We Interview Zoey Lily, Multicultural And Multi-talented Multi-instrumentalist
"I think people always want to put you into a box and with me that’s not that easy."
Brought up between London and tiny village Les Mayons, in the south of France, Zoey Lily is a multicultural and multi-talented artist. Her EP Dancing On My Own, set to come out this spring, encourages young women to embrace the idea of self-love. We chat with her about Lana del Rey, Rihanna, Tommy Jeans and veganism.
Do you sometimes dance on your own, Zoey? I’m asking because the title of your upcoming EP, Dancing On My Own, sounds particularly relatable now, when parties, clubs and crowds have been taken away from us. What are your go-to at-home-parties tracks that help you to keep sane?
Yes, I love dancing and moving to music be it on my own, in dancing classes or on nights out. It’s funny because I never actually looked at the EP title from this perspective but it makes so much sense that you relate this to everyone staying at home. For me the EP title is about learning to dance on your own in the sense of being happy on your own before dancing with someone else. I’ve spent a lot of time working on loving myself and feeling fulfilled with just my own company and I think it’s something that we aren’t taught enough and I’d like to encourage especially women to dare to do. My current go-to-at-home-party track is Mahalia’s new single ‘Jealous’, it’s just such a bop and I love that she brought out a more ‘bad bitch’ side of hers.
Does Dancing On My Own reveal any lyrical or musical inspiration with Robyn and her smash hit under the same title? Or is it coincidental? By the way, we wish you the same kind of success!
I’ve been asked that question a lot (: The title actually isn’t related to Robyn’s song at all, to be honest, I don’t know her music that much apart from that one song but in my EP title track I used Dancing On My Own in a very different context and musically, it couldn’t be further apart. And thank you very much!
Last question about titles! Your previous and upcoming releases, Project Prologue and Dancing On My Own, set to come out this spring, sound very interesting in correspondence with each other. Did you have a feeling that your first album was an actual prologue to your next projects, giving us only a little flavor of what you can do? On the other hand, has your upcoming EP allowed you to spread your wings more freely as an artist?
Project Prologue consisted of songs that I wrote in my bedroom and released over a period of two years and only put together into an album later down the line. I learnt and developed so much over that period of time and I was still finding myself and my sound. Project Prologue stands for a phase of learning and personal and musical growth. My upcoming EP is a more self-confident and developed version of me.
You describe your newest single, ‘Say Less’ as something very different from anything you’ve done before. How did you arrive at such a different place, having released Project Prologue not even a full year ago? What is the direction that you would like to turn into now?
I wanted to push my creative boundaries and dare to explore more musically to push my limits of how I can use my songwriting and voice. That’s something I’d like to keep doing in the future. I was in a more confident and positive place when working on this EP which is also reflected in the music being more rhythmical and upbeat. But I’d definitely say the more melancholic side of me which defined ‘Project Prologue’ still shines through and is and always will be a part of me, I love sad harmonies and chord progressions way too much.
The change is quite drastic – from nostalgic, melancholic style and dark lyrics to upbeat music and exposing direct words. What has inspired this change? How would you define your experiments with the genre?
I think it’s important to say that the rest of the EP doesn’t sound like ‘Say Less’ at all and ‘Say Less’ is my only afrobeat influenced song. With this track, I just let myself be inspired by a different genre and artist and went with the flow without overthinking. Even though Infamousizak is only ‘featuring’ on the song, we created it together from scratch and he produced it so for me it was an opportunity to bring out a different side of me by working with him.
Why did you decide to feature him on your newest single? How did he inspire your future creative projects?
I became aware of INFAMOUSIZAK through a shoot we both did for AWAL’s ‘A World Artists Love’ campaign and checked out his music after. I really liked his melodic rap style so I asked him if he wanted to do a session. I loved the idea of getting inspired by someone else’s genre especially having been working mainly on my own up to this point. One of my personal goals is to always be super open-minded and challenge myself musically and sometimes that means going out of your comfort zone and trying something completely new.
Before, you also collaborated with Indigo Svn. How different and how similar to each other those experiences have been?
It was a very different experience mainly because Indigo Svn and I were never actually physically in a room together as he lived in New York. I had already written and produced the whole song and just sent it over to him to add his verse.
How do you feel about musical collabs in general and can we expect any other ones from you in the future?
I’d love to do more collabs in the future, I don’t have any specific collab planned yet but I really want to collaborate with a female artist next.
I know that you dream of a collab with Rihanna. Do you have any feeling how your track with Rihanna could sound like?
If I ever had the chance to collaborate with Rihanna, it would probably result in a very female empowering song because that’s what she is for me.
You also quote Lana del Rey as one of the artists you looked up to at the beginning of your career. Has she also inspired your dreamy, soothing, sensual style of singing?
Yeah, I adored Lana del Rey’s first album, I thought it was a very original and unique sound. At that time she definitely gave me confidence that soft, dreamy voices like mine can do well in Pop music.
How does this type of vocal go with your new generic inspirations?
I wouldn’t say my style of singing has changed too much, I just try to experiment more with my voice and use it in more diverse ways like for example more fast-paced singing. Naturally, I’m drawn to sad chord progressions and melodies but there’s also the other side of me that loves to dance to music so my new sound embodies a bit of both, melancholic melodies with more of an upbeat vibe.
On the other hand, am I correct to sense an inspiration of another collab, ‘Be Honest’ by Jorja Smith feat Burna Boy, behind your ‘Say Less’?
