Music

Zsela’s slow burn

A modern-day Joni Mitchell with high fashion credentials, the NYC singer-songwriter breaks down her three-years-in-the-making debut EP ‘Ache of Victory’.

With her singular voice — throaty but, almost contradictorily, chilling — Zsela has pricked the ears of cult NYC labels like Vaquera and Collina Strada, who’ve asked her to perform at MOMA PS1 and NYFW respectively. Beyond the favour she’s found amongst the Big Apple’s fashion pack, she’s set to amplify her appeal with recently released debut EP “Ache of Victory”.

If the project sounds like a lot from its title, that’s because it is. Several years in the making and serving as a personal diary for the messy uncertainty of her early twenties, the EP sees Zsela’s room-filling voice float from over sparse production from collaborator Daniel Aged, delivering the kind of lyrics that cut like broken glass. Given the emotional candour of the release  — Zsela tells us “I’ve been drinking again / I’ve been losing all my friends” on track “Drinking” —  you’d expect the 25-year-old to be, well, kind of intense. Yet when we call her up from LA where she’s in lockdown with her family, she’s a lot more laidback than the serious artiste we’d been expecting (and prepping) to meet. 

 

You have such a distinctive vocal style so I have to ask, what kind of work has gone into creating the ‘Zsela voice’? 

I mean, I only started performing maybe two years ago. I’ve just grown into my voice and it’s become what it is over time. Rather than actively trying to get to a specific place with it, I’ve been recording and singing and just finding my voice that way.

 

You’re already pretty well known in New York’s alternative art and fashion scenes, right? How did that come about?

Well, I just got into a world of friends in the New York downtown art scene and with  fashion designers doing non-traditional things.

What’s it been like being part of such a creative circle?

Most of my friends are in other fields of art and are not musicians. I’ve always been so intrigued by other artists especially those that are doing things outside of the norm — whatever the “norm” is — and kind of breaking or disrupting that. I feel really blessed that I can support my friends and do cool shit.

 

Let’s talk about the EP. Where did the title come from?

It’s a lyric in one of the songs, and I kind of always knew that it would be a really cool title for the whole project but I was a little bit nervous because it’s so intense! When I finally settled into the fact that the project is a little intense and a little vulnerable, I thought that it was only fitting as a title and that it kind of made sense. There are a lot of scenes of loss in the EP and it’s a bit of an open conversation about what victory is and what it means to have to go through pain to get to a better place.

 

It’s certainly vulnerable — what made you want to share it so publicly?

Writing these songs and doing music was always such a private thing. When I finally got my head into a space where I was like “I want to let people into this world”, that took a lot of growth. I just had to do that in myself.

 

I’ve been reading that the EP also took several years to make, why do you think it was such a lengthy process?

I’ve taken my time with it because I’ve done a lot of rebuilding on my own, personally, and I also wanted to be prepared. I think there’s a kind of responsibility that comes with putting something out into the world.

When you say that you were doing a lot of personal growth and rebuilding, I can also really see that shining through in the lyrics.  

There’s a lot of loss in the lyrics relating to love, heartache and family but I guess it was just a culmination of my whole world. It’s my first project that I’ve been writing for many years and I write in a way where I’ll be piecing together fragments of things that I’ve had written for a while with something new. In my lyrics, I’ll be in and out of something my grandparents said to me, and then a relationship I once had, and then I’ll be talking about my parents’ relationship or something.

 

Does that songwriting method help you find a deeper understanding of how events in your life relate to each other? 

Maybe I find new meaning with time, but most of my songs are really just me talking to myself. For me, [songwriting] is a journey of working out where the connections are because what I’m generally talking about is non-linear and not really specific to one thing.

 

Talking more broadly about your music and sound, when would you say that things started to fall into place for you?

When I met Daniel [Aged] a few years ago and we started working on the EP, that’s when things started to get more serious. When I met him it was like a cosmic synergy that I was really excited about committing to. I guess in the past few years I’ve also just been letting go of some of the fears that I once had.

 

What’s next for you?

I mean what’s next for the world? I wanna know. I’m at my family’s house in LA so I’m just here now. I’m just going to write a bunch and work on an album over here. 

 

Ache of Victory” is out now. 

27 April 2020