One of the fastest rising American electronic music duos, Jason Maek and Zaena attribute their particular sound to the creative freedom they enjoy and authenticity they pour in each of their projects. Their work crosses the boundaries of the genre, mixing dance, pop, and indie vibes. With inspiration drawn from artists such as Etta James, Prince, and Ray Charles, the artists strive to grow as musicians as they constantly work on new content.
Their rich creative output allows them the freedom to experiment with genres and explore new ways to reach audiences. Going back to their personal and creative roots, Jason Maek and Zaena recognise the deep impact their parents had on them – strong work ethics, promises of a better future, and a sense of responsibility for one’s own craft.
We sat down with Jason Maek and Zaena to hear more about their work so far, plans for the future, and the music that inspires them.
Elena Stanciu: First off, tell me a bit about your work. Where do you come from - creatively? How did you discover music as a career path?
Zaena: I was born in Libya. I draw a lot of music inspiration from the experiences my people there are facing. When I was eight years old, I sang in my elementary school talent show. Ever since, all I have wanted to be was a musician. My path never changed.
Jason Maek: I love art and I find music to be an amazing medium because you get to touch so many people that you may never personally meet. Music came late for me. I was a ghostwriter for years in college, but never thought I had the voice or talent to be an actual artist in that sense. One day, I tried it and loved the feeling it gave me – the freedom to articulate my own narratives.
ES: How did you find each other?
Jason Maek: Zaena and I were very familiar with each other's work as ghostwriters. I knew she worked on a few projects I was associated with. One day, I was working on a few songs that I thought she would sound amazing on, so I messaged her to come to the studio. She was hesitant initially – I think she thought I was hitting on her, lol. But after working together, I knew this was someone I wanted to work with my entire life. Years later, here we are.
ES: How would you describe your artistic journey so far?
Zaena x Jason Maek: It's been fantastic. We get to create whatever we feel, which for a musician is the ultimate freedom. We don't have our brand or messaging dictated to us. Everything we make is authentic work. Right now, we are enjoying the process of growth, building audiences, and experimenting with sounds. We love that.
ES: You are both quite involved in the fashion world – can you elaborate on this involvement?
Jason Maek: Fashion and music are directly connected and the relationship between the two mediums is so abundantly clear. Each dictates the pace for the other. Fashion impacts the direction of music in a lot of ways and vice versa. Trends are created with the two intersecting and we cannot ignore this.
ES: Zaena, you mentioned once that you aspired to be a fashion designer, before wanting to be a musician. How do you balance these two creative areas in your process right now? How do they overlap or influence each other? Is there something in your career as a musician that you credit to these early days of experimenting with fashion design (themes, visual focus, innovative approach)?
Zaena: I think about fashion every time I create a song. Every piece in my closet was inspired by a song. Fashion and music are so important to me and directly impact all my daily decisions. I feel that my love for fashion has allowed me to be unafraid and be bold musically. Sometimes, when writing, if there is a certain emotion I want to convey to my audience, I dress the mood I'm feeling.
ES: You are committed to releasing a new song and music video every 1st and 15th of the month for the entire year. What prompted this decision? Is there any pressure or worry associated with this commitment?
Zaena x Jason Maek: We love creating content and thought this would be a great way to push ourselves. We have so much to say and so much music in our hearts and this felt right. No pressure on our end – It's actually a great way to keep us balanced and on track.
ES: What are you working towards for the future?
Zaena: Becoming better musicians. We work a lot on our craft and strive to be the best versions of ourselves.
Jason Maek: I’d also add working on new content; new ways to build audiences and play with forms of media. Right now, everyone is doing the same thing, so Zaena and I are thinking of new ways audiences might want to receive content.
ES: Who/what inspires you in working out these plans for the future? If you made a vision board, who'd be at the centre of it?
Zaena: Gwen Stefani, Etta James, and Michael Jackson. In life – my dad, because he moved from Libya to give us a chance at a better life.
Jason Maek: Musicially – Ray Charles, Pre-sunken place Kanye West, Prince, Little Richard. In life – my parents. They worked so far to afford me the best opportunities they could.
ES: Who would play you guys in the Zaena x Jason Maek biopic?
Zaena: I have two Hollywood doppelgängers – Tessa Thompson and Kiersey Clemons.
Jason Maek: Hmm...Will Smith always seems like the right answer, lol.
Words: Elena Stanciu