Oh, Zella Day… Is it Wednesday? I'm not sure, but I have to confess to my woman-crush on Zella Day. Just don't tell my boyfriend. She played at School Night at the Brooklyn Bowl recently where we got to chat and catch up after her set.
Zella stunned the crowd.
I kept asking myself, "Where did this girl come from?", "Where on earth does she pull that voice from?", and of course, "Did that septum piercing hurt?" These questions rolled through my mind as I jammed out with my friend to each of Zella's songs. She performed her smash hits, "Sweet Ophelia" and "East of Eden" among a handful of songs that haven't been released yet.
Her set ebbed and flowed from high energy songs into slower ones, fully utilizing her band to doing solo songs like her "Seven Nation Army" cover. I recently read someone reference her as a happier Lana Del Rey and I couldn't help but laugh. I dislike comparing up and coming artists to other more established artists because I feel like it puts them in a box that can sometimes be hard to get out of. But when I met Zella, she effortlessly emitted happy vibes and giant smiles to everyone. So I could understand the "happier" portion of the comparison. But I have a strong feeling that Zella won't need to be compared to any other musicians because she is quickly defining herself within the music industry all on her own.
We talked about growing up in a small town and growing up alongside her music. Read below to see what else Zella Day had to share with us.
EARMILK: Lets start at the beginning and see where we go from there. You first came onto the radar with your cover of The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army". Did you think that it was going to get you attention the way it did?
Zella Day: I think it was received very well. I think "Seven Nation Army" is a really strong song. It is still very prevalent today, I mean, I'll go out and still hear it playing everywhere. I decided to switch it up a little bit and do the song my own way. I think it was a whole different version that I was able to take it out of the place that it lives in now. Honestly, I did expect people to notice it because my version was so sonically different than the original. It didn't get picked up that heavily, but it definitely got enough attention and I really appreciate that. Plus, I love Jack White, so anything I can do to show my appreciation to that guy is a win for sure.
EM: So this weekend, and even as we speak now, you ranked really high on Hype Machine with your latest release "East of Eden" and even your track "Sweet Ophelia" which has been out for a little bit.
ZD: It's so weird! We actually landed in the plane yesterday and they told me, "Hey Zella, you're number one on Hype Machine. And number five!" It is so awesome!
EM: And "Sweet Ophelia" has been officially out in the world for a bit, so that's quite impressive that it is getting that sort of traction after all this time.
ZD: Yeah. It has been out for four months. I don't know if that counts as while, but it's definitely pretty great.
EM: How did music come into your life? You were raised in Arizona, at what point did you decide that music was going to be your path?
ZD: I've sang since I was a little girl. Like most little girls, I was singing Snow White songs and I picked up a guitar when I was nine years old. I really decided that I wanted to do it. When I was like six or seven, I was looking for myself on the radio. I was asking my mom where my songs were and why my songs weren't on there. My mom told me, "Zella, I think you need to learn an instrument. If you want to be a musician, you need to pick up a guitar and learn it so you don't have to rely on anybody. Go out and play what you want to play." So I started playing when I was nine years old and I started naturally writing when I was about eleven. By the time I was thirteen, I had recorded an independent album.
EM: You've somewhat recently made a transition to L.A. from Arizona, what has that been like?
ZD: I really love L.A. and what it has done for my music. The cool thing about Pinetop, where I'm from is that I was literally the only young person playing music out there. I think that could be bad and good, but for me it was healthy. I didn't have anybody that I needed to compare myself. I was just free to be whoever I wanted to be. There was no limitation or expectation of my music. So I just sort of evolved into my own artist self. About two years ago, when I moved to L.A., it was different because there were a ton of people doing the same thing that I was. I think that raised the bar for me in a really healthy way. I have really bettered myself and worked harder because I realized that the field that I'm playing in is really intense. I mean, there are a lot of people that want the same thing that I do so it hasn't been easy like my small town in Arizona was.
EM: What do you have planned for the rest of the year to keep this forward momentum you've developed going?
ZD: I have an EP coming out in August. That will have four tracks on it. It will have "Sweet Ophelia", "East of Eden", and two new ones that you may have heard tonight. So that's next, and hopefully after that a Fall tour. We're not sure if we're going to do England or the U.S. yet.
EM: What was that last song you just performed in that set?
ZD: That was "Jameson"! It is really, really new. It's only about three weeks old. That was a really cool one because I wrote that song in my living room and then the next day I was so passionate about it that during rehearsal I convinced the guys to try it out. Within an hour, we had it, and it is one of my favorites to play on stage.
EM: Where do you find your inspiration for your songs?
ZD: I find my inspiration through a lot of things. I think that life experience is really interesting to me. The way that people operate is really interesting to me, too. I write about love, I write about the place that I'm from a lot, I think even more so now that I'm removed from it. My home is something that is really inspiring and it is kind of a spectacle of a place. I draw from the palette that is Arizona; the old Western, the cowboy heart, the old genuine mentality of a small town that doesn't really exist outside of a place like that. I've sort of drawn from the simplicity of Pinetop and that has been a huge inspiration lately. I'm just doing my thing and growing up. So anything that I can write about along the way, whether that's heartbreak, mistakes, learning new things, or whatever, it is all encompassing.
EM: That's awesome! Do you have any last word for EARMILK readers?
ZD: Oh, EARMILK. I really love that name and it creates really strange images in my head, but I love it and thank you!
Her catalog may not be extensive at this point, but the songs that she has released so far have received some notable remixes; from Gold Fields, Dntel, IYES, and more! The Marian Hill remix of "Sweet Ophelia" rocketed her further into the universe and listeners began to really pay attention.
If you aren't already, you're going to want to start paying attention. Zella Day is on the road to something big. Maybe she won't be the next Lana Del Rey, but I think being Zella Day might be better.