Ziggy Alberts has a restless heart. Ever since he was a young boy, growing up in Queensland, he has felt an uneasiness coursing through his body. “At times, I’ve gotten lost in the expanse of all that. There are even times where I still do now,” he says. As he’s gotten older, he’s turned to meditation and songwriting, distilling great emotional work into song. His new record, searching for freedom, awakens the senses through his particular brand of indie-folk music, perfectly coated with lyrics about vulnerability, want, and truthful intimacy.
“A real catalyst was when I simply couldn’t run from it anymore. There was no amount of busyness that could hide my restlessness within,” Alberts tells American Songwriter, “and that is basically how I accidentally started meditation. By realising that sometimes there is no action to take, but rather, out of that stillness you can find some peace and then the way forward will be clear.”
Now, teetering on the age of 27, he firmly plants himself on the “path of getting to know myself, and the continued intention to do things in a way that are of true positive benefit for my loved ones and society, as a whole,” he reflects. His pursuits are also entrenched in “love and freedom,” vital components of most people’s lives these days. “It is now, more than ever, a conscious cornerstone of my life.”
Inexplicably tethered to his life’s journey, Alberts works through such personal revelations explicitly in his songwriting. Over the last 12 months, the Australian singer-songwriter dug “deeper into my core values, the truly important things in my life, and I think it has encouraged many people to also do the same,” he says. “It has tested our philosophies and that in itself is a gift, even when it seems hard at times. This album I think explores new topics that I haven’t raised before, and creatively is a calm and incredibly detailed piece of work.”
With the title track, its musical intricacies worming into the skin, he makes this simple observation: with everything everyone’s expecting from me / searching for freedom / slowing down time. You can feel his words drive down to the bones; it’s the kind of lamentation that is eerily universal. Time, as both a natural and manmade construct, is a never-ending loop ─ and yes, it feels like its speeding up quite mercilessly right now.
“Time feels like it is moving more quickly than ever, and that is largely due to the immense amount of shows I’ve played and travelling I’ve done. It is also the number of things I try to achieve day to day that I’m sure perpetuates this feeling,” muses Alberts. “I’ve been incredibly committed to my career since even before 20 years old, and it has been a very colorful period of my life. I would say these last two years, from 25 to now nearly 27, have moved at a tremendous pace. I find time at home moves even quicker than on the road.”
Time’s hand, either intentionally or not, makes its presence known across 12 songs. With that, there comes strands of independence and dependence, frayed strands woven indelibly into the fabric of human existence. For Alberts, he has undergone such a push and pull in numerous ways, from founding his own record label (Commonfolk Records) to his sobriety. Throw fear aside / With growth, come alone, he cries across delicate guitar waves on “keeper,” written back in 2018. Vulnerability on full display, Alberts both confronts his pain and celebrates exactly how far he’s come.
“I’ve always been quite self-conscious about the duality of the subject. My dad said something really cool to me one day, suggesting that basically we aren’t truly independent beings,” he offers. “We depend on trees for the oxygen we breathe, the earth for our food and water, on others for support and love. We depend on our community, and we depend on each other ─ and this song is a celebration and admittance of the healthy things and people to which we are truly dependent.”
It all makes sense / Seeing you again / Like transit was the only routine / That fits in here, he sings. His worry hangs like grapes on the vine, musically reminiscent of Norah Jones’ “Sunrise” and Ben Howard’s “Gracious,” and primes the listener for the album’s emotional storyboard.
In the slow unraveling of “chocolate,” Alberts mourns mainstream culture’s belief that to have everything and be happy in life, you need fame and fortune. Those things “can be sources of great happiness,” he offers, “but I can say from personal experience these meant nothing when I was lacking in the fundamentals. In fact, sometimes fame made me feel lonelier than ever.”
Initially, he began writing the song at the tail end of 2018 “in the back of a big removal truck that we’d hired to play Falls Festival in Tasmania,” he remembers. He continued chipping away at the lyrics throughout the following summer, working with Paulie Bromley, and wrapped it up when he set about recording the record. “This is a really comfortable part of my range, and we were in a great flow at this point. It’s one of the most fantastic recordings on the whole album; nothing bites. It was the first time I sang a harmony on my own song ever.”
Later, “chemistry” appears as a tortured spirit, as he sifts through uncertainty to finally trust the journey of this so-called life. “I wrote this considering how being deeply vulnerable with somebody can be so scary, but the reward of love and how it makes us feel supersedes every conceivable risk of being heartbroken. Sometimes, we forget that the heart is made to heal, that we are made to heal. This doesn’t mean we should be more careless with ourselves or others; but we should realise our ability to heal and feel stronger for it.”
Alberts also began to understand that every decision, good and bad, set him on a path to the present. “I love where I am today,” he beams. Instead of screaming out about what should or could have been, he embraces “the ups and down” ─ “knowing if you are being conscious in your day to day, if you are coming from a place of love, you are headed in the right direction, regardless of how off course moments may feel.”
Always planned as the album’s core ballad, he first “discovered [himself] singing the opening melody and playing the piano with my right hand… somewhere in a soundcheck,” he recalls. One day, while visiting collaborators Paddy Macrae and Zane Harris (of The Dreggs) at their house, the trio began jamming out together. “Paddy started playing the same progression on guitar, and it just took on this 90’s acoustic rock feel,” he says, adding how it reminds him of such alt/rock staples as “Iris” by The Goo Goo Dolls, “Drive” by Incubus, and Powderfinger’s “These Days.”
“The recording process for this was rough. Truly. Because it had so many different ways it could be presented, that kind of led us down the rabbit hole with options,” he continues. “It settled where I think it’s truly supposed to be for this record, an acoustic ballad. My favourite part about this song is all the noises in the guitar take and the counter melody. It’s one of my favourite parts of the track; the realness of recordings that aren’t squeaky clean. I also love the counter melody that Angela sings at the end that we’ve treated in a synth-like way. It’s beautiful.”
Alberts freely toys with various elements of humanity on the record, soon arriving upon the yin and yang notion with “getting low.” Maybe it’s just me / But it feels like I am always homesick, he warbles over a prickling rhythmic base. His emotional bottoming out plays in bright contrast to the song’s woodsy and connected rattle.
The song centers itself around “not giving into fear and never giving up hope,” he says. “Being human is super weird. We are on a planet floating in space flying through the universe with a burning ball of fire we rely on for life that also makes us happy ─ and there is no roof. We are alive in the face of death every waking moment of the day.”
“Life and death come together as two sides of one whole. I think that this duality is one of the most challenging things I’ve been learning to accept and celebrate. I wrote this song as an expression of the things that made me really happy and really sad,” he adds, “and the story ends with a mantra of reassurance, of never giving up hope and not giving into fear, no matter what you face through your inner and outer world.”
The song, bursting into a shiny horn section by the end, yanks Alberts back to one specific “flashback to being on the Nullarbor in Western Australia, laying out in the desert by the sea looking under the stars… it was breathtaking,” he remembers. “We surfed so much that particular trip, and I found a real solace in nature from what I was going through, personally.”
Ziggy Alberts bares his heart and soul on searching for freedom. 12 songs and 12 stories, the musician and songwriter is at his most honest, probing the darkest parts of himself as a way to cleanse, heal, and move forward. For now, he finds peace, and tomorrow, he awaits vast possibility.