“My journey here, in this ‘Lonely Town’, started with nothing but a dream” – A-Zal
As I settled into the plush corner of a quaint coffee shop on a crisp autumn morning, the anticipation hung in the air like the subtle notes of an overture. In the modern age of digital connections, here I was, virtually bridging continents and time zones through my laptop, about to embark on an extraordinary journey into the world of A-Zal, a name that has been resonating through the corridors of the music industry.
My mission was a captivating one: to traverse the geographical chasm with a single click and understand the intricate layers that define A-Zal’s latest single, “Lonely Town,” a soul-stirring masterpiece, from his warm and slightly surreal studio, aglow with ambient purple lighting—a creative haven between recording sessions. This enchanting single, “Lonely Town”, follows the phenomenal success of his debut track, “Movie Script,” which soared to #51 on iHeartMedia’s Mediabase Top 40 Activator Chart. The single is a must-listen for anyone seeking a musical experience that transcends the ordinary. With an infectious charm and a smile that could light up a room, A-Zal began to recount his journey. “My journey here started with nothing but a dream,” he began, his eyes glistening with the reflection of city lights. His tale was one of courage and tenacity, painted with the brushstrokes of musical brilliance. It was a story that could have been scripted for a Hollywood blockbuster, but it was his reality. He was a part of this city, and it was a part of him!
As the aromatic scent of freshly brewed coffee filled the air, I couldn’t help but reflect on the intriguing path that brought A-Zal to the bustling heart of New York. With a unique blend of influences stemming from his formative years in India and later, London, his music exudes a fresh perspective, much like the flavours of the coffee I was sipping. Curious much? Now, let’s dive into the insights we explored everything, from “Lonely Town” to his love for New York to Marvel and more!
First of all, congratulations on getting nominated at the 2023 MIFF for the “Lonely Town” music video. It’s a massive accomplishment and a career milestone given that this is only your second self-directed video, isn’t it? How did you initially react to this news, and what are your expectations for its impact on your career?
My first reaction was rather modest and I always like to allow such milestones to sink in. I got more excited over the next couple of days as things started sinking in. MIFF is one Canadian film festival that is really known to support independent filmmaking. What is amazing about this festival is that even Cannes award winners and Oscar nominees have joined emerging independent artists to compete in various sections of this film festival. I knew this song really had a strong narrative and was well-produced. Somewhere down the line, I was positive this would gain attention at the festivals. But, it happened within a few weeks of the release and I really didn’t expect it to happen so soon.
What, according to you, makes “Lonely Town” stand out among the festival’s nominees, considering MIFF’s emphasis on independent artistic expression, innovation, and creative filmmaking?
It is the narrative which is extremely strong. The entire focus while directing the music video was to bring to the audience the life of a subway musician. We didn’t cast any actors for the video. The audience you see are all real people giving real reactions. It was quite an easy thing to cast and create that scene. However, I really wanted to get the raw truth out to my listeners. There are some strong scenes where you see me perform even for one single listener. Besides this, I feel the screenplay is really strong, which is required for any story-telling style video.
Certainly! Could you share the inspiration behind these cinematic visuals, including any specific movies or directors, and your choice of using black-and-white aesthetics? How did these artistic decisions contribute to your visual storytelling, and do they hold any symbolism?
The music video is based on my true story. Those days, when I was a subway musician, I really didn’t know where things were heading. Although I loved doing it, there was a grind involved on a daily basis, which I wanted to reflect on through my music video. Those were not the most colourful days of my life which is why I decided to keep the music video in two colours only – black and white. The biggest artistic decision was that I would not act in the video, but rather just play myself. This is why we didn’t choose any random locations, but rather stuck to the locations and stations I travelled and performed at.
Did you encounter any unique challenges and advantages when donning multiple hats as both the actor and director of the project? How did you juggle your responsibilities?
