A quick glance through Zak Abel’s recently played list on Spotify brings up Sly and The Family Stone, Izzy Bizu and the Dirty Harry soundtrack – eclectic to say the least, but that’s exactly the point. “I grew up listening to soul music, so in terms of my voice that’s the main influence, but with the album I’m making at the moment I don’t really want to tie myself down to one genre.” And why should he? Artist-to-artist comparisons can be reductive, and although Zak exists in a genre of his own, as far as musicality goes there have been more than a few instances of likening him to Justin Timberlake and Sam Smith.
So, it’s looking good so far.
Zak’s arrival on the scene came through a fairly straightforward and somewhat old-fashioned break into the industry. An A&R man from Atlantic Records heard a song and snapped him up right away. Zak’s earnest enjoyment for his style of music is palpable, and, as a result, his authenticity rings true, especially in his live performances. “It’s usually the second or third song where I realise, ‘oh, I’m doing a gig!’ I feel like I’m on autopilot for the first few songs, and I’m not sure if I’m dreaming or not.” Dreaming would be understandable: the intelligent arrangement of beats supporting Zak’s spirited and raspy vocals are catchy and as well suited to headphones in your room as they would be to packing out a live venue. “I get very nervous but the buzz you get from being onstage is incredible. Being able to connect to people in a very physical way is direct and very immediate,” he says.
When asked about his song-writing process, he answers
without pretence. “It would appear to anyone else that I was mumbling to myself, not making much sense, but it’s about being open on the day, you never know what you’re going to come up with.
I think as human beings we tend to fight our own ideas. Part of the creative process is simply allowing yourself to be creative.”
Zak’s ease with himself and his musical instincts benefit from a distance he maintains from the business side of music, the PR and the odious marketing. “The less you think about that stuff the better. Everyone has a different job. My job isn’t to make the cut-throat decisions; my job is to be inspired and write about things that mean something to me and keep it real,” he says.
“I try to keep to what made me want to do this in the first place.” What’s that? “The music, of course.”