ZAFLON is a producer and songwriter who is quickly…
gaining praise for his production techniques and incredible songwriting. He has produced his own music since the age of sixteen and is keen to use live instrumentation to create a very real and human sound. Recent recordings have used field-recordings and oldskool breakbeats; some great samples and something wonderful evocative. I talk to him about that and latest track, Sincerity. Zaflon is putting a track out a month and is keen to keep production. I quiz him about that decision and what he hopes to achieve this year. Music, to him, is about the reflection of his life and the people met along the way. That said, I was curious to know about his music origins and the artists that have resonated with him; whether we can see an album at some point and what it feels like being compared with some Trip-Hop heavyweights like Massive Attack. In addition, Zaflon selects three albums that have meant the most to him and the new artists he is tipping for success.
Hi, Zaflon. How are you? How has your week been?
Yeah, wicked, man. Been working on some new sounds; turning photos into audio
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
My name’s Dan Clarke (A.K.A. Zaflon). I’m a composer/producer from South West London making wavy tunes for people on headphone commutes.
Sincerity is your new track. What can you tell us about the new single and the inspiration behind it?
It’s a dark, quasi-political Trip-Hop tune with a classic ‘90s flex. The inspiration was people of power feigning sincerity to get what they want.
The track is a collaboration with Gilan and Lefty. What was it like working with them and what do they add to the track, do you think?
Gilan brings the dark poetry and haunting melodies every time – she’s great to work with because she likes to push herself and doesn’t get precious about ideas when they don’t fit. I always start with a concept and pen it out on a spider-diagram first. At this stage, the instrumental is quite embryonic but carries the song enough to write to. Lefty, I was actually over at his studio in Chiswick working on some of his stuff when I played him the Sincerity demo. He immediately got inspired, and before I knew it, had written and recorded bars for the tune. I got back home, mixed it down and it fitted so perfectly. I almost couldn’t imagine the song without it now.
I am interested in the video. It is quite Lynch-ian and dark – suiting the mood of the song. Whose concept was the video and what was it like shooting it?
It was a cold February Friday night. Kingston has that that cold capitalist veneer with a soft and vulnerable core. The concept was (really just) get out there with some friends and shoot a wavy video. All the locations were places I’ve walked past a lot and thought ‘that would make a wavy video’. The concept is really just the reality of modern day London suburbia. In a way, the video depicts scenes of unrest beneath a civilised city.
Is it, consciously or not, a nod to the post-Brexit Britain and the sort of division we are seeing today?
Yeah, that’s the world we’re living in, with new divisions all over the place, but music and art are bringing us closer together.
Many people are dreading post-Brexit Britain – but I really think it’s time to face the reality; be brave and lead by example. Treat others with respect and kindness and they will do the same.
I believe you are putting out a new piece every month. What was the idea behind this and can you reveal anything about the next song?
The idea is to stay prolific and motivated in this age of distractions. I’ve been inspired a lot by a few people I’ve met recently and it’s time to get the revs up. The next song is coming out pretty soon: it’s a dark Hip-Hop track featuring a very talented young rapper/poet from Surbiton.
Do you see all these songs going onto an album at some point?
I think a lot of these songs will go on to an album but some of them will end up as just singles or part of smaller E.P.s. I’m also producing and mixing a lot of stuff outside these monthly releases.
A lot of reviewers have seen traces of Portishead and Massive Attack in your work. Would it be fair to say they are influences? Who were the artists you grew up listening to?
I finally got the chance to see Portishead when they headlined Latitude festival and they totally blew my mind. Thom Yorke from Radiohead joined them on-stage to sing a duet of The Rip (with Beth Gibbons). It pretty much made my summer.
Massive Attack have always been masters of the art. Mezzanine was one of the albums that drew me into music productions in the first place. Other notable influences growing up include Wu Tang, DJ Shadow; Radiohead, anything off WARP; Mo Wax or Ninja Tunes; radio presenters like Mary Anne Hobbs and Eddy Temple Morris.
You have been playing in bands and on your own since you were a teenager. What is the main difference being solo (compared with a band) and does it give you more freedom?
Bands are great fun but they’re a rollercoaster ride. I miss playing in bands and will no-doubt put a band together at some point around the Zaflon project.
I do, however, find that working autonomously give you the greatest level of artistic freedom and feel I am at my truest and most honest when doing it.
I know you’ve said, in regards collaborating with people, it is much more real working with people you chance along the way. What did you mean by this and have you any new collaborations in the pipeline?
I have friends who are signed to major publishing deals who always have artists thrown their way. I think it’s cool for people in the industry to cross-pollinate their talents but I think it’s cooler still to work with people you meet in your life, as you ramble through your own existence – whether that is someone who found you on SoundCloud (like Mina Fedora) or someone you met at an event (like Lefty). It’s just more real. These people haven’t been thrown into a room with me: they are people who I’ve genuinely crossed paths with and are genuinely talented. As for future collaborations, they’re coming thick and fast. London is pretty much a volcano of new talent.
I have asked about acts like Massive Attack. There seem to be fewer Trip-Hop/Electronic pioneers in modern music. Do you think there are fewer opportunities in the mainstream?
To be honest, I don’t really pay much mind to the mainstream. I work on music that makes me feel inspired and that changes all the time.
If I end up going mainstream, it will be because the music I make that happens to get popular – but I ain’t about to suck up to no trendsetters just to broaden the appeal of my music.
It seems like, with newcomers like HEZEN coming through, there is a big demand for modern-cum-1990s Hip-Hop and Electronica. Why do you think there is this demand and what does this form of music offer that, say, mainstream Pop doesn’t?
Some people just need it deep and dark. It’s not always about the party, the rave and the woohoo. Music is a reflection of your soul and Pop just doesn’t touch a lot of people and never will.
If you had to select the three albums that have meant the most to you; which would they be and why?
At the Drive-In – Relationship of Command
Guitar work, production; lyrics, energy; Ross Robinson on the desk; a feature by Iggy Pop… unreal This band almost single-handedly revived Rock’n’Roll for me. A cherished record
Radiohead – OK Computer
This is where it all started. I got this album when I was fourteen and have been a super-fan ever since. Every single member of that band (and producer Nigel Godrich) are genius in their own right. This is the first album where I became aware of a Rock band forging a new sound technically and artistically – by working with a producer for four years. I know it was a painful one for them to make, but what an incredible piece of culture.
Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
‘Sweatshirt reached new levels of lyrical genius with his solo material. I always liked Odd Future, but ‘Sweatshirt really killed it with this album. After the first two months of downloading it, I literally hadn’t listened to anything else. Every time I listened, I would discover new layers of meaning and sophisticated tricks in his wordplay that I hadn’t noticed before.
Who are the new artists you recommend we investigate?
Have you any advice for songwriters coming through at the moment?
Get on your grind, keep it real; keep it one-hundred. Always work on improving your craft. Don’t get down-heartened by lack of recognition at the early stages of your journey.
Enjoy the highs: don’t dwell on the lows. Put music into the world that you want to hear.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can select any song you like and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
ShoXstar (ft. Kat E.S.T.) – High Off Life