Absolutely, it was really challenging to direct and also play the character. The biggest challenge however was to play your own character. When you are facing the camera, you tend to express a bit differently. Just like photography, while taking pictures, you tend to make certain expressions which are for the camera, whether it’s a smile or a pout. Similarly, after we took a few shots, I realized that I was making some expressions that were not my original expressions. It seemed like I was performing for the camera. We ended up doing a complete re-shoot of those sequences. The other huge challenge was shooting the video at 2 degrees Celcius! In some shots, specifically shot at the Dumbo location, you will see that I am shivering.
As your ‘Lonely Town’ music video seems like a glimpse into the early chapters of your story, what was it like retracing and recreating those moments? Do you have any interesting anecdotes to share from those years with us?
It actually felt really good to revisit and portray those moments. It felt nostalgic while shooting the video, however, I was comfortable with those locations, so that only helped the cause. There are plenty of interesting stories. One of them that comes to mind is how people always helped me when my tips flew every time it got windy. I never stopped performing even if the wind blew away my tips from my guitar case. But, the passer buyers would run and collect it for me. This is one of the reasons why I love New Yorkers so much! It was really heart-touching to see people help me that way.
Such a lovely memory, and I can connect with the sentiments of New Yorkers. Could you please share the moment when the idea for “Lonely Town” initially sparked? What was the first thing that came to you – lyrics or melody? Can you also describe the circumstances and the emotions you experienced during that time?
I first wrote the melody which had no lyrics. But, it had the words “Lonely Town” and I knew I wanted to call this song by that name. Most of my songs tend to have a unique name, for example, “Movie Script” and “Autopilot”. However, for this song, I just felt this was the right title and started building the lyrics from there. All my songs are related to some part of my life and so was this. I was just reliving my daily life while writing the song.
Could you share your approach to harmonizing the contrasting emotions of melancholy and hope in the song, and the message you aim to convey to your audience?
Getting the right emotions out and balancing melancholy and hope was the challenging part of the songwriting. I didn’t want it to be a sad song, and at the same time, I didn’t want it to be a song that highlights glory and victory. I wanted to write a song which has both the elements and the song transitions from melancholy to glory but in a subtle way. I wanted it to be cinematic, but not dramatic. In fact, I also had clarity of how I wanted the music video to look like and also the edit. Bearing that in mind, I built the graph of the song during the songwriting and production.
Your debut single, ‘Movie Script,’ had an upbeat and groovy vibe, whereas this new track is a heartfelt emotional ballad. Can you share more about this musical shift and how it reflects your versatility as an artist?
As I always mention, every song is a part of me and my journey. The idea behind releasing my album is to tell my story to the audience through my songs, and, these two songs are really important when it comes to establishing me as an artist in the minds and hearts of the audience. “Movie Script’ is about my idea of life, that we need to live life and make it cinematic as if it were a movie script. “Lonely Town” is about where my journey as an artist started in the USA. I moved to this country and it was the biggest life decision I have made till now. I really wanted my listeners to know that and I’m hoping they would connect with my story.
As you noted, this album originates from a deeply personal place, and music possesses the capacity to inspire and provide solace. Have you ever composed a song that acted as a cathartic or therapeutic outlet in a challenging phase of your life? How do you believe musical catharsis can forge a connection between an artist and their audience/fans?
Music is a huge power and therapy on its own. Imagine watching a movie without a background score! Imagine having a party without music. In particular, I used to listen to a lot of music composed by Yanni during my touch period. Musical catharsis definitely helps bridge the gap between the artist and their audience. That is how fans are built. If my music can touch a listener’s heart, there is no way I’d lose that listener as a fan. Being an artist, that is what we live for.
As a musician, you often lay your emotions bare through your music, incorporate personal experiences and real-life stories into your narratives and expose them to the world. How important this creative freedom is to you, and how do you balance the fine line between revealing your innermost feelings with maintaining a sense of privacy and self-care?
Every artist would have a different approach to this and maintaining privacy with their audience. For me, it is all about revealing the entire me without any filters. I really don’t like to keep things hidden from my listeners, I am quite open about my life and experiences. Having said that, I bring that out through my songs in an artistic way. I write my lyrics in such a what that will portray the exact story, but poetically. My songs are an extension of me and I want my fans to know me in and out.
