Take a cruise down an open street with your windows down, and turn up Z. Woods on your stereo. You’ll be slowly head-rocking to his smooth, silky vocals that float effortlessly over soulful beats and fluid piano riffs and melodies. You might even break a sweat listening to his passionate, sensual lyrics. And you’ll wonder which celestial planet sent such heavenly music to grace our earthly ears.
The man behind the music holds an air of mystery, too. Only known as Z. Woods, the singer (who identifies as Asian American) was born and raised in the city of Malmo, Sweden, and later made the move to Los Angeles by himself, leaving behind his life, family and friends to pursue music. Since then, the singer has collaborated with MC Jin, Paul Kim and David So, with Swedish Grammy award-winning hip-hop artist Stor and has worked with Korean Jungle Entertainment’s hip-hop group, M.I.B.
Woods just released his first original EP, “Songs About You“, on Aug. 19, and the impressive debut features five soulful tunes written, mixed and produced by the singer himself. Audrey got the chance to ask Woods a few questions about his background, his biggest influences, and his vision for music in the Asian American community.
Q: What was it like growing up in Malmo, Sweden?
A: Growing up in a small country like Sweden was challenging at times as there were frequent occasions where I didn’t feel like I’d quite fit in. The Asian population in Sweden is extremely small compared to other nationalities/ethnicities, and so I had to always find a balancing point to navigate between the various cultures that I’d be exposed to. Life wasn’t necessarily difficult, but figuring out who you are as an individual proved to be much harder that I thought it was, looking back at it now retroactively.
Q: When and what was your first exposure to music?
A: I was essentially spoon-fed music from the day I was born. Although musical talent is not a common trait in my family, my sister was always a big fan of music and since she had to take care of me for the majority of the time, I would have to listen to whatever she forced me to listen to. That ranged everything from the latest Madonna and Michael Jackson records of the day to traditional Asian music or Asian pop music. I remember my sister constantly trying to record my attempts at singing along on her cassette player.
The quality and general spirit of musicality [in Sweden] has definitely influenced me, but also the situation of balancing cultures above made me seek comfort in music. Music, specifically R&B/Soul music, made me feel as if I was a part of something, as if I could relate to some of the stories I would hear. … My interest for music eventually became passion, passion became love and now my love for it has become an extension of my existence.
Q: What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
A: I listened to a lot of urban music. Anything hip-hop and R&B was (and still is) dominating my playlists. Some of my biggest influences from an artistic standpoint include Brandy, Musiq Soulchild, Marvin Gaye, Craig David, Joe and Donell Jones. As a producer/writer, some of my biggest influences are The Underdogs (a production team), Darkchild, Ryan Leslie and Kanye West.
Q: Did you face any challenges in your experience as an Asian American singer?
A: The biggest challenges have been to get people to look beyond their stereotypes and not make any preconceived notions about the quality of my art prior to giving it a chance. I find that our — the Asian American community’s — output often gets quickly dismissed as irrelevant and uninfluential. More emphasis is put on our “weirdness” than our ability to excel and influence. We are and have been easily marginalized, but a change is coming and I intend to be a part of that change.
Q: Where do you draw inspiration from for your songs?
A: Inspiration comes to me from circumstances. It could either be personal situations or me drawing elements from situations that my friends/family share with me. Regardless of what it is, I emphasize on capturing the emotion behind it all. I believe at the foundation of every story, feeling, situation, etc. lies emotion. And being creatively involved in the entire creation of a song enables me to do just that. The words, melodies and music are all just elements to this vessel that seeks to speak to your spirit, the center of your emotions and to make you feel.
Q: What kind of message, through your music, do you want to give to your listeners and fans?
A: I want my audience to be able to find comfort in my music. I want it to be a soundtrack to their lives. If they need a mental break from whatever they might be dealing with, or if they seek to know that they are not alone in how they feel, etc., whatever it may be, I want my music to serve them and help them either get through what they’re going through or enhance any joyful moment. In short, I want my music to emotionally engage with people.
Q: What are your goals for the future?
A: I want to change the world! (Big statement, I know.) I want to make the world know that we, as an Asian American minority group, are MORE than capable and able to create art that is relevant, pertinent and does not cater to a certain demographic. I want the world to know that we are not weird, but that we are the same in that we have feelings and emotions too. I want the focus to be taken off “who” I am and instead be put on “what” it is I am doing. I want to be a part of that movement that will change this global perspective and allow more creative people (from all ethnic backgrounds) to have a voice.
Amen, brother. Now, play and repeat.