Eric Zayne calls nowhere home.
On his lifelong travels that span from California to Asia and Africa, the worldly artist pays homage to New York City in his most recent album AutobiograMe.
Born in Canada and raised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zayne has since looked to Brooklyn and the outer boroughs as a place for inspiration.
He has been recording music and playing everything from keyboard to guitar and lead vocals since he was just 13, and now the “do-it-yourself” artist has wrapped up a 60-show tour and already started on his third album.
After a phone call with Zayne from his current home in Los Angeles, we discussed his inspiration about his recent NYC-inspired song, his writing and recording process, and his plans for the future.
Where are you from originally?
I was just having that conversation today with someone, how does a mutt answer where he’s from? I was born in Montreal, raised in the Congo in Africa since I was 11 days old. My mother is Spanish/ Moroccan, my dad is French and Polish, I lived all over the world so where am I from? You tell me, I don’t really know.
Where do you call home?
I don’t know man. Not Montreal because I didn’t grow up there. The Congo used to be home, but I left there as a kid so I don’t know it. After that I lived everywhere in the world, so I don’t know how to answer that question. I guess home might be L.A. now, or Africa when I was a kid.
What was music like as a child growing up in the Congo?
Well, there was this rhythm [drums out the rhythm], and they’re always playing that. I always remembered that. It was the theme of Kinshasa, which was the capital of where I grew up, but what’s funny is you hear that in hipster music now.
But when I grew up in Kinshasa, a lot of the guitars you hear in Vampire Weekend, they used to play. My brother was also a DJ and he loved old school funk. When I was growing up, he would play me all these records – Michael Jackson, Prince, Janet Jackson – and my dad would influence me with a lot of classical music. From there, I kind of found my sound I guess.
You have a new single called “New York City.” What is the inspiration for that song?
For me, New York has always been a flag destination. I just feel like I resonate with the culture more than any place in the world. I just love the melting pot of everything that comes there and how it has so much authenticity. Most of the music I grew up listening to, or if there’s a new band that I love, it always seems to point back to New York City for me.
The song inspiration was mostly using New York City as a flag of when I get to New York City, I’ll make it. It’s just basically getting to a place where you can feel like you’ve achieved your dream.
What was the inspiration behind recording this new album?
This was a mixtape kind of idea. I just wanted to do something for me. I wanted to be excited about what I was writing. I didn’t have any concern of who was going to like it – whether the industry was going to like it – because a lot of times as a musician that is something you have to go through. This record was a completely different process. I just wanted to do music that I loved that was experiential that talked about more personal stuff to me. The lyrics were honest, and more honest than anything I’ve ever done.
How do you seek inspiration for your lyrics?
As a musician, as a writer, you get inspiration from everything. It’s more about picking and choosing. I think the best way to answer this is how do you pick your inspiration?
I think I get inspired from everything, but I wanted to pick inspiration that was true to my life, stuff that was meaningful in the challenges that I went through and the goals that I’ve achieved.
I just basically would think about the major turning points in my life and I would dive in there. From that, simmering in that kind of energy, poems and lyrics would just come out.
How do you put that down on paper?
It’s different, there’s not a format to it. You can listen to a kick drum and think, wow that is really cool, and then all of a sudden you hear a 38th note off of it. Then that can make you feel one way and all of a sudden these lyrics come out and then the melody. It’s not anything specific, but eventually something just comes out, and then you just fine-tune the idea. So that’s one way.
Another way, you can pick up an acoustic guitar and try some things you’ve never tried before, and from there, the melody will just open itself up, but there really isn’t one process.
Where did you record?
I did it in my home studio in Los Angeles.
Is it easier or more difficult to record from home?
I play all my instruments and I basically hear all the parts in my head, so the quicker I can just put my fingers on something the better I can get it done. For me, a home studio is a lot faster, but then again the interplay of what happens in the environment of a real studio with different musicians can be surprising.
You can get great stuff, but then that can be very stifling as well. You can be in a room where things have to be done a certain way, because there’s an engineer, and there’s this person and that person and you have to go through layers to get to the idea. When you’re in a home studio and you’re a creative person, you can just go online and get it done.
For me, it was a hell of a process on this record. I just used what was in front of me and did what was there.
Do you have any idea where you’re going to tour this new album yet?
Well, I played 60 shows in six months and just took a break recently to focus on a new record. And that’s what I’ve been doing and there will be some new shows, but nothing is planned as of yet.
What’s the challenge getting your name out there in 2014?
It’s really challenging because everything is always being done all the time by a billion people. Some people just do it on the side with some technology that allows the same quality as people who do it professionally. The thing that determines one from the other is the longevity of the artist.
To think about how you compete with the saturation, it’s very tricky. But, at the end of the day, if you really resonate with something that you do with something that you love, then you will find those people who resonate with that and the rest will take care of itself. You can get lost in all of that, so I try not to be concerned too much. I just do whatever the flow makes me feel like doing at the moment.