Although we’re aware of New York’s profound influence on your work and life, can you pinpoint a few specific aspects that make the city truly special to you and evoke a sense of home? What are some of the standout qualities or experiences that you cherish about this city?
I feel a sense of home here because of the passersby who heard me perform at the subway stations and later turned into friends and fans for life. Strangers became friends and that really happened with me. That’s why I felt that this city literally gave me a place in its heart. The standout quality of New York is that it’s like water and soil to nurture the seed called ‘dream’. There are so many stories that come from this city and how it fuelled the dreams of many people, whether they are artists or entrepreneurs.
What can you tell us about the direction you’re taking with your upcoming album, ’17 & 11 Nights’? Are there specific sounds, lyrical themes, or artistic elements you’re excited about exploring in this project? Can we expect any collaborations?
My album will be a mix of many different topics about my life. The sound will however remain mainstream pop. There are ten songs in the album and each one pertains to a different part of my life. The next one “Autopilot” will be yet another story from my journey and I am positive the audience will give it the same love that they gave “Movie Script” and “Lonely Town”. I am not collaborating with any artist at the moment for this album.
Does your album unfold a cohesive storyline or concept across the tracklist? What emotional progression can listeners anticipate?
It will be a cohesive storyline that will eventually stitch together various stories of me as an artist. I want to take my listeners through an artistic and cinematic journey similar to a movie experience. The sequence of release will take the audience through a roller coaster of emotions. It’s not just the songs, but also the visual experience. The way I am directing the music video for each song is unique and meant to portray something about my story.
Let’s pause our music discussion for a moment and delve into an essential but often neglected facet of the musician’s journey: mental health. Independent artists frequently juggle various roles, spanning songwriting to marketing. How do you effectively balance these aspects of your career while remaining aligned with your artistic vision?
In today’s day and age, an artist has to be well-equipped with all these facets. It is not just about composing and singing my songs, but also getting them out to the world. I closely work with my entire audio team from music production to recording, to mixing and mastering. And, it doesn’t end there at all. In fact, that is just the start. I also decided to direct my music videos and that opened another chapter of my involvement altogether.
Could you share a specific instance where working independently allowed you to take risks or explore artistic directions that might not have been possible with a major label?
Being independent really allows me to take control of every artistic and business aspect of my music, which is great. A record label however is a really important thing for an artist if they are serious about the artist. You don’t want to be signed to a record label where you are on the back burner. I have received so many enquiries, but I am waiting for the right opportunity and the right record label. Till that happens, I will continue to be an independent musician.
Have there been moments in your career when you faced creative crossroads that forced you to reconsider your musical path? Is there a guiding life philosophy you live by which keeps you driven?
Nothing ever got me to reconsider my musical path. Within music, I did have a few options to make. For example, my decision to pursue pop music and not just film scoring was a major decision and it was based on what my heart said. I felt I was never able to tell my own story to my listeners through my music for films. The philosophy I live by is that “Dreams don’t work unless you do”. I came to New York to be a successful pop artist in the USA. However, that dream is not going to by any means take me through the line. I will need to work hard to get there and that would require a sustained effort as opposed to a burst of effort in patches.
Nicely put! Juggling a career, creative pursuits, and personal life can be quite challenging. How do you maintain this balance, ensuring that all areas of your life flourish? What self-care routines do you prioritize to sustain your physical, mental, and emotional well-being, particularly during intense periods of creativity and performance?
That is such an important part of an artist’s life. I do music 24×7 as there is no breather. Something or the other is always there, whether it is writing songs, recording schedules, music video shoots, photo shoots, mixing, editing, interviews etc. It is a part of an artist’s life and that’s what we live for. I rarely get any time off. Having said that, I do make it a point to give myself some time to do my own things on the weekend so I can give my daily routine a break. That really helps me up the creative juices and also rejuvenates me for an action-packed week. I am a fitness enthusiast and spend a lot of my time at the gym training and keeping myself in the best shape.
Tell us about what led you to quit your corporate job and chase your Hollywood dream. Any specific achievement that stands out as a turning point for your career?
