NORTH BEVERLY — Perched above a garage in North Beverly, Jason Maek and Zaena plot their careers in music and entertainment along with a team of about 20 others.
This modest office — made up of comfortable couches, laptop computers and homemade desks — serves as the entertainment headquarters for Maek. Jason Maek and Zaena are the firm's featured artists.
The electronic music duo released "Fashion Week: The Visual Album" earlier this year. What could be the breakout single, titled "Birthday," will be unveiled Monday. The free album has already received praise from MTV, the music video website Vevo, the music video review website NME and more.
"If Sia, Kanye West and DJ Snake had a baby, this album would be that baby," said Maek, who graduated from Mount Carmel High School as Jason Sizer in 2001.
The 10-song project carries the theme of the fashion industry throughout. Each song was released along with a music video, and seven additional video interviews tie the whole thing together, said Maek (pronounced "make").
"Film is like my secret passion," said Maek, who is the chief executive officer of the music label that bears his stage name.
Maek grew up in Marquette Park. Zaena, a native of suburban Evanston, signed with the label in 2013. The two first partnered on "Maek Pandamonium" in 2014, which also received positive reviews, the artists said.
"I was really, really impressed with [Maek's] songwriting. I rarely come across songwriters that are even decent," said the Libya-born Zaena.
The two musicians who live just three blocks away from their unassuming office will embark on a 40-city tour from June 9-Aug. 27. Several stops on the tour include fashion-themed events, which pair nicely with the theme of the new album.
Maek and Zaena also expect to open for several larger acts as well as participate in a handful of electronic music festivals. Indeed, Maek Entertainment last year produced the DayTrip Music Fest at Redmoon Theater in Pilsen.
The label is searching for a new home for the festival this year after Redmoon announced it was closing in December. Maek and Zaena expect to be among the musical acts featured at the self-produced festival.
Maek became confident in his skills as a musician while a student at the University of Illinois, where he studied political science and psychology. He even went on to get a master's degree in urban planning and then pursued a doctorate in sociology from the school in Urbana-Champaign.
He later landed a job working in architecture but in 2010 realized that he could not ignore his passion for music. Meanwhile, Zaena moved to Las Vegas and California to start her music career.
She was writing songs, doing vocal work and even singing commercial jingles before returning to Chicago to partner with Maek. The two initially planned solo projects but soon realized their complementary styles worked well together.
Their indie music label gives away all songs and videos for free — no strings attached. The company makes money by touring, licensing their music, event planning, advertising, merchandise sales and other partnerships, Maek said.
"If people want [the music], they can have it," he said.
Among the recent partnerships, Zaena has signed on as the new face of Akira, a Chicago-based fashion retailer. Akira also provided the wardrobe for all of Maek and Zaena's video shoots, Maek said.
Finding success in Chicago is important to the label. Most of the videos for the album were shot in the city and much of the recording was done here too, Maek said.
He's hoping the release of the single as well as a companywide push to get the song on radio stations throughout the country results in local airplay. He believes one key to success will be Chicagoans embracing the local group.
"We want to be sure we get Chicago first, because Chicago is important," he said.
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