“Nina Simone said “ An artist’s duty is to reflect the times”. My single “ I’ve Seen” which comes out 10/26/20 puts a mirror to the world we’re living in. “
T&P: Tell us about your journey as an artist, (can be as in depth or vague as you’d like!)
ZS: I feel like I’ve died and come back to life multiple times throughout my journey as an artist . I’ve been singing since my mom signed me up for church choir at age 4. I’ve always wanted to be a singer. I’m pretty sure my 5th grade senior quote in the year book is something along the line of “I’m gonna go on American Idol and get a record deal”. I didn’t really start writing songs til I was around 12. Growing up being Black, Awkward, Loud and an unconvincingly closeted homosexual in a primarily white preppy suburb is high-key a lonely existence. I never fit into anyone’s category of who they thought I was or what I should be. I started writing poems, simple melodies and songs about loneliness, sadness, heartache, love and loss. Making music about how I was feeling and low-key trying to manifest a change in fortune through my music has always been a coping mechanism for me and always will be. I didn’t really start getting really into songwriting hard core until I retaught myself piano when I was 14 and started writing full songs. I did theatre and choir in high school and from there I went through roughly 3 artistic eras before I put out my first EP “ It Was Never That Deep” on Halloween 2019. Now I’m currently working on my first full length Album “In Times of Trouble” which is coming out at the end of the year.
T&P: Can you describe your process of creating ‘It Was Never That Deep”, your very first EP: what was your favorite part?, Least favorite?
ZS: So I’d been wanting to record and release an EP since early 2015, but every time I started putting together a body of work I felt like I’d outgrown the songs by the time it was finished and they were no longer relevant to who I was as an artist or person. So I didn’t start the work of recording “It Was Never That Deep” til fall 2018. I began writing the EP trying to process the aftermath of a really intense time in my life when I was struggling with my mental health, Mania, Depression, my relationship with intimacy and self love. I was in an extremely toxic what ever the fuck you could call it and it was the closest thing to a relationship that I’d had at that point and it fucked me up good and forced me to confront a-lot of things about myself. The EP bloomed from that trauma. The first song that I’d started writing for the EP was Page 95 which I started at the beginning of the end of the what ever the fuck that was and didn’t finish til 9 + months later. It’s called Page 95 because it was inspired by a poem on page 95 of Milk And Honey by Rupi Kaur that goes “ I didn’t leave because I stopped loving you, I left because the longer I stayed the less I loved myself ”. The rest of the EP came relatively quickly in comparison.
I wrote Exi$tential Cri$i$ after 30 hrs of being unable to sleep. I began writing Pleasure and Pain at 3 am one night after deciding not to re-download Grindr. Lullaby and Forget You were written before the rest of the songs in 2016 but they made the EP because they slap. My favorite part in the process was working with Davin Kingston to bring all the production ideas for the songs to life as well as Isaiah Sealy and Studio115 for Forget You. It was also incredibly fun creative directing the visuals for Pleasure And Pain with photographer Mana Parker and the EP photo shoot with photographer Melissa Galban. My least favorite part I would have to say is that everything cost money and I was working 2 jobs to fund all the visuals and stuff to go along with the EP because I’m extra but I’d do it all again.
T&P: Your music seems to transcend genre, what would you describe the genre of your music as?
ZS: Dramatic indie pop power ballads and sad bops you can twerk too.
Follow up question: What genres and artists would you say have influenced your music career?
As a songwriter my biggest influences lyrically are Lana Del Rey and Amy Winehouse-they made me a poet; Sia and Florence And The Machine made me think Cinematically about the way I write songs. Janis Joplin and James Brown and a myriad of soul singers from the 60s influenced the way I approach performing live. My other influences are 90s hip hop , early 2000s pop, 60s R&b, gospel choral music, indie pop, indie rock , Up-and-Coming Female Rappers, and experimental pop artists. Currently in love with Rosalia, Cosima, Serpentwithfeet, Kelsey Lu and Gnarls Barkley. I don’t like to limit myself to one genre so I pull from as broad a range as possible for inspiration musically.
How has being Black in America influenced your art?
