“It Feels Very Elemental”: Zsela Takes Us for a Ride Through Her Native Brooklyn



Zsela is always in motion. The musician and muse is inspired by chaos, much like the constant transition of her native New York. For the past few years, she’s taken it to L.A. to simmer in a different type of inspiration, but in writing her latest album, Big For You, her swelling, soulful studio debut which dropped last week, she found herself longing for a certain flavor of New York stillness that she only finds on the ferry to the studio or on a train to her childhood home. To conjure some of that feeling, she took it back to her borough before a weekend performance and showed us a day in the life in the whirlwind that is Brooklyn.




CHLOE SHAAR: What’s your drink?

ZSELA: Usually I do a hot coffee to start the day, but it’s really fucking hot outside.

SHAAR: What did we order instead?

ZSELA: Well, I don’t want to say because I’m not promoting oat milk right now.

SHAAR: Oh my god, I heard that you’re supposed to boycott oat milk. I don’t think the girls know what milk they’re supposed to have.

ZSELA: I’ll have oat milk, half regular, and a little water.

BARISTA: With vanilla, right?

ZSELA: Yeah.

SHAAR: I should’ve gotten mine with vanilla. Can I add it to the matcha?

BARISTA: No problem.

ZSELA: I like this place because I left these Prada glasses here and they saved them for me. They reached out to someone I knew on Instagram and then I got a text.

SHAAR: I love that. They match your hair. You’re hair inspo for me right now because I’m thinking about going blonde.

ZSELA: You should do it. I actually can’t imagine going back. The person who does my hair is like, “This is your color.”

SHAAR: Really? Where do you get your hair done?

ZSELA: Starlina. You should go to her. She’s out of her house in Greenpoint. She’s fab. I’m going to send it to you. 



ZSELA: You don’t have cigarettes, do you?

SHAAR: No, let’s get cigarettes. I don’t know where all the cigarettes went. They’re all in Manhattan. Where are we going to get cigarettes?

ZSELA: That is the question. I’m telling you, it’s really hard to find them.

SHAAR: We can find them at one of these places for sure. And let the record show that we are walking. Our first method of transportation.

ZSELA: We are walking.

SHAAR: So you grew up near here?

ZSELA: I grew up in Fort Greene. We moved around a bunch and then we landed in Fort Greene when I was three. We were there for most of my childhood, except for three years of high school when I was in L.A. randomly.

SHAAR: Whoa. You too?

ZSELA: I did three years of high school at Hamilton High. You know Hammy?

SHAAR: Hell yeah, I know Hammy. 

ZSELA: But I kind of blocked out those years. And then I came back to New York right before my senior year and graduated upstate on a farm school.

SHAAR: Okay, farm girl. 

ZSELA: It was this Waldorf school on a raw dairy farm in Hawthorn Valley. Are you familiar with the cheeses?

SHAAR: Oh, Hawthorn cheeses? Is that where they make it?

ZSELA: Hawthorn Valley Creamery.

SHAAR: I’m not, but I can tap into that.

ZSELA: And then went to college at Purchase and then dropped out and moved back to the city. I was here until I moved to L.A. three years ago.

SHAAR: You’ve been there for a bit now.

ZSELA: Yeah. It’s so funny because recently I was like, “Oh, I actually like L.A. more now.” But then it was coupled with me leaving all the time. 

SHAAR: That’s real.




ZSELA: Do you have Light Blue Spirits?

CASHIER: No, it’s genuine blue.

ZSELA: Can I see the blue ones? And a lighter. Thank you.

SHAAR: Thank you so much, have a good day.

CASHIER: You’re welcome.

SHAAR: Well, thank god for Chemi Deli. I want to be a Vespa girl this year. We could Citi Bike.

ZSELA: I was going to say that, but then we can’t talk. I love the fast ones. I’m like, reckless on them.

SHAAR: You’re flying. I be electric biking to the club because it gives me a little adrenaline.



SHAAR: Should we take the bus?

ZSELA: Yeah. Let’s take the bus. Oh, wait, I know that guy. Wait, maybe we can get in his car. How are you?

SHAAR: Hey, what’s up? It’s Chloe.


