ZUZU is a name you may have heard bandied around a lot lately. A musician whose unapologetic take on indie-rock captures the excitement and ennui of modern life, she’s quickly making waves with her crisp guitar stylings and relatable lyrics. Raised in Mossley Hill, Zuzu moved to London at 18, where, after a few years cutting her teeth on various projects and record deals, she formed her current band and started getting some traction.
Take note: her music is accessible and fun. It’s a little power-pop, with echoes of Elastica, the slacker appeal of Pavement, and harmonies to rival the La’s. Evidently, it’s time to start paying some more attention to Zuzu, and a move to Birkenhead means we could be seeing a lot more of her in the coming months. But what triggered the return to Merseyside?
“It’s not that there isn’t a scene in London, but I feel our band is more welcome here,” the singer/guitarist explains. “There’s so much electronic stuff in London at the moment, whereas a lot of real bands are coming out of the North West, and that’s what I’m into. I love guitar music.
“And maybe it’s because I’m home, but people are really keen to be supportive and we always get such a nice welcome.”
A case in point is her support slot with Courtney Barnett at the O2 Academy in December 2015, coming not long after she’d move back home. The support, it transpires, went both ways, with Barnett showing up in the audience and making plans to hang out.
“I think when you’re playing in front of bands that you really look up to, there are always a few nerves there, as confident as you might act. When Courtney Barnett was watching us play, I felt so nervous. It was surreal. But at the same time it was a lot of fun.”
Those lucky enough to have caught the show may have observed a link in their songwriting style – a deceptively breezy, devil-may-care insouciance which masks a darker neurosis. Barnett will dash off lines about getting “cheap stuff at the supermarket” and “crying in the kitchen.” Zuzu, in turn, will share tales of catching the bus in the rain or sitting up all night watching TV.
“By the time we supported her, I was already a huge fan, super fan, superduperduper fan. She had us in for pizza before she watched our set. She was so kind that I basically cried the whole way home. And I stuttered! I don’t ever stutter, but I stuttered in front of her. I was so nervous. But it was definitely a highlight for me.”
I find that I’m enjoying talking to Zuzu as a music fan, so we carry on discussing bands and gigs for a while. She tells me about seeing Conor Oberst at Manchester Cathedral a couple of years back.
“It was one of those really intimate gigs when you just love the band and know every word. And they’re there right in front of you! That was the first time I’d seen Conor Oberst, and I’ve been obsessed since I was 14. I find it amazing that he can go into such depth about something when he’s halfway across the world, and yet I feel exactly the same sat here.”
I admit I missed the chance to see Bright Eyes while queuing for money tokens at Benicàssim. But I can understand how her work relates to the rawness of Oberst’s material, as well as the idea that sharing details weirdly unique to you can resonate with strangers in ways you didn’t expect.
“Yeah, definitely. I always try to stay as close to the bone as possible, because I feel like the more honest and more specific you get, the more people relate to it. I don’t like to mince my words; I say exactly how I’m feeling and make it rhyme.”
Deciding which single to release took serious consideration, but ultimately the band agreed Get Off was the one for the job.
“We’d lived with it for a while and all really enjoyed playing it. But I wanted to make sure it was as honest as possible. It freaks me out how easy it is to regret things these days. Once something’s out there, it’s out.”
Watching the video, which features the band in their rehearsal space, it’s clear they’re pretty close. While the music is very much Zuzu’s personal project, she acknowledges a special bond with the people helping her make it happen.
“Those girls are amazing. So is Kurran [guitarist], obviously, but the girls are incredible. It’s weird; beforehand I never really knew any other girls that played music, and I was always in bands with guys. Not that it was an issue, but it’s nice to meet like-minded girls who play and just care about playing and nothing else.”
One thing you’ll notice about Zuzu’s output is the 90s influence, both sonically and visually. I mention a stray Beanie Baby I spied towards the end of the video, and right away she spins her laptop around to reveal an immaculately-curated shelving unit housing an army of plastic figurines, novels and Beanie Babies. It’s the perfect nostalgia hit, which seems appropriate given her love for the era.
Back to band stuff. Even the most garlanded new act can fold under the pressure of conflicting personalities, unforgiving work hours, or even just trains. What keeps Zuzu motivated?
“It’s weird; my band discuss this a lot. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s like there’s some drive inside you that makes you wake up and write songs every day. That’s it. I’ve been doing it since I was a child.”
What about the bad days, when inspiration doesn’t come?
“Yeah, of course I throw away loads of songs before I even demo them. The band help me sieve through – they’ll tell me that’s a good one, or that one isn’t, because I don’t really know.”
She frowns. “I mean, I know if something’s too depressing, but that’s about it. And I feel like some stuff is too sad. Too sad to even show the band. I just like to be quite self-deprecating that’s all. It’s funny. And if anything, that’s probably what I am keen on in songwriting, the bit of humour that comes with it. Because everyone’s a bit sad, aren’t they? And I feel like laughing about it helps.”
I’m about to say my goodbyes when she spots the Rushmore poster above my head and lights up all over again. “I love that film! Have you ever seen I Heart Huckabees?” I tell her I missed that one too. Not because I was queuing for paper money, but because I have a gap in my film knowledge the size of the equator. I was 20 before I saw Free Willy.
“Well, watch it! The character Jason Schwartzman plays — he’s just like me. He’s so self-deprecating, and just like, ‘Fuck everything’. I don’t know how interested you are in existentialism, but it’s a super-twisted comedy and it’s pretty funny considering it’s such a trippy idea. The opening scene is like, my life.”
Later that night, I watch the scene she’s talking about. As promised, there’s Schwartzman locked into a hand-wringing internalised monologue: “What-am-I-doing-I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing-maybe-I-should-quit-DON’T-QUIT”. Just as tuning into other people’s doubts can strike a chord with all but the most hardened crank, surely it’s this same looming fear of failure which informs the best songwriting.
Not that fear is something you’d associate with Zuzu’s tight live shows, or the sanguine frontwoman hammering out lines like “Whether you like it or not, you’re gonna see me a lot!” Zuzu is clearly going places, and this time we get to tag along for the ride.
Get Off is out now via Hand In Hive. Zuzu supports Hooton Tennis Club on their UK tour in November.