GZ Tian Talks To Us About Having No Limits, His Always Changing Surroundings & New EP
GZ Tian can do it all, produce, sing, rap and even play instruments - including the Erhu (a Chinese string instrument). Growing up between 3 cities, London, Manchester and Liverpool and always feeling somewhat like an outsider, allowed GZ to understand he does not have to limit himself, reflecting in the fact his music branches across an array of sounds, from jazz, hip hop and trippy world music.
He recently released his lead single 'Tokyo Girl' off his forthcoming EP with an animated visual. Ahead of his EP release, Another Artist, which is out on March 27th, we caught up with the musician to hear how his heritage plays a role in his artistry, whether he prefers London or Manchester and more.
Interviewer Fatima Sheekhuma
Photography Press Images
Did growing up in a musical home influence your decision on becoming an artist?
Not consciously. I think being raised around music raised my interest when I was young. My mum and Granddad also taught me to play Chinese instruments when I was a child, but that was more from the perspective of musicianship. I think the desire to create is something you are kind of born with and something that was nurtured by the music my Dad would play in the house. I was writing songs when I was 9-10, mostly in private, but it was only when my brother let me use his logic pro x that I started producing around 16 and then there was no way I couldn’t release some of the stuff I was making and things really went from there.
How much does the music you grew up around influence the sound of your own?
A lot. I think my main trait or musical characteristic is my diversity. I’ll drop a hip hop track and then a jazz track then a rock or indie track. Some kind of world music/hip hop fusion is however, what most people want to see in me and it’s something I explore in the album. At the moment, it is more about getting myself in the right environment to explore that sonic idea properly and in depth. With the people I have around me at the moment I am really enjoying the jazz and rock stuff and bringing some hip hop elements to them.
How much does heritage play a role in your artistry - from being Chinese, growing up in Manchester and now residing in London?
The actual area I grew up in was Stockport. The area is largely white and Asian, so most of my friends were Pakistani. Especially in high school, it felt at times as if it was all the minorities and then white people – there was no conscious thought about this at the time, it was just normal. But then of course I am half white, my dad was born and grew up in Stepney (East London) but his family are Irish. So I’ve always had this thing of not fitting in completely with anyone – my Chinese friends or family, other minorities or white people. So it was rarely the best of all worlds, but the worst of all. Growing up I’ve seen this change, I can enjoy the different parts of each culture a lot. But I think one thing from my upbringing which helped was the fact that I’ve always felt like an outsider, as if I can’t relate to people in the truest way.
Of course on the basic level though, of being taught how to play several Chinese instruments, you can hear this in my music.
Are the references to your Asian heritage something that comes naturally, or do you feel you consciously choose to include it in your work?
I always want it to feel natural. There was some pressure early on in making the album to make it purely some East meets West fusion. I have no doubt that when I commit to this idea I will make it interesting and do it in a way which no one else could – but emotionally, for whatever reason, I have been drawn to other forms of music. So, I will never add a random Chinese instrument if I do not feel it is natural. I’ve always felt that forcing cliche sonic concepts is a big shame in music.
" At the moment, it is more about getting myself in the right environment to explore that sonic idea properly and in depth."
Why did you decide on naming your EP ‘Another Artist’ was there something, in particular, you wanted to allude too?
I originally wanted to have it written up as ‘aNOTher artist’ but it didn’t stick. It is of course ironic, because every artist feels they are unique. Every artist feels they have their own special sound, but how many actually do? Not many. So to dumb myself down and label myself as ‘just another artist’ was a way for me to standout.
What is the one thing you want people to take away from listening to it?
I said to my manager on the phone a while back – of course, we want to be hitting as many people we can on streams and YouTube, but the reality of the situation is difficult financially. So the main thing for me has been to create something that people will remember. Even if they fucking hate it and hate me, I want to provoke some kind of reaction in people, and not just drop a thoughtless album and come out as another artist (in its literal sense).
What is your favourite track off the EP and why?
‘Precious Nights’ is a nice one, but probably ‘Another Artist’, the final track on the EP. It captures the darkest side of the EP sonically and conceptually. It’s a picture of what I sacrificed to give this music thing a go.
In some ways, people say streaming forces musicians nowadays to be more creative in order to be heard. Do you think that's the case and does the landscape of the industry impact your creation at all?
Not in the creation stage. I create what I want and then worry about everything else when it comes to marketing the product. I’ve always felt that there is something synthetic about writing about a certain topic purely for success. I think the most important thing for my music is its sincerity and truth. For certain singles, we might approach a track in more loud and bold way, but even there I want it to sound different and be true to how I think music should sound.
