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September 15, 2020
The Spark: Talking to Musician Zella Day

BY INDYA BROWN

Photo by Neil Krug

You might have seen Zella Day pop up on your Spotify — the singer-songwriter broke through in 2015 with her debut album Kicker, which featured the hit single Hypnotic. Her folk-meets-pop sound is often praised for being full of raw emotion and deals with the complicated emotions that come along with toxic relationships, love, and broken homes. Following a string of performances across the late night talk show circuit and Coachella, Day parted ways with her label in 2018 before signing with Easy Eye Sound and Concord Records this year. Her latest EP, Where Does the Devil Hide, was released on August 28.

When Day set out to work on her latest record, she packed her bags and made the daunting 2,000 mile drive from Los Angeles to Nashville. At the other end of her journey to the country music capital was The Black Keys’ vocalist and guitarist Dan Auerbach, who served as the project’s producer. Several blunts, days of eating apples, and countless guitar jam sessions later, the two wrote and produced the psychedelic-infused Where Does the Devil Hide. “I have a deep respect for cannabis that's written into my music. I can't decide if I like something until I have a few puffs and close my eyes while the music plays. It's as if I'm living in the space between each note” she says. 

With a fresh, California-steeped sound and the visuals to match, the 25 year old has been busy working on the final touches of her visual EP’s rollout. We caught up with Day to chat about her steadfast love for bongs, her songwriting process, and what it’s like hanging out with Lana del Rey.

On her early relationship with cannabis:

I grew up in a conservative town tucked away in Arizona where there was a negative stigma attached to cannabis. Everyone I grew up with was a part of the church community, but my family was unique in that they weren’t really religious. Both of my parents smoked, but usually in private. 

The first memory I have is being told not to go into the laundry room in the backyard of my aunt's house. Of course when nobody was looking, I took a peek with my little sister. We found four plants thriving under lights with a bag of freshly harvested bud on top of the washing machine. From there the conversation was broken open — I'm fortunate to have strong examples of people in my life who have healthy relationships with cannabis, so before I took my first toke, it already had a special place in my heart.

On how she consumes now:

I prefer flower packed into one of the many beautiful ceramic pipes that my mom hand makes. She rolls these sweet little ceramic mini pipes that have room for probably just two tokes. I also love picking up a pack of pre-rolls before a road trip or to just have in my bag for going out. 

Vaping and edibles are all great, but I like the ritual of lighting up and sharing with friends — I really enjoy the social element of smoking. But I have to say the reigning queen of all is mother bong and her smokey palace that scares teenagers at house parties. It's my favorite and it'll never go out of style for me. I've had friends make fun of me for having a bong in my house, but I’m like it's only funny because it was your first experience at a house party when you were 16. I still love smoking out of it 10 years later.

On using cannabis during her creative process:

Being high is like processed serenity of the mind. What I like most is that it’s unpredictable: Not every high is a good high, but neither is life. Smoking has become a ceremony for me both in and out of the studio. It’s a great tool for tuning into those conversations that we're always having with ourselves that can sometimes be drowned out by the noise. 

On her favorite products:

My dog, Mitzy, has developed anxiety over the past year and I've found a CBD tincture from My Best Bud that really works for her — it makes traveling easier on all of us. And then I have a few CBD and THC balms in my medicine cabinet for muscle soreness, bumps, and bruises. In terms of strains a few of my all time favorites are GSC aka Girl Scout Cookies, and Diamond OG.

On creating Where Does The Devil Hide:

We put in a phone call to Dan and I went out to Nashville to join him in his studio. We talked about music, I brought my guitar to play him some songs, and we wrote together a bit before deciding to move forward with the project. We ended up making the EP over the course of six days. We were in the studio and in the kitchen with our guitars, eating apples, and hashing through songs.  It's amazing to see these songs out in the world because they were made with so much vibrancy and in some ways they were really quick! The whole process felt like it finished in the blink of an eye. 

On memorable studio moments:

When we started writing Purple Haze that Saturday, we were stuck on the verse and spent that whole day just smoking. I remember I had started cutting an apple in the meantime and Dan was like, ‘Well, why don't we just put the apple into the verse?’, and so we did. I remember laughing about that and thinking that it was the funniest thing, and now it's on the record. There's a line dedicated to apple juice. 

On her creative partnership with Lana del Rey:

We met at a bar. I saw Lana from across the room and decided to introduce myself because like everyone else, I'm a fan of her work. I shook her hand and she referenced one of my songs on my EP Kicker. The conversation went “Zella, nice to meet you, I've heard your song Jameson, and I think it's great.” I was dumbfounded by her openness to receive me in that kind of chaotic environment and to honor me as a developing artist. Lana was really kind to me and after that we exchanged information. It went from there and now it's been years of us spending time when we can. 

On finding her way in the music industry:

I don't think that there's one way to be successful in music. I came to terms early on with the fact that being an entertainer or being an artist on stage that sells tickets is one of many ways that you can exist and function within the music world. I got a publishing deal when I was 18 and it was the best first step that I could have made. It gave me freedom to not be pigeonholed into being solely a singer.

On finding solace during the pandemic:

Lately I've been taking drives to the beach on the PCH in my old Mercedes convertible to clear my head. I've also been getting back into journaling, by making myself do it every night before I go to sleep. Even when I don't think I need it, it's so meditative to write out a stream of consciousness. It makes me more connected to document my feelings and experiences, especially now when all of the days melt into one long week, and then, all of a sudden the month is over.

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