It’s a Saturday and an eleven-year old boy wakes up in his native home, a jungle environment: dew on the leaves, snakes in the grass, and frogs in the pool. An almost idyllic life in central Africa. Mom and dad, two siblings, and him. What could be better?
Two days later, the country breaks out into war. It’s like a scene from a movie: one seat left on the plane; dad puts him on it; he departs; not to be with his whole family again for a decade. It’s a blessing and a curse. No more war, yet no more family. Is that a fair price to pay?
If you watch enough Inside the Actors Studio as I do, you realize that great art can come from great challenge. Meet Eric Zayne. A gifted musician in his mid-twenties who, in this humble writer’s opinion, may be the next great thing in music. The question is, do you know it?
There’s actually very little “American” about Eric Zayne. A Montreal-born mixture of four nationalities who grew up in the Congo — yes, the Congo, or Zaire for all you historians, and who spent five years traveling Asia with various bands during his late teens, hardly fits the profile of a quintessential “American.” In fact, after returning from his Asian tours he settled back in Vancouver only to venture to Los Angeles a year ago to make his way as a recording artist. Yes, he’s spent a cumulative one year of his twenty-something years actually residing in…America.
I met Eric at Molly Malone’s on Fairfax in Los Angeles. He invited me to his live show to write a review for this blog. I’ve received invitations like this before — to review songs, check out albums, and promote new music. Most of the time, I listen, think it’s shit, and instead of ravaging the music on my blog, thus creating a lifelong enemy, I politely decline.
But, when I received Eric’s invitation it was different. For one, he invited me to his show instead of sending me a link to his music. Then he asked me to review it, granted me an interview, and never interfered in the process as a promotional tool.
But, I did what I always do to be sure I’d be comfortable doing a review: I went online, checked out some of his sounds, and made the quick decision that I would not hate the music. So I went, and convinced some friends to come along with.
When we arrived, I didn’t know what to expect. Molly Malone’s is a chill bar that has two sides to it. The first is a standard Irish bar — long in dimension, not wide, with darts in the back. Back there, there’s a hallway that leads to another room closed off by a door (if I remember correctly). Passing through those doors, you are transported to a small-venue concert area. There are tables and chairs, but also a dance floor, elevated stage, and bar in the rear.
We parked ourselves up front near the stage so we could get a good feel for the place and music. The environment was loud, colors dark, vibe relaxed. This was not a place I typically find myself in, but was comfortable nonetheless, aided by some friends in tow, and eventually a friendly beverage or two.
The first band was good, nothing to write home about, but not terrible like some indie bands can be. We didn’t have to wait long for Eric Zayne and company to set up and begin.
When they did, I was immediately struck by the multiculturalism of the band: it looked liked it was assembled at the UN. I counted three African-American or mixed band members, one Latino or mixed member, and Eric who I came to discover is the very essence of mixed. You don’t see too many rock bands with this makeup. I’ll get to my use of the term “rock” to describe the group in just a bit.
I wasn’t sure what the schtick would be. Were they going to cover songs, play originals, do a mix of both? I had no expectations.
The music kicked off and instantly the room’s energy kicked up with it – several notches. Eric’s energy was infectious. He was excitable, almost hyperkinetic, and in motion throughout each song.
Going back and forth between keyboards and guitar while leading the vocals, it was clear the musical talent was there.
Accompanying the singer was the band New Movement and its members including Danny Mills on keyboard, Mike Morgan on bass, Cesar Ramirez on guitar, and Kendall Lewis on drums.
Although all the band members seemed very precise and talented in their own right, my favorite band member was the drummer, Kendall Lewis. When I think of drummers, I think of Lars Ulrich of Metallica and his crotchety stance against Napster. Or Tommy Lee of Motley Crue wildly flailing his arms in that way hair-bands would ham-it-up in the 80s. Neither of them strike me as appearing genuinely happy when they play. Kendall Lewis, the drummer for Eric Zayne, was not only excellent, but looked like he was truly enjoying himself. It was refreshing to watch.