We had a few reference tracks we listened to at the beginning of the session to set the vibe and direction, one of them was ‘Be Honest.’ There was also ‘Tipsy’ by Raye and Odunsi and ‘Simmer’ by Mahalia and Burna Boy. Since I met INFAMOUSIZAK for the first time that day we sort of had to get to know each other first and get comfortable in each other's space. We started with a guitar loop, then added a beat and just started playing around with melodies. It took another three to four sessions to finish the track.
That track is an exciting new point in your career but I believe that it wasn't easy to reach this place. As a young woman of a multicultural upbringing, have you experienced any challenges and struggles in the music industry?
I see it as a positive thing that I grew up experiencing different cultures because it made me more open-minded and in a way unique. I guess sometimes it’s weird because the UK is my home and I spent most of my life here and sometimes I still feel like an alien. I think people always want to put you into a box and with me, that’s not that easy. I used to be rather insecure about it but more and more I’ve become super grateful for the different perspectives I have and of course also that I can speak three languages which I never would have been able to if I only ever lived in the UK.
How has the multicultural upbringing influenced you as an artist and as a person?
I spent my early childhood in a remote, tiny village in South France with no TV and barely any internet nor phone connection. I guess it influenced me in the way that I grew up living in my own little bubble not really aware of music being an entertainment industry and unaware of all the media and pop stars. As a child, I never dreamt of being one. As I was so shielded off from the world, I’d say I had a very innocent and pure approach to music which is something that might still reflect in my music nowadays.
Your father, a live music agent and your mother, a Parisian fashion designer, must have shaped you artistically since you were a child. Do they have anything to say, when it comes to your artistic choices? Do you sometimes ask them for their opinion?
My parents, loving art and being creatives themselves, definitely inspired me to create art myself and they really encouraged that. They gave me a lot of freedom as a child and supported my creativity without trying to shape it or force it, they really wanted it to come from me. It’s still pretty much the same today, my dad is more into funk, jazz, soul and rock’n’roll - so even though he appreciates my music and I think is very proud of me, it’s not his go-to music. My mum, on the other hand, is probably my number one fan and always gets to listen to all my songs first and also gives feedback. But to be honest, I’m quite stubborn when it comes to my music so I’ll listen to any feedback I get and consider the suggestions but in the end, I decide mainly based on what I feel. (:
It also seems that you took a passion for fashion from your mother since you were selected for Tommy Jeans Spring 2021 campaign, alongside 23 other artists. How did you become involved and how do you feel, being a part of this project? Your mum must be really proud!
I’m very much into fashion and that’s definitely inspired by my mum. She used to draw designs and paper patterns at home and it was just very fascinating to watch. I think my taste in clothes is quite similar to hers when she was younger and I actually wear a lot of her old clothes nowadays. Regarding Tommy Jeans, I was contacted by a team member quite unexpectedly, shortly after I released my single ‘The End’ which is a song about the destruction of the planet at the hands of humanity. I was extremely excited to be offered the opportunity to be part of such an amazing campaign. It was the perfect match for me since it combines my interests in fashion, as well as sustainability and social responsibility. Being part of a global campaign like ‘Music takes us further’ is empowering because together our voices can do much more than I could do by myself. And yeah, my mum is definitely very proud of me and truly my biggest supporter.
From the environmental perspective then, what do you think about big fashion brands and the fashion industry? How fashion could become more sustainable from a point of view of a fashion’s fan?
I definitely think fast fashion is a big problem. In my opinion, it’s the companies' responsibility to make sure they are producing sustainably and in a socially responsible way. I think there should be much more transparency in fashion regarding where and under what conditions clothes are being produced. Since it’s not a legal requirement for brands to make this information public, it can be quite difficult to know what you’re actually supporting by buying fast fashion. Obviously, not all fast fashion is like that and I was very happy to see that in recent years more and more big brands have taken the steps to become more environmentally friendly. These and smaller, more sustainable brands are the ones we should be buying from so that brands who have so far not cared at all would be forced to adapt and become more sustainable too.
You teamed up with UNICEF, WWF and Color of Change to donate 100 % of the proceeds from ‘The End’ – it’s a great initiative! What other initiatives do you take to protect the planet?
I haven’t thought of my next initiative yet but I definitely want to do more for the planet, animals and people in need and am always super open to get involved in any way I can to help. On a daily basis, I use my social platforms to speak out about environmental, social and political issues and would like to focus on working with brands that make an active effort to be more sustainable and socially responsible.
How do you contribute on a daily basis, as a musician and as a person?
On a personal level, I’m a vegan and don’t buy any dairy or meat products because I love animals so much and don’t want to contribute to their suffering and killing but also because of the negative effects it has on the planet. I try to re-make new clothes out of any old clothes wherever possible or re-sell or recycle them. I do the basic things like recycling and avoiding plastic and packaging when food shopping even though it’s getting increasingly harder to find food that isn’t wrapped in three layers of plastic, sigh. I think the most important is to make a change in your immediate environment because those are the people you can affect the most so I have a lot of conversations with my friends and family about the environment and how we can do better.
i was having a bad day...— Zoey Lily (@mezoeylily) April 30, 2020
then I made vegan pancakes
now I’m good 😋😋 ok bye x pic.twitter.com/WGyM4lhnwz
Speaking up on social matters has become increasingly popular among musicians. Do you feel it’s the artist’s duty to stand up for the causes they believe in? What other causes would you like to amplify through your music?
I believe having a voice comes with the responsibility to do good. So the bigger your platform, the more power you have and the more responsibility to make a difference. That doesn’t mean an individual’s actions or small platforms fighting for change don’t matter cuz it all really does. But yes, I believe there’s a lot of power in music as it brings people together and it’s this universal language that everyone understands even without understanding the words. I use my platform to speak out about pretty much anything that I feel needs people’s attention.