At Fontana’s on NYC’s lower east side, The Commuters showcased music off of their new album Rescue, released on April 7th. The crowd swayed faithfully as lead singer Zeeshan Zaidi waxed poetic in songs like “Great Escape” and “As I Make My Way”. The band also features Uri Djemal (lead guitar) , Ben Zwerin (bass) and Italian-American Paul Amorese (drums). EastScene chatted with Zaidi about the making of Rescue and their upcoming tour plans.
ES: How did the Commuters first come together as a band?
Zaidi: I had written a bunch of songs over the years, recorded and produced demos, and performed them at open mics, but never did much else with them. A lot of people encouraged me to do more, but they were sort of sitting there, taking a back seat to the rest of my life. Uri is a good friend from childhood (we’ve been classmates since the first grade) and a producer in New York. His studio was several blocks away from where I was living for a long time. He heard my songs a long time ago and for years kept encouraging me to come work on them at his studio.
I’ve always wanted to do more with my music – had always been my dream to be a professional musician — and would occasionally feel antsy about the fact that time was slipping by and it was just languishing. One day I said to myself: “Someday I will die. And when that day comes I don’t want to look back on my life and kick myself for not doing what deep down inside I’ve always wanted to do.” So I called him up, walked over with my demos and we got to work making an album, not knowing what the outcome would be. A lot of people (Uri included!) were encouraging me to be a solo artist, because the songs had a singer-songwriter feel, but I had always wanted to start a band, and there was no question that Uri had to be in it.
Uri knew Ben from the music scene in NY, and so Ben played on the album. We had an amazing session musician named Lorne Entress play drums on the album, but when the time came to start playing live Uri and I auditioned a bunch of drummers and when Paul walked in we knew he was the guy. And coincidentally it turned out that Paul and Ben had played a couple of gigs together before.
So it all sort of came together that way!
ES: How does it feel being on the other side of table now as a recording artist? Do you see things differently?
Zaidi: It feels fantastic! There’s no feeling quite like creating your own music and sharing it with people! It was really helpful to have worked in the industry both on the label side and as a producer – it’s given me a great perspective on the whole process. That said, it is a completely different experience putting yourself out there and working on one career instead of many.
ES: How did it feel to see that your single “As I Make My Way” was picked up on mtvU?
Zaidi: It was really a dream come true. At some level, most artists dream of having their video played on TV, and on MTV in particular, and it was amazing to have that happen. I will always remember when I saw it play on TV. Awesome.
ES: As far as music videos go, how important do you feel they are in connecting the sound of a song to images?
Zaidi: It’s huge. I think humans are very visual beings and it’s in our nature to connect audio with video. While music videos have fallen by the wayside on TV, they’re alive and kicking online. The most dominant category on YouTube is music videos! I hope to make as many videos as possible for our songs since they are such a powerful way to reach and move people.
ES: What was the experience of making Rescue like? What challenges did you face technically or creatively?
Zaidi: It was unique because we weren’t a band when Rescue was made. It started out as me and Uri working on songs that I had written and it grew from there. I had written most of the songs on the album years before we started production; I wrote the last couple while we were working on the album. Uri and I started off by making demos for all the songs – a few were demos that I had already done, and we worked on the others together. Then we brought in bass and drums. After that I laid down all the vocals. Then came the guitars. I played almost all of the guitars on the album – although Uri ‘s a better guitarist, he was doing the engineering and I knew all the parts since I had written a lot of them beforehand, and wrote the last parts when we were in the studio. Plus I sort of had something to prove to myself. Then we recorded my piano parts at a different studio.
Once that was done, we spent LOTS of time mixing and editing. I mean hours and days. The whole process took several months because it was done mostly on nights and weekends. I drove Uri a little nuts with the number of revisions and edits I kept making. But I wanted it to be as great as it could be and Uri wanted me to be happy with the way it turned out.
ES: What do you guys think about the multiplatform environment with music now? Are you for or against it. Namely free music being readily available on Pandora, Spotify, Youtube, etc.
Zaidi: I love it. It’s fantastic. I used to work at record labels handling digital marketing and distribution and I find it incredibly exciting. I think technology needs to be embraced. If I had started this a decade ago there’s no way I could have reached and touch this many people without a record deal, but here we are — The Commuters have a large and growing international following without a major label deal.
ES: What are your biggest musical influences ?
Zaidi: Lots of alternative rock bands — Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Radiohead, Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, Oasis, Sugar; and some artists of various other genres like Peter Gabriel. Artists and writers who come up with strong melodies.
ES: When and where will you guys be touring going forward?
Zaidi: Doing a lot of shows in NYC first, then hoping to tour the east coast this year and next. We have a lot of friends in other bands so hope to play with them soon!
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