Max Zaska is not necessarily a name you would know. However, he's sure as hell played with people you know. After completing a B.A. in Jazz Performance, Zaska went on to play guitar for prominent Irish bands like The Waterboys, as well as form his own eponymous neo-soul band whose revolving roster has included some of Ireland's finest musicians from Hozier, to members of Little Green Cars and Wyvern Lingo. Today, EARMILK has the distinct privilege of premiering his debut full-length album It Takes a Village, out on streaming platforms February 1st.
It Takes a Village is bookended by two powerhouse tracks: the energetic "My Body" (which features "agrosoul" group BARQ) and "Cannot Will Not (feat. Loah and Emma Garnett)," a groovy, get-up-offa-that-thing funk tune. The album draws on aspects of traditional funk ensembles like Sly & The Family Stone—namely its legendary horn section and lengthy instrumental interludes. The difference between Zaska's neo-soul and classic funk lies in his infusion of rock guitar and elements of electronic production. Of the ensemble, Zaska says:
One of the singers on the album—Jess Kav from BARQ—suggested to me that I do something similar to Snarky Puppy's Family Dinner album and because I've had upwards of 50 musicians play in the band, the idea seemed to fit well. There was also during the album's creation when I thought I was going to sing, but after demoing all of these amazing vocalists and then comparing them, I quickly realised their voices sounded so much better. So I just let my ears decide for me.
Structurally, It Takes a Village stands up for three reasons: firstly, Zaska has assembled some of the tightest and most talented musicians in the industry for his enigmatic supergroup. Each musician, from the vocalists to tenor saxophonist Oisín Murtagh, has the most intimate understanding of rhythm and melody. Second, Zaska himself was involved in every step of the process—from writing to production, Zaska's direction kept the album's genre-bending from spiralling into a frantic buzz. Final credit must go where it's due: to Zaska's daughter. The making of It Takes a Village coincided with the birth of Zaska's first child. In "Wear," one of the most touching songs on the album, Zaska uses the vehicle of Wyvern Lingo's sublime harmony to talk about his newborn child. This track sits in marvellous juxtaposition with an earlier track called "U," which references the trepidation of fatherhood and the anticipation of his daughter's arrival. The album is so rich in its musical complexity that on first listen, one would be forgiven for missing the lyrical element of It Takes a Village. But Zaska's songwriting prowess is no joke either: his lyrics are both poignant and effective, and they cover everything from social justice to his love of family.
Tying It Takes a Village together are short soundbites in which the listener can hear Zaska's family and friends—a baby's heartbeat, a doctor's appointment, a party. "The album is a concept album that parallels the birth of my daughter with the birth of this album and the community I needed to make both happen," he says. It Takes a Village closes on one such interlude, which serves as an extension to "Cannot Will Not." You can hear the unbridled jubilance of the band and its featured artists as they sing the final notes of what is one of the most unique and exciting albums in recent memory.
See Zaska live on February 8th at the Button Factory. Tickets here.