One of LTTM's top 5 for 2013
He may not be a household name, and this may be a debut solo album, but South African singer/songwriter Jason Zeeman has a strong pedigree when it comes to music. As front man of rock band Reason he supported international acts such as Delirious and Tree63, and won the prestigious SAMA (South African Music Award) for the band’s album ‘The 11th Street Sessions’.
Jason has also worked with Passion, Reuben Morgan, Tim Hughes & Worship Central, and Planet Shakers to name a few, and now he finally wraps up all that experience into a solo album. Title track ‘All Things New’ opens with atmospheric synth sounds, some static and heavy guitar tones that gradually make way for Jason’s silky opening vocals. Running at a foot tapping mid tempo this song instantly gives off warmth with its pleasing glow. As the slightly more aggressive sounding chorus kicks in, the distinctive voice of former Tree63 singer John Ellis takes over, “Lift it up, lift it up, just put a song in your soul and lift it up. If you’ve been beat down, kicked, and need some love just put a song in your soul and lift it up.”
The guitars and drums on ‘Never Stop’ are much more frenzied and are brilliantly accompanied by a soft but snappy snyth riff. This is an upbeat ballad with a clever chorus – there’s even an instrumental interlude mid-way where the band show just what they’re capable of.
‘The Water’ is so strong musically that I had to go back and listen to it again to appreciate the vocals and lyrics too. I love the way the instruments blend together on this track, the keyboards are subtle but intricate, the guitar tones are light and floaty, and the drum fills are there in just the right places.
The only cover song on the album is ‘Guardian’, a firm favourite for anyone who knows the work of Worship Central. With a writing team consisting of Ben Cantelon, Nick Herbert and Stu G, you know this is a solid track – but Jason delivers a gem of a rendition here. With his own slightly moody sounding vocals interspersed with those of Mark Counihan, and female backing vocals quietly in the mix – this is another well blended track. Again it is musically excellent, uplifting and full of praise.
Opening with a piano backing, ‘Not Over’ has the feel of a Paul McCartney delivery in the beginning. Acoustic guitars gently appear, with a few electric riffs thrown in as well. “Cos I’ll be there to protect you when the world stands against you. I will hold and defend you”, sings Jason with some of his best vocals heard yet. The electric guitars kick in next with a Delirious-sounding jangling riff. It’s a stunning track that only just misses out on my top three.
Some weird experimental sound effects announce the start of ‘Symphony’ before the more conventional combo of guitars and drums come to life. There’s a happy go lucky feel to this one, fun and playful.
‘New Has Come’ is a worship song that talks about the change God makes in your life and it’s further evidence of Jason’s songwriting skills. “From this day and this day on I’m going to tell the world about everything You’ve done in me. The new has come the old has passed, Christ in me I’m free at last, look at all You’ve done for me.”
‘Trouble’ opens with an unusual keyboard sound but once again leaves plenty of room for the expressive and enjoyable vocals. This is a song that says everyone has times of trouble, but someone is there to help. “We all get ourselves in trouble and we fight and we bleed and we struggle, but the hand that moves to shape you is the one that holds you high.”
The gentle appeal of ‘Good Enough’ is enhanced by Jason’s highly talented wife Cezanne, with her exquisite guest vocals creating a soft contrast to his own voice.
Continuing the more gentle feel, the album ends with the almost lullaby of ‘Find Me’. Again the electric guitar riffs are highly noteworthy and the honest cry of the lyrics make this a soaring finish to a wonderful album.
With so many solid songs, this album shows that Jason is both a brilliant singer and songwriter, with well worked lyrics, a voice that you can’t help but love, and all the instrumental strength of a superb band. A fabulous album that everyone should experience.
4.5 / 5 STARS
– Dave Wood
Interview by Dave Wood of louderthanthemusic.com (Aug 2013)
As front man in South African band Reason, Jason Zeeman won a SAMA (South African Music Award) and supported international acts such as Delirious? and Tree63. Now this talented singer/songwriter introduces his first solo album in this insightful interview with LTTM.
For those who haven’t heard of you before, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in making music?
