“Well, I would go out more, but everything is always on a weeknight…”
“All these shows start too late and I have to get up early for work tomorrow…”
“I can’t afford some big cover charge and overpriced drinks…”
Save your excuses; this show is on a weekend, starts early (7:00 p.m.) and is free. If you are looking for something new and different, a sound that is inspiring and unique; sometimes funky, sometimes melodic, and always soulful, go see Z&A at the Melody Inn Saturday, December 14th.
This electro-soul duo (Jake Zavracky and Amanda Khiri) calls Brooklyn, New York home currently, but Amanda is actually an Indianapolis native. I recently had the opportunity to hear their new album and ask them some questions and was anything but disappointed.
Their self titled debut album described in 3 words: Diverse. Moving. Infectious
These guys are truly like no other group/artist I’ve ever heard, and that is saying a lot. You can hear faint tributes to everything from blues to jazz to funk to reggae to soul to electro to rock and more, spread beautifully and craftily throughout this 10-track masterpiece.
The album begins with one of the 3 of its fascinating and unique interludes, before one of my favorite tracks, “Have it Your Way” begins. This track, from the second it began I knew I loved it, and that has only grown since listening to it in excess of 50 times over the past week. This song has the sound that I feel like the people in mainstream are TRYING to accomplish when they make a vocal electronic track, yet fail miserably. I can easily see this song being a “hit” and the catchy hook will get stuck in your head for days. This track really pulled me in and made me excited to hear the rest of the songs; all very different, but equally attention-grabbing. At no point during this album did I feel bored or wanting to skip over anything. I’m sure a lot of you can relate; when you listen to so much music you tend to develop a sort of music-A.D.D. and we want to skip ahead to “the drop” or the hook, etc. One of the best things about this album is that it keeps the listener’s interest throughout its entirety.
I could easily do a track-by-track praise session, but in the interest of time and your attention span, I will just briefly mention some highlights in hopes of piquing your interest enough to come check them out live with us at the show.
“Neon Arches” is intense and thunderous; deep and sort of eerie in parts; definitely a dance floor filler. The vocals are phenomenal and the music is genius. I can almost hear things that remind me of everything from Prodigy to Daft Punk to Nine Inch Nails…combined with something unique and new that I’ve never experienced all wrapped into one.
“Father’s House” is one of my personal favorites. It is so soulful and heart-pleasing. Amanda’s voice is just outstanding and works so perfectly with the reggae sound and feel of the music. This track causes involuntary swaying and dancing and should not be listened to when operating heavy machinery because it will make you feel intoxicated; no joke. It sort of puts you in a trance by the end of it, and I honestly wish this song were about 5 minutes longer.
“Before the Fall” is the most beautiful, serene interlude, into my favorite track on the album, “MNDSTLR.” At the very beginning, the track starts with this beat that makes me want to 80’s break dance. Then, these electronic sounds begin…and they build to form the beautiful structure that is this song. When the lyrics begin you immediately FEEL something; it causes automatic emotional response within the listener. The harmony is absolutely breathtaking. Everything about this song is impressive, from lyrics to harmony to structure to the beat, the guitar–and come on, it has vocoder in it!
“Yeah, I wanna…steal your mind. I’m in love with….what’s inside.” -Z&A “MNDSTLR”
The final track, “Kiss, Kiss” is really, for lack of a better word, “sweet.” There’s beautiful guitar and Amanda’s entrancing voice, and a positive message, cool effects, and a mellow/chill vibe. The only bad thing about this song is that it means the album is over.
After hearing and loving the album, I had some questions for Z&A about their history and their upcoming show in Indy at the Melody Inn.
AF: How did you guys meet and how long have you been playing?
Z&A: We met working at the same bar in Brooklyn. We also live in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn which is called Gowanus. We started getting together and making demos sometime around April of this year. Things started coming together pretty quickly after that.
AF: Tell me about your musical backgrounds, were you in bands before, what instrument(s) have/do you play, dj/etc.
