Caturday with Zella Day

Elizaveta Porodina
Lavinia Woods

Zella Day is the perfect mix of singer-songwriter and pop, creating music that is catchy and vulnerable since the early age of sixteen. Now, ten years later, the girl is still going at it strong, screaming girl power as she strums the guitar. She knows how to work it, and she knows how to make great music all while staying true to herself. We caught up with Zella to talk about everything from starting a music career in her mid-teens to her new single Dance For Love and learned about her love for Marvin Gaye too.

LW: You began recording music as an early teen and released your debut album, Powered by Love, when you were just 14 years old. Now, as a 26 year old with much more experience and professionalism under your belt, how do you think your songwriting and recording process has changed?
ZD: As I’ve gotten older and my passion has turned into my profession my choices have become part of a larger idea. It’s with anything that we are becoming familiar with in our lives, the beginning phases are nothing like the real relationship we develop with whatever it is we invest our time into. The biggest difference is in the questions I’m asking myself, it used to be “Is this going to work?” and now it has transitioned into “Now that I’m working, what do I want to do with each album that elevates and propels me forward into a career I can be proud of?”. I’m looking through the lens of longevity.
LW: I find that many artists are typically influenced by their surroundings, creating art that serves as a form of homage to their hometown or home city. As someone who grew up in the Arizona desert, has that landscape influenced your music?
: Arizona greatly influenced the sound of my first debut album Kicker. With songs like Jerome following a fictitious character somewhat emulating Loretta Lyn’s Coal Miner’s Daughter I used this form of storytelling to highlight Jerome, AZ where my namesake is from. There are traces of Arizona everywhere on that record, like little footprints in the mud. My environment is much different since I’ve been living in Southern California over the last 10 years. My upcoming record is reflective of what I now call home.
LW: Each of your songs seem to tell a story and exhibit such strong narratives, have you always been influenced by the art of storytelling?
ZD: I float between cognitive storytelling and more of an emotional response to melody that I consider stream of consciousness. Both are great tools in getting the point across. Sometimes it’s better to feel something without thinking and sometimes it’s in reverse. Learning how to do both has kept my process dynamic. I’ve been really into conversational songwriting. For example with Dance for Love there was a specific memory that I was calling upon and to tell the story with accuracy it seemed like the best way to do this was to boil it down to the simplest of actions to introduce the moment just as I remember it. “I went out walking” is something that I would text a friend which is why I think it feels so intimate to the listener. Within my songwriting I’ve been trying to peel back the layers as much as humanly possible.
LW: In your songs, you tend to use characters, using lots of pronouns. For example, in Golden you used ‘we’ continuously. Who is ‘we’?
ZD: “We” in Golden is the general “we”. It is whoever is listening and needs to hear the song or whoever they decide to interpret “we” as.
LW: What inspired Golden?
ZD: I took my dog out for a walk listening to Roy Orbison’s album In Dreams. As the sun was going down and the neighbourhood was empty, I danced in the street all of the home listening to his voice. He’s still casting spells from heaven and I couldn’t help but to write him a love song in return.
LW: What really grabs my attention with Golden is the many contradictions of the song. Not just with the lyrics which include “we live in a world, rich and poor”, but also with the way you play the music. The melody is upbeat, but your voice adds a touch of sweetness and innocence as you sing the lyrics “people are crying, I’m not ignoring it…” – was this paradoxical nature intentional? 
ZD: Yes, it is intentional. I believe there are many contradictions and I like exploring how to mix them into my songs. The upbeat guitar and the sweetness of my voice is a technique I like to use a lot because I feel like it adds a great effect that’s more emotive and impactful than contraindications through lyrics.
LW: What is it like for you to be a young female solo artist?
Even though I have a great team behind me who I love, it can be very challenging. I had to learn to stand on my own and how to be both an artist and a business woman. But it is also very rewarding at the same time.
LW: In your comments for the single, someone wrote that you remind her of Gwen Stefani meets Sheryl Crow meets David Bowie, which is so accurate. Who are your greatest music influences?
Haha that’s a very very generous compliment. My influences are ranging, I have a hard time selecting the “greatest”. Lately I’ve been listening to Judee Sill’s self titled album and Patsy Cline’s greatest hits.
LW: If you could give your 14 year old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would tell her to practice more Jimmy Page solos.

Click to listen to

Zella’s playlist

Words: Lavinia Woods