With her debut album released earlier this year, 24-year-old Lolo Zouaï makes a statement for herself as an artist who can't be pinned down. From 'Beaucoup' which showcases her French language skills, to the influences of Arabic and Rai music on ‘Desert Rose’, above all else, Zouaï wants to share a variety of emotions and empower fans to feel an entire spectrum of feelings.
Now showing no signs of slowing down, Zouaï has shared a brand new song and music video, 'Money Diamonds Roses', an ode to meaningful relationships and a reflection on the past year, with Zouaï singing, "Nothing compares to your love." The song comes lifted from the deluxe edition of her album, set for release on December 13th.
...when people cry, we cover up our face; we’re ashamed of it. It’s just something that we’ve been taught. In my music I’m trying to go against that. I actually enjoy being sad sometimes, because it’s better to feel sad than to feel nothing.
COUP DE MAIN: What’s your earliest musical memory?
LOLO ZOUAÏ: Probably, singing in pre-school - being a kid, memorising the songs that teachers teach you, being really into it and always singing them back at home.
CDM: Did your parents teach you about music growing up?
LOLO: No, not at all. My mum put me and my sister in piano lessons at a young age, and then I picked up trumpet in sixth grade because my grandpa was a trumpet player and I just wanted my mum to be happy. I still have the scales down, if I were to pick it up I’d probably be able to do the scale, and that’s all. <laughs>
CDM: I really love ‘Here To Stay’ from the album - it’s such an apt summation of how depression works in the brain. Why was that something you wanted to write a song about?
LOLO: That was actually the only song on the album that started out on the guitar; me alone in my room. I felt like it was the closest to my true self, and it’s really dark, but that’s just how I feel. Even if things go well, there’s always this underlying darkness that I carry, that I’ve had since I was young. Noticing that I’m just that kind of person, and I felt like it’s always here to stay, no matter what. I just thought it was really important to talk about that because I think depression is a very common disease. I think it’s coming more into music now, but hopefully people don’t use that-- I feel like some people think it’s cool, and it’s just not. It’s not a cool thing, no one wants to feel that way. I just thought I could take a feeling that’s so common and sad, and make it into something beautiful.
CDM: Do you find that songwriting helps your mental health?
LOLO: Definitely. It definitely helps a lot. It always reminds me, whenever I have a song that I want to write, it always just reminds me that I’m doing the right thing, and that’s what I should be doing. Even sometimes when I’m depressed I’ll avoid music altogether and I’ll avoid listening to it or writing it, but then whenever I catch it, I’m like, 'Oh, wow, I should not avoid it because it’s really helpful to me.'
CDM: It’s interesting how music can change your mood so rapidly.
LOLO: Definitely! I don’t listen to my album that much anymore, but at the beginning I did, and sometimes if I play ‘Here To Stay’, I’ll be like, “Wow, I relate to that girl,” and then I’m like, “That girl is me!” It’s one of my favourite songs on the album too.
CDM: How did you find studying Arabic and Rai music when working on ‘Desert Rose’?
LOLO: I grew up listening to it from my Dad, but Stelios [Phili; co-writer and producer] is Greek/Cypriot, and there are similar melodies in that music. We studied on YouTube, Lebanese music, Algerian music, and just making sure - I wanted to get the runs really down. There’s this new singer called Nina Abdel Malak who’s really young, and she’s got the most insane voice. I just want to get to that level of being able to do not just mainstream or classic runs, but to get traditional Arabic runs down too.
CDM: Paris is obviously renowned for being the city of love and romance - Do you think that French is a more romantic language for songwriting than English?
LOLO: Definitely. I find French to be super romantic, and actually my lyrics in French in my songs are usually the most romantic lyrics. I don’t find that I have that romantic lyrics in the album in English, but I have a lot of themes that I find myself coming back to when I talk in French - like, my heart, or the ocean.
CDM: When you’re writing, do you consciously think about what language certain lines will be in?
LOLO: I don’t think about it before, actually. Unless it’s like ‘Beaucoup’, where I was like, “I’m going to write this in French.” Generally I just start all my songs in English, and if there’s a line I can’t find or come up with in English sometimes I’ll add French to it. Usually it just comes so naturally, and if it doesn’t come naturally I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to force it just to have French in my music. I feel like it has to be intentional.
CDM: What do you want people to take away from listening to your music?
LOLO: I think that it’s a lot of moods, which is great, because you can see it in different ways. Two of the things, is that it will either make you feel confident and strong; there’s pretty feminist undertones, and then there’s also the side like ‘Blue’ and ‘Here To Stay’ which is more in touch with your feelings. I want people to relate and feel confident with their vulnerability.
CDM: I like that there’s this mixture of two different ideas.
LOLO: It’s confidence, but it’s confidence in all of your emotions. It’s being able to see the good and the bad in both things.
