How Zella Day Brought Coachella Back to Its Roots
Once upon a time, music was Coachella's main attraction. In fact, the biggest perk at the first iteration of the festival was a complimentary bottle of water upon entrance. Now, amidst the sea of flower crowns, paisley prints, and $225 four-course sit-down dinners, it can be all too easy to miss out on what the three-day weekend gathering, at its core, is really about. Thankfully, however, Zella Day is not letting us forget.
The 21-year-old singer-songwriter from Pinetop, Ariz., who favors free-spirited bohemian styles and cites Fleetwood Mac and Janis Joplin as her influences, is like a relic of another era. (She's even named after an 18th century coal miner's wife in a neighboring town.) Her command of the stage during her ethereal set was even more impressive, considering this year marks her first time performing at the Empire Polo Club grounds.
Below, we talked with Day over the phone from her new home in L.A. about her sound, performing at Rebecca Minkoff's show during Fashion Week, and rooming with fellow indie artist Garrett Borns (aka BØRNS).
Your sound is very wide-ranging; you've previously described it as "organic-pop-rock-psychedelic-Western." How did you land on that?
There are so many different things going on sonically: Spaghetti Western, singer-songwriter ballads, psychedelic rock. Then I just go haywire on a tambourine. I'm glad I didn't box myself into any specific genre—that way, I don't feel pressured to be something that everybody expects.
Where do you find inspiration to write?
Recently, it's been harvested from a happier place. When I wrote Kicker, I was moving out of my parent's house and loved somebody who didn't love me back, so I was feeling very vulnerable. Traveling around the world has inspired an adventurous side of me, so my lyrics are now more positive and happy.
Is it true you roomed BØRNS when you first moved to L.A.?
He was my first roommate! We met around a campfire at a mutual friend's barbeque in Echo Park. He had just finished his demo of 10,000 Emerald Pools, and we wrote a little song together. We had a kindred relationship as artists from the start.
Who would be your dream collaboration?
I want to be on Frank Ocean's new record. I need to find him before he releases it!
You recently attended your first Fashion Week and performed at Rebecca Minkoff's spring-summer show. What did you think?
It was freezing! I was the most cold that I've ever been in mini skirts, high heels, and tights. But it was cool to see the other side of things and witness what goes on backstage. It's fascinating how much work goes into a five-minute-long catwalk. For me, it's similar to music: I'll record for one or two years, then I go onstage at night and play for an hour.
Where do you like to shop?
I do a lot of flea market shopping in L.A.—every weekend I go to Fairfax flea market. I've been doing some eBay shopping, too. I just got a pair of red and navy pinstripe pants from the '70s in the mail that I'll be wearing this weekend. You've got to keep the treasure hunting alive!
Does your day-to-day style differ from what you wear onstage?
It's very similar. Onstage, it's a little more elevated. When I'm planning stage looks, I ask myself, "Could I wear this to the grocery store?" If the answer is no, then that's cool. It needs to push the boundaries a little bit. It's character-building.
Who are your style icons?
I really connected to the '60s and '70s, so women like Bianca Jagger and Anita Pallenberg. I'm also heavily influenced by a Southwest aesthetic since I'm from Arizona. I think it's important for an artist to mirror their sound visually: Translating an aesthetic is just as important and powerful as the songs are.
You recently launched a campaign, Headstrong Mama, celebrating strong women. Tell us more about that.
I was talking to my mom—she makes all of my merchandise—and we made a T-shirt ($25; bandpage.com) that said it. Then, when I saw the graphic, I thought this could be a good way to start a movement and let people know what I stand for as a female playing music. Feminism is an interesting topic right now—there's a lot of attention on how far women haven't come, but I think there has been a lot of headway for women in the music business. I feel very empowered that women before me have created that space, so I want to pay homage to them.
Watch the music video for "Hypnotic" above, and buy Kicker for $10 through the iTunes Store.