Ciro Manzari’s choose Zhero as his stage name and as soon as we heard the intro to his latest single ‘Icaro’ (which also serves as the opening track to his second album) we were hooked. There is something so nostalgic and hypnotic about the blend of the sounds from the ’80s and more modern sounds, plus the overall production creates a magical and quite hypnotic feeling.
It was a no brainer, we will be reviewing ‘Icaro’ as one of the best songs of the week on our weekly edition of New Music Sunday. But at the same time, we wanted to have a more in-depth chat with the man behind Zhero and better understand the world, mythology and inspiration behind his music.
Zhero is a great example of an independent artist who challenged himself to record an album in his bedroom and do it with such passion and quality, that one can only question the need for big studios.INDIE TOP 39
Congratulations on your double release: You dropped an album and a video for ‘Icaro’. Can you tell us about the journey you had until your latest release?
I started making music when I was around eight, nine years old in Italy. It all began with taking singing lessons at an academy, but to be honest I wasn’t really good back then. It took me a lot to at least have an acceptable voice. In fact, since I always felt very unconfident about my vocal skills, I seriously studied piano, guitar and production by myself to learn new skills. That’s how playing and producing became my passions as well.
I started composing, songwriting and arranging and I made a lot of tracks just to exercise. I did that for at least 4 hours every day for years. At the same time, since I’ve been very curious about pretty much everything, I was finishing high school and I started reading a lot of classical books, and that’s how literature and history became my main inspiration for songwriting.
After high school, I thought it made sense to study music in a college, so I enrolled in the University of West of Scotland, the course Music and Business in a campus at my birth-city, Bari (Puglia, Italy). During the school year, I worked on many projects and I won a recording contract through Puglia Sounds with the label Bobo Records. This gave me the opportunity to release my first album Oceanz in October 2018, and make my first real experience in the music industry as a recording artist.
Since then I released 5 songs and videos during 2019 and preparing for my second album Zhero Presents, my first music project as an independent artist. Some of my singles had a discreet success on the streaming platforms such as ‘Mama’ and ‘In My Head’.
What does ‘Icaro’ mean to you?
‘Icaro” is a lullaby that Dedalo (his father in the original myth) sings to Icarus before he tries to fly away with some paper-made wings in order to escape from the labyrinth in which he and his dad have been imprisoned. Dedalo in the song, as in the myth, says “don’t fly too high” to Icarus since the sun, otherwise, would burn the paper wings. However, since he was too young and too busy enjoying the pleasure of the flight, Icarus forgot the wise words of his father and his wings soon got burned and right after that, he fell and die.
I think the story itself has many symbols and I’d like to keep my interpretation for myself as I’d love the people to see what they want to understand this song without my influence.
What was going on in your life when you wrote the song?
I wrote the song right after the release of Oceanz, my first album, while I was listening and studying many rock legends such as the Pink Floyd and David Bowie. I composed Oceanz relaying almost only on major chords, basic progressions and pop structures, but honestly, I was pretty tired of that. I was nineteen, and I had already written Oceanz the year before that, so I was growing up and I was feeling the sound of my first album was no more what I wanted for me. I decided that my new work would have to be different, with more shades, colours and details and that’s why I started studying carefully the artists of the golden age of music.
At the beginning I also wanted to make two parts of Icaro, almost like Another Brick in the Wall by Pink Floyd, then I changed my mind, but you can still hear that in the song now, it is the reason why the song is musically split in two.
My music inspiration comes from different sources but mainly literature, dystopia, movies, my personal life, fairy tales, horror stories and especially spiritualism.ZHERO
What was the inspiration behind your mysterious noir image?
This is the kind of question I love. When I decided the music of Zhero Presents should have been split into two different moods: the most energetic ’80s (like in ‘Mama‘) in contrast with the more cinematic yet still electro (as in ‘Late Night Ride‘). I also decided to reflect that on my image and on the videos. The concept for the album is about exploring the opposites: the fall and the rise, Yin & Yang, black & white. You can hear it musically, but you can also see it visually. In fact, the 5 videos that anticipated Zhero Presents and my image as an artist, both have been inspired by the noir movies of the ’50s. In ‘Icaro’ this fight between the opposites, black & white, is interrupted as musically in the song are present both the moods of the album, that’s why visually in the official video you can see the colours instead of the black & white.
You released a brand new album ‘Zhero Presents’ yesterday. Can you tell us more about the concept behind it?
