In his sophomore album Phenomena, Canadian musician Zanski submerges audiences into an immersive, emotional journey through his meticulously crafted sound. In an EARMILK exclusive, Zanski shares in his own words his process about the album in a track-by-track.
Released via AWAL, the 15-track LP is a lucid dream expressed through R&B-influenced guitars, stunning electronic production, and mesmerizing vocals from the multi-talented artist. Written, produced, mixed, and mastered by Zanski himself, Phenomena is an exploration of ambiguity, challenging the malaise of apathy with a longing for something more substantial. The album shares its name from Zanski’s YouTube series Phenomena TV, in which he explains his creative process and how he shapes his DIY sound design, nostalgic visual aesthetic, and inimitable musical style.
"How To Breathe In Static"
There’s a superimposing of conscious states that happens when you wake up within a dream – you’ve applied your primary conscious awareness onto a different form of yourself. This song is trying to mirror that feeling of being lost within yourself, the various sensations and environmental anomalies that seem so closely related to the normal but are ever so slightly off to the point of destabilization, waking you up for real. Where the lyrics come in is the fact that there is nowhere else to wake up to. I know nothing of this place. Sonically, I worked in this loosely swung r&b style groove and accompanied it with this classic 80’s chorus on my guitars. I also tried to do something I rarely do which is shift the time signature near the outro.
For the track I mixed these higher register guitar chords with these drums that I ran heavy through a broken cassette player to get a really crunchy groove, especially when the bass comes in and glues it all together. The solo is a guitar and vocal layered together and re-amped through so much distortion and flanging I actually forget exactly how I did it.
This song is the most personal and most self-reflective on the album. I turn inwards, looking at the physical consequences of our commodified and alienated being and how it’s affected me personally. I feel like a dick all the time because I cannot really enjoy anything properly. I’m looking around though a haze where the only clarity is a price-point. I can’t really fix it because I don’t want to just ignore it or be psychologically primed to be okay with it. I don’t want to lose control, but control comes with a burden, one that I am powerless to actually bear responsibility for.
I thought that a very low-key, garage-style backing would be appropriate for this track. It feels floaty and dissociated sonically; there’s a lot going on but it’s still so sparse and just barely peaking past the surface.
This is basically "Temporary Nothing" part 2, but a bit more specific to having relationships with people while my head is swimming in this miserable ocean.
I wanted to ride that classic r&b line here: short stubby bass with a hint of resonance, layered with twinkly Rhodes chords. Also, I love the outro of this song. Its so weird to me and normally I would second-guess myself on having things just pop in and out on the offbeats but it ends up coming together in a cool way once the drums come in.
A lot of my adult life has been trying to put a name to the feelings that whirred around my head when I was younger. I had a ton of death anxiety and it didn’t make me feel any better that I was stuck in a place between orthodox religiosity and pure secularity. I land somewhere in the middle now but the path to get there was really difficult. I also had these weird feelings of disconnection which I now know are dissociative characteristics. I figured I would throw together a song where I push heavy on the imagery of flowing and sifting through the material, never feeling a real connection to anything physical, not feeling dead or alive, but having these small moments where I ‘plug back in’. It ties in nicely with the waking dream imagery I try to establish previously as well. Characteristically I utilized some fuzzy and noisy instrumentation on this one but tried to make the space in the song feel a bit more distant – there’s lots of little reverb tricks going on to make you never feel like it’s 100% in your ears.
I feel very strongly about authenticity when it comes to art and artistic expression. I really hate how it’s incentivized to push towards total simulation and commodification of yourself to actually exist as an artist (although it shouldn’t be a surprise that the economics of capitalism have infected how we interact in real life and online). I don’t want to put on a face that isn’t true to me, and I really try not to. This song is specifically about that feeling. At the end I’m literally yelling ‘what do you want from me??’ And I truly would like to know. What is the end game of all of this? Art as a pure commodity, devoid of expression, existing purely as a paint job for a new expansion of capital accumulation? Probably. It’s trite, I know.
"Girl, Are You Impressed With Me?"
We’re back heavy into the dream imagery. The afterimages of all these thoughts and feelings are like trailing shadows that never leave me, instead floating around like ghosts. Just when I think I have a grasp on one, another takes it’s place. It’s kind of a loose collection of imagery that relates to having roots and then consequently being uprooted. You feel like you’re chasing your past forever. Again the sonics are dreamlike – running guitars through tremolos and choruses until they’re a warm and warbled mess.
"Forest Spirit Sound"
"Got It Used"
"Found Myself In Sequences"
I’ve always liked the imagery of fleeting social contact. It’s the unspoken sadness of people drifting apart and becoming estranged that fuels this song. I’ve been sensitive to this type of stuff my whole life but as someone who is nearing 30 it becomes much more apparent as life takes people in directions that fray the previously solid social bonds apart. Sometimes these flashes appear in your head and for a split second, you’ve been sent back in place, if only for a moment.
I did some throwback emo stuff in the second chorus here where my roots come out. I used to only listen to punk music so I figured the screaming would be a nice throwback to my younger self. He was the one who wanted to be a musician so badly, and I don’t want to take the spotlight away from him.
I wanted to be a bit direct on this one, so I equated everything from the past songs into a single distilled point, equating all the woes and issues to something classic like the antichrist. That sounds funny to say. The ending is this acoustic jam where I’m reiterating that I feel stuck, and I want to wake up from this, but it’s out of my control. The intro has like 40 vocal layers. Thought that was fun.
If the end of Sequences was the nod to my roots, this is pulling out the old LP’s in my cabinet. I wanted to put an emo-esque song on this record because it felt right. It felt like pulling back the curtain a bit, being really transparent about who I am and why I am the way that I am. There’s this constant theme of machinery that is tying everything together; everything that happens is part of this emergent machine that grinds us to nothing, and it happens over and over and over.
Again I opted for the acoustic outro. Thought it sounded nice as a release from the more elaborate production in the start of the track.
"Where Do I Start?"
All of my favourite records have this moment where the theme drops away, and the artist speaks openly without the narrative lens of the previous songs. This is my version of that. It’s just a small slice of a time in my life that is not really important, but acts as a closing statement; in all, I’m just trying to be an artist and express myself the only way I know how. Time moves forward. All is lost, but it still happened.
It’s candid, I recorded most of it without even writing beforehand. It's the little black spot in my psyche. I came to a finality, I expressed myself, I’ve created something I’m proud of.