We first met singer/songwriter Zella Day in April of 2015, a few months prior to the drop of her major label debut, Kicker, which propelled her to performances at a plethora of A-list festivals over the next year-and-a-half: Shaky Knees, BottleRock, Firefly, Lollapalooza, iHeartRadio, Coachella, Summerfest, Bumbershoot. However, she remained largely off the radar for the years that followed, being released from Hollywood Records in 2018. Around that time, living in LA (Day hails from Arizona and recently relocated to Texas), she formed a working musical friendship with Lana Del Rey and Weyes Blood (The three began performing of a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “For Free” in 2019, a studio version of which wound up on Del Rey’s 2021 LP, Chemtrails over the Country Club.), which seems to serve as the origin story of Zella Day’s current era.
In 2020 Zella Day dropped the Dan Auerbach-produced EP Where Does the Devil Hide, and last year she released her third full-length, Sunday in Heaven, largely produced by Jay Joyce, known for his work with Cage the Elephant, Eric Church, and Ashley McBryde. The two apparently bonded over a love of psychedelic folk rock. The album — which started as a collection of about 70 songs, inspired by Day’s time in California — was recorded at Joyce’s Nashville studio, The Neon Church, and includes contributions from Autolux’s Carla Azar and Cage the Elephant’s Daniel Tichenor. Just last week Zella Day kicked off the Hot Summer Dreams Tour, bringing the songs of Sunday in Heaven on the road, and she will be returning to the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection tonight, when she plays The Foundry, which she previously played in July of 2016. I got a chance to catch up with Zella Day yesterday, and she told me about how this new era of hers has been going so far.
Izzy Cihak: The last time we spoke was in April of 2015, before Kicker even dropped, and I know you’ve gone through a profound plethora of changes since then, both in regard to your music itself and also your approach to making it. What would you consider to be the biggest differences between you as an artist now and you as an artist in 2015? I realize that’s a huge question, so feel free to share as much or as little as you’d like, haha.
Zella Day: I reflect on that time with an immense amount of love for the wide-eyed innocent who was learning and executing at rapid speed. I was getting to know my voice as people were getting to know me. The biggest difference? I’ve got a broader wingspan in experience and self-knowledge.
Izzy: You released your latest LP, Sunday in Heaven, the better part of a year ago. Have you had any favorite reactions to it?
Zella: My favorite reactions thus far are the ones I’m witnessing on this tour. It’s encouraging to see people as energized and familiar with the new material as they were with the songs off of Kicker. The years between the first and second record were painfully extended, I’m grateful that my return is being embraced so lovingly by my audience.
Izzy: Much of the album was produced and co-written with Jay Joyce, who has quite an impressive resume. How was working with him? What do you feel like he brought to your sound, and even just the sessions in general?
Zella: Jay’s instincts for arrangement were a vital part of the record making process. Before tracking anything we spent a week in pre-production, analyzing and revising song structures. His notes were always clever. I came in with all of the songs done, or so I thought. It was like he took Windex and a roll of paper towels and brought out the clarity.
Izzy: While we’re talking about him, do you have any favorite things that he’s worked on? I really love the albums he did with FIDLAR and Orville Peck, respectively, and I know he used to play with Iggy Pop, which is so fucking cool.
Zella: I love a lot of the stuff he’s done with Cage the Elephant and totally nerded out when I learned he worked on the soundtrack for Reservoir Dogs.
Izzy: I really love the whole album, but I especially love “Bunny,” which reminds me of a lot of the best early-mid ‘90s alt-rock balladry. How did that particular track come about?
Zella: That song was written over a bass line that I was messing around with years ago. It took on the life of a ballad, but I don’t know that it always will. It’s cool that you hear the “’90s” in “Bunny.” I made the choice to strip everything back so that it could remain ageless in its nature. However, the song was written at a time when I was deep into ’90s dream pop.
Izzy: You’re just kicking off the Hot Summer Dreams Tour. Are there any venues that you’re especially excited to play, or just cities that you’re especially excited to revisit?
Zella: Boston was a packed house last night and I didn’t exactly expect that. I’ve gone into this tour trying not to have any expectations, leaning into the adventure that it is. It’s my first headlining tour in almost 8 years and right now I’m enjoying the thrill of getting back out there. Each show feels like a candy surprise.
Izzy: You’ll be returning to The Foundry this coming Monday. What can be expected of the live show this time around?
Zella: I finally have the all-girl band that I’ve been dreaming about since I was 10 years old and obsessed with Josie and the Pussycats. It took moving all the way to Central Texas to find them, haha, kidding not kidding. We are a three piece and it’s the most streamlined and tight show I’ve ever produced.
Izzy: You seem to regularly play some pretty intimate venues and also large festivals, in addition to the kinds of [mostly] clubs you’re playing on this tour. Do you approach performing in each setting differently, or maybe even look forward to different aspects of each?
Zella: Solo sets put everything into perspective. The songs. The breath. Bigger shows have bigger movements, but even still, I’m learning less is more. On bigger stages I think about the smaller ones and try to put myself in that intimate space, and same goes for the smaller stages when it’s important to still put on a performance with big presence. I’ve found that the more dynamic and flexible you are the more enjoyable this whole thing is.
Izzy: You’re going to be on the road with Okey Dokey, with whom you also just collaborated on the single “Spiderwebs.” How did you get together with them? And are you excited to be on the road with them and get to see them play every night?
Zella: We have a lot of mutual friends. It’s kind of crazy that we didn’t cross paths before the feature. Johny and Aaron are total sweethearts. I’m a big fan of their music and of them as people.
Izzy: This isn’t related to your music, but the last time we talked you said you were a big fan of the French New Wave, which is like my favorite thing, and you’ve talked about cinema in other interviews, so I’m curious if there’s anything or anyone that you’re especially loving right now in the world of film, whether recent or not?
Zella: Bardo, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, was a really beautiful surrealist film that hooked me into watching more of his films. I had seen Amores Perros, but was so happy to revisit, what an amazing soundtrack. He was one of the directors involved in the making of Trespassing Bergman, which is a great watch, if you haven’t already seen it.
Izzy: Finally, what’s next for you, after these dates wrap? Is there anything you’re currently planning or working on for the fall?
Zella: I’m going to be announcing dates for the fall in the very near future! Stay tuned!
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