Wednesday, November 10, 2021

In Conversation with Zuzu

Like legendary singers before her, Zuzu goes by the one name. With a string of stellar singles before her, including the nostalgic guitar bop ‘All Good’ to the brilliantly idiosyncratic ‘The Van Is Evil’, Zuzu is crafting her own universe, part sci-fi fantasy, part gritty reality. She’s on the cusp of releasing her debut album ‘Queensway Tunnel’, which takes its name from the underground ‘engineering marvel’ that connects the Wirral peninsula to Liverpool.

The enigmatic Scouse songstress talks to Music Is To Blame about everything from the importance of holding on to your identity and not taking her fans for granted, to the joys of returning to touring, and plucking inspiration from Adventure Time.

Tell me a bit about the new album, ‘Queensway Tunnel.’ What inspired it?

It’s been a long time coming. Some songs are from when I was 18, some are from a few weeks before I sent it to get mastered. Overall, its inspired by Liverpool and Merseyside, the people around me and the Scousers in my life.

Is there an overarching theme that links all the songs?

I guess it’s a representation of what it’s like to be in your 20s. I want everyone to relate to the songs in their own way. But I wrote it from a Northern woman’s point of view. It’s very Scouse and female led.

How important is it to incorporate where you’re from into the music?

For this album, Liverpool’s where I am and where I’ve been for the past few years. In those moments where the world kind of fell apart, I was surrounded by my family and Liverpool. The comfort I took from that seeps into this record. For me, my debut album had to be rooted in Liverpool. It’s so influential to me.

You lived in Oxfordshire for some time, how was that?

As a teenager, I’d only ever known Liverpool my whole life. So, it was new territory for me. But I really struggled, especially in school and with making friends. I turned to music the hardest at that point. I felt really isolated, and I spent most of my time trying to get back [to Liverpool] for weekends and half terms. When it came to my identity, I stuck my feet into the ground. I grew a bit defensive because I didn’t really understand the connotations people felt about Liverpool until I moved away. Its intimidating, I tried to fit in for a bit. I even bought a Jack Wills scarf [laughs] but it wasn’t me. It was the first time I knew how it felt to be judged before you even opened your mouth. My first experience of classism.

Why did you decide on ‘Queensway Tunnel’ as the title of your album?

The Queensway Tunnel is iconic. Being from Birkenhead, that’s the tunnel I drive through to get to Liverpool. It was a really big deal when it was opened. Nothing like that had ever been done before. People died making it. It winds and the oncoming traffic can be scary. The panelling outside is hypnotic. I find it so mesmerising and inspiring. It’s even been used for films like Harry Potter!

You’re a keen sci-fi and comic book fan. How has that influenced your writing?

I love sci-fi. I think the escapism is what I really take into my music. I like writing about very real, gritty things too. There are two sides to my music. One side is very much based in reality and the stuff going on around me. The other half is complete fantasy. I really love cartoons. Adventure Time has been so influential for me. I love the music. There are loads of really fun sci-fi noises and theremins in my music. I think it can be a way to lighten up a darker subject. Like using it as a metaphor for addiction. I’ve seen a lot of people in my life addicted to things; people wanting to just get away. Sci-fi has helped me understand the world around me and forgive people for things. I know that sounds really deep, but it’s true.

You actually ended up creating songs for Adventure Time and The Sims. How did that come about?

Being involved in Adventure Time was an honour. I stan it! I just love the sounds and turns of phrase in the music. It’s a bit of me. I got a twitter DM one day from Adam Muto. He’d read an interview of mine and asked me to make a song for Marceline. But I accidentally wrote two songs because I thought that was what the brief said but he liked it anyway and used it for another character, Glassboy. Being part of that made me believe in manifestation. I fucking love The Sims. I still to this day have all the expansion packs. I was playing it last night. They sent me a Simlish translator, and it went from there. Now I can play The Sims and ‘How It Feels’ comes on.

You always have really interesting visuals and concepts for your songs. How important is that for you as an artist?

I’ve been lucky for this album. The team has just been amazing. I’ve worked with Robin Clewley who’s helped me with the album art, and Infinite Films for the videos. I wanted to use some really iconic landmarks in Liverpool that aren’t necessarily obvious. Like the Queensway Tunnel. She’s a boss tunnel, an engineering marvel. The Williamson Tunnels as well. A group of volunteers have excavated parts of one next to the tourist one. It’s like The Goonies down there. We shot the video for ‘Timing’ there. Proper Lara Croft vibes [laughs]. The whole thing was just lit with the lamp in my hand.

What’s your favourite song on the new album and what are you looking forward to playing live?

‘Bevy Head.’ It’s one of the most emotional songs on the album. I wrote that on one of the worst days ever. I’m looking forward to screaming that at the top of my lungs. I feel like I’ll get some psychological release or catharsis from it. I’m just really looking forward to getting out and playing and then writing more songs.

You’ve got a really strong connection with your fans, and you’ve talked about writing letters and chatting to them online. Can you tell me a bit about that relationship and why it’s important for you?

I’ve never taken people who listen to my music for granted. Over lockdown I was scared, and I wasn’t the only one. It was a great way to feel connected with people. We have a little group chat. I know their birthdays, their day-to-day life, if they’ve had a shit day or a good day. I really fucking care. I’ve made some really good friends and I value that a lot. I think lockdown has really made people reassess what’s important.

Speaking of lockdown, you played at the Sefton Park Pilot concert with Blossoms and The Lathums back in May. How was that experience?

It was boss! It was the best gig ever! I can’t put it into words. I grew up around there and I learned to ride my bike in Sefton Park. I felt like I’d won the lottery. My mum and dad had come, and I hadn’t seen them in so long. I got to hug them and see my brother and sister too. It was amazing!

You play a couple of acoustic shows this week and then head out on your main tour in December. What can we expect from a Zuzu gig?

I want everyone to feel really comfortable and safe. I want it to feel like a big night out with your mates or a family party. It’ll be funny and emotional, and super inclusive. I’m going to try and meet every single person I can!

What does the future hold for Zuzu?

I’m already writing more songs. I want to get straight back in the studio and start another record! There’s lots of exciting things coming up but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say.

And finally, can you describe your music in 3 words?

Angry Scouse girl!


Thank you Zuzu!


‘Queensway Tunnel’ is released on 12th November.


Tour Dates:

Wed 01 Dec - Patterns - Brighton, UK

Thu 02 Dec - The Dome - London, UK 

Fri 03 Dec - Thekla - Bristol, UK

Sun 05 Dec - O2 Academy - Liverpool, UK

Mon 06 Dec - The Cluny - Newcastle, UK

Tue 07 Dec - The Mash House - Edinburgh, UK

Wed 08 Dec - King Tut's Wah Wah Hut​ - Glasgow, UK

Thu 09 Dec - Bodega Social Club - Nottingham, UK

Sat 11 Dec - Hyde Park Book Club - Leeds, UK

Sun 12 Dec - Hare & Hounds - Birmingham, UK

Mon 13 Dec - The Deaf Institute - Manchester, UK

Tue 14 Dec - The Leadmill - Sheffield, UK

Thu 16 Dec - The Academy- Dublin, IE

Sarah Taylor


Image: Zuzu via Google Creative Commons

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