I started out many years ago as a ‘not so talented’, ‘wet behind the ears’ utility musician in the church band. I used to get the keys from the Pastor and go into the church on a Saturday morning and just pound away at this vintage Ludwik drum kit they had. I was terrible at it, but it was a start. Around the same time I sort of picked up the acoustic guitar and started messing around. I had a family friend who would come round after work and he’d teach me a few things. I’d then sit on stage at church behind the rest of the band where no one else could see me and try keep up with them all. A little while later, and at another church where I was the regular drummer, the worship leader gave a day’s notice and left. I found myself having to lead the congregation in song, with no band, just me, and (wait for it) backing tracks… I decided that this was way too uncomfortable for my liking and taught myself enough piano chords to be able to lead worship the following week from the piano. Absolutely everything was in C major and it was very, very questionable… Fast forward a few years (to around 10 years ago) and I met the drummer from Reason who asked me to join the band. I had no idea at the time, but this was where I was to be schooled in all things musical. Playing with accomplished musicians was a good stretch for me and it pushed me to where I am now. My first attempt at songwriting came when Andre Kempen (I lift my hands), invited me round to work on some songs. That was also a very important process and period for me to have experienced.
Having released a few albums with your band Reason, what made you decide to record a solo album now?
There was definitely a sense after 7 years with Reason that new seasons were coming. Guys got older, had kids, kids got older, and we felt that we had accomplished quite a bit. We toured South Africa well, won a South African Music Award, and got to play with so many of our heroes. We’re great friends still and play together almost most Sundays at church. But there was always a feeling for me that newer things had to come. I fell in love, got engaged, (now married), and even walked away from it all for a while. It was around about last year this time that I started dreaming up “All Things New”, because with new seasons come new things.
Tell us a little bit about your new album ‘All Things New’ and what the inspiration behind it was?
Between 2009 and now, I had been in studio 3 times and recorded 3 full albums. Only the last of which (All Things New) was completed and released. I wrote so many songs. Tried so many things and walked away from it all. It just never felt right. It was always a struggle, things would always go wrong, and that’s just not how I wanted to experience or make music. My concern was always that if I forced it, and fought it, I would end up not liking it. And that’s why there are so many unreleased and unfinished tracks. ‘All Things New’ just felt right. The time seemed right, all the right doors opened and it was, for the most part, pretty seamless and downright enjoyable. I had learned so much about myself, my music, and my journey as a human being and God follower, that things came together at the right time in the right way. I am extremely proud of what everyone involved in this project accomplished and I am absolutely thrilled with the end result.
There’s a few special guests on the album – tell us about them.
There are 3 guest artists. All of which are people very close to my heart. “All Things New”, the title track of the album, features John Ellis of Tree63. Now, growing up as a South African, you would have had to be a very rare person not to have been a fan of Tree. I can remember my early days with Reason when we were starting out trying to cover Tree songs. We were absolutely start struck by them and so I was very honoured to have supported Tree with Reason where my relationship with John Ellis started all those years ago. He is now one of my closest friends and I love him unconditionally! Mark Counihan appears on the albums only cover, “Guardian”. Mark is a talented singer – songwriter and was someone who stood by me when no one else would. I see Mark always everyday where we meet for coffee and solve the world’s problems. We’re not very good at it, but we try. Mark also heads up Worship Central South Africa. A movement totally worth believing in and does a great job at it. So when I decided to put “Guardian” on the album, I felt that Mark would be a good artist to have with me on it. Both from a personal and Worship central point of view. The second last track on the album introduces my amazing wife as an artist. We had been through so much together over the last few years that it made loads of sense for her to sing about God’s faithfulness on the album with me. Cezanne is a super gifted singer and songwriter who is just starting off on her journey as an artist. We’ll be starting work on her debut EP later this year and I can’t wait to get her amazing skills out there. She also does some backing vocals on “Guardian” with Mark and I.
Which is your favourite track on the album and why? This is like asking a Father which of his kids is his favourite… I would probably have to answer with “All Things New” given the reasons above. Everything in my life is currently new and the song just speaks about all of that to me.
What’s your song writing process? Every song has to start with inspiration. And that can come from so many different places for me as I try to look for God in everything. A movie, a billboard, a scripture, a book, a person, and of course, other music. I sometimes end up feeling a certain way and something will flow out of that. “Not Over” was written exactly like that. I sat down to wrote a song about how terrible things can go and how terrible things were, but hope kept pushing it’s pretty little face in the way. This resulted in me writing myself a song telling myself that it’s not over. On other songs, I will come up with musical ideas first. All poets are thieves and so I like to try and emulate what my heroes are doing and make it my own somehow.