I was doing quite well at my job and actually liked it too. KPMG is one of the most renowned audit and advisory firms in the world and I took it quite seriously. My career has always been important to me. But, there was always a question in my mind, whether this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. And, I was aware that you get just one life to do what you want. I really didn’t want to be at a point in life when I would look back and feel “I wish I did it”. It was just an amalgamation of these thoughts that encouraged me to make that life decision and follow my dreams. Working with Marvel Studios and charting on USA radio has been a turning point for me in my career. My debut song was playing on the radio in the USA, the UK and Australia alongside some of my favourite artists such as Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Dua Lipa and Olivia Rodrigo.
Which artists or musicians, current or in the past, have deeply influenced your style and approach to music?
I am deeply influenced by Ed Sheeran’s songwriting and by Dua Lipa’s music production. It was Ed Sheeran’s Perfect that I listened to on loop for one year straight. I was so much in love with that song and it has to be my favourite song ever. My musical identity is unique and I would want my listeners to say that they love my sound and sonic identity.
Could you tell us about your support system, be it family, mentors, or friends, who have been crucial in the pursuit of your dreams? Is there someone in particular you’d like to express your gratitude to today?
I met many angels on the way and they all played a part in my journey as an artist. It would be unfair to take one name in particular, but I have to say that an artist you see on the big screen is not just one individual. There are other people involved in making that artist, of course, who don’t see the limelight, but the artist would never exist if it wasn’t for that person.
As you continue to ascend the charts, what advice would you give to fellow indie musicians aspiring to make their mark in the music industry without major label support?
If you don’t have record label support, you need to either get one solid record label which believes in you as an artist or your music. Otherwise, you need to learn the skills that a record label offers. Either get a team or do it yourself, including A&R, marketing, press, radio, tour, merchandise etc.
How do you balance the two worlds of film scoring and solo music, and do they influence each other in unexpected ways? Are there any exciting projects or collaborations in the pipeline, particularly in the movies or TV spheres?
They never interfere with each other. Being a professional in the music business for over a decade, I have learnt how to switch between the two modes quite effectively. I am in talks with Marvel Studios for another potential series and I will make an announcement as soon as something materializes.
When you’re not making music, what hobbies do you engage in to unwind? Or maybe tell us a quirky fact about you.
When I’m not doing music, I’m at the gym. Fitness is something that is a huge part of my lifestyle. A quirky fact about me – apart from being a professional musician, I am a professional prankster! So, be cautious, as a prank may be just around the corner!
In a nutshell, if you were to sum up the heart and soul of “Lonely Town” in one sentence for our readers, what would that be?
I am sure a lot of the readers would have started their lives from zero with a dream to become something. This song is one real story about a musician who did the same, and I hope the readers will relate to this story.
Any parting words you’d like to leave our readers with as they now listen to “Lonely Town”?
All I’d say to your wonderful readers is that every single listener and fan is extremely important to me as an artist and I make efforts to respond to and engage with my fans. It is more of a family for me and I hope to have you a part of the A-Zal family if you can relate to my song.
As I left the coffee shop, the city lights dancing around me, I couldn’t help but feel that I had just embarked on a musical odyssey of my own. A-Zal’s journey was a testament to the power of dreams, the resilience of the human spirit, and the boundless potential of artistry. “Lonely Town” was not just a single; it was a reflection of an artist’s soul, a tribute to a city that embraced him, and an invitation for us all to find our own home within its rhythm. In the grand tapestry of A-Zal’s musical journey, “Lonely Town” was a masterpiece that lingered long after the music faded.
As he delved into the making of “Lonely Town,” the passion in his voice was palpable. The black-and-white visuals painted a vivid picture of his journey through the heart of the city, and I could almost hear the strumming of his guitar as he strolled through its streets. It’s an experience, a heartfelt tribute, and a promise of even greater musical adventures to come. As I pressed play and let the music wash over me, I couldn’t help but smile, knowing that I had shared in the magic of A-Zal’s world.
Stream and listen to ‘Lonely Town’, and stay tuned for the next single “Autopilot”- featuring on your favourite music playlists very soon!
Don’t forget to share your thoughts with us on Twitter/X at @CelebMix!
#Journeying #Melodies #Lonely #Town