Zarir Warden’s first ever show was in July 2004 at Not Just Jazz by the Bay, that paid <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>800
Zarir Warden’s first ever show was in July 2004 at Not Just Jazz by the Bay, that paid 800

Frontman goes solo: The story of Zarir Warden

The OG of covers and vocalist of ONEmpire sheds light on his new journey and jostle as he connects with Candian producers and works towards his EP
By Karishma Kuenzang
PUBLISHED ON FEB 20, 2021 09:26 PM IST

With the release of his third song, it seems like musician Zarir Warden has embraced his solo career. Something he’s been thinking about doing for a couple of years, while collaborating with fellow members of Mumbai cover band ONEmpire to explore something different creatively.

“I’m so comfortable with the boys from the band that I felt I wasn’t pushing myself too much. The pandemic gave us plenty of time off shows and was perfect for me to give it a shot,” says the Mumbai boy, whose first gig was in July 2004 at Not Just Jazz by the Bay, with one show a month that paid 800. He then dabbled in his dad’s tourism business till 2011, while playing private events, after which he decided to jump in full-time.

Lenny Kravitz meets James Bay

And why not? He had been a part of the ensemble for about 12 years (they rebranded as ONEmpire in 2017). “It’s scary. I probably should have attempted this when I was 24 rather than 34,” he laughs. Better late than never.

Zarir Warden had been a part of the ensemble for about 12 years and they rebranded as ONEmpire in 2017
Zarir Warden had been a part of the ensemble for about 12 years and they rebranded as ONEmpire in 2017

He did discuss it with the boys first and it was weird to work without them, and instead tie up with musicians he’d never spoken to before, most of whom were based out of Canada, and putting up all the songs, working from 1 am and ended at 8 am in his bedroom.  

Aiming to make the songs as simple, relatable and catchy as possible, Zarir’s biggest inspiration is Lenny Kravitz, clearly audible in Zarir’s edgy and raw vibe, sans any electronic samples to keep it as organic as possible. There are also hints of James Bay, whom Zarir tags as the “modern Lenny Kravitz”, with a touch of gospel. Kind of like Lenny Kravitz meets James Bay in a church courtyard. “Age (and experience) helps you write better,” laughs the songwriter, whose debut titled What’s Going On? months into the lockdown addressed the chaos in everyone’s minds, while his second single, Fire, had more of an edge.

Quick questions with Zarir Warden
Quick questions with Zarir Warden

Cover vs originals

It’s an expansion of his skill-set, not the result of a covers vs original war, he’s clear. “Everyone has done it – Bruce Springsteen, U2 and even Tina Turner, 30 per cent of whose shows were cover songs! Her cover of Price’s Nothing Compares 2 U is more popular. Fact is, people respond to covers more,” he says, giving the example of TV shows that feature just covers today. He also feels covers are more difficult than an original. “Because if I’m going on stage and singing a Queen song, I can’t screw it up or I will get something thrown at me! If I screw up in my own song, people may not even notice the mistake,” he laughs.  

Zarir opines that you have to make each song your own, especially when you’re doing a cover
Zarir opines that you have to make each song your own, especially when you’re doing a cover

Of course, there’s a stereotype that applies to people who do covers, but that’s because of the many who play three chord songs just as they are, without thinking about it. “There are no shortcuts. You have to make each song your own. Why would people come for my “show if it was just a copy of the original? I’m not trying to be Freddie Mercury but doing it our own way,” Zarir adds. Though he finds that people still look down on cover bands and say things to the band’s face! “But thing is, I do covers that make people come back month after month. Today, musicians who had looked down on covers are releasing some themselves,” says the self-confessed social media recluse.  

What’s next? Five new songs in 2021, including a cheesy one he released just before Valentines’ Day. “I’m a sucker for cheesy songs and, of course, a Backstreet Boys fan,” he signs off.

Follow @KKuenzang on Twitter and Instagram

From HT Brunch, February 21, 2021

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Zarir Warden’s first ever show was in July 2004 at Not Just Jazz by the Bay, that paid <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>800
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