Zella Day: ‘I’m having the most beautiful experiences’

Alexandra Valenti / sfexaminer.com
Alexandra Valenti / sfexaminer.com

Since the release of her album Kicker just over a month ago, LA-based artist Zella Day has been performing and traveling around the country nonstop. In the past month, Zella has appeared at the Firefly Music Festival, Ride Festival, and on Conan and is scheduled to perform at Lollapalooza and the iHeartRadio Music Festival later this year. By constantly touring and playing shows all across America, Zella has begun to build a very strong fanbase for herself. This fanbase continues to grow each and every day, as listeners hear her hypnotic and mysterious pop sound for the first time and instantly fall in love. I truly am a huge fan of Zella Day, so I was very excited when I learned that I would have the opportunity to talk with her about her life and her music. I spoke with Zella over the phone yesterday as she headed to San Diego to perform at the Green Flash Festival.

As previously stated, Zella’s full-length album, Kicker, was just released at the beginning of June. Each song on this record has a unique sound and does an exceptional job of showcasing Zella’s talent and creativity. On the phone, Zella explained where the influence for her cryptic pop sound comes from. “I listened to a wide range of music growing up. Luckily I had parents that had good taste in music, so I was submersed in Fleetwood Mac, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Tom Wade. My dad was really into Bob Marley and the Wailers. He listened to a lot of ska music. There was a whole plethora of music that was inspiring to me. I started singing when I picked up a Jackson 5 record when I was probably like six,” Zella stated.

After this, I asked which song was Zella’s personal favorite on Kicker, and her answer was one of my favorite parts of the entire interview. “I have a special connection with each song. I’m really proud of this record for that reason,” Zella revealed. “I spent a lot of time and took a lot of care in making each song. It took me three years to write a million songs and at the end of it have a wide range of songs to choose from, and they are all picked for a reason, and they all tell a story from top to bottom. It’s a very well-rounded record. Each one alternates as my favorite. It depends on what the audience is loving that night or what kind of mood I’m in. They’re all kind of like my children. I don’t have a favorite. I would feel guilty.” The sheer passion in Zella’s voice as she talked about her love for every track on the album really affected me in a way I never thought it would. I actually really loved the fact that Zella could not pick a definitive favorite from Kicker. It made me realize that all musicians should love their own work as much as Zella does and that they should work as hard as she does as well.

Although Zella doesn’t have a stand out favorite track from Kicker, two of my favorites include “East of Eden” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” Before I could even ask my question regarding these two songs, Zella stopped me mid-sentence as soon as she heard me name “The Outlaw Josey Wales” as one of my favorites. “I love it!” she exclaimed. She went on to say that she loves when people say “Josey Wales” is one of their favorite tracks, since it is one of the most different songs on the album.

Seconds later I was able to ask my question, and Zella explained what the songwriting process was like for each of these tracks. “East of Eden was written in the studio with my producers, and that was one that we built the track together and I just wrote the top line,” Zella stated. “It took about a couple of hours. It definitely kind of fell out of the sky, so that was really cool. And that chorus, I love that chorus. Really, really fun to perform live. People really get into it I think. I really want that one to be pushed as a single because I think, as a track, it’s really different and it’s hooky. I like that one a lot, and it was fun to write. Also, it’s inspired by one of my favorite novels, so it kind of is different conceptually as well.”

She continued, “Josey Wales. Josey Wales, it was great as well. It was written on acoustic guitar, and it was during my Clint Eastwood phase/obsession. We got to record with a 32-piece orchestra at the Capitol studios, and so all of the strings and horns that you’re hearing are live. So, that was a really beautiful song to record as well.”

“I’m not on a super long tour right now,” Zella began when I asked her about her current schedule. “I’m doing lots of festivals and then routing out of the festivals doing headlining shows. So it’s kind of a sporadic feeling, like I’ll be home for four days and then I’ll go fly out for a festival, then have my headline show, then come home. So it’s kind of like all over the place right now.”

When asked what fans should expect when they attend her show, Zella replied, “For me to sound even better live than I do on the record. I definitely strive for that. I take a lot of pride in the way the songs sound live because, when I was writing the songs, it was with the full intention of playing big venues and having people really connect to a live show because I love it just as much as I do writing the songs. So, for me to have a strong live show is so important because I want people to talk about it, I want people to come back, I want it to be something that they feel close to. So, all the songs are performed close to or even better than you hear on the record.” The fact that Zella values her live shows so much also greatly impressed me. Personally, seeing my favorite artist live in concert is one of my favorite parts of the music industry, and it’s great to know that, as an artist, Zella cares as much about her live performances as her fans do.

Next came a few fun “what if” questions. If Zella could collaborate with any artist, dead or alive, it would be the rock band Unknown Mortal Orchestra. If she could only bring one record to a desert island, it would be The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Finally, the one food she would eat for the rest of her life would be plantains and black beans.

I was extremely curious as to what Zella thought was the highlight of her career so far, but she simply could not pick one. Instead, she gave this great answer. “I keep outdoing myself with highlights. I’m having the most beautiful experiences right now. I just played this festival in Telluride called the Ride Festival, and I was literally singing to the mountains in this valley with all of these deadheads and dirty hippies, and I got to be a dirty hippie and not brush my hair. I’m all the time experiencing new things and beautiful moments through my music. So, I would like to say the highlight hasn’t happened yet. Maybe when I sell out the Hollywood Bowl. That will be one of them.”

“This next year, I definitely hope to sell out a 500 or maybe 1,000 capped room in LA,” Zella expressed to me over the phone. “That would be a big accomplishment for me because, for me, I think it’s really important to have a strong following in your hometown. If I can have a foundation here, there’s no comparing.”

At the end of our interview, Zella added, “I want my fans to know that I am going to be making music for a very long time. I need them to go on this journey with because going it alone would not be near special or meaningful. I really am inviting people into my world with this first record Kicker, and I’m in it for the long haul, and I want people to grow with me. I’m excited for that.”

Just from talking to her for fifteen minutes, I could tell that Zella is a very kind individual with a good head on her shoulders. She truly values all parts of the music industry, which I strongly admire, and is very level-headed and sincere in her pursuit of success. When she returns to LA, I cannot wait to see her perform live in concert because I know it will be an experience that I will never forget. Be sure to check out Kicker in stores and on iTunes today.

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