Interview | Zak Lyon: Everything is Grey, a Performance of Teenage Angst | Sabrina Sigler

Updated: Apr 9

Zak Lyon is an emerging indie musician based near Glasgow, Scotland. The influences of his unique sound transcends genres but are reminiscent of the offerings of the 60s and 70s. Making use of a variety of instruments to accompany his soulful voice.

The 21-year-old independently produced and released three singles from his bedroom in 2020, his debut being the high energy 'Nothing Changes' which he describes as a "mediation" on his "stubbornness". Since then the singer/songwriter has released 'I was Born with Eyes (On the Back of my Head)' and his most recent offering, the melancholic 'Everything is Grey' which had been in the works since he was 16, coined by Zak as "pure melodrama".

I spoke to Zak about creating his music at this crazy time, and his plans for an uncertain future:

Q: When and how did you start making music?

A: I started writing when I was real young, I remember I wrote a song when I was 9 or 10 called Happy Parade. It was awful, but also incredible. I don’t have the original recording but I remember it so vividly - it was like lounge jazz. I plan on re-recording it one day.

In terms of properly making music, I started when I was 14 and messing around on my computer in programs like Cubase, making instrumental things with lots of violins and synths. That was how I composed until I started learning the guitar at 16, which then became my primary song writing tool.

Q: Who or what inspires your music?

A: I am inspired by far too many people to mention here. I think the most recognisable and overt influences that come through in my music are artists like The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, the Velvet Underground, David Bowie, and people like that. The ‘60s and ‘70s are most definitely the decades in which I want my music to sound like it was written in. There so many wonderful artists and bands from those eras; Simon & Garfunkel, The Mamas & The Papas, The Band, The Beach Boys, The Stooges, Roxy Music, The Kinks, The Stones, Laura Nyro, The Modern Lovers, Talking Heads, Blondie, Television, The Pretenders, Springstein, Patti Smith – it really does go on.

I could go into everything from the ‘80s onwards, but it’d just turn into a huge list of all the music I listen to. I take bits and pieces from everything I listen to – from Pixies to Joanna Newsom, Prince to PJ Harvey, Liz Phair to Liszt.

I don’t ever want to sound like I only listen to the one genre or three or four bands exclusively. I strive to take something from everything and hopefully write something interesting and singular in the process.

Q: Tell me about your creative process?

A: It varies! I feel like I always have music in my head, whether it’s my own or someone else’s. Melodies come to me all the time, often out of nowhere. Sometimes I’ll think of a lyric or a song title and immediately have a melody ready for it. I can have a little hook in my head for ages before I do anything with it. I can also get an idea in my head and have a fully formed song five minutes later - it just depends. I very rarely sit down with the intention to write a song, it just happens. Often, I’ll pick up my guitar and just strum some chords, try out progressions and see what happens.

There are times when I really have to sit and wrap my head around how I want a song to sound and where I want it to go – particularly with lyrics, which I really hark over and change a lot. That’s why the songs I’ve recorded and released thus far are short and light on lyrics. I already want to go back and change some of the verses for ‘Everything is Grey’. It’s why I have so many songs that I’ve been sitting on, unfinished, for years now. If I could get away with just making noises over the music, I would probably just do that.

I woke up the other week with a song in my head that I sang into my phone before going back to sleep. I’ve had a few songs come to me in dreams like that. Not with words or anything – just melodies. It’s pretty interesting and just something ingrained in me I guess.

I now have the freedom and agency to pursue my dreams as I please, and that forces me to confront the possibility that I might not achieve them anyway. What happens then? Everything Is Grey is pure melodrama - inconsequential by comparison.

Q: What inspired/is the meaning behind ‘Everything is Grey’?

A: I wrote the melody for ‘Everything is Grey’ when I was 16. I was listening to a lot of The Smiths at the time, as well as Morrissey’s early solo stuff. I was in a weird place mentally, and everything seemed miserable. I knew what I wanted, who I wanted to be and what my dreams were, but I felt ill-equipped and unable to do anything about any of those things. I felt trapped and inhibited, as I think most teenagers do. I still don’t really know how to go about life – certainly not in the year 2021. The difference now is that I’m older and exponentially more confident than I was as a teenager - and freer. I have reached full self-realisation – for the time being, at least.

In terms of the song itself, I can’t remember whether the title or the melody came first, but the first phone recording I have of the song has me singing the title over the chorus, which is how it would stay for years. I figured that the lyrics for the verses would come to me when they’d come to me. I do remember having the I saw two silhouettes entwined line as an idea pretty early on but I didn’t manage to build upon it until long after.

I was channelling the perpetual melancholy of being a teenager through a vignette of witnessing your lover cheating on you through their curtains and not being able to do anything about it other than cry and proceed to cycle to the nearest bridge. I still think of the song as extremely teenage, despite having written most of the lyrics at 21. When I sing it I imagine I’m 17 all over again; directionless and overcome with sadness about where I’m not as opposed to where I am. It’s a performance, I suppose. A performance of teenage angst.

