Catching Up With #MilkLoves 2018 Alum Lolo Zouai
At the beginning of the year, we introduced the globetrotting musician, Lolo Zouaï, as a member of our #MilkLoves 2018 roster of ones to watch. Currently dwelling in NYC, she’s back with two new singles—“Challenge” and “For the Crowd”—that touch on the the glossy sounds of 90’s RnB and Bay Area hip hop. We sat down with her to hear more about her roots in elementary school choir, and what her ideal day in Brooklyn would look like. Check out our chat below accompanied with photos by Yasmine Diba.
You started singing at age seven—in what capacity? When did you start to take music seriously?
I first started in elementary choir, and they would choose me for the solos which let me know I might be onto something. [Laughs] But it wasn’t serious until high school when I started writing my own music.
You once said the world is your home. What creative differences have you noticed in San Francisco, Paris, and New York?
Everywhere I’ve lived has influenced me and music in some way. I grew up in San Francisco until I was 18 and that’s where I started making my own music. I was making acoustic music then because I was just teaching myself guitar and I didn’t have a studio to go to. I used to go to ocean beach for inspiration. I listened to a lot of bay area hip hop from the age of 14 on, so artists like Too $hort and E-40 taught me the game. [Laughs] I moved to Paris alone for 7 months when I was 19 to rediscover my roots, and that’s actually the first place I ever recorded in a real music studio. I was working at American Apparel in Le Marais to afford my tiny apartment, and I didn’t have a lot of time to work on music. I was pretty lost at that point and just trying to find myself and my voice.. hanging out with a lot of older people and going out just doing dumb shit. I was making electronic hop type songs then. I was working with a producer out there but it didn’t feel like the right vibe, so when I moved to New York with my mom I told myself I was just going to produce my own music. New York has that gritty, DIY vibe that I love.
Have you ever felt pressured to change your image or sound? How do you stay focused on what you’re trying to say and what you’re trying to do?
I’ve always been confident in who I am as a person and how I express myself. My style or “image” has basically been the same since high school. It can be easy to get caught up in the industry and start comparing yourself to others, but I remind myself that what I bring to the table is worth being heard/seen. Before I found my sound I was experimenting writing straight pop songs which taught me a lot about songwriting. I’m glad those never came out though. I think that growth is extremely important for longevity and I’m not afraid of that at all. But I wouldn’t change for anyone.
I love that your songs tie in all of your backgrounds (whether it’s sonic, literal, or topical)—during your songwriting process, why and when do you switch from English to French?
Thank you! Honestly, I usually switch to French when I can’t find something that works in English. I love rhyming between the two languages.
What’s the most difficult lesson you’ve learned about the music industry?
You can’t rely on others to care about you more than you care about yourself. Nothing is handed to you.
The music/entertainment industry tends to have some negative realities, especially, for women. What about the industry today makes you hopeful?
I love when women have creative control over their career—directing their own videos, producing/writing their own records, and styling themselves. I try to do as much as I can. There are so many successful women in the music industry that aren’t afraid to speak their minds. With social media it’s not up to the industry to decide who is popular. Pretty cool.
You just finished up tour with Alina Baraz, how was it?
I loved being to be able to perform in front of people who had never heard of me. Alina was so great to tour with, super supportive. It was also cool to see what it takes to put together a bigger tour like that. I learned a lot. I can’t wait for my own proper headline tour… it’s gonna be so epic.
Generally, what has your year looked like so far? How much of it is dedicated to songwriting/planning/promo/etc?
It’s been mostly songwriting and recording. I’ve been focused on finishing a larger body of work—just dropping songs along the way. I can sense that next will be a big year for me when it comes to music promo and touring.
More specifically, what would be your ideal day in Brooklyn?
IDEALLY I would wake up around 830 and get some coffee, go for a run, get ready and head over to the studio around 11-12. Be there for 6 or 7 hours (work on 2 or 3 ideas) then go back home and watch some tv and get my mind off things. On a day off of the studio, I like to go thrifting.
What do you want your audience to know about the music you’re putting out right now?
That it’s coming from the heart. I put a lot of thought into my lyrics because I want to send a real message out.
Any last words of advice for artists looking to express themselves or move to a new city?
Be yourself and if you have a dream just go for it. If it scares you it’s probably worth doing. You never know who you’re going to touch and meet along the way.
Stay tuned to Milk for more musicians we love.