We normally cover far more heavier forms of music than what this Singer/Songwriter from Karachi plays, but good music is good music and I wanted to do an interview with him the second I heard some singles off his debut album. Zia Zaidi, ladies and gents, is a part of Karachi’s “indie” scene, and stands out with his vast assortment of 60s/70s rock influences, reminiscent of Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan. In his debut album, the lad gives his home city of Karachi the sort of melancholic musical treatment it has always warranted – check it out after you’re done reading this interview!
– Hey Zia, hope you’re doing well!
Hey Hassan, right back at you!
– Most of our readerbase is metal/punk and you’re from the indie spectrum, so introduce yourself and your album to the unaware among us!
Well my name is Zia, but you already know that. I’m an indie musician based in Karachi, indie in the sense that I self-finance my musical projects and release them myself. I don’t particularly like the “indie” label though, it has started to seem a bit pretentious and it tends to limit what people expect or want from me. My album is basically a few songs I wrote that happened to sound fairly similar and created a reasonably coherent musical narrative. I have no other songs like this, the rest of my songs are quite different, as I have a chronic inability to write within a single genre. The album was delayed several times as I tried to work out a grouping of my songs that wouldn’t be too diverse, that would compliment each other but I was eventually able to compile the songs that eventually ended up on my album and record them.
– Can you tell us a bit about the recording process of your album? I understand Ali Suhail helped you out, a prominent member of the Karachi indie scene as well.
The recording process basically involved me, a laptop, an audio interface and my instruments all shut up in a room for a few hours every day. Well, maybe not everyday. I procrastinated a lot. I would basically start with the drum track which I would program using Superior Drummer (I couldn’t afford a live drum recording) after which I would record the instruments (bass, guitar etc) and finally the vocals. Ali basically mixed and mastered the songs, but he also helped me out by programming a string section I composed for my song “Marble and Bone”, composing and programming percussions on “I’m Just Glad” and playing the guitar solo on “They Got Pills”, as well as ambient guitar on By Their Bones. My friend Maaz Muhammad also helped out a lot, he played the guitar solos on Convict Wayne, Be As Us and What’s That, as well as additional lead guitar on They Got Pills and some additional guitar on By Their Bones. Halfway through recording the album my laptop broke, so that delayed the album a lot. I finished it eventually, though many months later than id initially intended.
– Lyrically and thematically, your debut opus comes off as a celebration of Karachi – with a very tragic and melancholic undercurrent. Would that be a correct assessment?
You are absolutely right! I’m glad I was able to convey that through my songs. Karachi is very much the foggy pearl of the “Land of the Pure”, and one can’t help but love her, stubborn little bitch that she is, despite all her flaws.
– What I liked about the lyrics is that they were very poetic, and the performance in the songs was very Bob Dylan-esque… I don’t think I’ve heard any South Asian artist with that approach to their music, not even in the Karachi indie scene. What drove you to make the kind of music you did?
There was just so much amazing music in the 60s and 70s man! The Beatles, Dylan, the Stones, etc. and these guys accomplished so much with their music. I mean they brought about a proper social movement, they had an impact on society and that’s very cool. I guess I channelled Dylan in “The Streets” and it was sort of natural because his style and voice are very nostalgic and The Streets is a very nostalgic song. Apart from that I can’t really say where I’ve been influenced by whom, I don’t really think about it while I compose or write it just happens.
– How has the mainstream press responded to it in Pakistan? Does the mainstream press even know of the thriving Karachi music scene?
Well Ahmer Naqvi (known on the twitterverse as @karachikhatmal) wrote an article about me in Dawn, and I was invited to do a session with City FM89 so I guess, considering that I am a complete and utter noob with 0 press or marketing, the response has been pretty great. On both these occasions I was approached by the concerned parties, I didn’t have to bust my ass trying to get anyone to notice me. I guess, in the grand scheme of things, an article and a radio session is, perhaps, not all that much but what I’m trying to say is that it was really encouraging to have gotten a response like this from mainstreamers, especially considering the fact that I’m a complete unknown. As far as covering the indie scene goes, pretty much every other musician I know or am involved with, Ali Suhail, Shajie, my band E Sharp, Lower Sindh! Swing Orchestra, all of these guys have gotten some sort of press so it’s not like we are completely ignored. I have more of a problem with our audience. I mean if some guy in the US released an album with no marketing or anything, an article in a national newspaper would have been crazy. That being said, there would have been a lot more people willing to buy his music, attend his gigs and otherwise support his music career financially. So basically I don’t have a problem with the mainstream press, were getting newspaper space and radio slots, TV can’t be all that far behind, what we’re really worried about is the fact that we get a few people willing to listen to our songs with each article/interview but we don’t get proper fans that would buy merch or attend gigs. That’s the real problem we face.
– Tell us a bit about Karachi’s music scene in general. There are a lot of good artists out there it seems, and it causes quite a bit of jealousy up north here in Lahore at times! Haha.
Dude I have the feeling that Karachi has more musical talent than anywhere else in the world. We have a genius around every corner. Such good music man! Mole is (was?) a world class band. Lower Sindh! Swing Orchestra has to be one of the finest bands Pakistan has produced, and they’re well on their way to succeeding Mole as the spearheads of art rock in Karachi. My band, E Sharp, was well established when I joined earlier this year, and they brought me in on a grand concept album that they have been working on. We have a thriving EDM scene via “Forever South”, I mean we work our asses off for peanuts (if we’re lucky) and we do it again and again because we are of Karachi, and so we are by default stubborn little pricks. And the acts I mentioned barely scratch the surface of the endless smorgasbord of music that is Karachi! That being said, gigs are close to impossible to pull off here, the people are indifferent at best, hostile at worst, and to earn money we either have to whore ourselves or, well, there’s no other options really just varying degrees of whoring, but these are problems every musician in Pakistan faces haha. And I guess we have a lot of music here, but Punjabs metal scene is crazy and Lahore specifically has the crown jewel of indepependent Pakistani music: Poor Rich Boy!
– Do you see the scene going anywhere in the next 5 years?
There is just so much music being made and so much momentum building up from all of this music the dam will break eventually. I think the scene kind of got kickstarted back in late 2011 with both poor rich boy and lussun tv entering the game, and since then every subsequent year has been better than the last. So, I don’t know what you mean anywhere, but I think in the next 5 years we are going to see bigger and better gigs, more and better music, I’m hoping by that time that all of us can quit our jobs and start working on music full time but that’s more of a pipe dream than anything else.
– What’s next for your solo act?
I have a second album ready to record, it’s a lot weirder, dark acoustic finger picking Prog rock, or maybe not Prog rock but you get the idea, but I’m not going to start working on that for a while. Like I mentioned before, I’m part of a band called E Sharp (I’m the bassist) and were working on a concept double album of 20 songs. It’s a pretty grand concept, we want to do a lot of things with it so it’s taking up all of my time at the moment. I’m going to try to release my second album by mid 2015, and a third album by early 2016.
– Thanks for your time bro! Stay safe.
Thanks man, you too.