Interviewed by Katarina Van Derham, Written by Malorie Mackey, Photos by Katarina Benzova
Imagine that you are a young child, and you spend much of your time with exotic animals. You are a real “jungle boy”, living a carefree and happy life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Times are simple, yet everything is wonderful. Your scenery is green and tropical. You can spend your time playing creatively in your room. You take inspiration from your family, and you find true inspiration and wonder listening to your older brother’s Prince records.
Then, tragedy strikes. As you are leaving school at the age of 12 on a Friday, you get a slip of paper handed to you by a soldier. It says, “Don’t leave your house on Monday. A war will start.” Can you even imagine the reality of your world changing so dramatically in such a short period of time? Come Monday, there are bullets covering the sky, explosions sounding off on all sides, and people you’ve known your whole life are dying. What do you do in this terrible situation? How do you begin to cope with it?
Well, this is what happened to music artist Eric Zayne. He explained, “This life that I knew was being completely torn apart. These packs of rebels were going house to house killing, pillaging, and raping what they found. There were no police. There was no international help. We were completely on our own.” For days, Eric and his family stayed huddled in their home, hiding their candlelight so no one would discover them. His family was fearful each second for their very lives.
A few days later, after receiving a call from the Israeli embassy, his family was offered one seat on the last plane being evacuated. The rest of the family was on their own. As the youngest member of his family, Eric was given a special opportunity that the rest of his family wasn’t. He was picked up, put on a plane with only a small bag of clothes and his troll doll his mother gave him, and sent over to family in Canada to escape the fighting. His mother packed his bag, and he was gone.
For 2 years, Eric didn’t know if his family was alive or dead. Can you imagine growing up without your parents? “The next time I saw my whole family together was ten years later.” Eric added.
Reflecting back on his childhood, Eric told us, “My parents flew me to Canada to be born and flew me back to the Congo when I was eleven days old. And I lived my whole childhood over there. It was like a ‘Mowgli’ sort of life. I had all these animals. I had a pet snake I used to go to school with… I did not think about music at all. I was very, very shy. I was very creative in my room. That was the only life I knew.”
“I was really close to my older brother Rom, who was one of my biggest influences in the world.” He added, “He was an amazing DJ, musician, and I was really close with him. And he loved Prince. I was probably 5 years old or 6 years old. He left, and he had these turntables on. And there was a Prince record on. I remember I climbed on the chair and put on the record, and I heard Prince’s song, For You, from his first album. There were all these angelic voices that came in, and I was just touched. I became in tune with what music is. Prince became my obsession.”
After being taken out of the Congo, Eric said, “I felt like an orphan. I felt like I had a whole ‘nother life all of a sudden. It was a whole different world.” Eric acknowledges that he has had angels looking after him his whole life. He claims he should have been dead on many different occasions, but some divine force was looking after him, holding him in its arms.
They say that through great suffering comes great art. This kind of traumatic strife is the kind that can really reach deep inside and change a person- allowing them to transform, to reach their full potential. And, perhaps, that is what happened with Eric. In fact, he even admitted, “I think my emotional reservoir definitely contributes to my artistry in an enormous way.”
Through all his hardships, Eric was where he needed to be at the right time, collecting experiences that moved him down the path to put him where he is today. And it seems he is exactly where he needs to be now- creating exceptional music through his gifted talent.
He told us, “One day I was walking through this construction site, and instead of hearing the ruckus, I heard symphonies. I heard music inside of me. I asked my friends if they heard it.” He was the only one who heard it, “I walked around with them for 45 minutes looking for speakers. I was convinced there was music playing,” The music was still playing as he went on the subway. Eric added, “Some channel opened up. I started hearing music in everything- in people yawning, hitting the table, in the water faucets. At this point, I had to find an instrument and lay my hands on something to get it out. It was like a curse. It wouldn’t stop. That’s how I learned how to play drums, guitar, bass, keyboard, because I was driven by the radio that would not go away. I knew at that very moment that music is what I was put on this earth to do.”
Eric’s musical journey had him dressing very eccentrically, playing many different venues, and being called “The Kid” throughout his teenage years. He became this mini celebrity around his city, which provided him with the opportunity to play around the world at such a young age. He toured through Asia for 5 years playing five shows a night, six nights a week, switching instruments back and forth in Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and other locations. “I knew I wanted to do that for only a few years. I saw that you’re playing covers. You’re not playing original music. So, it’s a great way to learn, but at one point, I wanted to make my own music, so I left. I have music to create, and I have to do something with it. So, I went back to Montreal. I used the money that I had saved up in that time to buy studio equipment, and I taught myself how to produce and write music. From there, I had a bunch of hits on the radio that I produced and wrote myself. Success came, which got me signed to Sony ATV in LA.”
