From being a small-town girl from Pinetop, Arizona, to becoming an indie pop songstress in California, Zella Day’s spell binding vocals have brought her a world of success. At the young age of 9, the singer-songwriter was already performing in her grandmother’s coffee shop. Then at 17 years old, she moved to California where her music along with her lifestyle, flourished. Now, she has an upcoming five song EP titled Where Does The Devil Hide set to release on August 28th. Fun fact: This EP was produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, in partnership with Concord Records and Easy Eye Sound. In light of this upcoming album, Sidedoor reached out to Zella to understand her visions behind the music.
Tell me about yourself. How did you get into music?
“I got into music at a very young age. I was about 9 years old living in Pinetop, Arizona, my grandmother owned a coffee shop called One More Coffee Shop that was attached to a paint your own pottery studio that my mom ran called Artvark and there was live music at the coffee shop every weekend. I picked up a guitar at 9 and started learning Bob Dylan covers and Elvis Presley covers, and started playing at open mics at my grandmother’s coffee shop. Everything blossomed from there, so it had a lot to do with family support and being in a conducive environment for music.”
I understand you’ve been exposed to some great music and iconic artists at such a young age because of your parent’s taste. You’ve also been writing since you were 12 years old, can you tell me who you’ve been influenced by?
“Early on, it was The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Tom White, Carly Simon and more. My music teacher gave me lessons in theory when I was about 12. He was in Phoenix and so, my mom would drive me down from Pinetop once a week to go get lessons in theory. I essentially learned the mathematics behind writing a song and what it meant structurally to build upon progressions and melodies. I, at a young age, was challenged to write about anything I could. I remember my teacher giving me an assignment to write a song about a pinecone. I was 12 and I was like “oh my God it’s so hard, but I did it”. So, I’ve been inspired by artists but also by great people around me too helping me stay simulated and challenged as a young person.”
That’s an interesting lesson by your teacher, I’m glad it helped your growth. Speaking of people around you who inspire you, I know your mom inspired you a lot when you moved from Arizona to California and she had to start over, can you tell me how she inspires you?
“My mom and I are very close as well as me and my sister. We moved out here together about 8 years ago from Arizona to Long Beach. My sister was enrolled in Wilson Highschool and I started recording here in LA. My mom is a wonderfully talented singer that was in a jazz band in Pinetop where we used to live, so I frequented her shows and we were always having open discussions about music. She’s always been my biggest fan and my toughest critic, and I’ve always felt really lucky to have her here alongside what I do. I really trust her taste and she has been a guiding light.”
I noticed your recent single Only a Dream was based in California; it perfectly captured the beauty of it. The lyrics are very poetic and soulful, can you tell me your creative process behind this?
“Thank you. Each process is different, depending on the time where I’m at, if I’m sitting down or standing up or driving in the car. For Only a Dream, I was in my mother’s backyard in Long Beach, having a glass of wine and watching their cat, Crow, chase butterflies in the garden. I had just recently gone through a breakup and I was writing about my broken heart in connection to the scene that I was watching unfold in front of me in the backyard. That process is very simple, the words came first, and the chords were to follow. Sometimes it happens easy that way, other times, I have titles saved or fragments, bits and pieces, melodic ideas that I dig out later. Sometimes an idea sounds good or seems like it has potential but it’s not ready to be born yet. Other times, the song just comes out all at once. Only a Dream had a first verse written in about 15 minutes, then I put that one aside for a moment until I had the overarching message figured out which is Where Does the Devil Hide. That is the godmother statement in the song and that one took a little while to find and some songs happen that way too.”
I see, it gets very personal and it comes straight from the heart. Only A Dream is a beautiful music video. From that music video, I can tell you’re not only just a musician but also a visual auteur, tell me, how do you create such artwork within your music videos? How do you think of the vision?
“I have to first sit with the music for a little while, then the label will come up with a handful of concepts. I try to separate myself from being inside the song, and think about it almost more in a voyeuristic way of what I would like to observe in a narrative and try to think about it from that perspective. Sometimes it’s hard for me to come up with visuals when I feel too attached to the music which might sound strange because some people find it easier that way. Some people will write music with the video in mind. It doesn’t happen that way for me but for Only a Dream, that one happened and evolved like the song writing process did where I had an idea of how I wanted the video to be shot. I wanted to keep it to a really small crew. I wanted to have an old camera/camcorder and two of my friends and me and my car driving up the coast. It’s so beautiful here in California, there’s so much beautiful space to utilize and to capture. A lot of my video for You Sexy Thing, that was a very simple concept, it was also a very small crew. I really enjoy being in a set and an environment where I trust and know everybody on set and the production doesn’t get too big or out of hand where I start thinking about what’s happening on set rather than my own performance.
I know you often have friends on your set, so it’s easy to work with them. I know your friends are a very creative and inspiring group.
“Oh absolutely, they’re very talented. I’m so motivated by my community. my fellow artists, my peers and my friends. I feel so lucky to be able to create that way because it does create such a comfortable environment for me to be able to let go. I wouldn’t consider myself an actress, so I never called myself that, but I do know how to act such emotions if I feel supported to do so. I kind of enjoyed writing the script, so I can someway live inside my own little movie and it is sort of a fantasy land. But yeah, Only a Dream was just a good time and we shot that music video over the course of about 3 days and had a rough idea and a rough shot list. We didn’t know exactly what was going to happen until we got there, and we came home with a lot of tape and footage recorded and put together a video that I feel catered to the song well.”
I love how it has a 1970s vibe to it. So, when it comes to the new album, what can fans expect? What type of themes and sounds will you be exploring?
“I never know how to answer that question because I myself, I like for the surprise to be revealed upon first listen, so I’m not going to comment on that because I feel as though the best part is the experience in it for the first time for the listener.”
To finish off, is there any message you would like to say to your fans?
“I would say keep your head up, I know times are unruly but there is always the future and in this present moment, we get to shape what that is, think for ourselves and our community.”
Without a doubt, Zella’s passion for beauty, psychedelia and human nature can be seen and heard through her poetic lyricism and the impressive artwork behind her visuals. This young artist hopes to give her fans a unique experience as they listen to her new album, Where Does The Devil Hide on all streaming platforms. Much like her recent songs and music videos, fans can expect this album to include radiant sounds, mesmerizing aesthetics, and the spirit of California.