Behind the Beat: Zeke Wilson
Zeke Wilson discusses the artistic process of becoming vulnerable, Wilson and Flan and The Empties.
By: Edwin Thomas, Contributor
Zeke Wilson’s parents raised him on soul music. Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers and Marvin Gaye were the soundtracks of his childhood.
His father, Aron Wilson, is also a musician with two studio albums under his belt. Wilson describes his father as a supportive figure in his life. He taught Wilson to appreciate and play music, came to his shows, gave him feedback and also inspired him to pick up the guitar. Both father and son have similar tastes in music, enjoying Motown, soul and the blues. They could often be found in a jam session together in Aron’s basement studio.
Brought up in Kingston, Ontario, Wilson attended Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute where he established his foundation in music. In grade 10, he would find hip-hop beats on YouTube and rap over them with his friends using Garageband. He transitioned into writing and singing in grade 11 using his father’s basement studio to record vocals.
Around this time, Wilson also started teaching himself Logic Pro, a music recording software. During the remainder of his time in high school, he continuously released singles and collaborated with local artists such as Tshepo. Shortly after, he started playing guitar.
His first performance was during an open mic night at Kingston’s Elm Café, where his father accompanied him on the guitar. Wilson was initially uncomfortable performing in a live setting but found the experience to be very memorable.
“It’s a rush I haven’t gotten tired of. That feeling that you get after playing does not go away. It’s always exciting and exhilarating,” said Wilson.
After high school, Wilson took a gap year to live in Banff for eight months. He wanted to explore a new environment before enrolling in university. While working in a lodge during his stay, he participated in open mic nights every Friday night in a hostel across his residence. He was able to gain a lot of experience performing during this time.
Drawing inspiration from the nature in Banff, Wilson released a three-song, soul-style EP titled Three Seasons in 2019, with a song for every season that occurred during his stay. Besides being an opportunity to grow as an artist and performer, the Banff trip was also memorable for him as he was able to make life-long friends he now considers family. In the future, he sees himself living on either of the coasts.
In 2019, Wilson enrolled in McMaster’s arts and science program. He chose the program because he wanted to experience philosophical discourse and the art side of school while also integrating scientific learning. In his first year, he collaborated with a second-year arts and science student, Mark Pillai, to create the McMaster Music Production Society. Wilson and Pillai wanted to provide a platform for people in the community who were interested in music production. Wilson found that the club helped him find like-minded musicians that supported each other’s work.
While in university, Wilson was also able to grow as a musician. He became more confident in showing his vulnerability through his music and his art became central to his life.His time in Banff had improved his confidence through the low-stakes environment of the open mic night. It allowed him to feel more comfortable expressing himself.
However, Wilson’s time in university fostered his growth in even more significant ways. He was surrounded by musically inclined friends while in residence in Matthews Hall during his first year. He recalled being in the piano room with his friends playing music free of any feelings of nervousness or anxiety. The fear of judgement was a barrier in high school that he had to overcome.
“The vulnerability early in my career was because I wasn’t sure how [my music] would be perceived. In those days, I wasn’t writing the most honest music — I was just writing things that sounded good. It wasn’t a time where I felt comfortable speaking truth through music because I did not want to come off cheesy,” said Wilson
Wilson credits his father, Frank Ocean and Stevie Wonder as long-term influences on his music. He admires their ability to explore new styles with their vocal performances. Currently, the Black Keys and Allen Stone are also new influences on his music.
Shortly after his time in Banff, Wilson collaborated with his close high-school friend, Ethan Flanagan, to create the music duo, Wilson and Flan. At the time, Flanagan was in his first year of McMaster’s commerce program. Wilson credits Flanagan for improving his writing style and understanding the nuances of group work in the music industry.
In the summer of 2020, the duo released their first EP, Just for Now. They stayed in Flanagan’s cottage in Lac Beaven, Quebec for a week, intending to finish the EP before they left. The album has central themes surrounding relationships, as both members of the duo came out of relationships shortly before the album was made. While describing the writing process, Wilson explained how he had to learn how to work and compromise with Flanagan to finish the album.
“Combining ideas can create things that never would have been made on your own. There is a lot you have to sacrifice to consider the greater conception of the album, but being comfortable sharing and accepting ideas is important,” said Wilson.
When asked further about the barriers he had to overcome to grow as an artist, Wilson reflected on his early music career, noting the importance of identity in music.
“The biggest [struggle] for me was trying to find an identity through music when you are still so uncertain of everything in life as a young person. Getting involved and excited about music is a really fun but disorienting process because it is such a subjective field and there are a lot of expectations set on you as an artist, said Wilson. “Having some mindful thinking on how important the [music] process is for you, what it means to you and why you do it is the most important motivator.”
This year, Wilson and Flan performed multiple shows in many different areas of Ontario, including around both Hamilton and Kingston. They also recruited a third member, Ben Hagedoorn, Flanagan’s first-year roommate, to join their duo. In September, the group rebranded under a new name, The Empties.
“The name comes from the feeling like there is this empty slate to write a legacy on,” said Wilson, reflecting on the band’s new beginnings. “It’s the band name that says everything and nothing all at once. We let the music speak for itself.”
The Empties plans on releasing an album next year in collaboration with local artists in Hamilton and Kingston. Make sure to stay tuned for more from this group!