Adolescent romance is immature yet serious, exciting but crushing all at the same time. ZEKIEL captures the troubling dualities of young love by crafting a song that’s just as simultaneously chaotic and harmonic. Listen to “Skipping School” and stick around to hear directly from the artist himself in his Central Sauce featured interview.
‘Skipping School’ carries many of the characteristics of a good adventure; surprises around every corner, polar spectrums that bring out the best on each end, and ZEKIEL’s passion for faithful collaboration.”
The solid single captured my attention but was only the first of many interesting points I learned that quickly compelled me to have a conversation with the artist. The struggle of time zone differences meant that ZEKIEL agreed to a 3 a.m. audio call just after his shift working as a bartender. He said this was the time of day he’s usually in the best mood, something I could relate to as a bartender myself—nothing quite equals that feeling of locking up, no matter how late.
ZEKIEL’s laid back, “just clocked out” attitude drove our conversation to relate over nearly everything else as we discussed a love for fantasy, science fiction, making up stories, Eminem’s “Cindarella Man,” and foolish failed attempts at early romances. Listen to an edited version and enjoy that brilliant Aussie accent, or read below for a full version of ZEKIEL’s interview.
The ZEKIEL Interview
First let’s get to know you a little bit. I read in the press release that you’re 23 and just recently moved to Sydney. What’s it like living in Sydney at that age?
ZEKIEL: Yeah, man, Sydney. Sydney is amazing. Like, it’s got it’s a lot busier than where I’m from, you know, I’m from like a coastal town up in North Queensland called McCall. And it’s got like, like, 80,000 people. Come to Sydney, it’s like five and a half million. So it’s a bit of a different playing feild but it’s good, man. A lot more music’s happening down here so this is the place to be right now.
Your press release has some background information about you growing up with five siblings having a bit of an impact on your interests in music. What kind of influence did your siblings have on your music tastes?
ZEKIEL: When I was younger, my sister was the only person in the house with a computer, and my brother used it as well. So I have an older brother, two older sisters, and then two younger brothers. So I’m the fourth out of six kids. And yeah, my older brother, he would always jack up the computer and he used to show me like Hilltop Hoods and like a lot of early hip hop from Australia; and it was like Hilltop Hoods, Bliss n Esso; and I just like heard it straight away. I remember when I was eight years old, I heard a song called “The Nosebleed Section” by the Hilltop Hoods. And man, I just remember hearing the flute and I just stopped straight away, and I just knew that I was going to love whatever was going to play. And then my sister was playing for me, like Usher and Ludacris and a lot of the RnB from the early 2000s. My sister was in love with Usher. So I listened to all his music. So yeah, bit of an Usher fan.
How old were you when you started writing music?
ZEKIEL: I started writing music when I was 15. But before that I was writing like X Men and Lord of the Rings fan fiction from like, 10-years-old. I was really into my science fiction and anything that was kind of otherworldly. I loved magic and shit like that. But yeah the first time I probably started writing music was when I was 15 years old. I listened to an Eminem song, “Cinderella Man,” and then I was like, ‘yeah, I’ll write over it,’ and it’s still on YouTube actually, it’s so bad man. It’s absolutely terrible, but that’s just where it started for me. And then the next day it was ok enough for people to be like, ‘oh, yeah, that was kind of good.’ But then a lot of people were like ‘yeah, that was pretty shit,’ and I was like ‘ok fair enough.’ Yeah after that, I just started writing a lot more music and yeah, and now I just write constantly. All I do is write songs.
What’s the best story from your fan fiction journal?
ZEKIEL: I fucking loved Aragorn, man. He was my fucking dude. This was after the third movie, and he hadn’t died he because he’s a Dúnadan, he’s a different race from human beings, so he lives longer and that’s why his prolonged life was a good match. Fuck man I’m a little nerd, I love this shit. Basically he had just gone back to being the Ranger that he was, and he would help people do small shit. He found his little friend, which was kinda like my projection of me, just tagging along with him. I played a lot of Skyrim as well, and that was a big thing; I tried to write some of my Skyrim stuff into my into my Lord of the Rings just because it was so cool, and kind of like my little worlds would collide. So yeah, just coming across one of the castles and we basically had to defend it while a lot of people were on their way. It was kind of similar to the Battle of Five Armies in the Hobbit. It was just basically us defending, and it was just wave after wave. It was fun doing it, just having control.
