The multi-instrumentalist talks his debut solo single and branching out from alt-pop duo RINNGS.
From the age of 7, Karl Zine knew music was his calling. Having cut his brother’s bow and arrow in half in order to make drumsticks and spending his teen years immersed in jazz, Zine’s passion and love for music was born. Years later, the singer has now dropped his debut solo single “Greenscreen” today, delivering euphoric bass lines against a feverish landscape of conflicting emotions. Weaving electronic pop with layers of intricate sweeping tones, Zine plunges us into a dreamlike state with his nostalgic samples and contemporary production.
Speaking on his debut release, the rising artist said, “I started writing phrases down, random stuff that popped into my head. I didn’t set out to write a ‘song’ as such. I decided against the structure of verses, choruses and specific hooks, I just let it evolve and when it felt like a good place to stop, I called that the end.”
Zine is also one-half of the alt-pop duo RINNGS and has gained critical acclaim for their unique production style and songwriting ability from the likes of Spotify and The Independent. We caught up with Zine talking his debut single, the upcoming album and staying creative during lockdown.
Check out the interview below..
Hi Karl, how has lockdown been treating you? Tell us a lesson you’ve learned?
Lockdown has been treating me pretty much the same as everyone else I think. In some ways it’s been good, it’s forced me to look at how much of everything I do and what things are important to me. I now know how often I see friends (not enough), or how often I go to gigs (not enough) or how much time I spend sitting on my own in the studio procrastinating – a lot!. One lesson I’ve learned is that there are some things you just need to accept and that once you do, they don’t have the same power to annoy you.
Where did you grow up and how did this affect you sonically? Who did you listen to?
I grew up in Wendover, a pretty, green and sleepy village in south-east England. Music was kind of an escape for me, or a reaction against what I saw as being a very ‘small’ world. I was into a pretty much everything, except whatever was cool at the time. I remember discovering 80’s Prince records like ‘Around the World in a Day’ and ‘Parade’ which made me realise that maybe there was more to life than the weekly supermarket shop and walking the dog. Along with classics like Paul Simon, I immersed myself in music and drumming, moving on gradually to more experimental music, particularly Jazz like Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett and Miles Davis, John Contrane. I spent my teens obsessed with becoming a drummer and was mainly interested in emulating my heroes, and learning about what they did. It taught me a lot, most importantly that creative freedom is all about learning the rules of music in order to know when to break them so that you can create just the sense of excitement or satisfaction or chaos that you want, when you want.
Where do you think you pull most of your inspirations from? What is the most unusual place?
After a long day in the studio, I prefer silence a lot of the time, so I usually look for inspiration more in the visual arts. I love experimental digital arts, photographers and filmmakers and I’m a big fan of curated sites like Nowness, Colossal, Feature Shoot and It’s Nice That. I also love art gallery’s bookshops and creative artist hubs in London and make regular trips to them to pick up magazines and books that excite me. Instagram and Vimeo are amazing places to find new artists stuff too because of the way everything links together. I can happily spend hours browsing the films of Anton Tammi or photographs of Nobuyoshi Araki on those sites. Their images inspire thoughts about the world that songs often can’t. Of course, I do still obsess over particularly creative artists who I feel tap into some of the same influences that I have, including Jazz, like Frank Ocean, Emilie Nicolas or Bon Iver.
You’ve found so much success with RINNGS – what made you want to step out and develop your own solo sound?
I’ve always wrote my own music, I was making it before and alongside the RINNGS releases, but as a multi-instrumentalist, I also enjoyed experimenting with more diverse sound sources and I wanted to explore more personal lyrical material, more experimental song structures and a more diverse palette of sounds. I was writing songs with no chorus, or that had a very fluid form, like ‘Greenscreen’, and they didn’t really fit in with the whole RINNGS aesthetic. Honestly I also just didn’t have time to do everything so a lot of songs remained unfinished! This year (partly cause of lockdown) I finally got the time to finish some songs and get the confidence to present something that’s really personal to me and that I’m really proud of.
