1883 Magazine
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Having grown up in a small ranch town in Arizona, Zella Day has successfully used the powers of social media to traverse international waters and take the music world by storm. At only 18 she has successfully released several singles including Sweet Ophelia, Compass and East of Eden, all of which have reached the top 3 in the Hype Machine popular chart, whilst she has recently been cited as one of the most blogged about artists of the year so far.

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Before attracting attention in 2012 with her cover of The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army (reaching number one on the Hype Machine) Zella was performing acoustic covers of Dylan, Presley and Bobby Darin in her family-owned Mor Mor coffee house. She began writing her own songs aged 13, heavily influenced by the vast, natural beauty that surrounded her in rural Pinetop. Describing herself as having been the ultimate ‘flower child’, her country roots are palpable in the folky/Western sound that, as has often been suggested, is redolent of a ‘happier Lana Del Ray’. 

Days before the release of her debut EP, I caught up with Zella to ask her a few questions.

I read that you are ‘one of the most blogged about artists of the year so far’ - how do you feel about the sort of leverage and exposure social media sites give to emerging artists nowadays?

If I hadn’t have gotten recognition from blogs this year, my year would have been much quieter. For a developing artist like myself it typically takes longer to get out on the road and build a fan base. I always imagined myself doing it the hard way; getting a band together, jumping in the van, and hoping that the right person would hear me at the right time. The leverage I’ve gotten from blog attention has definitely changed the pace. I’ve had people across the world sending me messages complimenting my music as well as asking me when I am to play in their cities. If it weren’t for the social media exposure I wouldn’t have fans in Turkey ;). I’m tremendously grateful for the pervasive connection.

Having grown up in such a small town in Arizona, do you find the prospect of touring multiple, huge cities daunting or thrilling? Do you get homesick whilst away or do you love travelling?

I’m split right down the middle. I have a deep love for my home that I treat as my little cave I escape to. I’ve become dependent on sustainability from living in a small town where everything was so intimate and reliable. I like being home so that I can wake up early and have my favorite tea, open my front door, and burn some palo santo. Traveling so often doesn’t feel daunting as it does scattered. Maybe I’m a bit of a control freak. I’m working on getting in a flow of having mementoes and practices that centre me when I’m away.

To what extent has your small-town background influenced the development of your music stylistically? Do you think being brought up in Pinetop is central to your sound and the way you write?

Being from that specific area in Arizona I had a very strong bond with my surroundings and the supernal ways of nature. I was the epitome of a flower child when I first started playing music, I would take my guitar to hang out in the trees writing songs. I still write from that folky-western part of me, there’s a strong Pinetop vein that runs throughout all of my music.

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Who are you most inspired by musically? And who do you think are the most influential artists at the moment?

I don’t have anybody that I’m “most” inspired by. My influences are a collection of all types of artists. I’ve always been constantly shuffling through sounds, which has caused me not to fall too deeply in love with one specific genre. I went through many phases; I went through my Beatles phase, my GoGo’s phase, my John Prine phase…. all over the place. The first artist that pops into my head for most influential artist of the moment is Sam Smith. I think he’s coming from a genuine place of talent while not letting anyone define him by his sexual orientation, and if somebody is judging him it doesn’t really matter because they’ve already downloaded “Stay with me” twice. He’s not fitting into to any mold or formula to sell out stadiums.

Are you interested in fashion? And how important do you feel your own personal style is? Do you think it is integral to the way in which artists convey themselves to the public and construct a popular image? 

I enjoy creating the aesthetic that correlates with my music. It’s different for all artists but for me in particular it’s important to convey the palette of my world sonically and visually.

Or do you think the media’s focus on musicians style-choices are excessive and merely distract from their music?

Everyone has the power to conduct their imaging in however they see fit. I definitely think that it’s a double standard for women but that’s a whole other conversation.

Do you feel added pressure to conform to a certain ‘look,’ as a young, female artist? 

Yes because the idea of “pretty girl on stage” is never going to evaporate from consumers’ minds, and no because there are circumstances in which nobody knows whose face is behind the voice. Sia has been magic in that sense, she’s written some of the biggest pop songs of the year and if you ask somebody on the street what she looks like nobody can give you a clear description. Here is where the question from earlier regarding blogs comes into play. Having exposure from the Blogging social media platform is very healthy considering that the majority of blogs talk about the best music and has nothing to do with the best face. You will regularly see the top track on Hype Machine having nothing but an illustration for the cover. We are living in an era where great music floats to the top like an air bubble and pops in our ears without any recognizable features.

Did you ever anticipate the sort of success and recognition that you are receiving?

I consider the recognition a success.

Is there a specific genre of music you would one day like to experiment with?

I want to make a Kitty Wells comeback album.

Who would you most like to do a collaboration with?

I’ve been diving into Father John Misty a lot lately. He has a sort of twang that makes me weak at the knees.

What do you most enjoy about being a musician? The live performance/ the writing?

There is this overwhelming feeling of pride when you write a good song that is comparable to being high out of your mind. Being on stage is when I get to serve the music and simply be in it. I couldn’t go without either.

Has writing music always been something that has come naturally to you? Do you find the process quite cathartic?

I don’t write music everyday. I have to be truly inspired emotionally to sit down and let it all go in a song. Nonetheless it helps to work that songwriting muscle as much as you can, but my best songs come when I’m bursting at the seems.

 

Visit Zella Day here: www.facebook.com/ZellaDay

Words by Emma Louise Boynton

@boyntonemma

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