By: Gemma Mastroianni
ZABO is an EDM artist from Niagara Falls, Canada. A few years back, his music unexpectedly went viral in China and he has had tremendous success in the electronic dance music scene there. He has toured across the country, been welcomed by fans in airports and streets, and has also played on major festival line-ups, sharing bills with successful artists such as Armin van Buuren.
We chatted about this unexpected success approximately a year ago. With travel bans, it was seemingly impossible to continue riding on this wave in China, or anywhere for that matter in terms of touring. Touring is one of the biggest ways for artists to make an income and it has affected the scene immensely not only for artists but all parties involved.
Despite this barrier, ZABO has managed to break past this and has only grown his audience. I wanted to check back in and see how things were going, and also celebrate his grand success so far as an international artist. We are excited to have ZABO as our artist of the month and share the interview below.
It’s been about a year since we last spoke- how have you been?
Yeah, I think we talked last February 2020. Lately, over the last few weeks, I’ve been doing really well. I’ve been writing the most music I have since quarantine started. Ever since quarantine, it was pretty slow for me music-wise. I was unmotivated and not feeling creative so, for the first eight months of covid, I wasn’t writing much.
I still finished a few songs, but definitely wasn’t writing as much as I would have liked to. Lately, I’ve hit a good creative and motivational run, and I’ve been finishing a lot of music so it’s been great.
Would you say it’s the sunshine and warm weather that has been inspiring this creativity?
The turning of the weather has definitely helped- everyone gets the winter blues. I think I just go through my own creative ups and downs and I just caught a good one recently.
Yeah, this winter was weird. I feel like I was a bear hibernating and barely experienced weather.
It was a pretty short winter too, we only had two or three weeks of snow on the ground- not what we are used to. I was so happy about that. We are well on our way to spring and I am so happy about that.
Me too! Bringing it back a bit- when did you first get into music and what kind?
Like everyone, I grew up listening to music and loved it. I started getting involved in making and playing music in high school. I learned how to play the guitar in grade nine mostly because I wanted to be in bands and because I wanted to be cool. Throughout high school, I played guitar, bass, and sang in a band for a little bit. So I was in a bunch of random bands throughout high-school.
A lot of stuff we were doing was mostly covers but they were like punky and mostly pop-punk. We would cover Paramore, Fall Out Boy, stuff like that. When I got into grade eleven I started listening to dance music and I wasn’t obsessed with it, but I definitely liked it. By the time I was going into university I was really into dance music and that’s when I decided to just download Ableton and fool around with it.
I was really interested in it and kept spending more and more time on it. This was around 2012 when I started to make music and I think I liked it so much because when you’re in a band, you have to rely on other people in the band to practice, write songs, whatever. Also, studio costs are extremely expensive if you want to record music as a band. So what I loved about making dance music was that I could do it all on my computer, all by myself, I could work as much or as little as I wanted and didn’t have to rely on anyone else or spend extra money recording anything because it was all done on the computer. So for those reasons, and because I was falling in love with dance music more and more, it became such a passion of mine that I just needed it.
I think it’s funny that what made you play music was a bit of a popularity game.
Yeah, my Dad was in bands when he was my age now, and growing up that was kind of his job, doing bar gigs and stuff. Even when I was young he was still in bands and I always thought he was super cool. I wanted to be a rockstar like my Dad and I feel like that’s kind of the reason I got into it.
What is your current setup?
Here’s a pretty simple rundown: I have my computer, a Macbook pro. Then I have a midi keyboard that allows me to play out sounds and get ideas into Ableton- it’s by the brand Acorn and it’s the master key 49- more than enough.
Besides that, I have an external monitor so I can have two screens to work on. Then I have a pair of Beyerdynamic DT 880s headphones, which I use to produce. Highly recommend it for producing. Then for my studio monitors, I have KRK Rock It 8’s. They get the job done. I don’t produce a lot on those because I don’t want to bother my roommate, but I mostly work on my headphones.
I have a simple microphone, the Rode NT1-A. It’s a really good microphone and it’s pretty cheap. That’s my setup!
With everything being on your laptop, has there ever been a time where you lost data? How do you keep everything secure?
As a producer, that is my worst nightmare. I make sure that will never happen because I upload everything to Dropbox and I also have another cloud service that I pay for annually. Every night at midnight it automatically updates everything to their cloud service. So if my computer crashes right now, I can just sign into my account and download everything to my new computer.
I can’t stress how important that is enough. I never needed to do that yet, fortunately, but it is 100% worth the investment as a backup. If you lost everything I can only imagine how heartbreaking.
