zack villere may not be a concept artist in the traditional sense, but he has a unique talent for creating surreal worlds that are difficult not to get swept up in. This penchant has been seemingly present from the outset, first showing its face in his debut EP, pants, released under his previous moniker, froyo ma. However, it truly came to fruition in his aptly-titled debut album Little World, an encapsulation of villere's love for well, little worlds.
Each of his projects portrays a kaleidoscopic vision, one brimming with lived-in characters and avant-garde soundscapes. In many ways, even on his sophomore album, Cardboard City, villere becomes difficult to easily pin down. And chances are he likes it better that way. "I think the most annoying part about it is when you think you're doing something interesting and different, and then everyone says, ‘Oh, you're just like [that guy],’“ shares villere when I ask him how he feels about others attempting to classify his music.
Bedroom pop. Anti pop. Lo-fi indietronica. Nothing feels quite right when it comes to succinctly defining villere or the world of Cardboard City. So, in the hopes of better understanding the idiosyncratic artist, I sat down with him over a plate of Mediterranean food to talk chapped lips, nostalgic childhood cartoons, and transcending genre classifications.
Ones To Watch: How has LA been treating you these last three years?
zack villere: I have a lot of friends here so I like that. I was trying to move to New York in January but my friend, who was supposed to move with me, bailed. I was really ready to go so I'm trying to go to New York after I finish the tour. But I like LA. My lips are chapped because we went to Joshua Tree.
For any reason or just because?
Just for fun, but it messed with my lips.
It's a desert out there. A literal desert.
The desert is not my thing, man.
What does an average day look like for you?
Right now, it's kind of all over the place. When I was working on my album, I was just going to the studio, but right now I'm just hanging out. I'm working on my next album so whenever I have a thought about a song, I just make it.
Are you still recording a lot at home?
I used to, and I did a lot of my album that's coming out in the studio, it's actually down the street, which I really liked. But this one right now that I'm working on, I'm just trying to write all of the songs first and then go in and re-produce them. So I'm just working at home, but I want to make it like a nice, well-produced effort.
So, you're already working on your third album? Already on to the next thing?
I'm not going to act like I'm a workaholic, because I'm not, but I'm just excited for the next album and all of the ideas that I have for it.
It's not like the SoundCloud days when you could just drop it whenever you want.
I miss that. Even with Little World, it just felt freer.
Are there any general central themes on your sophomore album, Cardboard City?
Yeah, it's just about a world called Cardboard City that I just made up. The "Sore Throat" video kind of brings you in and is a third-person perspective, almost like a film. The way I see it, it's a film version of the world, and the "A Feeling" video was kind of on the street with the character of the world.
Given that your previous album was called Little World, is it safe to say that you're trying to create miniature worlds with each album?
I guess so. That's how it's been so far. I'm not sure if it will always be like that but, for even the first EP, the Froyo Ma EP, it was an idea about a cereal bowl leftovers that coagulated into a little island and there was a spaceman that landed on it. That was the story behind that project. So, I've always gone into it with an idea, but Little World wasn't totally as conceptual as this one is, and the next one kind of has a different idea and conception.
It seems like you're really into miniatures.
(Laughter) Yeah. I fuck with small stuff. I think the reason why I'm into small stuff is because I watched a lot of things like Small Soldiers and Stuart Little as a kid. I actually wanted to do a video for Little World where there would be this dance party and it would be super animated. I just didn't really have any help at that time because I was doing everything myself, so I would have all of these ideas but could never pull them off. And I still kind of feel that, but now I have people.
But you're entirely independent for the most part. Do you enjoy that freedom of control?
It's cool. I did like a distribution deal on this project and that gave me a little bit of money to do the "Sore Throat" video, which I did with my friend Dan. Just having a little bit of money and some freedom to like, get a nice camera and pay him to spend his time on it. Before I just didn't know how to get anyone to do anything. So yeah, it's cool, but I really want to work with people. I'm tired of the idea of doing everything by myself. There's nothing really that cool that comes from that. It's just like, "Oh cool, you did that." I'd much rather be known for making cool shit than for doing everything by myself.
How is it touring? In previous interviews, you've said that you're not keen on performing live. Has that changed?
(Laughter) No. I played a show in Vancouver that was really fun and I was like "Oh, this could actually be really fun." But then I played two shows after that and it sucked, so I'm kind of back to dreading tour a little bit. But, I'm excited because the two shows that I didn't like - one was a festival, where there were people that liked my music, but not too many. And the other was a college show and there was nobody really there for me. It's more fun when they know the music.
I feel like a lot of your inspirations, or at least the ones you've noted, are very R&B and hip-hop focused. Do those two particular genres speak to you in particular?
I guess so, but I don't really know. I like a lot of music. I like pop music, like pop/R&B. I just like R&B melodies, probably because I was into Jazz when I was younger. When I was in junior high, I played the saxophone.
How do you feel about genre classification?
It's definitely annoying, but it's not the end of the world. I think the most annoying part about it is when you think you're doing something interesting and different, and then everyone says, "Oh, you're just like [that guy]." That's the biggest bummer for me. I would love to transcend that shit and just be like known for what I do and not for my association. But I think for the stage I'm at, people need to classify me.
How do your parents would describe your music to their friends?
I literally have no idea. I'll ask them when I go home.
Are they chill with the whole music thing?
Yeah, they're sick. They're down with it, which is cool.
Have they seen you live yet?
Yeah, they saw me a few times but the first time with me singing was my last time in New Orleans. I didn't sing growing up, so I was honestly nervous because it felt like that part of me is like a new development.
What spurred you to start singing?
I'm not really sure. I was in college, and I just kind of wanted to make songs so I just started singing. The first thing I ever did was a cover of "Awkward" by Tyler [the Creator], and then I sent it to my friend Elijah and it was trash.
Wait, where you doing the rapping or singing part?
Just singing. I was just doing the Frank [Ocean] part. But I sent it to my friend Elijah and it was just so bad and I was so embarrassed that I didn't sing again for a year. And then I eventually did it again. I just wanted to write songs.
Was there a certain point in your life when you realized that music was what you wanted to do?
I started playing guitar in middle school because I wanted to start a band with my friend, so we both got guitars, but he didn't really play. Then I just kept playing because I wanted to be in a band or just do something with music.
When I went back home last year I found this book from when I was little that said that I wanted to be a cartoonist or an astronaut or something. Like I wanted to make cartoons and also go to space. So, for a good period of my life, I wanted to do astrophysics, but I'm not science or math-minded. I'm so bad at it, but I was just so into the idea of it and romanticized being an astrophysicist.
When I was in high school I wanted to be a screenwriter and do movies. Also, a part of me wanted to be on SNL because I was really into Jimmy Fallon. But, I was always making music, so I ended up wanting to do that.
You still make cartoons, right?
Yeah, I still draw. I would want to make a cartoon. I have an idea for a cartoon series, it's just getting myself to that point where I'll actually do it. One day.
Were there any cartoons growing up that were super formative for you?
I have such a bad memory but, obviously Spongebob and The Fairly OddParents. Just the basic ones. I also watched Arthur because I had PBS. Also, the WB stuff like Static Shock and the old Batman series. The good ol' days.
The final important question, what were you like as a kid?
I don't know. I don't have the best memory. I feel like I was a shithead and probably just lame. Maybe I just blocked it out because I didn't like that person (laughter).