Amanda: I got my start in church and studied classical voice and jazz at IU, then after a short stint doing backup work in LA, I moved to New York and had been singing jazz and blues in various trios around the city for the better part of the last ten years. Jake’s been playing in clubs for ages, since he was in high school.
AF: Who are some of your musical influences, either as a band or individually? Who are some of Amanda’s vocal influences/favorites?
Amanda: One of the things that was exciting for me and Jake, once we started talking, was just how wide our influences ranged. On this album you can find shades of Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes, Lee Scratch Perry, and even LCD Soundsystem and Zeppelin. Personally I love the ability of someone like Jill Scott or Cee-Lo to be light and free, and then get deep and go Gospel and Soulful.
AF: What was your very first live show together like, where was it, etc.?
Amanda/Z&A: Our first show was awesome. It was in a great neighborhood club in Boston. We were excited, I knocked over my whole setup onstage, which I think won the crowd over. After that we just jammed.
AF: The new album is fantastic. It has a really nice flow and everything is different and unique from track to track; yet it all just flows together so well, and I can tell that a lot of thought and heart went into it. What was the writing process like and how did you go about putting everything together; tell me a little about the making of the album.
Amanda: Thank you! This was my first foray into studio work in this particular genre, and it’s a very fast way to work. Jake has 100 ideas a minute and it was so exciting, everyday to get the new versions of the mixes from him. We had a system where Jake would send me a sketch of the track itself, and we would usually work together on the melody over that. Father’s House was a little different, I came up with the melody first and gave it to Jake. He came up with a couple ideas and we went from there.
AF: Do you have a favorite track, or is there any certain track that has a particularly special meaning for you?
Amanda: I loved “Neon Arches” and “Father’s House” so much when we were recording them. I pushed for those two songs to be the A&B sides of the single, because I like how they fit together. But live, I LOVE singing “Transistor”. It’s so fun. I feel like I’m floating when I sing that song.
AF: I’m really looking forward to seeing you guys play at the Melody Inn. Tell us a little about what we can expect to see at a Z&A live show. Give us a little sneak peak, if you will.
Amanda: What happens live is Jake uses a device that records his guitar and plays it back live. So nothing is pre-recorded except for the drum beat. And then you have me, who loves being on stage so much, I’m invoking the jazz side a little, and doing a lot of improvisation. Then once the song is built, it kind of bursts wide open and usually the crowd feels it and we all just start dancing and letting go..
AF: Somewhere you’ve never played before but want to?
Amanda: Well, the Midwest tour was my idea, because I love the vibe here and it was a great excuse to come back to my hometown, Indianapolis. But I can’t wait to go to Europe. We plan to get there by the end of next year.
AF: You also have shows in Ohio and Chicago; is this your first time visiting the Midwest/Indianapolis?
Amanda: I think I got drunk and did Karaoke in Chicago once! Jake has toured a lot in his career and has actually played the Melody Inn before. But this is our first time here as Z&A!
AF: What’s on the horizon for Z&A? Where do want to take things, or what is the next level you want to achieve or milestone?
Amanda: I am really excited to see how many phases and sounds Z&A is going to go through. We have so many ideas and influences we draw from, that the possibilities are very plentiful as far as the kind of material. Jake is also very passionate about the way in which we release our music to the fans. We are trying to merge the new model of getting the music to the fans with the old model of releasing two albums per year like they did in the 60’s and 70’s. I mean you look at somebody like Ella Fitzgerald, I think she had maybe 70 or 80 albums out? We don’t want to wait. And Jake is such a skilled producer that we don’t have to! As far as touring, we’re lucky to live in Brooklyn, so the chances to perform are many, but I love being on the road and we plan to stay on the road as much as possible.
I am sure that if Z&A continues to play and create music, and more people get the chance to be exposed to them, that will definitely happen. Come check out Z&A live at the Melody Inn Saturday, December 14th at 7:00!
Here are some more places to check out Z&A: