Waynick: Simple music that comes from the heart and goes straight to it

Beirut Today interviews indie band Waynick on making easily relatable music, their debut EP and managing a band.

Waynick performing in KED, Karantina, Beirut Lebanon on July 19 2018. Photo credit: Laudy Issa

On stage in KED, the rest of the world seems to disappear for the five members of Waynick as they share an intimate group hug that lasts for a solid five minutes after their final song performance.

The crowd had gone from singing and swaying along to their upbeat, heartfelt tunes to holding back tears. The folk pop band had dedicated the final song of the evening to their lead vocalist’s mother, who had passed away two months prior to the July 19 launch of their debut five-song EP, “Before I Leave.” It’s a heavy moment, but Waynick pushes through it together.

It’s also a big moment. And their earnest reaction to it serves as a refreshing reminder of how powerful music that comes from the heart –as corny as that may sound– can be. Waynick understands that music doesn’t have to be complex to move listeners: Genuine lyrics and gentle, upbeat arrangements are at the core of their sound. Simplicity also emerges as a central topic of discussion two weeks later when we sit together in Zaatar w Zeit, Zalka, a convenient location for a band that self-identifies as being 40 percent about music and 60 percent about food.

Sara Abdo (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, ukulele) and Cyril Abdo (lead guitar, backing vocals) sit on the booth across from Joe Kazan (lead vocals, keys) and me. Malek Nacouzi (bass guitar, synth) would not be joining us, and Nicolas Tabanji (drums, percussions) is missing. 

“Wayn Nick?” Sara Abdo asks her bandmates about Tabanji’s whereabouts, mostly unsurprised. The drummer had made a habit out of getting lost or being late from their very first meeting, a habit that would forever be commemorated with the band’s name.

Joe Kazan and Sara Abdo had spent their childhood summers performing songs together, eventually growing apart and reuniting to form Waynick with musician friends. What was meant to be their first band practice ended up being a two-hour search for Tabanji, who had called Kazan to let him know that his phone was dying and that he had never been to AUB before.

“Then his phone turns off,” Kazan laughs. “Nick was sitting outside AUB’s Main Gate, in front of McDonald’s, and we were sitting inside. We went all around campus but couldn’t find each other, so that’s how the name came up.”

We keep busy as we wait, light laughter and small talk filling up what could never have turned into awkward silence with Sara Abdo and Kazan’s charismatic characters. Cyril Abdo is quiet, only occasionally adding to the conversation but constantly smiling. He joined the band later, after being approached by Kazan to perform with the band at AUB Outdoors.

It’s only a short while before Tabanji arrives, plotting down opposite to me as the Lebanese band delves into the details of their EP, what it’s like to simultaneously play in and manage a band, and what’s next for Waynick.

Were you always into indie-folk?

SARA ABDO: Not all of us used to listen to the same thing, but eventually, we ended up having the same taste or idea regarding where we want to get to with our original music. We started as covers and each of us came from different backgrounds but eventually when we aimed at making our own music, we agreed on a certain pattern.

Kazan: It was less of an explicit understanding and more implicit.

S Abdo: It was spontaneous.

Kazan: The genre that we play is not something I like to label at the moment. For now, it does have a pop element and a folk element, but otherwise, I think that if I want to describe what we do, it’s just simple music. Music that comes from the heart and goes to the heart. That’s why a lot of people are responding to the music positively, because when Sara and I write, it’s usually about our stories. It’s things that we deal with on a daily basis and pouring out our souls into words.

S Abdo: And eventually into music.

Kazan: I think people relate to that, and that’s why it works. We try to keep it as simple as possible. I don’t think music has to be complicated for it to be good music. You can just stick to the simplicity of things and I think that’s why it’s working so far.

But is there another genre you’d like to explore?

S Abdo: It’s not just about exploring, it’s about growing as an artist and growing together as a band into a certain type of music that you might actually click in.

Let’s talk a bit about your EP, “Before I Leave.” How are you feeling about the release?

S Abdo: So Happy. I think all of us share the same feelings. We’re very overwhelmed with the end result. We did not expect such great feedback and attendance at the release.

Kazan: 300 people was not something we expected. It’s a trend we’ve been seeing at our recent concerts, where we do minimal advertising at first and then we reach the venue and it’s not what we expected at all. We did Onomatopoeia about 2 or 3 months ago, and the venue fits 50 people or 70 if they’re standing and not sitting. There were 90 people there, 20 of them were outside. Sara and I looked at each other and asked, “Do you know that person?” and it was great to see that people we don’t know were showing up and enjoying our music and singing along to some of the songs we hadn’t even released yet.

S Abdo: Exactly, I think that this is the reward in itself. To see not only your friends singing along to your music, or friends of your friends, but also to meet people you don’t even know that have, by accident, been introduced to your music and ended up being fans of it. I think this is the reward.

Kazan: Are we sidetracking from the question too much?

No, no. You’re doing great.

Kazan: I think what helped as well was that we got significant radio play over the year with “Carolina.” We had a few interviews on Radio One, and they really liked the song, so they put it on radio play and it kept getting requested by people, or so we’ve been told by them. At some point, it was playing three times a day.

S Abdo: We weren’t understanding what was happening at the time.

Kazan: And now we understand the repercussions of that. People are showing up at our concerts and we don’t know them. There’s a general vibe that’s cool.

Are you bored of listening to or playing “Carolina”?

S Abdo: Of course not, because it’s what got us going. “Carolina” is a catchy song that came from the heart at the time. It was genuine, and it evolved into something very catchy, radio-friendly.

Kazan: But I don’t think that was the aim ever.

S Abdo: It was not the aim, but that’s where it went. It was surprising. “Carolina” actually started randomly in the AUB music room and Nick started doing a certain beat on the drums –

CYRIL ABDO: And then Sara started singing “turuturu.”

S Abdo: It started very randomly, we just started singing “turuturu” and it went from there.

C Abdo: The song itself evolved a lot.

S Abdo: It was something very depressing that I wrote in my room and it turned into something else with the other members.

I can think of other bands who look back to their earlier works and are a bit embarrassed by it because they grew out of it. Do you think you’ll get to a point where you’re going to feel the same way or have a different opinion on this than you do now?

S Abdo: I don’t think we’re ever going to get to a point where we’re going to feel that we’re embarrassed by what we’ve done. As Joe said, when it’s something that comes from the heart and from your own experiences, it’s something that you’ll always look back on and remember, and maybe laugh, be sad, smile, or even be proud of where you are now. It’s not something that you’ll be embarrassed by ever. It’s just like anything you’ve done in life. It was something genuine. As long as it’s genuine, I don’t think you’ll ever be embarrassed by it.

Kazan: And I don’t think we’re going to drift into something very different than what we’re doing at the moment. I feel like there’s an overemphasis on music being niche in the music scene in Lebanon and in general. A lot of people are focusing on particular genres that are not very accessible to the everyday listener.

S Abdo: I think it’s very simple. You don’t have to complicate it. The music scene here, a lot of bands sing in English but if you go more into the bands that sing in Arabic you’ll find that they have very simple melodies that people get stuck on because they’re so catchy. I think, regardless of whether the content of the music is nice or not, it’s about being able to move people. It either does or doesn’t. There’s a million styles and people, with time and what they’re listening to, evolve. Eventually, it’s just something that the music makes you feel. You either feel it or you don’t.

Kazan: I guess it’s up to time to tell if, someday, we’re going to get bored of the music we play at the moment but I don’t think we’ll ever be embarrassed by it. That’s a shorter version of it.

You were talking about how you two would sit and write songs. Can you elaborate on your creative process?

Kazan: So, basically, the writing is me and Sara. The composing is with everyone else. The creative process itself has changed as well. At the beginning, one of us would be writing and then we’d put things together. A lot of the times, I’d be writing about my own personal experiences but I wouldn’t share them with Sara and she’d be doing the same. As time passed by, we were opening up more to each other about what we were writing and we found a lot of things in common that we were struggling with and talking about in our songs that we didn’t know were there. It made the songs more intimate, and a bit more personal. It’s been an interesting year.

