Nate and Henry are cousins who grew up in Ithaca and New York City respectively. Did being from two different backgrounds influence your music in any way? What have either of you taken from the places you grew up?
H: It’s helped us to draw from different environments throughout our work and lives. Both NYC and Ithaca are present in our work, whether we’re pulling from the different scenes that characterize those places – such as NYC’s rich postpunk history or Ithaca’s roots music – or more indirectly through shaping the experiences and feelings we describe in our lyrics. Having these different places in our past helps us to work outside of the confines of any one sound.
You’ve said in the past, “if you go too far in the entertainment direction, it’s like apathy. If you go too far in the esoteric direction, then you’re just preaching to the choir and it’s elitist” when describing music. How do you find the happy medium between entertainment and esotericism in your own work?
H: We take our responsibilities and privileges as artists and musicians seriously, so part of that is making sure that we effectively communicate our ideas. There should be invitation or seduction that takes place that helps draw an audience to your work, especially if you hope to include some challenging or difficult content. This feels especially true in 2017 with dialog and different perspectives often being so insular and atomized digitally.
Your music is hard to categorize. Do you find that not being able to be defined by a specific genre is a good quality? Does it allow Zula to follow a more creative approach to songwriting as opposed to being pressured to follow the conforms of genre?
H: We try to stake out space as experimental artists pulling from different genres to invite more of a sense of possibility and play into our work. There are specific genres of music that we love, but as we absorb those influences, we want to take them to new places in new combinations – this is a big source of excitement for us. We are driven by a curiosity to find new sonic worlds. So while we would love to have the advantages of a band that plays in a focused style with a rich, specific language shared with fans, we’ve struggled to guide our work into these boxes, not only because we seek pleasures outside of any specific genre, but also because our craft with replicating a given sound or style is pretty low! It’s easier for us to chase the sound in our heads.
What is the ideal future for Zula? Where would you like to see the band and its members headed?
N: We’re striving to organize our lives in ways that make as much room for creating and recording as possible. I think it takes a lot of time to figure out how to make that work in NYC. We love playing shows and touring and of course there is always the goal to be doing that with a larger audience. If that is growing, and the quality and pace of our output is growing, I’m happy.
The album covers of This Hopeful and Grasshopper do an incredible job of personifying the music on each album. What is the inspiration behind your cover art and do you think cover art is important in conveying the motifs of an album?
N: Thanks! Cover art is definitely an opportunity to add depth and dimension to how people approach and experience a collection of songs. We hope to hit some kind of resonance with the music. Though the images are quite different, I think with both covers we were trying to play with space, and place human intimacy within the context of New York City. Both involved placing printed out images on NYC public transit (the body-like forms on a subway seat for This Hopeful, portraits of the band on the subway floor for Grasshopper).
You have described Grasshopper as “grateful and ecstatic, yet anxious and full of a bittersweet sense of loss for the suffering of our loved ones, neighbors, and planet.” Is your music often a reaction to the climate of the world around you? How do you think the current state of the world will affect future music?
H: The state of the world is scary right now – there are pressing problems in the world that need to be addressed and sometimes it feels like we’re moving further away from the solutions. In the music industry, methods of distribution like streaming services are changing how people consume music. It’s easy to argue that musical acts should create shorter songs with brighter colors to cut through the noise. Part of continuing to make work is adjusting to this evolution.
Being a New York City band, what are some fellow NYC-based artists you admire? Are there any New York bands who have reached a point where you would like to be?
N: There are so many acts from NYC that inspire me at all different levels and career trajectories, but I particular admire bands who over the long term stay dedicated and prolific in their insular collaboration and put that first above other concerns. Ava Luna and Mr. Twin Sister come to mind as examples of this.
Zula plays LPR on March 9th, with The Luyas and Sound of Ceres! Score your tickets here.