Ziyad Al-Samman cuts an unassuming figure on zoom. He’s punctual, positing a mustache that stands as the midway point between Peter Green’s World War 1 stache and the luminous squiggle hat lay on Phil Lynott’s face. “I was in a Thin Lizzy tribute band,” the songwriter chuckles. “I need to go to Dublin, and see the [Phil Lynott] statue.” We note that we’re in the same timezone, and then enter the discussion. Al-Samman is a young, hungry, precocious songwriter, who is happy to discuss the overarching imprint of the songwriters who led him to this point in his trajectory. “Big time on Cat Stevens, man,” Al-Samman admits. “My dad’s from Syria, and I’m sure I bring a lot of that into my songs.” He’s a Prince fan, although he won’t go as far as to use his Christian name like his idol did. “No, I’m going with Ziyad Al-Samman,” he chuckles. “I won’t just be calling myself Ziyad.” But there’s no denying the influence Prince has left on his work, which is a hefty hybrid of pop, funk, panache and rock. There’s a great deal of soul to his work as a songwriter, which might stem from his upbringing in Jordan, where he spent a great deal of his childhood. “But I’m a British songwriter,” he confirms. “I’m such a Londoner, man,” he says, although he does note that the rise of accommodation has made it trickier to foresee. “But yeah, I’m a British songwriter. Definitely British.” He speaks some Arabic, which is apparent in his music (and the phrase ‘habibi’ pops up on a few occasions during the interview), but he’s most interested in applying his music to everyone. “London’s beautiful, man,” he says. “There’s a place for everyone there.” His interests range from classic rock to electro, and admits that he regularly starts his songs off with a drum sample or loop. “I’ve been writing with this guy called Jules Appolinaire [of Ttrruucces fame] , and I think we’ve written some very good songs together.” He’s preparing himself for an EP, but says he’s very confident as a stage performer. Onstage, he confirms, is spent almost entirely on the microphone, but he’s joined by a collective who ensure that the rhythm is given the polish and panache they need. He’s completed ‘Hard To Say’, which is proving to be something of a fan favourite. “My best stuff has big chords, and it’s pretty hooky, so it gets the audiences in,” Al-Samman says, with well deserved pride.
“I’ll be supporting a Daft Punk tribute band,” Al-Samman exclaims, which further shows his interest in esoteric pop. During our interview, he salutes Los Bitchos, a band he spells out, stressing every letter to ensure it’s been properly notated. “It’s ‘The Bitches’ in Spanish,” he cackles. “Great, isn’t it?” More seriously, he says that work on the next project is well underway. “Me and Jules are working hard,” he says. “Jules is kind of like my producer, and we’re getting some ideas down.” Well, we can’t wait to hear them!
Key Track: “Dark Horse”: It may share a title with a George Harrison track, but this is a much more interesting and inventive affair to the pastoral folk song that was issued in 1974. “Dark Horse” features one of Al-Samman’s tangiest vocals, capturing the essence of the words, every syllable acted upon, and every note rolled. It’s the beginning of something much grander, and New Sounds will be here for the next chapter.
For Fans Of: Phil Lynott, Peter Green, Yusuf Islam, Steve Winwood.