So what made you decide to channel your creativity into pursuing music as a career?
ZEKIEL: I think for me, I always needed to listen to music. It could get me in different moods.. Sometimes music would soothe me, sometimes it would hype me up, other times it would, I dunno, just put me in the right headspace I needed to do something. Music was always important to me, but it never really occurred to me to pursue it because of my skill set. I couldn’t play guitar or play piano or, or produce on your laptop or do any of these things, and the one thing I could do was write words and rap. And my singing voice wasn’t amazing, so I didn’t really think there was a career there for me. But after writing music with my friend, Jack Grey, when we first came to Brisbane, he opened up my eyes that that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to write songs.
We had this cracked version of logic. We were in his little basement, like a garage. We had just created my first track together, my first proper track recorded on a proper microphone and everything, called “Blue Label”. And that was the start of it for me. That was when I really thought “yep, I can do this for a career” because he was aiming for the stars. Now Jack’s in LA doing his thing and he’s releasing music, and he’s selling out tours and living his life. He made me realize that when he was so passionate about it.
I was like, fuck, yeah, we can do this; and so me and him created a little crew called Ark Valley. And Ark Valley’s gotten bigger since then. It’s kind of like an umbrella that artists and visual artists and actors, really anybody creative, can come into this umbrella. And so basically the people around me is what definitely inspired me and kind of pushed me to realize that this is what I wanted to do for a career.
You put a really strong emphasis on collaboration and the other people you work with. How did you develop this mentality in a field that’s so often considered hyper competitive?
ZEKIEL: I’ve got to be comfortable with the person I’m doing it with. I’ve had some sessions where I’ve wrote some bad songs and what not, but when I get in the room with the right people, and I do know the right people, I can just chat to ‘em for like 10 minutes and figure out if we can write an amazing song or we can work together really well.
I try to get in the mind of someone, try to get to know ‘em. I’ll spend the first hour and a half getting to know them, and we might not be doing music for the first hour and a half, two hours… And then we’ll get back in the afternoon and we know each other, we’ve kind of got on to a level where we can speak and kind of be honest to a point, because like, songwriting is vulnerable, you know? You’ve got to be able to say things that are confronting, and also not really easy to hear. Because sometimes that’s what a really great song is, like a dialogue or a conversation.
Your SubmitHub refers to you as “the antithesis of Australian barbeque rap.” What is Australian barbeque rap and what makes you the antithesis?
ZEKIEL: So I suppose BBQ rap is kind of what I grew up on… You know stuff like Bliss n Esso. They have songs called, “Party at My Place” that I love, but with my music, I’m trying to have an international appeal. Not so much “straight down the line Aussie hip-hop”. If you go and listen to some stuff from underground Australian hip-hop from the 2000s, that sound kind of became the the main face of what Aussie hip hop has been. And it’s not necessarily for everybody: there’s a lot of whiny tones and a lot of swearing and a lot of it isn’t very good. I think some of that early stuff built a bad reputation for Aussie hip-hop and caused it to be disregarded by many people.
There’s like a new wave of rappers coming out of Australia now. And there’s a lot of people trying to carve their own lane. And I suppose with my music, I’m trying to make it very universal and larger than hip hop. I definitely use many hip hop elements, I love rapping, but I also love singing. Hip hop’s umbrella has become so big in the last 5-8 years and especially in Australia in the last 3-4 years… I want to be multi-dimensional.
There’s a lot of sound to unpack on “Skipping School.” Clearly you’re the main vocal talent, but what’s the extent of your vocal work on the song? Am I hearing you on the intro too? And who’s on that sick hook?
ZEKIEL: Yes, that’s all me man. That bit “she been feeling cool, she been skipping school. Girl been working overtime making moves,” that’s all me. We just pitched the vocal down a little bit for that one and made it like early A$AP, . It’s that really deep, low tone like Long Live A$AP.
Then we got to that bit “whenever you’re around we don’t really talk about it,” part, we just layered that and made it really thick and and succinct. At the time “Skipping School” reminded me a lot of The Weeknd too, I was listening to “The Hills” and “You Can’t Feel my Face” and shit while I was skipping school smoking weed.
What about the production side of things?