What do you think is the best memory or lesson you associate with making this EP?

C Abdo: Making this EP was so constructive for all of us on so many levels, musically or planning-wise. I think the whole process, going from having nothing to having an EP. And to thinking about the way to advertise it, getting in touch with managers, creating an event, doing business. It’s a whole project that we’ve all learned from together, from A to Z.

S Abdo: I agree with Cyril. The EP was sort of a breakthrough for us because we found out that, at some point, you have to mix business with pleasure. At first, it was all about just making music and writing songs. Then we reached a point where we wanted to make this EP. But what do we need to make this EP? We realized that we don’t have a manager, and we don’t have anyone running us. So we decided that it’s either going to be us making it by dividing tasks or we’re just not going to do the EP. Just like Cyril said, you need a lot of planning. So we ended up dividing tasks. We ended up sometimes being too tired, too cranky, or stressed out about the business side about what we’re composing. We learned that sometimes you have to stick to the business side in order to make the music side work, because it’s complimentary. Especially since we don’t have a manager.

Kazan: I think that the best memory is the final result. Even though we enjoyed the process of actually doing it, seeing it as a final product is such a satisfying thing to see. Having the physical CD in your hands –

NICOLAS TABANJI: It’s like holding your baby.

Kazan: And playing it live to over 300 people is such an overwhelming experience. I think that’s the best memory out of it.

You sing “Home is wherever it feels like home” in “Better Days.” Where does it feel like home to you?

S Abdo: It’s exactly what the lyric says. It’s not just specific four walls. It’s not my home, Joe’s home, Nick’s home; it’s wherever it feels like home. It’s about the people, where you feel safe and happy and share some good and bad memories.

Kazan: As an EP, “Before I Leave” is a journey for us as musicians and as people. We’ve been trying to discover who we are, what we are, what we’re doing and in this process, I think we tried to go a bit far and discover different places. We tried travelling, not geographically but trying different things and figure out what we are supposed to be doing and we kind of realized that it wasn’t about going the extra mile towards somewhere else to find what you want. Sometimes, home is within you. The people who are closest to you are the people who really matter. The places that are closest to you, as much as you might hate them, are still home. I think that’s the take-home message. One of the essential themes is the theme of escape in “Before I Leave.” There’s a sort of escape towards something, the notion that the grass is always greener on the other side. We showed that, not only in the lyrics, but in the design as well. The “W” on the cover is towards something else, with the front of it being Beirut, a city with all its concrete jungle and the back being a more beachy kind of place where you can just let go and escape. I think the challenge for most of us is finding that escape in your proximity without having to escape geography.

Who actually designed your cover art?

S Abdo: The Nick in Waynick. He studied graphic design and is doing his master’s at the Lebanese University.

Tabanji: It was kind of a brainstorming between all of us, but I took care of the technical part.

It’s very interesting that you as a band are handling everything. You’re designing your own covers, writing your own songs, making your own music, and you’re managing everything.

Kazan: It’s a bit of a DIY project.

Do you think that makes something even more important for you?

S Abdo: I think we’re very protective of everything we do. We haven’t had the opportunity to meet someone who is available and can be as dedicated to our work as we are. For now, we’re managing but I don’t know for how long we’ll be able to do this. We have busy lifestyles. We love it, and we manage it for now, but I don’t know for how long we’d be able to do this.

Kazan: But I think Laudy [that’s me, your friendly neighborhood band interviewer] meant it in a way that because we’re doing everything ourselves, it makes it even more personal. And that’s why there are people who can relate to our EP, because they see that it’s genuine. It’s kind of our baby.

So, Beirut’s on your cover. Listening to “Piccadilly” had me questioning whether the song is about the city.

S Abdo: “Piccadilly” is about a lot of things.

