There are 2,751 voice notes on Zak Abel’s phone — each more sweet-toned and soulful than the last. From the studio to the shower, he records these promising snippets of songs and lyrics everywhere; mumblings of melodies and rumblings of riffs. Some are destined to top charts, others to be forgotten. But the files are piling up, a glorious, harmonious goldmine of inspiration.
“And they’re just the unlabelled ones!” laughs the singer-songwriter. “I’m always, always recording stuff.”
It’s true. Whether it’s a line laid down on a whim or a featured track on the album of another artist, Abel is a man who lives through music. His first EP was released in 2015, and his fanbase (the ‘Zak Pack’) has been growing ever since. We can see why. His happy, snappy tunes are boppy beacons of tenderness and warmth — songs that make you think, smile and dance in equal musical measure.
These exuberant skills have, not unsurprisingly, got Abel noticed. From John Legend to Avicii, Abel’s career has seen him write for industry icons — although he still considers himself “just a normal dude”.
“Although I did do a show in Korea,” he says, “and it was one of the best I’ve ever done. About 2,000 people turned up. I didn’t even know I had fans there! 40 people came to meet me at the airport alone — my mum doesn’t even do that. They had gifts and a banner that said ‘Welcome to Korea, Zak!’. It was so overwhelming.”
But Abel knows how to handle big emotions. Raised on a diet of soul, music has always been an outlet — a tuneful tool to supercharge feelings, help tackle tricky thoughts or just express sentiments he may be struggling with.
“It’s cliché, but it’s super cathartic when you’ve been feeling something for a while — and then finally manage to put it into a song. To have that emotion recorded forever is almost like journaling; putting a timestamp on how you’re feeling at that time. It’s great for mental health.”
Another of Abel’s passions. Since discovering CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) during a charity hike in his half-native Morocco, the singer-songwriter has been a strong advocate for male mental health. Tracks from ‘Be Kind’ to ‘Less of a Man’ have admirable agendas; to get feet tapping and minds thinking.
“I’m quite a deep thinker,” Abel nods. “A lot of time, in my music, I’m thinking about the world — and my place in it. ‘Deserve to Be Loved’, a song from my first album, was super personal. I’d just broken up with someone amazing, and the song was my realisation that I had been scared of being in a relationship that worked. So it was great to have that moment of realisation on record.”
Add ‘brushes with love’ to the long list of Abel specialities. In 2018, he collaborated with American rapper Saweetie for a whistly rumination on sex — and his upcoming album features tunes like ‘Right Side Of The Bed’; a staccato study of relationship dynamics. His real-life romance stories, too, are almost as entertaining as his music.
“I was at a house party once,” he laughs, “and I was trying to talk to this girl. But she was ignoring me. She had no time for me — and kept saying she was trying to listen the song playing. But it was me! It was my track! So surreal.”
But, by and large, Abel is happy to let his music do the talking. After all, it’s where his true voice sings through. And, with a big tour this year, his euphonic, euphoric earworms will soon unite more like-minded music fans than ever before.
“I think that that’’s the purpose of music. To make us feel understood, and less alone. We need it to contextualise our own lives. I know I certainly do. And I think that’s a beautiful thing.”
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