The songs I’m writing now explore a more palpable, urgent sadness. Less nebulous and wide-eyed, and more grounded in the largely more dismal realities of life. I now have the freedom and agency to pursue my dreams as I please, and that forces me to confront the possibility that I might not achieve them anyway. What happens then? Everything Is Grey is pure melodrama - inconsequential by comparison.

Q: You do everything yourself when creating music (you are your own band!) can you tell me what that involves?

A: A lot of procrastination and frustration! I am very rarely happy with what I record but I think that that’s mostly to do with being restricted to my room - which isn’t the ideal recording space. I’d love to have a studio full of instruments that I could spend hours playing and recording on, but that just isn’t possible, and won’t be until someone is paying me to make a record. I’m pretty adamant about only having real-life, physical instruments in my recordings too – no MIDI stuff, or digital drums and whatever – which limits what I can put in a song. It’s a self-imposed barrier, but I quite like the rough, demo-sounding style of my songs so far. I actually think I tried too hard to make ‘Everything is Grey’ sound grand and well-produced - I already want to re-record it. I’m trying to make a point of letting the song and the writing speak for itself, without too many bells and/or whistles.

I think the DIY approach is working for me so far. The thing that sounds like a faint kick drum on ‘I was Born with Eyes (On the Back of my Head)’ is just me banging on my desk for four minutes and I recorded the sound of my door slamming for the intro of ‘Nothing Changes’ - stuff like that. I think it’s endearing. I also consciously leave in ambient noise in my recordings. I love listening to a song and hearing the buzzing of an amp or someone moving around or coughing or whatever in the back – imperfections or mistakes that maybe weren’t supposed to be picked up but were left in either by accident or because someone heard it and decided to leave it in. It makes the music feel more tangible. People make professional, air-tight sounding stuff on their computers but doing that doesn’t interest me. I made tons of instrumentals and sweeping orchestral stuff on my computer when I was a teenager and I’m proud of them, but they don’t feel like real music to me. The instruments don’t feel real – because they aren’t and I know they aren’t. When I’m able to get an orchestra to record my compositions, I’ll do that. For now, I’m okay to make do with a few guitars and a tambourine and whatever else I can get a noise out of.

Q: Tell me about yourself outside of music?

A: I’m 21, jobless and currently residing in my hometown of Greenock. This may be the extent of my persona. I don’t know if I can claim to be a struggling musician just yet. I’m just struggling at the moment. If you take away the music part of my brain, you’re left with gaming, TV shows about cool women, old Hollywood actresses and a fascination with really ugly, horrible fashion – so I’d be insufferable. I think I already might be - thankfully I’m also very funny!

Q: What’s next for you?

A: Taking over the world, hopefully. Superstardom and all that business. Realistically, I just want to get out and perform. If I could be performing regularly in Glasgow and building a base and an audience, I would be happy. I don’t think my feet are really off the ground as far as being an artist goes. I can release as many singles online as I want but I won’t start growing until I’m able to get out and perform in front of new people regularly. Even with the wonders of the internet and all the opportunities that it has opened for emerging artists, releasing music when you don’t already have a substantial following that’s going to listen to it is like pissing into the ocean - it gets lost in the vastness.

The internet is full of people fighting to be heard. It’s far more reliable to be up in front of an audience who have no choice but to listen and decide for themselves whether they’ll come to your next gig or buy your CD on the way out. The importance of live performance isn’t something that I think will ever go away for emerging musicians. As far as songs lined up, I will absolutely be releasing new music as I record it, which should be pretty regularly. I don’t know if there will be a fully-realised album out anytime soon, but there will be a steady drip of singles without a doubt.

The government doesn’t treat its citizens with the same love and affection that it does the banks and the corporations, so we can only hope that things are back to a relative normal soon enough so that people can begin to regain financial security.

Q: As an emerging artist, and with the arts under so much pressure due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, do you have any thoughts?

A: The inability to tour has severed most working musicians’ source of income. It is exceedingly difficult to make a living off of sales and streams alone - because no one is buying music and streaming services take an insane cut - so you have to be getting numbers in the millions before you see substantial earnings.

For the majority of musicians - the ones that rely on money made from touring - this year will have been rough and full of uncertainty. It has been the same for the working class across all fields. The government doesn’t treat its citizens with the same love and affection that it does the banks and the corporations, so we can only hope that things are back to a relative normal soon enough so that people can begin to regain financial security. Inevitably, many may not.

'Everything is Grey', and Zak's prior singles, are available to stream and purchase on all major platforms HERE.

Instagram: @BigZakLyon / Twitter: @ZakLyon / Facebook:

Written by Sabrina Sigler (Editor)