Zac Pajak in Q&A Corner: Smooth & Soulful

Zac Pajak in Q&A Corner: Smooth & Soulful

12th Jun 2020 @ 15:28 | Matt McCracken

Zac Pajak started out his musical career busking on the streets of Kingston whilst writing and producing his own songs from a home-made studio in his parents' garden shed. His work soon caught the ears of Platinum-selling producer Jake Gosling who he has worked with to produce his latest EP 'Early Hours' which will be out in early 2020.

Zac Pajak's sound mixes up genres, taking all the musicality of acoustic folk music and blending it with dance, soul and R&B influences. Produced with a minimalistic ethos, his sound is smooth and soulful, delivered with sincerity and intensity. We sat down to chat with Zac ahead of his latest run of tour dates to discuss recording at home, gigging in the Swiss Alps and of course, all the gear.

Again

Dawsons: Hey Zac, how are you doing today?

Zac - Feeling good and living better. I’ve just got back from playing some shows in the Alps and I’m feeling more inspired and excited than ever to get back into writing and recording.

Dawsons: You've just dropped your single 'Retrograde' how's the reaction been from your perspective?

Zac - The response has honestly been amazing so far. I was a little nervous about releasing this song as it’s so personal but it’s been so well received, the support has been immense. Having the song appear on this series of Love Island was a nice surprise, it’s great to see such an influential show support emerging artists - I’m really grateful for that. We’ve had fantastic online support from bloggers and key tastemaker such as CLOUT, When The Horn Blows and Indie London it was also made Track of the Week on London's Riverside Radio a few weeks back. It means a lot that so many people are connecting with it!

Dawsons: Can you tell us a little bit about how the song came to be and what it means to you?

Zac - Yeah, I'd been in recording sessions at Sticky Studios at the time, working on the forthcoming EP. I was sitting at home one night, playing with the guitar riff, and the song just flowed out. It probably took a matter of hours to write and demo - which doesn’t happen too often! What you hear on the record is pretty much exactly how the song happened that night. The lyrics sound like a stream of consciousness because that’s pretty much what they are. I only realised the full meaning they held months after I wrote it - nothing can be undone and nothing loved is ever lost. Relationships only grow and evolve, and that’s a pretty beautiful thing.  

Dawsons: It's a very 'less-is-more' style of production, is this a conscious effort on your part or was it what felt natural at the time?

Zac - It’s definitely a more minimal style to the rest of the EP,  but given that it’s such a personal song it didn’t make sense to over-produce it and take away from the essence and meaning behind the lyrics. The stripped acoustic vibe is actually such a big part of who I am musically and it felt right to show that side with this song. I’m never afraid of ‘going there’ or trying something a bit different to the previous song  - I think it’s important as an artist to do just that.

Dawsons: Did 'Retrograde' begin life in your home studio? What does your studio setup consist of at the moment and how important is it as a musician to have a comfortable place to write and record?

Zac - Yes, I have a pretty simple but effective setup at home. I record through a UAD Apollo Twin into Logic and I use a Slate Digital VMS for vocals. My workflow is pretty quick when I’m writing, I try and leave any mixing till later because I don't like to interrupt the writing process when an idea is flowing. My favourite piece of new gear at the moment is a really cheap Kawai synthesiser which I bought of Gumtree, funnily enough - it’s full of old ‘Casio-esque’ 80’s sounds but it’s really rich and warm at the same time. I’ve been using it on almost everything I’ve been writing at the moment.

I’ve really tried to make my home studio as comfortable as possible with sofas, carpets and a family of house plants! It’s full of random instruments too that I’ve picked up travelling - and photos of friends linked to great memories. I think it’s important to have somewhere with some personality - compared to so many ‘sterile’ recording studios I’ve come across. 

Not Around

Dawsons: You started your musical career busking, do you still find the time to busk? How has that musical experience shaped the way you write?

Zac - The last time I busked was a few years ago now - it was in Prague actually when I was travelling round Europe with a good friend of mine. I’m really glad I found the confidence to get out there and busk as a kid, even though it was nerve-racking at the start! Playing those timeless, classic covers acted as a crash-course in songwriting. Without realising it at the time, I was becoming familiar with common song structures and little tricks songwriters use to create those really effective moments within a song, the moments that connect and make people feel something. 

Dawsons: You also play on the apres-ski circuit in the Swiss alps, how did that come about? What are the main differences between there and gigging in London?

Zac - I’ve always loved the mountains, there’s something so powerful and inspiring about the environment, the people and the lifestyle.  

I started teaching skiing on a dry slope in SW London when I was 16 instead of getting a ‘proper job’ and when I realised that the music could tie in so well out in the Alps, I spent six winters making the most of it - teaching skiing during the day and writing and performing music in the evenings. 

So many ski resorts have thriving music scenes! Playing the Apres-Ski bars out there is so much fun because everyone’s there just to have a great time - there’s always a party atmosphere. Gigging in London is a bit different - it's more serious I guess, but I enjoy the fact the audiences are probably paying more attention. These days I'm London-based but I'm really lucky that I still get to play both. 

Dawsons: What's your favourite guitar to play live? What was the first guitar you ever had?

Zac - My favourite guitar is my Fender USA Stratocaster, it’s a hardtail with 70’s headstock and a maple neck. Honestly, every time I pick it up I fall in love with it all over again. My uncle recently lent me his Gibson 335 though and I’ve been using that quite a bit in the studio too.

I got my first guitar when I was about 10 years old. I remember a good friend of mine getting a Strat copy at the time which was metallic blue and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. That Christmas my parents bought me a sunburst copy by Aria, I still have it actually - that’s where it all started - it’s covered in stickers and spray paint now though!

Dawsons: Are you using any effect pedals or is it a more organic setup? Do you do any looping when playing live?

Zac - I tend to keep things really simple live, I sometimes use a Line 6 HD500X for FX and some looping but I’m also learning my way around my Ableton APC 40 at the moment which is really good fun and I hope to start introducing that into the live set by the end of the year.

Dawsons: There's a lot of electronic instrumentation mixed in with the more natural guitar and vocal styles in your music, do you use any backing tracks or sequencing software when you're playing live?

Zac - I try and avoid using backing tracks, I think it’s important that the songs work acoustically live. When I play with a band everything goes through Ableton and we use a Roland SPD to trigger samples and other electronic textures. 

Dawsons: Thanks for taking the time out to chat to us, what can we expect from you in 2020? Any plans to release an EP/LP? And how about plans for touring?

Thanks for having me! The ‘Early Hours’ EP will be out in April and I’m super excited about getting out to play these songs live. I’m currently planning a few London shows listed below as well playing a playing an acoustic gig That my record label Goldun Egg is hosting during The Great Escape festival in Brighton. I’m hoping to add a few regional venues too, once the EP is released. Hopefully see you there!

Retrograde

You can catch Zac Pajak live on the following dates:

  • March 1st - Number Six, Camden
  • March 10th - Breaking Sound UK @ The Victoria, Dalston
  • April 9th - The Wheatsheaf, Esher
  • 14th - 15th May, Goldun Egg Records acoustic gig at The Great Escape, Hotel Chocolat, Brighton

Stay tuned for more info on the upcoming EP by following Zac Pajak on your preferred channel, in the meantime check out this acoustic video for 'Retrograde':

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