Mumbai, 25th September 2020
Zarir Warden is the frontman of the popular band, ONEmpire. Having been successful as the voice and face of the band, he has taken time out for his solo project and the first single, “What’s Going On” has received rave reviews from the industry and audiences. We took time out to talk about the song and his future endeavours as well. Here are the excerpts:
How did the turn for solo project come about for you? What is the direction you intend to take with your solo act?
I have chosen the name “WARDEN” as my artist name for this project. So honestly, this is something I have been wanting to do for a while now. It’s been on my mind for a couple of years, but I guess I just never really got down to doing it. When the lockdown kicked in, and work slowed down, I said “what better time to put my energy into something like this?” and that’s how this project under the artist name “WARDEN” finally got started.
Honestly, the direction from a music perspective, is just to keep it relatable. I think things in the world right now are just so uncertain and so strange, that I just want people around to be able to relate to what I am writing and to feel that they are a part of the story. Over the past couple of years, I have also had a couple of things that have affected me personally, and I feel anything related to love, heartbreak, the world and its current state, etc is something everyone can relate to.
From a sound perspective, I am going with a slightly modern and edgy Pop / soft rock sound but keeping it fairly organic. Not too much production or any samples etc. I want the guitars, drums, keys and vocals to play a big part. When anyone asks me the genre, including my producer when I first spoke to him about this, I said “I want it to be like old-school Lenny Kravitz meets new-age James Bay outside church”. So, his response to me was “Why church?”, and I said because I love gospel music and I wanted a few hints of gospel to be added in here in the form of instrumentation and basic vocals. So, all the first three songs on this EP have the church organ/hammond playing, which kind of takes it in a slightly different direction as well. It’s interesting!
Collaborating with other international acts for your latest release, “What’s Going On”, what aspects of your craft have you been able to discover beyond what you already know?
Well, firstly, it’s been on heck of an experience. Because all the musicians and artists working on this first EP with me are based in Toronto, Canada. I haven’t even met most of them before, just spoken to them over skype! So, it’s been very interesting to see and work with people who live in a different country, their influences, their methods of working, their ideas with regards to the music. And me being the control freak that I am, I have been in on every single session be it drums, keys or backing vocals. We have all been brainstorming as the session went on and at so many points when things were brought up, I would think to myself “Hey! Now that’s an interesting perspective I probably wouldn’t have thought of myself!” So, it’s really been a very eye-opening & learning experience in a lot of ways!
Tell us about your experience of working with the collaborators for this song
So firstly it all started with the producer that I work with. His name is Benjamin (Ben) Pelchat. He is an outstanding singer and musician himself, apart from being an amazing producer. So, when we were talking about this project, I mentioned to him that in all these years, I have never done anything outside of the band so this was very new for me. That’s how we got into the idea of getting local musicians in Toronto who could do this. So, we shortlisted a few musicians who we felt would fit the vibe and genre that we were going for, and then finalised and confirmed them to be a part of this project. The musicians are: Chris Sutherland (drums), Vezi Tayyeb (All things piano and keys-related) and Denver Haylee (backing vocals). And then Ben along with being the producer, played bass and guitars on the EP and contributed to the backing vocals as well. So, it was very interesting having a bunch of new and different people in on this and collaborating with them because each one has a different style and mind-set and vision for each song. For me, it was exciting, because all the studio sessions would be in the day-time in Toronto which meant they would start at about 1 am for me here in India and go on till about 7 or 8 am. But you know what….I loved every minute of it! So overall, it’s been a great experience…I have learnt a lot, I have made some new friends and most importantly I feel I am writing and composing some good music. And Ben as a producer is just absolutely outstanding! He’s a young guy so he’s got some very fresh ideas and more importantly, he’s very open to my ideas too. It’s not just a case of “I am the producer, and this is the direction we need to move in”. It’s more of a collaborative piece of work, where we both are constantly exchanging creative ideas be it for the lyrics, composition, melody, arrangement, whatever it is… Because the idea at the end of it is – It’s got to be a good song! That’s all that matters. I am a very hyper person when I am working on a project and have my mind set on it, because I feel like I am ALWAYS in work mode. And I feel like Ben has handled that really well too! And I keep saying – it’s not easy for a producer to “get” what an artist is saying or wants, but this guy just gets me, which is why it’s so easy and such a pleasure to work with him!
How was the overall songwriting process for What’s Going On? How special is this song for you?
Oh gosh, this song is super special! I think from the first draft I sent to Ben with just a rough vocal and my very limited acoustic guitar playing, to where it’s reached today, is pretty amazing! Honestly, this song came about from almost nowhere! This lockdown has been hard on everyone – physically, mentally & emotionally. And I remember on one day, pretty early in the lockdown, we heard some not so great news, and I just couldn’t understand what was going on! On one hand you were hearing and learning about this pandemic; on the other hand, people in America were protesting “Black Lives Matter”; in India numbers were going up very quickly and things were just not moving in a great direction. I literally just stopped one day and said “Oh my God! What is going on?!” and that’s how this song came about. It’s not specific to the pandemic or any one issue really; it’s just a generic song touching upon various things happening around us that affect everyone – directly or indirectly. However, I must add, that it’s not a “Sad” song or a “grieving” song in anyway. It’s actually a song with a motivating chorus and feel which basically speaks about unity and coming together to find solutions to everything that’s going on!
How challenging is creative collaboration in the times of COVID 19?
Actually, it’s not so challenging! Yes, I would much rather be in the studio physically with the people working on this, but this is not such a bad option! We are so lucky that technology is where it is today, that it doesn’t matter which part of the world you are sitting in! Can you imagine if we DIDN’T have this?! So similarly, the way I am in on every session happening in the studio in Toronto, Ben is in on every vocal session I am having in my room here in Mumbai! It’s honestly much easier than I thought it would be! And yes, it’s a bit difficult being “Creative” at a time like this and finding the right inspiration because there are days when I think everyone is just so demotivated and anxious but then again, there are certain days where things flow a lot easier than others. I am not trying to force anything so to speak, I am happy to work on this and write & compose when it feels right!
What more should Music lovers expect from you as a solo act?
I am excited because I have two more singles slated for release before the end of the year. If everything goes according to plan, then towards the end of October, I will be releasing my second single titled ‘Fire’ – which is a more up-tempo, high-energy, driving pop/rock song with some simple but catchy instrumentation in it along with a really easy melody; and then hopefully I will be releasing my third single in the second week of December titled ‘What if’ – which is a song about love and heartbreak. Gotta have some cheese thrown in because I absolutely love it, and it’s something I can relate to based on my past experiences as well.
I hope everyone likes the music I am putting out! ‘What’s going on?’ is available now on all streaming and download platforms around the world as well as a video on YouTube, so please listen to, follow me on Facebook & Instagram on the handle “@listentowarden” and tell me your thoughts!
Well, with two more releases up in the final leg, we will definitely be looking for what is more in the store from Zarir’s “WARDEN”. For now, let us just ask ourselves too, “What’s Going On?” and listen to this song from him!
Article by Shveta M.
Photo Credit to Team WARDEN