ZSELA: Can we get a ride?

SHAAR: All right, we’re getting in.

ZSELA: You in the front.

SHAAR: What kind of car is this?

BRAD: This is a Nissan Xterra. It’s a funny ass car. I kept the moonroof slightly ajar.

SHAAR: What are you doing with your day?

BRAD: I’m going to drop off some film in South Slope. Where you going? I just got back from town, my day’s clear.

ZSELA: We need to get the F train. 

BRAD: You going to have a listening party in New York?

ZSELA: We did a little show. I might have to go back to L.A. early.

BRAD: Oh, you don’t seem so happy about that. You’re from the Greene. You should come back for the summer.

ZSELA: I know. I always end up extending my trip like 10 times. You know what the best hotel is in Williamsburg with a pool?

BRAD: Don’t they have a pool at The Hoxton or Williamsburg Hotel? 

ZSELA: Do you like the Hoxton?

BRAD: I’ve only just been there for shoots, I haven’t actually stayed there. You trying to live it up for this weekend?

ZSELA: I’m singing at the Now Awards. They’re giving me a hotel.

BRAD: Oh, hell yeah. You would think there would be more hotels. I’ll just take you up here, Clinton and Washington. 

ZSELA: Oh, perfect. We can go to my old house that I grew up in. I actually want to see it just for myself.




ZSELA: My brother packed up some of my stuff when we moved. He told me two years ago, “I think you left a box there” and I was like, “What was in it?” And he was like, “Oh, just a bunch of journals.”

SHAAR: No way.

ZSELA: I know. It’s scary to even think about. I still wonder if it’s there.

SHAAR: Are you putting your heart into your journal? 

ZSELA: Well, every time I open a journal and start to write, I’m like, “What if I die tomorrow?” I mean, I’m always writing songs, but I do want to get into a practice of just writing daily and just getting shit out. I feel like I get so precious with words and it’s selfish.

SHAAR: Right. It’s really therapeutic too.

ZSELA: God, it looks so run down now. We had the downstairs floor. But it’s always been the same. Red porch, white pillars.

SHAAR: It’s kind of fire that it hasn’t changed.

ZSELA: It was an old mansion converted into apartments. It was haunted. I remember when I was a kid, the neighbor came out and told me a story about this woman who got murdered on the top floor. And there were so many ghost stories.

SHAAR: For real? How was she murdered?

ZSELA: Someone crawled in the window.

SHAAR: Oh, like a stalker vibe.

ZSELA: I don’t know the story, but I was young. I just heard murder and was like, “Fuck.”

SHAAR: Yo, that’s crazy. Let’s get out of here.

ZSELA: I know. 



SHAAR: Do you hop or pay?

ZSELA: I pay. I love it.

SHAAR: She’s a good citizen. What’s up with the transportation? Do you feel like different modes resonate with you? 

ZSELA: Well, this album feels very active. I made the album mainly in L.A., but when I think about existing in New York, I think of being in motion.

SHAAR: But motion looks different depending on where you are.

ZSELA: Yeah. When I’m in the city, I feel so inspired by being in transit. It’s where I’ve always written songs or can be really alone with myself in a way that I just don’t get in L.A. at all.

SHAAR: Because you’ve got to drive everywhere.

ZSELA: Yeah.

SHAAR: Here she comes.

ZSELA: Here she comes. When I played the album for my friend, they said, “It feels very elemental.” There’s fire, air, water, but also just fumes. To me, it feels like a sweaty album. I’m so happy it’s coming out in the summer because it feels alive with the heat. There’s this tension and now it’s a hot ass day that I’m on this traveling escapade.

SHAAR: The girls are sweating on the train.

ZSELA: And that is the album. I’ve definitely talked about this in interviews before, but I used to live in Times Square, and I feel like a big thing about living in the city is finding stillness inside of the chaos.

SHAAR: Being still in L.A. and New York looks completely different, and being alone looks different.


