Interview: Toronto Singer, Songwriter & Producer Zanski Talks New EP, Philosophy & Staying Sane In 2020

Learn more about the amazing 100% DIY artist Zanski as he releases his new EP 'Upon Frigid Water.'
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Over the last five years, 100% DIY Toronto based producer, singer, songwriter and creative director, Zanski AKA Tom Probizanski has been paving his own path. Last week the multi-talented solo artist released his latest EP Upon Frigid Water. Bridging LoFi R&B, soul, and electronica, the introspective EP echoes Zanski’s real life experiences as he reflects on his personal identity and emotional state. 

With his soulful and passionate lyrics, smoky voice, and hypnotic beats, Zanski draws us into his existential world. Zanski powerfully delves into his psyche where he creates a safe and therapeutic space to conquer his internal struggles. Through his self-reflection in the face of absurdity Zanski asks the age-old question “so what?” 

From tracks like the super groovy “Organ Failure” to the ultra smooth “Threes,” Upon Frigid Water strongly reflects the wide range of Zanski’s technical and artistic skill. Zanski showcases his powerful and prolific artistry through his prodigious production work, seemingly effortless songwriting, and exceptional vocal skills. 

I recently had a chance to catch up with the multi-talented and dynamic Zanski. Read this interview to learn more about the brilliant and completely self-taught artist.

How did you first start producing the style of music that you are releasing today?

I used to do electronic remix type of work. While I was doing that type of stuff I didn’t feel like I was connecting with the type of music I felt passionate about. I started thinking what would happen if I added a guitar and sang on it or added a bass guitar or synthesizers. I started flipping to this indie R&B style that felt a bit more reminiscent of the music I liked first and foremost that relates to me the most.

On "Consequence" you talk about finding self acceptance while battling an internal struggle. Are you drawing from personal experience here?

Yes, absolutely. A lot of my music especially my new material is based on personal identity and overcoming struggles whether physical, mental, or societal. For me “Consequence” is a very personal song about mental health, obsessiveness, compulsiveness, things I’ve dealt with in the past, and putting them into a form that people can relate. This gives me a catharsis or accepting permanence when it comes to the ideas that I put forth. 

Tell me more about your new EP Upon Frigid Water. How do you feel the tracks fit together lyrically and sonically?

In terms of lyrically it’s kind of bordered around those same themes of questioning, self-acceptance, and trying to move forward in a life that doesn’t offer those sorts of concrete solutions to things. It kind of mixes together themes of anxiety, existentialism and depressive nuances and boils them all down to a sort of personal identity. It identifies what makes me uniquely me and other people who they are. It puts them into words to conceptualize all of that. Sonically I tried to mess with a bit more of a humanistic angle. I kind of wanted to shy away from the perfection that can sometimes be experienced in modern R&B by leaving noise, mistakes, and slightly distorting sounds. I wanted to leave the imperfections in to give it a sonically calculated amateur angle if that makes sense. Obviously the staple of having R&B vocals, guitar, and bass guitar is all in there. I also experimented with a lot of grander sounds.

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Why did you decide to call your EP Upon Frigid Water?

I guess the sort of theme feels like I’m hovering above something that is huge and that could detrimental or cathartic. It’s sort of like an exercise in floating above a massive concept and trying to take in as much as I can without falling beneath it. The allegory would be freezing cold water.

As a producer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and vocalist involved in all aspects, can you tell us more about your songwriting process? Do you usually start with a melody and let the lyrics come to you? Or is it the other way around?

It’s pretty much kind of chaotic when it comes to the way I write. I take inspiration from so much and try to start the writing process from so many angles just so I have a  unique perspective every time I start something. Most of the time I start with the drums - they are the core component for any of my tracks. I think when it comes down to the production style the chaotic nature of the whole thing rings true. I’ll do things like recording things randomly, slow the whole song down, and reverse it and sample it. It’s spur of the moment kind of stuff. Lyrically I like to write phonetically like singing in gibberish. I’ll kind of jump between concepts. There aren’t many times that I know what I’m going to write before it happens. It feels more like a holistic kind of thing when it’s happening.

In the wake of the current pandemic, what are some ways you are practicing self-care? What advice would you give to fans experiencing anxiety and mental struggles through this time?

I think there are a lot of ways for people to dig into their self-care and self-reflection at a time when a lot of things come up with people because they’re isolated by themselves. I think the biggest thing is the core idea of understanding who you are you on a psychological and philosophical level. This is a time to pull those preconceived notions of yourself back and sort of move forward. I think there’s a lot of stigma about mental health in society. This causes people to feel alienated, like they can throw a band-aid on it. There’s no concrete answer to the whole thing but if you can sort of have that self-acceptance then you can be mindful of your actions and thoughts.

Zanski

What’s your mission as a music artist?

When I like to write it comes from a place of therapy. It feels very cathartic and therapeutic to be able to put words that I’m feeling or I’m subconsciously feeling into a medium that other people can relate to. For me it’s kind of twofold. I want people to be able to take meaning from something I make or make their own to help them relate to something they’re going through and can’t articulate. The second is trying to make social positivity when it feels like the world is crumbling and there are so many contradictions that push against that. For me it feels like the best thing I can do is show solidarity and voice a lot of the concerns through the music I put out.

Who or what are some of your greatest influences and how have they inspired the music you create?

For a foundational basis bands like Touché Amoré that are radically different from the music I make, but merge poetic lyricism with self-questioning existential type of stuff that really relates to me. They’ve been very foundational when it comes to the way that I think about music. I also have some obvious sonic influences like Bon Iver and James Blake or even The 1975. I try not to find absolute concrete inspiration when it comes to my own music for some semblance of originality. I look for tangentially related inspiration including philosophy like Sartre or film like Terrence Malick's work.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with your fans at this time?

The way I do things is so sudden. I’m working on an album to be released in the future.

What is it like to be a musician in 2020?

The ease of access to make and release music and be creative is so easy now. It helps a lot of people who in the past would’ve been socially or economically burdened. Now that the ease of access is there we can hear so many voices that were unable to be voiced before, which is quite awesome. 

It’s also hard to not internalize criticism or self-criticism when it comes to your own work. Something artists always struggle with is self-destruction. Even though there’s this massive ease of access to release music, there’s a massive need for people to critique it or have it in their hands instantly. The instant gratification culture is a blessing and a curse for musicians living now.

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