Lolo Zouaï sings in technicolour

The San Fran-raised musician talks us through her Algerian heritage, her advice to aspiring artists and the unexpected success she's found in France.

With her bilingual bops and an uber-Instagrammable closet, on paper Lolo Zoulaï is very now. Yet her observant lyrics and malleable voice feel timeless and it’s clear she has a perspective that’s truly her own. On debut LP High Highs to Low Lows, an independent release written by Lolo and produced by Stelios Phili, she demonstrates an uncanny ability to flick the switch to bring a melancholy edge to the poppiest of tracks. There’s an emotional impact to her work which speaks to a rich interior world (no surprise she’s a Pisces) that only makes you want to get to know her IRL.

We had that honour to speak to Lolo about her Algerian heritage, her advice to aspiring artists and the unexpected success she’s found in France.

How did you get started in music?

When I was little I just sang a lot from a young age, I was just really into music. Then I started taking piano lessons and that would inspire me to try writing my own songs on the piano. After school I’d just practise to YouTube videos of songs then I started writing songs on guitar as well

Your songs are a mixture of English and French, could you explain to us why that is?

I’m bilingual, I was raised in America but my mum is French so she taught me French. When I was first making music I just sang in English completely. I speak French about 5 percent of the time so I wanted to mimic that in my music by throwing in some French gems. I didn’t really think anything of it, I just thought it sounded pretty. Then French-speaking countries started really connecting with it and it kind of brought me back to my French roots. I think it’s important to put yourself into your music and make it as authentic as possible.

Your style is also a big aspect of your artistry – how would you describe your look?

Growing up in San Francisco I feel like I saw a lot of like eclectic styles and I grew up thrifting so all my clothes are vintage. I’ve always been into wearing oversized sports clothes and I have a mix of tomboy, Japanese kawaii street style, a bit of punk and grunge influence and then a little bit of a classic French chic moment. When I was growing up listening to artists I wasn’t just interested in their music, I was also into their look – the whole package. I think this is why fashion and music are tied so closely.

Last year, you dropped your debut album. What makes you most proud about this release?

I’m proud that I made the whole album when I was independent, I made it with one other person, my producer. I was really able to make it no pressure and tell my story, I was very honest in that album and it was very exciting to put it out. I feel like it’s still being discovered which is really exciting because it deserves to be heard. I think I will always be proud of that album.

You’ve just come out with a new video for “Desert Rose” – could you talk us through the track please?

“Desert Rose” is about family, my dad’s family is from Algeria which is far away and culturally different to me growing up in San Francisco. I always felt a bit culturally disconnected but I wanted to feel connected so I wrote this song to try and bind us together. I threw in Arabic melodies to try to make it more relatable to them. I sing in Arabic, French and English on the track so it’s my only song with three languages.

What was the process of creating the video like?

The video took me a while to make because I wanted it to truly capture the essence of the song. We travelled to Morocco. We shot a video with people that really felt like my family, a lot of people told me like “I really thought that was your family.” They really understood the story and were happy to be in the video.

Later this year you’ll be supporting Dua Lipa on her EU tour. What are you most excited about for this?

Just to be able to play in arenas at this stage is wild to me but mostly I’m looking forward to going on tour with someone who’s really hard working and supportive of my music. Somebody that I get along with and who I feel is going to support me. We’re just going to support each other, tours get difficult but I think it’s going to be really fun and get a whole new audience of fans. 

If you could give any advice to aspiring musicians, what would it be?

You don’t need to rely on people in the industry to get you somewhere because now you can just record music in your room and put it on Spotify within like three days. I would say don’t be afraid to put stuff out; you never know what playlist is going to pick it up or who is going to discover it. People’s fortunes can change overnight with streaming.

The video for “Desert Rose” is out now.

4 February 2020