Interview: Zela | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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During lockdown, a time when artists were living in fear of oblivion, dark-electro duo and relative newcomers to the North-East music scene ZELA got rather popular with their big, synth-fuelled, eighties inspired pop sounds and approachable manner (being nice is very important). The brother-sister combo of Max and Liv griff follow up their productive 2020 (which has seen them release three singles, get a shitload of Spotify plays, as well as being added to BBC Sounds’ The Hot List) with the release of  their euphoric new single I’m Healing. 

The track, an admission of how Liv spent her time following a previous romantic breakup, features a more staccato vocal delivery that dishes out sharp and honest lyrical content atop of pulsating chiptune-esque synth and soaring digi-tones. It’s cathartic, empowering and filled with a dance-inducing zest that will have you reaching for the crepuscule skies of our dying Summer… The production, as always, is nice too. 

We have a bit of chit-chat with ZELA to find out more about them and their new single…

How would you describe your sound?
Dark Electronic-Pop. Think Grimes/Big Black Delta/Charli XCX

Who were some of your influences growing up?
Liv: Growing up we were surrounded by every genre of music you could imagine. For me Blondie played a huge role. And Alex Turner’s lyric style really opened my eyes as to what I could really explore with my songwriting. See I was a massive pop princess; I was obsessed with Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne, but at the same time people like Anthony Kiedis and his uniquely aggressive vocal delivery really appealed to me. So I think being exposed to all corners of the genres shaped my songwriting brain to be quite hybrid.

Max: For me it was all about John Bonham and Dave Grohl when I first started playing. Proper rock drummers with huge drums and heavy sticks, and I’d spend hours after school playing Zeppelin and Them Crooked Vultures tracks. Later it was George Daniel when I started getting into Hybrid drumming and using electronics as part of my setup; something that’ll be massively important to ZELA’s live show. 

Where does the name ZELA come from?
Liv: We’d wanted a name for our new project for a while, but hadn’t been able to settle on anything between us. One night our Mam had a dream that she was watching us play on this huge stage and the name ZELA was on the backdrop. She got up in the middle of the night and scribbled it on the top of a Q magazine (RIP Q magazine) so she didn’t forget it. As soon as she told us the next day we loved it and we felt it fit our new music perfectly. We’ve still got the magazine. 

You spent a lot of your childhood travelling the span of the country with your parents as your Father was a touring musician. What was that like?
Max: When we were little it was all that we knew. Our Dad gigged 6/7 nights a week and a lot of the time we’d go with him and our Mam, so we’ve literally always been around music. It was never forced upon us to actually play anything, just massively encouraged when we did. I can’t remember a time in life when music wasn’t around. Our house was always littered with instruments and Dad also wrote music and backing tracks for other artists, so there was a constant stream of musicians at our house to pick up music (dropbox was still a long way off). 

Where did you go on your travels and how did that inform your decision to be musicians/performers yourself?
Liv: With Dad playing in different bands we’d travel up and down the country with him either in the van or travelling behind with Mam. When we started expressing our own interest in music, our parents would do everything they could to help, which we’re eternally grateful for. For Christmas when we were 12/13 we got our first PA system and learned how to use a mixing desk, and our first covers bands were formed. The biggest issue we faced back then was the pubs realising how young we were when we turned up to play. Always got booked back though. We played a beer festival in Keswick in 2010 and there was outrage when we arrived as EVERYONE on-site had to be over 18. We had to make a deal with the event organiser that we played earlier and left the site the second our set was finished. 

Tell us more about your latest single, I’m Healing.
Liv: This song started it’s life in 2016. It was one of the first pieces of music written that would become the foundations of ZELA. We’d recently got our first MacBook and were experimenting with different sounds and textures that we’d not had previously. Lyrically, the verses of this song have evolved over time to mirror my ever-changing perception of myself, however the chorus hook “I’m Healing” has been the same since day one, the first demo. The bridge monologue also; what you’re hearing there is actually the first take with the original lyrics from 2016. 

‘I’m Healing’ is about enjoying the process and letting go of the idea that your flaws define you. It’s pretty in ya face. I actually think that the verses are my favourite thing I’ve written. I’ll never get sick of listening to them. 

Lockdown arrived before you had a chance to perform live, are you looking forward to taking the stage and what can people expect from your live shows?
Max: I can’t wait to play live with this show. I’ve missed gigs so much this year; there’s a feeling that comes with playing live that not a lot comes close to for me personally. We’ve been talking about the electronic/hybrid side of things recently and how we’re going to recreate our music live which hypes me so much. We’ve got two extra band members, so we’ll be going out with a full band which will be pretty sick. 

Liv: As far as what people can expect from our live show, we don’t do things by halves. The ZELA debut show is gonna go off. 

Have you got anything else in the pipeline?
Liv: We’ve had everything planned from the start; we made a timeline at the start of the year for the next 12 months which basically read ‘create – release – repeat’ and we don’t plan on changing that any time soon. At the moment we’re working really hard on finishing our debut EP. It’ll have some unreleased tracks on it so get hyped for that. We’re also filming something special this month which we hope to reveal soon. Lots going on behind the scenes.

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