Hit 'Em With The Bilingual: Clash Meets Lolo Zouaï

Hit 'Em With The Bilingual: Clash Meets Lolo Zouaï

Reflections on her debut album, working with Dev Hynes, and what lies ahead...

2019 has seen Lolo Zouaï working at top speed.

The French-born, American-raised pop auteur dropped her debut album, with 'High Highs To Low Lows' scoring global acclaim.

A multi-lingual, pop-genre experience, it found Lolo expertly melding her post-genre vision with experienced producer Stelios Phili.

Right now, she's got a rare day off. She played a top secret show in London last night, one that was invaded by her cult fan group, known as the Lo-Riders.

Looking ahead, she's already dreaming big. Seated in the Clash studio, Lolo talks about her fascination with Far East pop culture: "Going to Japan is one of my big dreams!"

"A few years ago I decided Jigglypuff is my alter ego – she has two sides to her. She’s very sweet, and then she’s also secretly… mischievous!"

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How is your trip to London turning out?

Great! I had my little party, my show. I’ve been talking to a lot of people, making my way around.

The show was packed!

It was good… it was mostly an industry thing which is sort of funny for me because that’s not really my vibe but I understand that you have to meet people that work on helping to push your music. But it was great – we had like 40 fans and they were all dressed in Nascar jackets.

Those fans absolutely love your music – you can see that on social media alone.

I know!

Is that something you keep track of?

I usually dive right in. I have a pretty strong relationship with a handful of my fans, they’re called the Lo-riders and we have a group chat on Instagram DM. They’re always in it, at any point of the day I could just send a message and we’d be like: we’re here! It feels more like friends.

Obviously I don’t know them that well but they’re very supportive. They send me message every day, like: drink water and have a great day!

Did you drink water today?

I did! It’s good advice – very effective!

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The album has been out for a few weeks now, have you gained more perspective on those songs?

Yeah. This album took about a year and a half, and some of those songs were written more than a year and a half ago. It’s something that every artist deals with – already wanting to make new music when people are just discovering your old music!

I’m really proud of the album, I think it has a really diverse sound within it, it doesn’t just have one sound…

It’s not even one language…

No! And I think that reflects me as a person, because there’s some days when I’m really outgoing and confident, and there’s some days when I just don’t really want to talk to anybody. I think that’s really reflected in the album, so people need to listen to the whole thing to get a good taste of who I am. But I’m already thinking about the next one.

Will it be as diverse, or have you proved that point with your debut LP?

I think that I was able to demonstrate it on that record. I might go on a one style approach, but I’m not sure yet. I have been making darker music.

Can you work as you travel?

I can… I mean, I’ve done it, but it’s not as effective. It’ll sometimes be a waste of time. But I have been recently coming up with melodies and recording them on my phone, writing some lyrics, and also making some beats on the computer. Little rough drafts.

iPhone voice notes are your saviour.

Completely! The amount of times something will just come to you, and it’s there. Because if you don’t then you lose inspiration.

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Are you a perfectionist in the studio?

Yeah. Definitely. I will do a lot of takes to get the perfect tone, the perfect emotion, the perfect run. I think the studio is the time to be a perfectionist because you can’t do that live. It just won’t be perfect, it’s impossible. I mean, sometimes you definitely want to keep a bit of rawness just for the emotion, but I like to keep it pretty perfect.

It’s finding the balance isn’t it? Sometimes artists can polish away that rawness. 

Well, we recorded the whole album in this underground basement studio in the Lower East Side. It’s kind of an iconic place – it used to be Mark Ronson’s studio, and there’s a lot of history in it. And so I think that it’s inevitable for the album to have that gritty feeling because of where it was recorded, it wasn’t in this super-polished studio. Then we balance it out by having pretty high quality vocal production, so I think that’s what makes it feel raw… and the lyrics, of course.

How do you get into the right headspace for a vocal take?

It sucks because usually the demo has the most emotion and you can’t get that back! And you can’t release it because it’s a mumble! But what I do is that I have to really get into what I’m saying. It’s like acting. That’s what I think sometimes… because you’re not always going to feel that way. Especially performing it. You have to act, and come back to that feeling. 

And I don’t mean that it’s fake. I think a good actor will touch into his or her real-life experience to get that feeling. I’ve been interested in acting, I’ve even auditioned for roles, and started getting some offers. Once you’re in the entertainment world, people start saying: oh maybe she’ll look good in a movie! I think acting would be a great way to express something and make people feel.

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There’s more than one language on here, which is a brave move.

I didn’t do it before. I was making a lot of music that was good but it didn’t feel that special, so once I started incorporating all my cultures it broke down all my walls of worry and fear, and I found my sound.

I don’t necessarily think I’ll put French on everything that I do because I’m not a French artist, I’m American. People still don’t really know that, they just assume that I’m a French artist singing in English… and that frustrates me just because I grew up in America and I’m trying to put a little touch of French in there.

There really was no strict purpose, I didn’t think anything of it – it sounds pretty, it’s a beautiful language, and I didn’t know how to say it in English.

People have this ability to draw on different wells, different types of heritage.

Right. And I blend in the Arabic as well, because my Dad is from Algeria and I felt it was an important part of my culture to show in my music.

You worked with Dev Hynes on ‘Jade’ – how did the two of you meet?

He posted my song ‘Blue’ on his Instagram story, and he was just listening to it. Somebody sent it to me. Then we just started trying to link up for about a year, and we finally were in the same city and he came to the studio.

We got talking, and then he came back to the studio one day and I had that song written. But where the beat drops, I didn’t know what to do with that, so he wrote that, and recorded it really quickly.

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It must be so exciting to be around creative people like that, is that something you thrive on?

It was refreshing. Sometimes I get stuck in what I’m making and I need an outside view. It’s like, we think it’s good, but we need someone else to come in. He freshened it up. Just the fact that he’s been around so many different genres and people – he’s worked with everyone! He just makes good music. It’s kind of genre-less. It felt very special to work with him, and get to know him.

You’ve also had a shout out from K-Pop stars NCT – does valuation from other artists mean that bit more?

Yes. That’s one of the best ways to get discovered, I think, when other artists co-sign you. I really appreciate it when other artists do it, because it’s a competitive world and artists are sometimes afraid to be the tastemaker.

It’s like, once one person thinks something is cool then everyone will start posting it. Once you don’t need it any more. That’s just how it is, and I totally understand. So when someone does do it, it’s definitely appreciated. 

Have you built a support network in the industry?

I’m starting to. I’m starting to build relationships with people that are doing the same thing. I have great friends, but I’d love to have people I could talk to about the music industry and the struggle because it’s definitely not always easy.

You mentioned that the new material is slightly darker in tone – is that musically, or a lyrical slant?

I think it’s in the production and in the feeling. On the first album I just wanted to make a lot of fun music because I feel like at shows… you want your shows to be fun! I don’t want people to fall asleep at my show. I think we’ve been evolving and progressing and having more real instrumentation. Doing more experimental creative things.

Using more organic sounds, perhaps?

Well, we’ll still be using the computer. There’s real sounds on the computer. But it’s nice to have some actual instruments. And I think that whenever a song of mine sounds light, there’ll be a darker lyrical content to go along with that. I love that contrast, and I think that’s what excites me about music.

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'From High Highs To Low Lows' is out now.

Photography: Eleonora C. Collini

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