ZEKIEL: So yeah, on “Skipping School” all the singing and all the vocals and everything, that’s all me. But for all the production and stuff I had to sit down with my boys DREXL, which is one of my good friends Jack Gray and another good friend of mine, Rob Conley. I had already previously wrote the song and I came to him like, “hey, boys, like what do you think of this?” And they’re like, “oh, yeah, right, let’s do that.”
I told them all I wanted something that was really didn’t sound like anything else. And I think we managed to pull together something that’s hard hitting, it’s a bit of a slap in the face, but there’s a lot of interesting keys in there as well; interesting notes and stuff that go off on a tangent. And I just liked the way that it’s structured.
Then the outro, that, “she been feelin, I been feelin, she been feelin cool girl been skipin school.” I love that outro and we probably changed the outro four or five times to get to that. It was so many different things and we tried so many different ways to kind of end the song, but that’s how I decided and I’m really glad. When I do it live I just start dancing at the breakdown and it’s just a little vibe.
I think you guys nailed it. The number one thing that got my attention was the range and the variety of the song. I never settled into listening to it because every time I was settling with something, something new came along to pique my interest and bring me in even more.
ZEKIEL: Well, thank you that means a lot to me man, because that’s honestly suddenly we had in mind.
That hook, that “whenever you’re around we don’t really talk about it,” that was kind of meant to be like a counter melody against the “she been feeling cool girl been skippin school.” It just intersected, I was like “wait why don’t we just use that little melody there for like a little hook right before it goes back into the chorus?” So we just fucking jumped into that. And yeah, we found that little bit of magic. I think the contrast between the high voice and like the low pitch tone is really good but it’s smooth as well, and it doesn’t feel too jarring.
I really like “Skipping School” because it’s so different to other stuff I’ve worked on. I want to show that I don’t have one sound, I want to be versatile. So that some people who might not necessarily like all of my songs might just really like one of them, and that’s fine with me. I don’t mind because I’m going to do a bunch of different sounds and I just want to make music that’s me. Music in the moment that I feel.
Reflecting on the content of the song, I gotta admit I jad a little bit of a laugh about the whole lead up of crushing hard on a girl for so long just to be turned down in 2 seconds flat. What’s some of the “dumb shit” you did to try and impress her?
ZEKIEL: Oh, man, I just remember like, I would ask this girl if she wanted food and of course that’s an automatic fucking yes. Of course this girl’s gonna have food. So I’ll just buy like a sausage roll from the shop. And that was like a good ole two dollars fifty I needed real bad at the time. Just dumb shit like that. I’d try to be a little bit tougher than I was to impress this girl, and I didn’t know I was just tryna be a cool guy, or what I thought was a cool guy. I was just a nice innocent kid, and dudes who were mean just seemed kinda cool and funny so I tried that and it was just not really working for me. I kinda felt like a bit of a try hard, but that might have been the problem.
“Yeah she cold and she cool / In secret she go physco / We dated maybe twice but / when I ask her what’s our title / She said even when we touch / You should know we ain’t in love / She was in it for the fun / It’s not her fault she fucked me up.” These lyrics take a bit of a side trip away from the innocent flirty fun of young romance and get pretty serious for a moment. What were you thinking when you wrote these lines?
ZEKIEL: Yes, that’s actually about a different girl than the actual one I was rapping about initially. That girl… I deviated from my original track with this girl that I was really into, and I put my interest into this other girl for a short period of time. And it just didn’t click at all. She was beautiful, really sweet girl, and I was just, I just didn’t know how to act properly. Like, I had girlfriends after that, but man, I had to learn a few lessons on how to act. I was a bit weird and didn’t know how to speak with her without saying the same thing like fucking five times.
What’s next going forward?
ZEKIEL: Oh, yeah. Banana bread dude. I would 100 percent like to come out to LA, I would love that. One of my mates lives over there, Jack Gray, and he’s carving out a career for himself. You should check him out. And yeah, Ned Houston, that’s what he’s going by now. He’s coming back in a little.
I’m going to do a writing group, I think early next year. I didn’t plan anything yet, but I’ve had a few chats with my manager and planted a few seeds and stuff like that. So if we can get into some more serious talks about that, because I’m going to spend the rest of this year for me, is about live shows, and kind of getting more interactive with people who are following me and just kind of trying to build this, build this hype around AV (Ark Valley) and show everybody that it’s a it’s a good show and a good time. And, yeah, that I’m here to stay, and that I’m just like, make more music. And then early next year, I would love to come over to LA for a writing tour.