Congratulations on “Greenscreen” – it has quite an unusual story and was inspired by GTA – would you mind telling us a bit about this?
Yeah, I used to love video games. Actually, I still do love them, I think they’re an incredible addictive mix of art, storytelling, dark humour, mental puzzles and satisfaction, but they’re almost too good now. GTA5 was one of the best games I ever played, a whole virtual mini-world where you can do whatever you liked, from committing suicide by jumping off a skyscraper to flying a private jet into the sunset over a beautiful mountain range. But the more I played the more I realised that the main appeal of it was that there were no consequences to anything you did. It was like real life but with a reset button that you could hit at any second. The kind of things you’d do if you could undo anything became fascinating to me – what kind of person would you be if life was really like that? What would you do? What does it mean about you that you enjoy running over lines of innocent pedestrians in a sports car? Or chasing down purse-snatchers and shooting them in the head with a shotgun? Does it make you evil? Or insane? Or is it just a chance to explore the dark side of human nature without hurting anyone? I think a lot of people struggle with the idea of what they’re capable of and I wanted to explore that a bit. That got me thinking about the choices we make that define us like little things like what books to put on our bookshelves. Are we doing it for ourselves or for other people? ‘Greenscreen’ grew out of that idea really and it’s been really important for how I write songs now.
And your music and songwriting is so unique but comes from quite a vulnerable place – how do you want people to feel when they listen to your music?
I want people to feel however they feel. Hopefully, they feel that I’m saying something that they can connect with.
And you have your debut album coming out? What is it called and what do you think ties it together as a body of work?
I don’t know what it’ll be called yet actually, I’ll probably decide that the day before I have to upload it, but I know what ties it all together- it’s all music that feels ‘honest’ to me. Because it’s all been made in the space of a couple of years it all sits in the same world sonically which helps. I’ve played all the instruments on it and done all the production which helps cause you can hear my limitations on the tracks. From the sounds I’ve chosen to the lyrics, to the tempos, I like it all. There are no songs on it which I think are shit, or which I’m unsure about, even the little two minute interludes. There are no words in the lyrics which irritate me or chords which I find unsatisfying. Nothing is ever ‘perfect’ and I always feel like I could improve every track, but there’s nothing on them which I’m not happy to put my name to. I’m not trying to achieve anything with the record, I’m not trying to please anyone except myself. That’s a first for me and it feels good. Also, that way, if people like them that’s great, if they don’t that’s fine. I don’t mind.
You have so many incredible songwriting credits – how do you know when you’ve penned a hit song?
It would be fun to be able to say you never know what other people are going to like or what is ‘good’. But honestly, I think you always know it’s just that not everything you write can be really good and it’s kind of painful to admit that you’ve just written a rubbish song so there’s a huge temptation to go ‘ooh, this could be good if X Y Z’. But in my experience, the songs that have resonated with people have always been the ones that you just have a feeling about when you do them the simplest way to know is that when I’ve done a song that’s good I actually want to go home and listen to it again cause I enjoy listening to it for pleasure.
And you’ve done songs for soundtracks including Eurovision and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before: PS I Still Love You – is there a difference in writing with a film soundtrack in mind?
Yeah, it’s a very different thing. You get a brief of the kind of thing you need to do and you have to write something that works to picture – it’s a much more focused process. It’s fun but it’s not a blank page in the way it is when you’re writing music for yourself. I find it really good for learning how to write songs that you want to have a particular effect – if you need a song that makes people want to dance, or to cry, you can learn the kind of things that you need to do to achieve those responses, it’s a cool thing to do and when you get it right it’s really rewarding.
What are you excited about next? What are you looking forward to in 2020?
I’m really excited about releasing more songs and hearing what people think of the music I’ve been doing. I’m looking forward to collaborating with other artists on upcoming music and of meeting new people and experimenting with what we could bring to each other’s music. I’m also looking forward to the release of a few tracks I’ve been working on with a couple of exciting new artists like Izzy Warner and to maybe an eventual return to something like life-as-normal so that music venues can re-open and I can see some inspiring shows and start performing myself.