a big fan of The Office too, so my family and I would sit down and watch all the seasons in the hospital.
What does tomorrow bring? Any more shows planned?
Well, I think I’m free this weekend. Oh, I have a garage show at my friends' houses. It'll be fun!
To fund research aimed at curing children with cancer, please visit the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund.