Last month served up an astonishing thirty-five Promising Discoveries from a wealth of locations and a whole range of musical genres, and one of those artists hailing from London, Ontario is Jonathan Zarola aka UNBLOOM.
This wielder of widescreen, electronic music released a glorious dance-pop EP earlier this year with the expansive, open-ended title of This Could Be Everything / This Could Be Nothing. The playful six tracks includes collaborations with many Canadian talents, who each bring their own flair to Zarola’s vibrant production, songwriting and musicianship. Our community of new music enthusiasts have been along with UNBLOOM from the journey of what he coins as “sonically sad” to his current realised sound since Hillydilly’s discovery a whole three years ago. Now reaching that coveted 100% promising mark, we’re continuing the journey with this multifaceted artist as we discuss this project, the past and what’s to come in the new year.
As a user and now Promising Artist on HumanHuman, you’ve been following the site for a while. How did you first hear about our music discovery community?
Quite honestly, I think I Google searched "how to better connect with music blogs" and HumanHuman popped up as the first available service. I always send out emails to blogs, but I never felt that I was getting through to them in a substantial way (especially in the early goings of the UNBLOOM project), and it was refreshing to see a community embrace artist-blog relations.
Would you say that finding new bands and artists online is something that you always like to do?
I certainly used to do it a lot more before I became a full-time artist. I find now that I can't listen to too many active artists/bands because I have a tendency to dissect their songs and figure out how they created particular sounds or textures. Before I became a producer, I used to appreciate music holistically; now, I feel I get in the way of my ability to appreciate someone else's work.
How about live music? Is there a good scene around London and/or the wider area of Ontario?
The scene is only as good as you make it. You have to really make an effort to orchestrate shows in order for them to happen. Not to say there aren't shows available, but in London, there aren't a lot of Dance/Electronic/Pop bands to mingle with. As a result, you have to custom-make a show that caters to that sound. Sometimes, if you don't like the hand your dealt with, you have to shuffle the deck. There are a lot more shows in Toronto, however, for my style of music. I'll be playing more there in the new year (fingers crossed!)
As we’ve explored before in our Spotlight on Canada’s Emerging Artists, it’s a great country for fresh sounds, encompassing everything from pop to hip-hop to rock to R&B to electronic and more! Who are some of your favourite Canadian artists?
I find I keep gravitating to the Montreal beat-scene. POMO and Kaytranada are my Canadian staples.
And who or what inspires your sound?
I think "groove" and "movement" are the primary motivators in my music. The music has to physically engage with the listener; whether it is a kick-snare rhythm, or the way certain chords fall on the backbeat--the music has to engage (perhaps even provoke) the listener. I think that can even be achieved in the way lyrics are sung or articulated. Every facet of my music derives from a place of movement.
Let’s talk about your EP, This Could Be Everything / This Could Be Nothing, where almost all of the six tracks feature a guest vocalist. Did this collaborative approach shape the production, genre, style or content of each song based on who you were working with?
Oddly, I don't believe it did. I had written most, if not all, the music prior to each collaboration. That being said, when a guest vocalist enters the session, you always have to be prepared to tear certain things down to make space for him or her. There were certain songs where I left the vocalist a lot of room for experimentation, but I wouldn't say that I changed the sound of any one song based on who I was working with.
I can’t see a featured artist on “I Can’t Do It By Myself”, so does that song title posses a pleasure in the irony that you are in fact doing it by yourself?
Interestingly enough, I do have a guest vocalist on “I Can't Do It by Myself"! It's my dear friend Moses Monterroza singing and playing guitar on the track. Moses is a long time creative collaborator of mine, and his fingerprints are all over the EP--he helped create all of the album artwork, and directed the "No Other" music video. This was probably the only song that stemmed from some sort of collaborative session. Moses quickly played a few chords on guitar and I followed suit in arranging a beat to ground it. I asked him to sing something, and, using his best BeeGees impression, managed to link a few words that would later become the chorus/prechorus (with a little bit of lyrical assistance from me). So the irony lies within the notion that I couldn't have done this by myself haha
Is it possible to pick a favourite song from the EP? Why that one?
I'm sure you hear this often, but that's like asking which child is your favourite. It's hard to choose! I'm proud of all of the songs on the EP, but I'm particularly fond of “No Other”. Playing that song live is such a joy, and I'm still amazed with how people connect with it. I was actually telling Davey the other day that it's a song I can look back on say "yeah, we did something right with that one" haha; I love the arrangement, the lyrics, and the way everything sonically fits together.
The sound of the EP is very dance and electronic based, but if we go back to an earlier song like “More Than Lust”, your style is much slower and more soulful. What has guided your sonic progression over the years?
Wow, you really dug through the crates to find that one! haha
I think my shift towards faster tempos stemmed from a counter-reaction I had to a band I was in that focused on slower, lo-fi arrangements. I was just tired of taking part in sonically sad music.
Do you feel that you’ve now found yourself in the realm of dance-pop?
I think I have. A lot of people view "pop" as a dirty word for some reason. I happen to love making hooks and musical "ear-worms," and I suppose coupling that with dancing is never a bad thing. I don't care how people categorize my music--I just want them to engage with it.
“I don't care how people categorize my music--I just want them to engage with it.”
For listeners who come across your music for the first time, they’d probably encounter your self-description of “widescreen, electronic music.” What does that mean to you?
Simply put, it's music that creates a panoramic experience for the listener. Perhaps that's a bit paradoxical, but I want people to feel that the production can envelope them, consume them. If you could visualize my music in a three-dimensional plane, it would be like staring into a canyon--it would have depth and detail.
Naturally, your electronic style is based around the production, do you self-produce everything? Or as we’ve seen with the vocals, do you also like to collaborate there?
On the EP, I produce, engineer, and mix everything myself. It's a point of pride, but I know I have more to learn. I'm always investigating some of the great mixing engineers and producers of our time and trying to absorb everything they've done.
You shared a few music videos to go along with the EP, including the addictively funky “No Other”, featuring singer/rapper Davey. Why did you opt out of appearing in the video?
If you look closely, I make an appearance at the end of the video with Davey and I jamming in the studio. I'm playing drums, which is a call-back to my days as a drummer in jazz, funk, and indie bands. On the whole though, we wanted to showcase Davey as much as possible; he has such an invigorating energy, especially performing live, and we had to make that the primary focus.
If my sources are correct, UNBLOOM originally started out as an anonymous project, did you find that gave you more freedom or confidence when first putting your music online?
They are correct! Truthfully, the anonymity started as a ploy to share my music without having to pander to friends and family to listen to it. It allowed me to get an unbiased opinion. When I noticed people were genuinely enjoying it, it gave me confidence to move forward with that moniker.
We’ve seen some artists continue the anonymity well into their careers, so when and why did you decide to drop the veil?
I "dropped the veil" with the release of the “Hold Our Youth” music video. I began to realize that staying anonymous was more of a chore than anything else, and, being the socialite that I am, found it harder and harder to repress my personality from the music I was making. The music video was a reaction to this--"screw it, here I am."
Looking back at 2017, what has been a highlight of the year for you?
I'm fortunate to say that there have been quite a few this past year. I think the biggest highlight for me was seeing myself featured on the Apple Music/iTunes banner when my EP was released. It was always a dream of mine to see myself featured on the main page of iTunes; to be regarded as an act to watch by that community of tastemakers was really special.
Can we expect to hear more from UNBLOOM in the new year?
Absolutely. I think you can expect another big push from me in 2018 with new music and more shows. I'm excited for what the new year has to bring.