What does a typical writing and production session look like for you?
Most days I’ll work on music for a few hours. Whenever I’m in the mood and feeling inspired, I’ll just go for it as opposed to scheduling. I usually have a bunch of projects on the go and it’s honestly just a feeling. Sometimes when I’m in bed or in the morning I will hear an idea that is for a song I’m working on, and I’ll know that when I sit down and do music that’s what I’m going to do.
A typical thing is when I’m writing a song, I’ll have an idea in my head and record a voice memo into my phone, like a sound beat or rhythm. I’ll listen back to these voice memos and try to put that down into Ableton and I kind of work from there. A lot of times I don’t have a full song idea in my head. I have some sort of idea or hear a sound that inspires me, and I will just build from there. It’s always different but it always starts that way.
Typically, how long are your sessions?
I’ll do an hour at a time but because I’m doing this all at home, ill do tasks around the house. For example, if I’m working for an hour ill take a break and do laundry or make lunch, so I’d say it’s probably 3-4 hours dispersed throughout the day.
I’ve heard in music that it’s better to do little chunks as opposed to eight hours or you’ll burn out.
Definitely. Your ears can get tired especially if you’re trying to finish up a track and mix it down to get it sounding professional, its super good to take breaks because if you’re listening to the same thing over and over again, your ears might not be at the peak performance they could be to hear certain little details you need to be hearing. It’s good to take breaks that said there are times where I’m so in the zone and I have a good flow going and I’m at my computer for hours at a time because sometimes when it’s going good, you gotta keep going.
What or who inspires your music?
One thing that I enjoy and something that’s been inspiring my music a lot lately is orchestral sounds and pieces and big epic fight scene moments in movies. I love shit like that and I’ve been starting to incorporate it more and more into my music and it makes me feel so good when there’s a huge set of sounds that fit so perfectly.
There are a bunch of artists that I draw inspiration from. One is Iyo who passed away recently rest in peace. He’s a techno artist. I don’t make techno but I’ve been drawn to his music ever since I heard it and the energy within it. I take inspiration from that to feed energy into my songs.
Drezzo is another artist I take a lot of inspo from, of course, Rezz is one too. She’s one of the pioneers from that mid-tempo song. There are a lot of artists that I take inspiration from and a lot of genres. I really love so many styles of music and I kind of just listen to music all the time and I’ll get inspired by a certain sound I’ve never heard and I’m like oh wow I can make something like this or similar to that sound.
Speaking of techno, I saw your TikTok about how to make a good techno song. I’m wondering what your thoughts on TikTok and music and how it affected the scene?
Specifically for me, TikTok has benefitted me so much. My one song "Breathe" started getting really popular on Tiktok just as an audio people were using back in October. It got so crazy that it’s been getting me millions of streams. People are pouring over to Spotify and Apple Music into millions of streams, all from TikTok. The weirdest thing is that "Breathe" has been out for over two years. Things that like, I feel like I get lucky in certain situations that are so random but it’s so cool that happened and it’s allowed me to reach a different audience.
Yes, that’s so neat. I remember the last time we spoke about how you were so big in Asia, but you wanted to try and shift that to North America as well. I’m assuming this has helped your growth out here?
Yeah, it helped. It brought a lot of engagement to my Spotify and Apple Music, and people are starting to spill over to my Instagram a little more and I’ve built up a small following on TikTok, but it’s all because of Breathe. The fanbase is growing slowly, but it’s been doing well since we last talked.
What do you see for yourself in the next year? Any plans if possible?
I have a bunch of unreleased music right now and were just shopping them out to different labels and seeing what we can do with them, which is a waiting game. I hope I’ll be releasing about seven or eight songs this year. I do have a couple of big collaborations in the works that I don’t want to say anything about now because nothing is guaranteed until it’s finished, but there are a couple I’m very very excited about that I hope we will get to see in the future.
In terms of shows, my team in China has talked to me briefly about getting me back over there this year, it’s just really hard to get a visa right now because of covid-19 of course. They said were moving in the right direction and they’re pretty confident that in the next six months I’ll be able to go.
A lot of these things are out of my hands so I just kind of do my thing and make music, and see where it takes me.
What can you tell us about your new single, "Last Goodbye"?
It’s a collab with Tokyo Rose who reached out to me last year. We’ve been working on the song all of 2020 and we found a singer for it, Aloma Steele. She’s sung on a bunch of dance music tracks and her vocals fit the track really well.
It’s a vocally melodic track with an aggressive mid-tempo Zabo style drop. There's also a nice melodic drum and bass drop for the second half of the song. I’m really excited about it!