Once the music started, the dance floor, which was previously empty, filled with fans and loyal friends showing their support with energy and enthusiasm. It was easy to tell that the music, although unfamiliar to my compatriots’ ears, was compelling. If I had no expectations, the people who I dragged along with me really had no expectations, and they were jamming out like the rest of the crowd.
Let’s talk about the music. I had a chance, in addition to seeing the live show, to listen to Eric’s latest album called, Between Us released on What if records. To be thorough, my binge-listening habits kicked in and I marathon-sessioned Between Us no less than a dozen times for this review.
The music is excellent. And I don’t mean excellent in a some generic let’s-get-this-over-with type of way. I mean it’s really excellent from an instrumental, vocal, lyrical, arrangement, and overall sound standpoint.
The sound is not categorizable. That is why the description of Eric Zayne and New Movement as a rock band seems tenuous. The music, from our interview, is largely influenced by some of Eric’s biggest musical models, principally Prince, but also Bootsy Collins, Parliament, and the funk sounds of the 70s. Any avid music listener will notice the additional resemblances to Maroon 5, Justin Timberlake, and Bruno Mars to name a few. Is that to say the music is derivative? Not at all. It’s to say those are all massive acts who are doing huge albums and ticket sales. If I was in music management or the head of a label, the next great “one-of-those” would be near the top of my radar.
So Why Call Him the Next Great American Musician?
And this is perhaps the most important reason why I refer to Eric Zayne as the next great American musician. He is in every categorical respect non-American, both in lineage and location over the years. But, the music, the music is absolutely American-influenced and -sounding, if something can be said to be “American-sounding.” Does that make it country, hip hop, pop, rock, jazz, blues? What is an American sound? Or better yet, what is an American? A multicultural immigrant from a multitude of backgrounds? As a matter of fact, yes. We love those people. We take them, make them our own, then claim them as one of us. It’s the American way.
What America — and I am using this term purposely instead of the United States or USA — does best is import immigrants and export culture. This creates a cycle of immigrants wanting to come to our shores because of the culture — exemplified in movies or music, for instance — only to get integrated into our society with a mixture of their culture and our pre-existing one, which then melds into our society’s overall culture, which we then export out again and claim as our own. We are a machine at doing this all under the moniker of finding/chasing/pursuing the “American Dream.” We offer, better than any other country on the planet, the largest billboard for a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And that gold attracts all colors to the rainbow. It’s perhaps America’s greatest asset: the ability to take in that which is foreign – influence, impact, and acculturate it – then spit it out as our own.
The point is that it is not easy for a musician to make it on the biggest stage, the American music scene. Ask the countless British acts that have tried to come over here only to fizzle. Ask the tons of DJs worldwide who don’t feel as validated as when the American market recognizes their work. Ask early 90s boy bands like Backstreet Boys why they couldn’t get traction in the U.S. but were massive overseas and in Canada. I don’t even want to get into The Beatles and their Ed Sullivan Show appearance. It was once they made it here that they really made it.
Eric Zayne is not from here. But his music and his story are primed to succeed here. Is there any doubt that a person known simply as “The Kid” in his adopted hometown of Montreal for his musical prowess is influenced by his world travels and international background? No. There is no doubt. But, when you listen to the music, you can relate, immediately. There is familiarity and even some comfort to it. The very international-ness of it compacted together over years spent all over the world, then presented in band format with rock, pop, disco, electronica, and blues undertones is the American stamp on it.
And here is my stamp to add: Eric Zayne may very well be the next great musician, singer, songwriter in America. If we were smart we would make it so. It is, once again, what we do best: take the best of what the world has to offer, lure it to our shores with hopes of the Dream, and then claim it once it gets here. With the right breaks and assists, I’m confident this is one artist who we’d be proud to call one of our own some day.
My HOT SIX tracks from Between Us:
1) “Maneater” – A certifiable hit; should be on radio
2) “Supped Up Girl” – A perfect example of the Prince influences
3) “Hello Goodbye” – Fun song; banger at the live show
4) “So Strange” – Pop sounds with R&B and excellent guitar play
5) “Neptune” – You may think Timberlake and Timbaland produced this
6) “Digging You” – Rock with electronica; super funky