Unique Zayas Talks "It Is What It Is"
Mon, 14 May 2012 10:31:22
Unique Zayas is all heart.
The New York artist cooks up a cauldron of R&B, soul, rock, hip hop, and pop that's profoundly intoxicating. On his forthcoming debut EP, It Is What It Is, Unique brings music to life in a manner reminiscent of classic boundless '60s and '70s artists but with a fresh vitality.
He puts it best though. "I know the core of what I do is out of love," exclaims Unique. "It's not necessarily to stand out but to be heard. I want people to say, 'You know what? I may have never heard of Unique before, but this is that shit!' I'll feel good about that."
Chances are, you'll feel good too as soon as you hear him.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Unique Zayas talks his upcoming EP, It Is What Is, artists that shaped him, movies, and so much more.
What's your take on It Is What It Is as a whole? Did you approach it with one vision?
I actually have been in the process of recording for a while. I released an album in Japan last year entitled From Brooklyn to You, and it went to number one. Being from New York, it was crazy for me to have such a big impact overseas somewhere I'd never been. With that in mind and keeping up with my fans, they were like, "How come you've got an album over there and we're still waiting for you to release something?" Part of It Is What It Is is my reality. I'm not sugarcoating shit. The EP speaks for itself. It's face value. It's where my life is right now. I'm a star overseas, but in New York I'm still trying to kick the fucking door down to be heard. That's what It Is What It Is represents.
You're writing about that struggle and fight.
Yeah, it's not only a struggle EP, but you definitely feel that sense that it has to happen. One of the songs on the EP is entitled "One Dream". I talk about my mom not having the money to pay the rent next month. I know with what I have inside of me I'll be able to say, "We're good" one day. With that being said, it represents so many people. I'm about representing people and saying things we all have in common. I don't know how to put it into words.
Where did "One Dream" come from?
It sets the tone for what the EP is about. It's almost like I'm sitting in the projects in Brooklyn where I'm from and knowing all of the possibilities that exist in the world. I know my dream is the ticket to making it happen. It's me being driven and consistent after being knocked down so many times. To some, that might not mean a lot. You know as an artist and a person that drive can take you to Japan [Laughs]. You stick with it. "One Dream" is about sticking to my passion and inspiring other people through my reality. Some way, we find a common ground to relate to each other.
What's the story behind "I Got You"?
I wrote that song with Claude Kelly. We were actually in Los Angeles vibing out for a week. A lot of songs you may have heard came out through that session. I was in a room full of family. I was getting reacquainted and figuring out what I wanted to say. I feel like every guy has seen a girl who was beautiful but thought she wasn't in the best situation. I'm basically saying, "If home boy ain't doing what he's got to do, I got you". It goes deeper than being in a relationship or a pretty girl. It's about some of the things I've seen in my life. I'm saying, "You're two pretty for that. You're worth more". I'm trying to promote self-worth and knowing what you deserve.
What music shaped you?
The list is from country to rock to pop. I've always been an oddball. I grew up in the projects of Bedford–Stuyvesant. There rap is about The Notorious B.I.G. and harder, grittiness. I was able to know what that is and have my feet in it because it was my life. I was also interested in other music though. Growing up, some of the artists I loved were Brandy and Usher. As I get older, I'm interested in Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, Prince, and James Brown—those types of artists who made an impact. They stood for something and knew, without a doubt, they'd prevail. I find myself having some of those same qualities and traits. It's been a fight the whole way.
Is it important for you to tell stories with the songs?
I'm a Disney kid at heart, everything from The Little Mermaid to Peter Pan. When I was growing up, I wasn't outside in the street. My focus was music and the arts. I'd tie a pillow sheet around my neck to fly [Laughs]. Those qualities come into my music. If you can't see a picture out of what I'm singing, it's not working. I don't want to come out of the gate being boxed in by anybody's standards but mine. I'm excited to see where this goes. My inspiration comes from having a not so good life and wanting it to be better. I'm aware of everything that's around me from the kids on the train who are smiling and have so much hope or the person saying, "Can you lend me money? I need spare change." These are all of the things that inspire me.
If you were to compare It Is What It Is to a movie or a combination of movies what would you compare it to?
In some aspects, it can feel like a Spike Lee movie like Crooklyn. It's that lifestyle of the minority and the struggles of that. It also intertwines with my fantasy of Tim Burton and movies like Edward Scissorhands and bringing those two worlds together. One part is reality and the other part is your creativity and where it takes you. I'd say a combination of Crooklyn and Edward Scissorhands.
Have you heard Unique Zayas yet?