" The main thing for me has been to create something that people will remember. Even if they fucking hate it and hate me, I want to provoke some kind of reaction in people."
" For me and ideas just come and not ignoring them is the best part of being an artist.."
Do you think there's a term/genre that could encapsulate the sound of your music?
I think different songs will fit into different genres entirely. From jazz to jazz hip-hop to emo hip hop to rock to trippy world music. I enjoy exploring different genres and creating new genres, shaping songs to the way I think they should sound.
From the trap sounding songs to the more stripped melodic songs, there's an underlying mellow tone to your music, does that reflect your personality do you think, or is that you tapping into a different space through your music?
For sure, I’m usually a relaxed person. I’d rather chill, make music than go club. I do enjoy turning up though, and have a borderline ADD side to me at times. When I’m excited that’s it, can’t really turn me off. But I think my truest self or the me which sits underneath the rest of me, is calm. I must have lived a lot of lives – I've always thought that. I feel burned out in most areas of life.
Is there a reason for the lack of features on your EP?
I wanted my first project to be a proper introduction to me. I can rap, sing and produce so I wanted to show this and it always felt natural. There isn’t a song on the EP where I’m like damn, should have got a verse from so and so here.
You can produce and write, and you also directed the music video for your single ‘Yin Yang’. How important is it to you to have the skill and awareness to be involved in all parts of the creation?
It isn’t very important. Of course, an artist should write. For me that’s the only thing I won’t back down on. That’s the only part of you in the song, to give that away is like removing yourself from the track. A producer should produce for the same reason. When you can do both, however, it does add a richness to the musical approach. For instance, is the music, the production, saying something the lyrics aren’t? Am I saying something through a progression or in creating an atmosphere that I couldn’t access through words etc. These are questions that are important to me, but not things which I care about in other artists that I listen to.
On directing ‘Yin Yang’, I always wanted to be a director, we didn’t have a crazy budget for a director so I thought I might as well do it. Oliverbrianproductions are super easy to work with as well. So it was nice, but I’m an artist before everything; directing was just a bit of fun for me and ideas just come and not ignoring them is the best part of being an artist. We get to put ideas into action where others might dismiss them.
" Music should be free and honest. Ego’s in the studio are frustrating man. But I’m open to anyone’s ideas; they just need to come from the right place."
Does being capable and aware of the various aspects of creative work make it harder or easier for you to collaborate and trust others with your vision?
Not either really, there are times when you're working with someone, for example we just shot a video with Armin for my next single, and it’s one of them, you know what he’s capable of – let him do what he wants. Ray Culture, who produced Moody Kid, it was one of them, you see him in the studio, you can feel his musical brilliance – let him do what he wants. I always feel I have ‘something’ to add which no one else can, but if that ‘something’ is letting the creation of it flourish and not interfering with the process, then so be it. Too many creatives have an ego thing, they want to get their little win in the studio or whatever. That’s something that I won’t collab within the long run. Music should be free and honest. Ego’s in the studio are frustrating man. But I’m open to anyone’s ideas; they just need to come from the right place.
If you could work with anyone, musically, production-wise or visually who would it be?
At the moment I’m just focusing on releasing this EP and then, judging the position we are in, I’ll be able to think about that in a more realistic way. I want to get back in the studio with Ray. Link ups with some Manchester artists would be sick as well to be fair – Mastermind, Just Banco, Tunde, Iamdbb. All artists I listen to.
If you could support anyone on tour, who would it be?
X before he died. Big fan of the American guys though – Trippie, Iann Dior, The Weeknd. I think the UK is slowly starting to breakout of the kind of GRM, Linkup and Mixtape Madness sound which has dominated for the past few years. Some more interesting music been out – M huncho, D block. A lot of artists I rock with on that level.
London or Manchester?
You know what, because I’ve been coming down to London since I was a kid I've always seen this triangle in my head between London, Liverpool (where my Mum’s side live, and where I learned about Chinese culture/music through my Grandma and Granddad) and Stockport is where I grew up – which we will count as Manchester for now even though we have our own postcode. I always feel most at home when I’m travelling between the three. I get too bored in Manny at times, cause there’s not much to do in Parkside, and transport in Manchester is dog. London is suffocating at times and Liverpool is a nice balance cause of my friends there. So, long-winded answer. But I like rotating between the three of them which I’ve not been able to do cause London’s got my wallet in a mess. But yes, somehow, I live in the relationship of those three cities.