Zhero Presents was born as a game for me, just a few singles that I wanted to release after my first album, as an independent artist, just to see the public reaction. All the songs have been made in my bedroom with just a laptop and mini-keyboard. I wanted to earn some experience by releasing things online myself and learning the art to be an independent recording artist, then I noticed those songs had been listened more than the ones I released with the label in Italy, and many people were writing me on Instagram about my music, or mentioning me in their stories, people from all around the world, U.S.A, Japan, Brazil, and many others. That was crazy for me. Just why I then decided that Zhero Presents had to be the title of my second album.
My goal is my journey at the same time. I want to live a life making music to celebrate life itself and human beings and to be happy.ZHERO
You are open about the fact that the songs on your debut album were talking about anger, pain, feelings of rejection. Looking at your latest release, how different is it for you?
Well, honestly in this album the lyrics are still too focused on negative emotions and feelings as in Oceanz, even if the two albums are musically very different. That’s because the concept of Zhero Presents is mainly linked to the Fall of Icarus, which can be metaphorically seen as the worst situation. But also writing the songs for Zhero Presents helped me to release the emotions.
The main difference between the two albums isn’t about the feelings but it’s in the story-telling. In Oceanz there was no story, but just a wave, a flow of music and words, while in Zhero Presents every single track is connected and it all finishes with ‘Turn Your Mind Off’ which, this is a spoiler, is a kind of anticipation of the new songs I have written recently.
Did you manage to find the way to turn your mind off?
Yes, I did. I found a way to be happy and present through meditation and mindfulness. That’s one of the things that most inspire me recently. This practice truly changed my life and also the way I see my career, my job and my connection with the music. It’s very important to keep the mind healthy and the heart pure and with mindfulness. I’ve been able to master my mind and my thoughts.
It’s very important to keep the mind healthy and the heart pure and with mindfulness. I’ve been able to master my mind and my thoughts.ZHERO
What do you want to achieve with your music?
I always thought I’d like to do more than just music. I’d also like to write books and cast in a movie, to be an activist and many other things. I never thought about achieving something with this, maybe I simply like to be an example, as a “hero” for my generation. This historical period is critical, and I think it’s exactly in moments like this that artists like the one I want to become.
Think about Bob Dylan for example. His lyrics are not just music, but they’re poetry itself. I want to be remembered as a “music artist” not just a “singer”. My goal is my journey at the same time. I want to live a life making music to celebrate life itself and human beings and to be happy.
What does it mean for you to be releasing music during this historic time?
To be an artist is a responsibility. We can influence people, we can highlight some situations or topics. What we decide to do will, in a certain way, be part of history and we can also decide to change it. It is important now more than ever to keep believing we can do better. It is always darkest before dawn, we just need to be strong, courageous, responsible and hold on a bit more.
Honestly, as a boy of generation Z, I consider COVID as a serious problem, but I’m sure we can do that, we can win this battle. My concern is much more about climate change though. We all need to do something before it’s too late. Also, other topics such as the global mental health crisis, the BLM movement, the LGBTQ+ community and the environment disaster nowadays are very important to me and I’d like to make a change in the world through music.
Music to me is pure magic because music is able to make you transcend the physical world.ZHERO
How would you describe your sound?
I would say my sound is alternative melancholic-electro with some cinematic pop. Imagine yourself in a late night ride, with some chill electro music and vocals accompanied by angelical pad, orchestral elements and choir, well that’s pretty much my style.
Do you have a song, that when you hear it, you’d say, “I wish I’d written that”?
I’m gonna pick the last I wished was mine. It’s ‘Lay Me Down’ by Sam Smith. Even if the song is not a new one I just started studying riff and runs vocally so this wonderful soul track is a great example and object to study since it has some beautiful runs, beltings and lyrics, I love it. Also the arrangement is very simple, but effective with lots of soul music vibes.
Who would you like to collaborate with?
I’d love to collaborate with artists such 6lack, Sabrina Claudio, Billie Eilish or Lana Del Rey. But especially I’d love to work with Muse – my favourite band ever, and I hope I’m not dreaming too big.
What are your plans for the rest of 2020 and 2021?
The second album is my gift for my fans for this 2020. After all that has happened, everybody deserves some love and music. About 2021, I want to keep that a secret until the end of this year, but, as I already told you before, there’s been some work in progress and there’s one track in particular that I love and I’m looking forward to releasing it.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience?
I guess it would be good to tell you why I do what I do, well: talking about my weaknesses, my story through music is like a therapy for me, but it also allows me to reach more people like me in the world, and make a real differences into their life, make the world a better place, based on compassion and empathy, and that is my true purpose not just as an artist, but as a human being.