San Francisco-based ZOLA is set to release her debut album at the top of 2020. After studying music at the University of Miami's esteemed Frost School of Music, the young talent moved home to the Bay and began releasing bilingual songs that have drawn comparisons to artists everywhere from Adele to Ashe. As her brief Spotify bio suggests, ZOLA does not want to be put in a box. Weaving together inspirations from a variety of sources, including bossa nova and pop, her sound is undoubtedly her own.
Growing up in a French-speaking household, ZOLA weaves both English and French together in recent singles like "Crystal Floors" and "Téléphone." Ahead of her debut album, we spoke with ZOLA about her signing to KidinaKorner Records, her forthcoming LP, and who she's been listening to.
Ones To Watch: I want to treat this interview as the introduction to your upcoming debut album that’s releasing in January! I know you recently released your latest single from the album, “Téléphone.” What was the writing process like?
I wrote this song with my friend, Tim Vickers, who co-wrote and produced all the tracks on the album. Out of all the songs, the writing process for "Téléphone" was one of the easiest and most fluid. I think it was the third or fourth song Tim and I wrote together, so we already had great momentum and flow. Our mutual friend, Claire George, also happened to be in San Francisco that day, so she joined in on the writing session. The song just came together, and it felt effortless and fun.
Was it difficult to choose which tracks from the upcoming album would be released as singles?
Choosing the singles was actually pretty easy! I wanted the singles to be my favorite songs but also show that the album has some variety. "Crystal Floors" was a no brainer. It's the poppy/indie/dance tune of the album. "Téléphone" is my favorite track off the project because the story behind it is important to me, and I think it moves really well between the French and the English. My last single before the album comes out will be "Don't Eat," which is a completely different vibe than the first two singles. It's a little more dark folk with a modern twist!!
You’ve been vocal about not wanting your music to be “put in a box” as far as genre goes, but do you have any artists that you look up to who have influenced your sound?
Some of my favorite artists that influence my writing are Bon Iver, Adrianne Lenker, Ashe and Lorde. Whenever I am in a session or writing on my own, I always start with the lyrics, and my words will influence my sound.
You’ve always spoken French and English fluently. When did you start writing in a mixture of both?
It's definitely a recent development. Growing up, I only spoke French with my mom and went to a French immersion school from kindergarten through high school. When I came to college, I felt a sense of freedom from that education, and I pushed that part of me aside. I went to the University of Miami in Florida and it doesn't get any more "USA Party School" than UM. I really tried to fit into that culture, and by doing that, I forgot about my background and where I came from. Moving back home this past year I feel like I've connected with myself again, and a big part of who I am is my French background and being bilingual. What better way to make my music more "me" than by sprinkling it with some French?!
You’ve been working with KidinaKorner this year, how has that experience been?
It has been nothing like I imagined it would be. Being a young independent artist, record labels often seem like that golden ticket to stardom. It's easy to think that once you are signed the work is done, but realistically, it is only just beginning. Making music is the easy and freeing part because it's just about you and your creativity. Working with a label has taught me to always be in control of my music and brand, stay proactive, and trust my instincts and creative gut. The music industry is an intense place, and it's so important to always keep a clear view of your goals and how you want to achieve them. It has been really cool working with a bigger team and (at the same time) quite overwhelming. I am always thankful for the opportunities that come my way, it's just a matter of how I choose to nurture, work and grow within them.
After this album releases at the beginning of the year, what else do you have planned for 2020?
I have so much more music! I think I have enough for 2 new EP's in 2020 or maybe a bouquet of singles… we'll see. I am just excited to keep writing and collaborating and hopefully go on tour so I can share my music with more people!
Who are some of your Ones To Watch?
Aaahhh I have so many! I will try and keep it short: Field Medic, Derek Ted, Hunjiya, Caroline Lazar, Leila Sunier and Lilacs.