ABOVE: ZHALA. PHOTO COURTESY OF IRIKA
Sweden has always been a hotspot for bubbly, melodic fun: from Robyn and producer Max Martin to ABBA, The Cardigans and back again. But never before has the small Scandinavian country birthed such a uniquely magnetic, otherworldly pop creature as Zhala. A&R’s, take note: the former Lykke Li backup singer—who just last week debuted the far-out “Slippin’ Around,” her first and only single and video, via her YouTube channel—is a free agent. Considering she’s released one of the heaviest, trippiest tracks of the year, and did it all on her own with only the help of social media and a few friends’ recommendations, says quite a bit about how little risk the music industry is still willing to take on independent artists, even in a world where Sleigh Bells is being booked for Saturday Night Live and Gotye’s on Glee.
The video, which features the singer in tribal makeup and what appears to be Charles Manson’s beard around her neck, is the stuff of late-night art school experimentation, like Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is In The Heart” under a Wiccan spell. With its wolf calls and slapping drum echoes, and elements of R&B and dance, the song itself is the perfect backdrop for a go-go dancing rave witch like Zhala to enter the pop sphere with. We speak to the Swedish-born startup below.
HOMETOWN: I’m Kurdish and was born in Stockholm, Sweden.
FROM BACKUP TO STARTUP: Since I can remember, I’ve always been recording with others. I worked for a bunch of different people [in Sweden] until recently when I realized I could do it best on my own.
ON THE VIDEO FOR “SLIPPIN’ AROUND”: It was directed by my good friend, Makode Linde, who is an up-and-coming artist here in Sweden. We did it all on our own. As I don’t have any label behind me, we were really able to keep the visuals close to my sound… that futuristic cosmic pop with some witchcraft influences. It’s incredible that with the help of my friends so many people are getting to see it.
ON NOT RUSHING ANYTHING: I’m recording my debut album now, but I’m not interested in rushing it. You only get the chance to make one debut album, so, I’m thoroughly making sure I spend enough time on it. My recording and songwriting process takes on so many different expressions that it takes a lot of time to develop the different layered sounds and instruments I need to pull it off. I get much of my inspiration from my fantasies, my experience with sound, and my love for Kurdish music.
CURRENTLY ON REPEAT: I haven’t stopped listening to “Can’t There Be Love” by Pilooski for the past week.
BEST CONCERT EVER: I loved seeing Chris Cunningham live at the Roskilde festival in Denmark last summer. His visuals are so intense and amazing. But I also really love watching this Swedish new-age band, Goloka, perform live, too.
ONE THING THAT’LL SHOCK MOST PEOPLE: I used to have an H cup.
NEXT STEPS: Right now I’m just focusing on performing and recording for my first album. That, and I guess, go-go dancing at my lesbian club, Donna Scam, in Stockholm.
FOR MORE ON ZHALA, VISIT HER FACEBOOK PAGE.