Bohemian indie-pop singer Zella Day wants you to look beyond the surface. After presenting herself in front of various music industry execs time and time again, it became apparent that many assumed that she was just another girl with a dream who didn’t write her own songs. “When you walk into the room and you’re a girl, I think what’s expected is that you have a good voice, but that’s all you can really do,” she says over the phone. “It’s expected that you’re not writing all of your songs and you have a producer writing all of them for you.”
Contrary to that popular belief, Day grew up writing songs—songs that she’d play solely on her guitar, without any fancy instrumentation. With a new generation of pop artists hitting the scene, Zella Day doesn’t quite fit the full mold; much of her music is influenced by country and classic rock artists.
Ready to make her mark, Day is now about to debut her self-titled EP October 21 via B3SCI Records (vinyl pre-order link here). Maybe it’s the West Coaster in her, but Day’s tracks sound like they came straight out of the first season of “The OC.” Songs like “East of Eden” and “Compass” show-off Day’s knack for written nostalgia and dreamy vocals that echo California vibes.
Day dished to us about her move from small town, Arizona to SoCal, maintaining control of her image, and sticking out from the pop herd.
So, is Zella Day your actual name? It’s very unique.
Zella Day: Yes, actually. My full name is Zella Day Kerr. My parents got married in Jerome, AZ, which is a small mining town in northern Arizona near Flagstaff, and when they were learning about the history of the place, they came across this woman that was named Zella. I think she was kind of a “mine princess” in Jerome.
Can you tell me a little bit about your musical background? I know you grew up listening to a lot of singer-songwriters at your parents’ coffee shop.
Yeah, I did. I grew up in a small town and there wasn’t really a music scene. The music that was around was what my parents were creating in Pinetop, AZ with the artists coming through. There were a lot of singer-songwriters around. Storytelling really became a part of my childhood. I was inundated with country-western, old storytelling. It was very Nashville-esque as opposed to a music scene that you would find in LA.
Who have been some of your biggest musical influences?
Bob Dylan and The Beatles. Out of women, I was really influenced by Edie Brickell, Joni Mitchell and Fleetwood Mac: a lot of storytellers.
What’s the biggest challenge you faced moving out of your comfort zone, from Arizona to California?
I think I’m trying to still figure that out. I move out of my comfort zone all the time. Change doesn’t make me want to cry: it makes me want to step up to the plate and become a warrior more than anything. It’s kind of later when I realize how change starts to affect me. When I moved from Arizona. I had this mindset where I was like, “I’m not gonna miss it. I’m not gonna miss it.” I was ready to change and be in a big city where my music was going to be realized. A couple of years later, I miss it. I crave it. I crave the mountains more than I did when I lived there. It’s me going through the motions and feeling all of the waves of energy that comes with it.
Did you always know you wanted to be a musician? Or did you fall into it?
It just happened. I had been playing music as a kid. I don’t think I knew, being from Pinteop, that I could make a serious career of writing music until I was about 16-years-old when I understood what it took. That was actually after I recorded an album when I was 13. I’ve always played music; it was never a transition of something else into music. I haven’t really done anything before that that’s worth talking about, I think.
Can you tell me a little bit about your personal style icons?
I love style and I love fashion. I think I’ve been really inspired as of late by a lot of 60s and 70s fashion icons. I really love Jane Birkin and Bianca Jagger. Also, John Wayne for all of his western influences. I’ve been pulling from Arizona for that 60s Bohemian edge.
You’ve had some cool style partnerships with Gap and Aritzia and more. Which ones have fit your style more than others?
I don’t really like being told what to wear, what to do or what to look like. I kind of feel like that defeats the purpose of being an artist and have your own look. With all of the fashion blogs and brands that I’ve been associated with, it’s been nice because they’ve just wanted me to put forth my style.
What do you think about being lumped into the “return of the female pop star” group? Do you think you’re a part of that?
Am I lumped into that group? I hope so. I don’t think I’ll be your typical pop star because I’ve always written songs on my guitar. It’s my philosophy that with all of the songs on my EP and that will be on my album, that I can take away all of my synthesizers and just play my songs on the guitar in front of you. It’s nice to be a part of a movement, and the feminine power is always important. There are some really good musicians and women coming to the surface right now, and I’m happy to be a part of it.
Catch Zella Day at CMJ:
10/23 - Neon Gold/National Anthem/Chess Club 'New Shapes' Showcase
10/25 - The Wild Honey Pie 'The Beehive' Showcase
Ilana Kaplan is a poptimist. She's on Twitter - @lanikaps.