Growing up in the scenic mountain town of Pinetop, Arizona (population: 7,000), Zella Day was constantly surrounded not only by the beauty of nature, but music, too.
“I started playing music at the age of nine when my parents owned Mor Mor Coffee House,” she explains. “It was the only live music venue in town so it was where all of the musicians gathered. I was always a singer but started playing guitar due to the influence I had from the people around me.”
With the foundation of those informal lessons behind her, Day eventually went to Los Angeles, a move that allowed her to connect with other likeminded musicians, including Garrett Borns aka BØRNS, with whom she has collaborated on an acoustic version of his single, “Electric Love.” That track was a huge hit with listeners, and the best friends have since become intrinsically linked in the industry.
“Garrett and I are roommates so we don’t have any choice but to influence each other,” she says. “We both have a deep respect for what the other is currently creating in the world.”
Aside from collaborating and bonding with other artists, Day has been busy cultivating and perfecting her own personal sound and style. Her first self-titled EP, released in the fall of 2014, is a collection of tracks that are reminiscent of music from the free-spirited 60s and 70s, but with a modern twist.
“That era is so special to me because it was a time in which music had nothing to hide behind. The music breaking through at that time was legendary, setting a standard for us all,” she says. “[It was] before the internet.”
Despite her affinity for what came before, Day describes her own musical style as simply “Zella Day,” a sound that is entirely her own.
“I want people to hear a strong, self-assured voice when they listen [to my records] so that people believe what I’m saying,” she says. “Believing in an artist’s words is an imperative factor for [determin ing] the longevity they will have in your life.”
Another factor that builds upon Day’s authenticity is her unique visual style, displayed in both her music videos and her DayXDay video journal entries.
“The visuals are ‘number two’ on my list with music as ‘number one’,” she says. “I have a vision for every piece that translates what Zella Day looks and sounds like.”
While her official music videos, such as the trippy, Western-themed, “Hypnotic,” are strategically planned out, her DayXDay videos are a much more organic and intimate way of connecting with fans.
“My initiative behind the DayXDay videos was to further the connection with whomever is listening to my music. I want people to know who I am behind the music videos,” she explains. “I make the DayXDays with one of my best friends, Giannenio Salucci, which is optimal for me because I feel really comfortable directing and also being myself in front of camera. The audio you hear on the videos are recorded on my iPhone, so there’s nothing going on that isn’t completely real.”
In her quest for authenticity in the music industry, Day has made some solid career choices. From her extremely popular cover of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” which she calls a “happy accident,” to the inclusion of her track, “Sacrifice,” on the recent Insurgent soundtrack, Day has been constantly building up her sound and style for what lies ahead.
As for her break-out involvement with the blockbuster movie? Good luck and Day’s distinct sound helped spawn that opportunity.
“I was presented with the project through mutual friends. One of the closest people in my life is friends with Shai (actress Shailene Woodley, who stars in the films) and [they] showed her my music a year ago, about the time when the Insurgent soundtrack was being configured,” Day remembers. “Fast forward a year later [and] the director contacted me for a song. I was so honored by the fact that they wanted my voice to be a part of their film.”
With exposure like that, there is no doubt that new fans latched on to Day’s music just in time for the release of her debut full length album, Kicker, coming June 2nd.
“I don’t have any regrets about this album or things I wish I would have done better,” Day insists. “I’m ready to release this one in to the world—it’s time. Kicker embodies exactly where I am in my life without holding back any personal information. I can’t exactly pinpoint what my creative process looks like because throughout the span of the two years it took to write this album I was all over the place. Luckily the songs sound put together.”
In addition to old fan favorites, including “East of Eden” and “Hypnotic,” Kicker also contains some of Day’s best new work to date.
Her storytelling skills are displayed on tracks like the psychedelic opener, “Jerome,” and the anthemic “Mustang Kids,” and her words create a sense of escapism as the listener delves deeper into the album. Through her music, Day allows listeners to see the more vulnerable side of her personality.
One of the highlights on the album is “Jameson,” a raw, stripped-down track that shows Day at her most emotional state. This willingness to open up and be genuine is what has makes Kicker such an impressive debut.
In a world of questionable personas, Day is as real as they come, and Kicker proves it. And while it may be difficult breaking into the music industry, especially as a young woman, Day is taking it all in stride, armed with a fighting spirit, an individual style and a musical voice all her own.
“The industry is a different place for women. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that a lot of times people don’t want to take me seriously because I am a young woman singing pop music. I’d like to think that the world is free from stereotypical judgment, but in this industry it’s not the case. You have to be confident in what you are bringing to the table despite riticism. What people tend to forget is that music truly is a level playing field—it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from…the best song wins.”
-Interviewed by Lauren Mahaffy
See more from Lydia Magazine’s Summer 2015 issue below!