ZS: It’s definitely influenced my art in a number of ways. I‘m 6’5 and Black so my parents made sure to ingrain me at an early age the understanding that mainstream society actively doesn’t want me to prosper so I have to always be aware of my surroundings and work twice as hard to get half as much. I wish I could say racism was something that I’ve never faced in various forms from microaggressions to more blatant acts like being called “chimchar” and N***** by certain kids in school . It’s something that’s always present in the back of my mind as I navigate life in America. Growing up constantly seeing unarmed black men, women, and children murdered by police officers without facing any form of accountability as my parents and their parents before them did takes a toll. I was terrified for a while that America would become desensitized to black death the way we became desensitized to school shootings. All thoughts and prayers but no concrete action but it’s beautiful seeing people finally stand up and say enough is enough in hundreds of cities across this country and the world.
Nina Simone said “ An Artist’s duty is to reflect the times”. My single “ I’ve Seen” which comes out 10/26/20 puts a mirror to the world we’re living in. It’s simple to write something happy and provide an escape for people but that’s not something we can afford to do anymore. I’m also Gay on top being a black man and the fact that the supreme court is actively considering repealing gay marriage is a cherry on top of the pile of shit that is American politics.
The most radical thing I can do right now with my art is continue telling my stories and make it impossible for those who would deny my humanity to have any ground to stand on and to continue holding truth to power through my art.
To quote Kevin Abstract “I do the most for the culture by just existing.”
T&P: How have you been keeping creative during quarantine?
ZS: I lost 2 out of 3 of my day jobs because of the Corona Virus and I was back home in Baltimore for a few months, so I was not able to work at all. As crazy as it all was, Quarantine gave me a bunch of free time which I used to become better at music production and now I’ve written and almost fully produced an entire 12+ track album since the beginning of the year which I plan on releasing at the end of the year. Also, I’ve been doing a bunch of Zoom cowrites which has been a really fun thing to come out of Quarantine.
T&P: What do you do to keep your brain working and your creative process fresh?
ZS: I’m one of those people that thrives under intense amounts of pressure like a lump of coal or whatever lives in the bottom of the marianas trench. So i try my best to stay busy all the time, which has its ups and downs cuz it’s simultaneously structured and a very chaotic way to be, but it’s been working for me thus far. I’m also constantly drawing from new sources of inspiration whether that be poems, characters in novels and movies or just random conversations i have with friends and people I meet on the street. I try my best to avoid anything basic or cliche because I can’t relate. I don’t really listen to the radio. I find new music by going on deep dives into related windows on youtube . I’m lucky to be friends with so many amazing artists who challenge, support and inspire me every day. So That’s how I keep my brain working and my creative process working.
T&P: What’s your favorite memory from your musical career thus far?
ZS: It’s a tie for 1st between 2 moments. First would probably be this time i got to perform as a part of this mass meditation tour called the Big Quiet . 400 + people were packed into Bates hall at the Boston Public Library for a guided meditation led by Jesse Israel. I was one of 4 artists they booked to perform an emotional original song following the meditation and it was just me and my Guitarists Inigo performing Page 95. The hall was so beautiful, think marble columns, domed ceiling, roman rotunda style if you don’t know the space. The other artists were also so amazing especially Ruby Rose Fox she was sound checking and literally gave everyone chills. We performed after the meditation and everyone was in a transcendent state, 3rd eyes wide open, and the acoustics of the hall made every note soar through the room and everyone was crying and in their feels by the end of the song. It was a really special night.
2nd moment would be the night of my EP Release show. It was a halloween party/house show and everyone was wearing a costume. It was packed, my parents came from Baltimore to see the show-my mom was dressed up as Wonder Woman. 2 friends of mine: Nathan Dies and Reggie Pearl opened up for me , It was an extremely emotional and fun and personal show for me seeing a bunch of friends and strangers packed in an apartment dancing and singing along till the cops showed up and shut down the show.
T&P: Do you have any strange talents/ special skills that you don’t talk about?
ZS: I can do a cartwheel and a split.
T&P: What is the most unexpected THING (for lack of a better word] that has influenced a piece of work?
ZS: GOGO YUBARI from Kill bill Vol.1, If you haven’t haven’t seen the movie she’s a 17 yr girl who’s a Yakuza Enforcer and Personal BodyGuard to Oren IshII queen of the Tokyo underground. Gogo’s a psychopath who wields a ball and chain . Gogo’s a bad bitch who doesn’t give a single fuck about anything and if you cross her or Oren it’s onsight. Gogo should’ve gotten her own Tarantino movie but SPOILERS she dies and an amazing character goes down the toilet. She should’ve gotten her own Movie but she didn’t so I wrote a bop about her instead which is coming out on HALLOWEEN 2020.