Kazan: “Piccadilly” is about going into a professional world and being disappointed by the way people lead their lives and the calling they have. Basically, people get into a certain career, but you sometimes feel like they don’t do it from the heart. Sometimes they get into humanitarian work, but you feel like they’re doing it for their self-esteem or not doing it for the original reason they went into it in the first place. As a person who goes into “the real world” or as an adult, you feel like you’re losing touch with the original reason you went into this. That’s where the inspiration for “Piccadilly” came from. In it, we say that “we chose the faces we would wear” and that’s kind of what I mean by that. People are living these double lives, hiding all their insecurities behind curtains. That’s what pushed me to call the song “Piccadilly,” since Piccadilly is a theatre in Hamra which is currently closed down. So that’s kind of the fate of these hidden lives.

S Abdo: I have another take on this song as well, especially since I’m in the theatre domain. In theatre, you have these characters that you have to play as an actress or actor that you cannot play in real life. You think about how many people want to be someone but cannot be because of society or how people might look at them. It’s also about trying to be someone you want to be, but you can’t so eventually you have to wear a mask to hide. It’s about the contrast between being someone you want to be and being someone that you are not.

Do you have a favorite song off the EP?
[Chaos breaks out. Band members frantically scramble to select their favorite child.]

C Abdo: They’re all so different. Each one has a different feeling, even between when we play it live, acoustic, or in studio. There are so many different versions for each song.

S Abdo: Even if you, as a listener, listen to the EP and to each song. Each song has a different vibe. They have the same character, if you want, but are different at the same time. You have “Piccadilly” which is to people a happy and catchy song but if you look at the lyrics and actually understand the song, it’s pretty deep. There’s “Fumes,” which is a happy road trip song to people and started at a band camp actually. There’s also “Better Days.” They’re all very personal in their own way, I guess.

What’s coming next for you?

Kazan: We’re trying to maximize the reach of our EP. We’re going to film a music video soon with Jessica Mansour, whose directing it. She’s some great things, worked with Doueiri on “The Insult” and filmed for Anghami, as well.

S Abdo: She’s also a close friend.

Kazan: She’s an old friend from where we used to spend our summers. She recently contacted us and said she’d like to do a music video for us. We’re really excited to work with her because she’s had some really cool ideas and we hope that we can put them into action.

We’re also going to be playing a few gigs and planning on doing some sort of small Lebanese tour, going North and South and meeting different people from different cities. I think that before going abroad, we need to get to know the Lebanese population a little. A lot of people message us on the band page saying that they wish this gig wasn’t in Beirut, so they’d be able to come. Maybe that’s a chance for us to meet these people and we’ll see with time how it goes.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention (aside from asking people to follow you on Facebook and Instagram)?

C Abdo: We’re going to be collaborating with music shops so they start selling our CDs, so hopefully they’ll be available in many of them soon.

Kazan: That’s also something difficult. Since we don’t have a record label, we have to do the distributing ourselves. Concerning the audience that we see at our events and the overwhelming response we’ve been getting, what’s cool is that we’re attracting a kind of crowd that doesn’t usually watch Lebanese live music. There’s this crowd of people that usually listens to folk, pop, and indie but that has generally been uninterested in attending Lebanese acts, for I don’t know what reasons. For some reason, they’re attending ours. I think that we’re catering to a crowd that hasn’t been exposed to the Lebanese music scene so far.

Tabanji: But we’re talking about the underground music scene.

Kazan: The underground music scene, for the past few years, we get the same people attending all the concerts. We don’t see a lot of them at our concerts, but we see a lot of people who usually don’t go to these things and that’s very encouraging because it means that a lot of people are more aware of the music being produced within their countries and not actually looking to international artists. That’s what keeps us going.

What do you think of the music scene now? Is it tough to be musicians here? Are their opportunities.

S Abdo: It’s tough to be a musician anywhere, but art in general is underestimated in Lebanon so you don’t have much opportunities in any major related to the arts specifically. Of course, it’s tough but you have to pull through eventually if you want to do this. I think that if you have the motivation, you’ll reach it eventually.

Also, we really couldn’t have done it without our friends. We set up the event but had a lot of help from our friends and we couldn’t have done the release without them. All the people, from those at the entrance and putting the lighting to those selling the CDs and the people on the bar, they were all our friends.

C Abdo: These are people who believed in us from the very beginning, so this is really encouraging.