ZSELA: It took me a minute to adjust to the stillness in L.A. You have to seek it out in New York. You have to really carve out your stillness and it feels so deserved and earned because it’s so fucking stacked and busy. In L.A., the stillness, I want to earn it more. But I’m really reconciling with just letting go. I started to like L.A. when I started accepting it for what it was and not comparing it to what I was missing about New York. I can be really insular and it’s really helpful. And then here, I can come and be crazy. It’s ideal to have access to both.

SHAAR: Right. Do you drive out there?

ZSELA: Well, the funny thing is that I—

SHAAR: No way.

ZSELA: Don’t have my license.

SHAAR: You’re so New York. You live in L.A. and you don’t drive? How do you get around?

ZSELA: Well, I got my permit and it expired so I got my permit again. And then I failed my driver’s test.


ZSELA: Girl, I don’t even know. What kind of car did you have?

SHAAR: I was the one kid in my high school that didn’t have a car, so I shared a Prius with my mom. And then I bought a station wagon off this kid for like 900 bucks with all of my savings from one summer, and I ended up literally tanking it a month later. 

ZSELA: What? Scary. Let the record show, I’m going to get my license this year.

SHAAR: Let’s hold her to it. 

ZSELA: Oh, I hope we make this ferry.

SHAAR: We will make it.

ZSELA: Okay, ferry. Oh, girl. Okay. 




ZSELA: We’re randomly in the fire house. I wish we could go on one of those trucks.

SHAAR: Oh my gosh. That’s transportation.

ZSELA: Do you want to go on the tallest part? 

SHAAR: We can slide down it.

FIREFIGHTER: No dancing on the pole. No dancing, no sliding. Don’t get me fired here. 

SHAAR: Oh my gosh, thank you so much. 

ZSELA: Want a picture?

FIREFIGHTER: Nah, I look tired.

SHAAR: No, you don’t.

ZSELA: You look good.

FIREFIGHTER: I’m in my work clothes.

SHAAR: I wish we could ride in the truck.

ZSELA: That was fun. Thank you.

FIREFIGHTER: You’re welcome. Have a nice day, ladies.




ZSELA: We are at the Dumbo/Fulton ferry.

SHAAR: Barge music?

ZSELA: They play classical music on this barge.

[Phone rings]

ZSELA: What are you doing with your Friday, Jasper? He’s at the TWA terminal. “It’s incredible,” he says. I’m putting him on speaker.

SHAAR: What’s your word of the week?

JASPER: Word of the week? Sigma GrillMaster.

SHAAR: Okay. Summertime. 

ZSELA: All right, love you.

SHAAR: Do you say love you to everyone when you end the convo?

ZSELA: There’s a lot of people I love, yes.

SHAAR: That’s great. Maybe I’ll get it at the end. Oh my gosh, hey, it’s Miss Lady Lib. Do you like being on the water?

ZSELA: I love the water. I’m a water baby.

SHAAR: What’s your sign?

ZSELA: Water. I’m like, all Scorpio.

SHAAR: Do you ride the ferry often?

ZSELA: This is actually connected because when I was in the final stages of recording, I was riding it to the studio at the end of making the album. It was an intense time, so that was my moment to recenter and then go into the studio. I need to be close to water.

SHAAR: I grew up by the water so it’s hard to be away from the ocean. My mom and I have slept at the beach together.

ZSELA: That’s so cute.

SHAAR: I don’t know. It’s always just there when you need it.

ZSELA: I made a new rule that any time I’m by the ocean, no matter what temperature it’s at, I have to get in. I’m like, if I don’t get in, something bad will happen.

SHAAR: Exactly. Because you’re paying your respects to the water. 

ZSELA: And you never regret it. Especially in the summer, a fresh dunk and then letting the sun dry the saltwater onto your skin, there’s nothing like it.

SHAAR: It’s like a drug. You’re about to release an album. Is it surreal?

ZSELA: It feels really surreal, yeah. I’m just so excited for people to get the full thing. I feel like singles are just a taste and they’re all different.

SHAAR: An album is like a story.

ZSELA: Yeah. You want the full story and I’m excited.



ZSELA: I’m getting on the bike, my final mode.

SHAAR: Where are you going?

ZSELA: I’m going to the studio. Thanks for coming along for the ride. 

SHAAR: Absolutely!