CDM: You’re part of the Kid Super creative collective - how did you first find them?
LOLO: My manager Doug DM’d me three years ago. Kid Super had around 9,000 followers on Instagram - I remember it! I came by and I met them all, and they were just doing really fun things with no pressure. I ended up moving in, getting along with them, and when I lived there I was still working at the restaurant, I didn’t know Stelios yet. Doug introduced me to Stelios, and was like, “I feel like you guys would work super well together,” and we made ‘High Highs To Low Lows’ in the Kid Super basement. It’s amazing. I’ve played at their parties, and it’s just great because they brought me into the Brooklyn community. I’m from San Francisco, so I was living in New York with no knowledge of anyone.
CDM: Being in such a creative community, does it inspire you to be involved in all areas of your career? I know you edit some of your videos!
LOLO: Yeah! Colm [Dillane; founder of Kid Super], I don’t think he deals with depression, so he’s always working, and I was just looking at him and being like, ‘Wow, he really sees life in a very positive way,’ which sometimes I wish I could be more like that. But seeing him and everybody working, they think, ‘We don’t know what we’re doing but we’re doing it.’ That’s how I live now. There’s no set path to success at all, everything is different for everyone. You don’t know if you’re going to make a mistake, and if you do, it’s part of it.
CDM: Which is more of a powerful feeling, a high high or a low low?
LOLO: I think low lows are more powerful, and they last longer. It’s hard to know when you’re happy, but it’s easy to know when you’re sad.
CDM: Do you think it’s important to be able to experience a range of human emotions?
LOLO: Yeah. I think that people who are never sad, something is wrong with them, or they’re lying.
CDM: You’ve said that, "I like to enjoy my sadness when I am sad, because I think that’s when I write a lot of my best songs." Do you think that embracing sadness can sometimes be empowering?
LOLO: I think so. Naturally when people cry, we cover up our face; we’re ashamed of it. It’s just something that we’ve been taught. In my music I’m trying to go against that. I actually enjoy being sad sometimes, because it’s better to feel sad than to feel nothing.
CDM: And then when you get out of the sadness you feel better, because the journey was a bigger thing.
LOLO: It becomes more worth it. You can become stronger and want more.
CDM: You wrote 'High Highs To Low Lows' after an experience for you quite early in the music industry - how have your experiences in the industry been since then?
LOLO: Before, I had a bunch of music that I worked on and then the producer didn’t want me to put out the songs unless I signed some sort of contract that was me giving away my rights, and I just didn’t feel like that was the right choice. I don’t want to belong to anything. So I just chose to re-start, which was hard because it was a lot of years of work - but I realised it was a learning experience, and since then I’ve just been more aware of going into sessions with people, and making sure that we’re clear on me being able to own my songs when we leave the session. Now I just have a smaller team. You can’t really trust everybody, but it’s also not healthy to be so untrustworthy.
CDM: It can also be hard to look after everything yourself too.
LOLO: Yeah. I think I’ve established myself enough where that’s not going to happen to me anymore. I had to hibernate and work for a year or two by myself before anybody really knew who I was, and now it’s still the beginning, but I see past the bullshit now. <laughs>
CDM: It’s cool that you were able to release the album through an imprint of RCA, but still keep all that control.
LOLO: Yeah, because we actually finished the album before I signed.
CDM: Have you been working on new music recently? What can you tell us about it?
LOLO: Yes! I’ve still just been working with Stelios, because we have a lot of songs in the Dropbox that are unfinished. So we’re working on singles. When I was independent and before the album, I was just dropping singles, singles, singles, so I’m still going to keep that approach. I’m already working on a second project! I want to drop something soon.
CDM: There was an unreleased song of yours used in an episode of ‘Euphoria’. Was it a song you wrote for the show? How did that come about?
LOLO: Basically I had this demo that I recorded in London around a year ago, it had a lot of mumbling in it but I knew that I wanted to finish it. We sent it as a demo to ‘Euphoria’ and they loved it, and so we were like, ‘Okay, we’re going to finish it so we can release it.’ Then it was super rushed, and they ended up loving the demo; they had demo-itis. So I didn’t want to release the demo, but it’s something that I’m going to finish soon so that I can actually release it.
CDM: I love that you love Jigglypuff! Why is Jigglypuff your favourite Pokémon?
LOLO: Before my album came out, Jigglypuff was my avatar on Instagram for years. It will be eventually again! I grew up playing Pokémon, I was kind of a nerd, but obviously Jigglypuff is a singer so it’s a very obvious thing. I love the colour pink and I just think that she’s just me! She’s sweet, but also a bad bitch.
Lolo Zouaï's debut album 'High High To Low Lows' is out now - watch the 'Money Diamonds Roses' lyric video below...