Photo By: Felton Kizer
A plea for help is hard to hear when you're shouting into a mirror on a deserted, albeit lush, field. Vindictive and freeing, Zuli Jr. breaks away from the metaphorical chains that have held him back with his latest release "Blue Sky," from his forthcoming project Stop It God. Rejecting the norms of settling for the status quo, the New York based indie r&b-pop artist pleads for more while not falling for the lie of shallow blind optimism. He laments the struggle of trying to be everything to everyone, a feeling all too familiar in a digital world ravaged by constant comparison and fleeting affirmation.
Produced by Aire Atlantica and TK the Architect, "Blue Sky" feels quite lighthearted upon first listen, with a groovy beat that makes the song easy to sway along to. The visuals paint an idyllic landscape that evokes a sense of freedom and grandiosity as well. But as Zuli Jr. moves between camera angles, he mimics the schism that forms between a projected online persona and his visceral, messy reality. Scrambling for a sense of identity, he negotiates his worth with his phone, only to discover such pursuits do not fill the gaps in his soul, and closure is often not found within the confines of a screen.
There's a freedom found in letting go, however, as Zuli Jr. moves fluidly throughout the video. The juxtaposition of the erratic selfie footage against the smooth panning camera across a serene field he's surrounded by points to the importance of perspective. Compressing a multidimensional persona into a two dimensional screen limits what can be communicated. "Blue Sky" allows Zuli Jr. to explore the tension between self-reflection and self-forgetfulness, oscillating between quieting his mind enough to soak in the environment around him and succumbing to the internal pressure to contend with his digital overlord, Daisy.
We caught up with him to talk more about "Blue Sky" and his forthcoming project, Stop it God.
Ones to Watch: What led up to the point of writing "Blue Sky?"
Zuli Jr.: A lot, actually. During the process of making this album there was a lot of indecision with the team and everyone who was working with me on the project. I was disillusioned by the whole music business, really, and I was over it. I didn't really know what was going to work or what was going to make all these people in my life happy with what I was doing. At the end of the day all I wanted to do was make stuff that I cared about and was interested in. I hit this breaking point, and within all of that, the song kind of fell out of me.
How does "Blue Sky" fit into the greater narrative you're telling on the album?
It definitely wasn't the first song on the record, but I feel like that song was the beginning of this mentality that directly talks about the anxiety and depression I was dealing with at the time. But it also does that flip of not wallowing in it. I wanted to make it feel good and work through that emotion. I didn't just want to make a sad song that sounds really sad. The beat was kind of infectious for me and felt really good, which helped me work through it in a positive way.
Your forthcoming album is called Stop it God. And on this track you say "stop selling me blue skies." What exactly are you asking for?
I didn't have the full concept of Daisy (the AI overlord) or the album when I wrote the song, but when it came together as a theme or metaphor, it really made sense. The song feels like a plea, and with the name "Stop It God" it was kind of like a double entendre where part of it was addressing your own self-perception in dealing with technology, kind of like a mantra, but also, it's when you reach that breaking point when your ego is controlling your life and you don't know what you're doing. Whether you're religious or not, I feel like everyone has that moment where they look to something greater than themselves for comfort or solace. And I feel like the song directly talks to that kind of vibe, which is how it translates to the album.
How did the Daisy concept come to be?
I knew I wanted to do this AI that was going to be narrated throughout the album and tie into the merch and give a brand to the album itself. Originally, I was just going to use Alexa, but eventually it kind of became its own thing. The concept of Daisy is very 2001 Space Odyssey inspired, actually. I came to the name Daisy when I was on a flight to California to meet some writers, and on the flight I was watching the Baz Luhrmann's Great Gatsby movie. With Gatsby's whole relationship with Daisy, I saw a lot of what I was talking about on the album but relating to technology. Gatsby changes everything about himself to try and fit this mold and at the end, it's all for nothing, it didn't matter and there was nothing he could've done. I thought it was really poetic and beautiful, and it connected perfectly to what I was talking about. On top of that, I realized in 2001 when Hal dies, he sings this Daisy song, and it was too good to not use. It was one of those moments where I felt like two worlds were colliding. But inherently, I always wanted the album to have that kind of connection.
Talk me through the inspiration for the music video.
I think it was like a greener pastures kind of vibe, where again, you portray things in a positive light almost any way you can, but that's not necessarily the case. It almost has this ever watching mentality, Big Brother 1984 vibe. There's like the really pretty shots of the other camera but there's never any real closure when you see the selfie-filmed type stuff. The whole thing was kind of like, simulated in a way. It sort of breaks the fourth wall; I think that'd be a good way to put it.
How did you begin to regain a sense of self on social media?
It was hard. The irony is that I wrote this album as a cathartic thing of getting back to what I love, performing and writing and not getting caught up online. The best way to get out of it for me was to take time for my mental health, leave my phone for two hours and do what I had to do and not look at it. Walking away has been the biggest thing, aside from addressing the problem at hand or addressing myself.
How did the writing process for Stop It God challenge you and what do you hope people will take away from it?
I think with my music in general, I always try to find this happy medium where people can reflect and connect to what the lyrics are talking about. Hopefully the theme of the album and all the nuance and references and things we put in gives something they can sink their teeth into. But at the same time my goal has always been to make music that allows you to kind of forget, in a way. Be a good vibe while also hitting that emotional part, the head and the heart. Music that can make you feel, but also can make you think. That's the sweet spot. I hope people feel seen, know that they're not alone, and that they can fucking vibe.
Watch the video for "Blue Sky" below.