‘There needs to be a bit of a re-education around how artists can make money’
Irish musician Max Zaska made his debut album with a little help from a lot of friends
Max Zaska: His debut album, ‘It Takes a Village’, has been crowdfunded through fundit.com. ‘We did it at the end of 2016 . . . My daughter was born about a week after it ended.’ Photograph: Aaron Corr
There’s been something of a rebirth for anything soul/funk based in the last few years. The international success of acts such as like Vulfpeck, Snarky Puppy and the domestic US strivings of the likes of St Paul and the Broken Bones, alongside bluesman Benjamin Booker, has helped bring these older styles into a contemporary space.
Ireland’s answer to this has been the work of Max Zaska. The Newpark School of Music graduate has just launched his debut album. It Takes A Village was released on February 1st and consists of 16 tracks, featuring some of the best from Ireland’s long list of stellar musicians.
Without a record label, Zaska resorted to a modern solution to the old problem of no money. The record has been crowdfunded by people pledging money online through fundit.com.
There’s just less and less money [in music] now until you really blow up. Teaching and gigging or just having a normal job are the only way
Sitting in his home studio beside the Grand Canal in Monasterevin, Zaska recounts the fundraising campaign: “It was a five-week period. We did it at the end of 2016 from the start of November into the first or second week of December,” Zaska recalls. “My daughter was born about a week after it ended.”
Baby Iza and his wife, Charlotte, are sheltering from the blustery rain across the yard in the house they built a few years ago. It seems Zaska has always been a man of ambition, especially when it came to setting a fundraising target.
“We asked for the €14,000 and went hell-for-leather on it over the five weeks. We ended up with with about €14,500. All the bands I know like Little Green Cars, Barq and Wyvern Lingo really helped, recorded little videos about it.”
That support from the industry has helped create the music on the record. Wyvern Lingo, Loah, Emma Garnett and James Smith are just some of the Irish talent featured on the record.
Zaska’s earliest experiences of music were around age 12, when he and his older brother Rob shared a room at their home in Westport.
Rob played guitar most evenings and, while he only knew three songs, he was happier to learn the chords and write his own material first.
Before long, Rob emigrated to Australia and the guitar went with him. Though Zaska does recall their reunion vividly.
“When he came back, we went to pick him up in the airport and he walked through arrivals,” he recounts.
“I just remember seeing his guitar on his back and I was like ‘Oh my God, the guitar!’ cause I hadn’t heard a guitar for about two years. I was like ‘oh cool, Rob’s back, but the guitar playing is back too!’ I just remember seeing the guitar on his back and it really excited me.”
The brothers were about to go back to sharing a room for another year but Zaska couldn’t wait to get a look at the guitar again.
“Even in the car on the way home I took out his guitar and I just got really excited about and I got him to teach me some chords.
“I just realised it was missing it from my life.”
It wasn’t long before he formed his first band at home in Westport, named for an idea rejected by The Commitments.
Cosmic Lino gigged around Westport for the next few years and Zaska’s friend and bandmate back then, Charlie McCabe, even features on It Takes A Village.
The rest of his adolescence consisted of skating, gigging and busking around Westport.
New place, new ideas
Zaska eventually found himself in Bray where he fell in amongst the town’s musicians including the Wyvern Lingo trio and a certain Andrew Hozier-Byrne. Hozier and Wyvern Lingo’s Karen Cowley both featured on Zaska’s early single In Your Own Sweet Time, released in 2014.
It’s a long creative process that leads to a full 16-song album. “I always demo the stuff myself and send it on to everyone. When it came time for this record I thought, ‘maybe I’m going to sing’, and that was a terrible idea.”
“The first very thing is voice memos on your phone, that’s step one. I find it very hard to just sit down and just come up with a song.”
Always one for looking outside conventional writing styles, Zaska found a tip from a favourite band of his, Canadian indie-poppers Tune-Yards.
Dublin is a really cool place but there are these amazing capital cities all across Europe that aren’t half as expensive
Frontwoman Merrill Garbus developed her own system where she wrote two songs a day, every day, regardless of quality.
“No matter how sh*t the tune is you just go for it. You might write a verse that’s awful but out of that comes a cool riff or a B section. I tried that and I got 100 tunes done in a few months. That process was basically the start of the album.”
For all his optimism and raw talent, Zaska is not living in an ideal world.
“There’s just less and less money [in music] now until you really blow up,” he says. “Teaching and gigging or just having a normal job are the only way” to support yourself.
Of course, the current housing crisis isn’t helping. “Dublin is a really cool place but there are these amazing capital cities all across Europe that aren’t half as expensive.
“I think there needs to be a little bit of a re-education around how artists can make money themselves.”
He’s more than aware of how bands can falter because of the real world and its responsibilities catching up with them.
He’s been learning marketing techniques online to make sure his career as an independent artist remains sustainable. Its always good to listen to your own advice after all.
Something a little more personal is the inspiration behind some of the tracks on the album.
The video for Cannot Will Not shows Zaska and his mother on a day out together in Tayto Park.
“It’s hard for lads to express any kind of love for their moms. I just wanted to put that out there.”
As a parent now himself, he’s gained a new perspective and a realisation that, however cheesy it might be, it’s about appreciating them.
“It’s realising that they’re not going to be in your life forever and celebrate them while they’re here.”
This new record is a benchmark example of the talent that exists in this country
The lyrics on the track humbly express this theme: “To know that one day you’ll be gone and not around/ And when the skies above call you out of this dream / With you you’ll take a piece of me.”
Zaska’s second single from the record, It’s Ridiculous, was released in January and features vocals by Louise Gaffney of Irish alternative band Come On Live Long. While the song itself might deal with working a dead-end, soul-crushing job just make ends meet, the video combats this with a few recognisable faces in various spots around Dublin city dancing away their troubles.
It Takes A Village feels as though it could sit in a unique spot in Irish music. While it’s not the first to be crowdfunded here, it’s a contender for most collaborators on a record and, in turn, the quality that it’s brought and the warm reception it’s received so far.
This new record is a benchmark example of the talent that exists in this country. It’s a powerful demonstrator of the creative abilities of the individuals involved in their own solo capacities and, perhaps crucially, as a collective.
It Takes A Village might be the latest stop on Zaska’s long road though music, but its certainly not his last.
Zaska’s debut album It Takes A Village is out now. Read the album review here