“Since I moved to LA, I’ve been the luckiest man in the world.” Eric added, “I’ve met so many good families who just took me on- from Jeremy Renner to Dallas Austin to Naz Tokyo to Dwayne Johnson to Sayers, it’s just been one thing after the next where I got pushed up on this pedestal for just being myself. It’s the greatest feeling. LA feels like my home, and there are so many tribes for me over there. I just feel like the luckiest man in the world to be honest to you.”
After all the struggles throughout his youth and the successes throughout his musical career, Eric is still heavily inspired by Prince.
“After I got evacuated from the Congo, my way of reconnecting with home was Prince. He became, sort of, my Spiritual Father because that’s what my brother loved, and I loved my brother, and I missed my family. Prince became an obsession. And him and I were sending letters to each other before he died through my sister-in-law…Having Prince as a role model was one of the greatest things I could have as a musician.”
And as the story goes, now, Eric’s a true one-of-a-kind creator that produces the most unique and exceptional pieces. You can read our past articles about his work and see how much we love what he does. Though, it’s not always easy, even now. Eric says, “regularly my life is about 95% ‘nos’.” So, it isn’t just talent that drives Eric and leads to his success but also his hard work, drive, and resilience.
An incredibly humble person, Eric doesn’t quite see himself as talented in the way that we do; he feels as if he is receiving this musical information intuitively from a greater source out there. He explained, “I’m just lucky to have these antennas that I pick up. I just get out of the way, and the more I get out of the way, the music is already there. I’m just lucky enough to get out of the way and let it come through me and put it out in the purest form possible. That’s what I truly believe. I’ve always been humble in that fact. The minute you take ownership of talent and art, you’ve lost it. Because it doesn’t come from you. It comes from somewhere else. You’re just lucky enough to have the receptors to pick it up.”
Whatever the case, Eric’s career is continuing to climb. At the time of our interview, Eric was busy working away in Atlanta with Dallas Austin for Puff Daddy’s new album all while creating new music for himself. In two days, Eric had worked on 19 songs! He is a powerhouse, and nothing can stop him. When we showed astonishment at how quickly he was creating all of these songs, Eric added, “Music is my first language. I’m just constantly at it.” He added that his lyrical brain was up in the morning while at night, “when you’re tired and your ego and sense of self are just gone, that’s when the music just flows.”
Eric gets so much accomplished because he doesn’t think of music as work at all. He told us, “I don’t feel like I’ve worked a day in my life. I don’t feel like I’ve worked a song.”
He added, “I try to be responsible with music in a way where I want to not only be a person who has ‘success’ but who wants to try to teach something, as well, bring something new to the table; give a message-not just be like ‘I’m aiming for another hit.’ That doesn’t interest me. That does nothing for me. By the time I die, I want to be remembered as someone who pushed the limits. Who was brilliant at what he does and has brought something new to the table- who has influenced things in a positive way.”
Quarantine really didn’t change anything for Eric. He told us, “I’m in the studio all the time, anyways, so it’s not like there’s a big difference. I built my entire life to be able to be close to my music at all times.”
At this time, Eric isn’t ready to show the world his true vulnerable side yet, but he hopes that one day he may be able to put his heart out there and allow others to hear the creations that make him truly vulnerable, but, for now, he’s embracing his inner Prince and rocking out on stage. Though, he does prefer music that comes from the heart, not music that is there just to make a buck.
We ended our interview asking Eric about what he anticipated for the future of his career. He replied, “I want to be able to go on tour for three quarters of a year. I want to perform to an audience and have a tour. That’s what I want to experience next. I want to experience a tour with my own music. The next level after that, for me, would be to open up my own label. I want to open up my own label called Playground Records… I want to have this label where I’m finding amazing artists on the street level where I am who don’t get seen by the high tower and put them out in a way that’s good for the artist and actually puts good music on the planet. And the dream after that is to be a philanthropist.”
And Eric left us with a lovely tie back to his youth, explaining, “I’m still that kid in the Congo who just put on that Prince record.”
Over the next year, Eric will be releasing a lot of music. He anticipates releasing 1-2 songs per month throughout 2021. We will definitely be there following all of his releases, and we hope you will be, too. You can continue to follow Eric’s releases by following his Facebook HERE and his Instagram HERE.
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