If you could work with any song writer, who would it be and why? This will probably come as a surprise to some, but I would LOVE to write with Brad Paisley. The guy is ridiculously talented and very, very clever. He can make you laugh and cry in the same song. Definitely outstanding in his field! His song “Those crazy Christians” is genius. It provokes, inspires and motivates all at the same time. There will always be a place in my songbook for the likes of Chris Martin and Bono, but Brad is the man for me right now.
How would you define success in your career as a singer? I would really, really like to think that trying to define success in the industry I am in is a thing of the past for me. I have made this album. I am happy with this album. I am at peace, therefore to me, I have succeeded. Anything else is a bonus.
You’re stuck on an island, it’s hot, you only have enough battery life left to listen to one song on your mp3 player. What track is it?
“One Headlight” by The Wallflowers.
What does the next year hold for Jason Zeeman? I truthfully have no idea and I have no definite plans, but I would like to tour this album as much as possible and have as much fun with it as possible.
The Citizen Newspaper
Jason Zeeman finally makes the album he wanted to
Christian singer-songwriter Jason Zeeman’s output is not quite modern worship and not quite contemporary Christian music – both of which are under-developed niches in the South African market. Where does he position himself in marketing terms as a result?
“It’s very tough,” Zeeman muses. “I’ve always wanted to have a foot in the church and the other outside, so I try to write songs I can play in both contexts. It’s difficult, but at the moment I have more secular gigs lined up than church ones. I saw a statement that was part of a writing course somewhere that said, “Write the book you want to read”, and I think the same is true for music: it’s good to be in a place where I love listening to what I’ve done.”
Modern songwriting is often a collaborative business. Zeeman’s new album, All Things New, is all written by him, though there are a number of guest musicians. “I struggle to write with other people,” Zeeman laughs. “I think I’m an egotist – I always think my ideas are better than everyone else’s. And I’m a melancholic sort, which perhaps makes me difficult to hang out with in that context. That there are upbeat songs on the album is a miracle! I’m inspired by movies and books. I can’t plan to write; it’s all spontaneous.
“I went through a valley a couple of years ago. I became very cynical and started arguing with church leaders. I bumped my head all the way down until I hit rock bottom, when I realised I had two choices: throw it all in or try and open myself up again. In the songs on All Things New, there’s a strong theme of God pursuing us rather than the other way around.” Before All Things New was finally completed, Zeeman had left a couple of albums’ worth of other material behind, as personal and practical issues had meant these previous projects simply couldn’t work. How did he know it was time to take a step forward with this offering? “You’re never done,” he says. “I recorded those previous collections and learned a R60 000 lesson. But everything aligned for this one. The studio opened up, the finances were available and I found myself in the right headspace.” Part of that mindset change is reflected in the inclusion of Zeeman’s wife Cezanne as a guest vocalist. “We never wanted to be the couple who sings together,” he says. “We still don’t. But that song was about the shared journey we were on, so it really didn’t make sense to do it alone.”
Zeeman is a highly regarded guitarist and singer who learned his chops “being schooled by playing with accomplished musicians”. Does that same educational curve apply in other areas? “As far as writing goes, I’m a massive fan of music that most people have forgotten about,” he says, “from when music and melodies meant more than they do now. I think it’s really important to look to those who came before you.”
Zeeman sometimes finds that the lessons he’s learning are only revealed once he’s completed songs and is listening back to the lyrics. “It’s harder to convince yourself of something than you think,” he smiles. “I mumble about situations that have been sorted out in songs, but I find I still need to keep listening to get the full message. And even when I do hear something I might have missed, I still sometimes worry that I’m a fraud, and I’ve just made something up to fill a space.” Zeeman claims to not judge his musical success in terms of sales. That’s an admirable perspective, but how does he incentivise himself and keep moving forward? “I’m honestly not worried about sales,” he confirms, “but I do want people to hear the music. I know I’m in a small market, and I know that local Christians don’t necessarily support local Christian music.” He grins. “I’ll find a way to get it to them.”