Chicago duo Zaena x Jason Maek celebrated the release of their new visual album, Freshman, on Sept. 28 at Cerise. The event kicked off their 30-city Freshman Tour with iHeartRadio, KISS FM, Rolling Stone and more.
The party was as much for the crew and staff who made the project possible. The duo expressed their gratitude and kicked off the party by previewing two new songs: "Get to Work" and "Get You Right." As longtime collaborator DJ Sky Rockit took over the music, they circulated among the crowd to talk with friends, crew, and fans old and new.
Windy City Times: All of your albums have been visual albums. What's driven you to that form?
Zaena: We wanted to do something different, something that wasn't going to come and go so quickly, something that was going to have a bigger impact. You're trying to tell a story with the first [album, Maek Pandamonium], and that's when we were doing more electronic musicthat happened to be the first electronic visual album ever, which was great for us to be able to say.
Jason Maek: Film is one of my favorite things to be involved in, so we always try to put together a good narrative, and a song is just storytelling, and if you can give somebody an image of what you might be thinking about, or something that's completely different than the perspective that you were thinking. … It's just cool. And we work with a lot of great filmmakers all the time, which is awesome.
WCT: You can see that in the nostalgia element in your videos, like Pandamonium's clips from Fresh Prince.
JM: Definitely! … It's cool, we sit down and come up with ideas, and luckily we don't have anyone who tells us no!
Zaena: Nobody to stop us from taking on too much. It's like, "Another visual album? Let's do it!"
WCT: Do the visuals have a relationship to the music? Do you develop them simultaneously, or have the visuals in mind as you make the song?
JM: Yeah it depends. Every one is a bit different.
Zaena: I know with some songs … even as we're creating from the melodic strings I can see this: this feels like this type of visual, and that will be our focus as we're cleaning it up. But some songs you have no idea what the visual should be until it's all done and … you sit down and ask, "Okay, what does this feel like? What would be the best way to convey the emotion that this song is really about?"
JM: And sometimes we're just like, "Oh, that would be cool!"
Zaena: That's very true, too. [Laughs]
JM: Like the one we just played, "Get to Work." We were like, "Let's try Coming to America. … This could go really bad or not. Let's do it!"
WCT: You've talked about how Freshman is a concept album dealing with college, maybe as a critique of the college experience?
JM: Freshman deals with a lot of truths about college … I am the stereotype, I went to college at 15, I stayed in college because I thought I had to, did my master's and Ph.D., and it was one of those things [where] I was going through the motions, and once I left I was like, "Wait a minute, there's a lot of things in the system [that are] broken and needs fixing." … There's a lot of things we talk about in the album … It's introspective because we both have college experiences.
WCT: And all of your shows for the tour are on college campuses around the country. What determined that?
Zaena: The whole theme for the project was telling the story of the college experience, so what better way than to bring it to the college campuses … something that they can have throughout their four years in college to grow with them?
JM: The overall thing with both projects is that whatever it is you want to do, just go do it. Figure it out, whatever it is, whether you need eight years of school or no years, just go do it. And college is important, because that is your apex of trying to figure it out, and so maybe sharing the album might lend an idea or two, might help.
Zaena and Jason Maek will be playing at Columbia College on Oct. 16. Information on the show can be found at www.eventbrite.com/e/the-freshman-tour-at-columbia-college-tickets-50317865089.
For more information on the Freshman Tour here, check out Freshmantour.com .