Interview: Zuzu

Liverpool’s Zuzu is releasing her debut album Queensway Tunnel on 12th November. She caught up with Gemma Cockrell to discuss the stories behind the album and its singles, her deep connection with her home city, the inspirations behind her sound, and her touring plans for later this year.

“I’m fucking nervous!” Zuzu admits when I ask her how she’s feeling about the release of her debut album, Queensway Tunnel, on 12th November, in just under two months. “It’s been finished since May, but it takes a long time to get vinyl ready, especially in the pandemic. It’s been chaotic, but it was worth the wait to make sure everything dropped at the same time.”

As the album title suggests, Zuzu’s home city of Liverpool heavily inspired the record. “I think I’ve been inspired a lot by Liverpool and the people around me, I’ve been absorbing a lot of what’s around me. It’s very Scouse, I think.” Naturally, it was an honour when she was approached to play a monumental home gig at Sefton Park, as part of the UK’s reopening of live music. “It was boss!” she exclaims. “It was indescribable. I was really lucky to get to play it, it was surreal because that’s my local park, where I grew up, I learnt to ride my bike in that park. There was a lot of pent-up energy in that space that I don’t think I’ll ever feel again.”

Queensway Tunnel itself is a special place to Zuzu. “Quite often I will just get in the car and hit record on my phone because I’ll get ideas when I’m driving about. Often, it’s actually in the Queensway Tunnel that it happens. It’s a pretty transitory place, for me, I go back and forth all the time, and there’s something about driving through the Queensway Tunnel that helps me think.” The album’s title track, as well as a track called Lie To Myself, came about in this way. “We shot a music video [for Lie To Myself] when the tunnel closed one night and they were so good to let us do that, because they really didn’t have to.”

Zuzu plans to unveil both of these tracks before the album’s full release. “Lie To Myself is dropping in a week. I did that one with Kieran [Shudall, Circa Waves].” I was delighted to hear this, because having heard the full album myself already, it was a track that instantly stood out to me. So, naturally, I took the opportunity to ask more about it. “I was trying to write about that moment in a relationship where you’ve left someone or you’ve moved away from each other but you’re not strong enough to handle what they’ve been up to. People are like ‘Have you heard about so and so? They’re doing well, aren’t they?' and I’m like ‘I don’t want to fucking know!’. That sentiment is where the song stemmed from.”

She also revealed that the title track, which is her favourite song on the project, will be coming out in early November, a week before the full album. “That one came pouring out of me. It’s like five minutes long. I think, again, it’s a sentiment that a lot of people can relate to. Being led on, especially these days. All my friends seem to go through the most painful experiences in dating, and I see the pain unfold before my eyes and it hurts, man! It fucking hurts. It impacts your mental health. Casual dating is all well and good, until it isn’t.”

So far, Zuzu has released three singles: Timing, My Old Life and The Van Is Evil. “We started with Timing, because it was the oldest one on the album so I wanted to get it out the way, and I wanted it to be a vibey track that’s not a million miles away from what I’ve done before. Then My Old Life is one of my favourites, I was really honest in that song so I felt connected to it in that sense. I did that one with Kieran as well – he’s such a genius! And he’s Scouse as well. The Van Is Evil is one of my other favourites because it’s the weirdest on the album. It’s a groover, it’s fun to play and sing.”

Speaking of The Van Is Evil, the track’s message is a unique one, as Zuzu acknowledges her own personal impact on the climate through touring. “I think it’s important to release music with a bit more of a message. It was important to put it out as a single, and to just have my say on the state of the planet. I was coming at it from the angle that we all do things to contribute everyday that we can’t even necessarily control. We all play a part, we’re all hypocrites. I don’t want to destroy the planet, but I still need to play my gigs and I can’t do that in anything but a diesel van at the moment because I can’t afford it. I was trying to express that frustration. People need to be kinder to each other and the planet.”

"Emotive, acoustic guitar that makes you feel like you’re 15 again"

My Old Life, meanwhile, captures a very different side to Zuzu, channelling the acoustic guitars that dominated the early 2000s. “That definitely inspired me. I said to Kieran, that noughties Avril [Lavigne], Sleeping With The Light On [by Busted], Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus – emotive, acoustic guitar that makes you feel like you’re 15 again. That’s what I wanted! And Kieran fucking nailed it. I grew up on that music and as much as I’m inspired by super cool bands, I’m also here for some Avril Lavigne and Taylor Swift. Hopefully I sit somewhere in the middle.”

Lyrically, the track is “a heart on my sleeve moment” according to Zuzu herself. “It’s about a professional engagement that broke my heart a bit – a lot. And that acceptance that I am good enough. This isn’t on me. I have to move on from it and pick up my shit, put the pieces back together and move on, or don’t. So, that was a big turning point for me, I put it into a song and I got over it. By the end of it, I was like ‘I’m going to learn from this situation’ and I did.”

This focus on moving forward seems rare during a time within which everyone has been craving their old lives back after they were taken away by the pandemic. “You can’t do anything about the past,” Zuzu acknowledges, “And you can’t predict the future either. I’m not saying this as if I’ve got this nailed – because I don’t – but I try to just enjoy the present, as hard as that is to do. The past is the past, you can’t get it back. The only tangible thing we have is right now, so just do your best in that moment and that’s all you can do.”

As well as the early 2000s, Zuzu finds herself inspired by the 60s. “The Beatles, The Beach Boys, that’s the type of music that I was trying to write when I was 18. I was obsessed with that for a while. That’s always been a heavy influence.” However, more recently, she has been looking to the present for inspiration. “I’ve been inspired by modern acts in a way I hadn’t before. I’m not just taking inspiration for my music, but also for my soul. So, Lizzo, Cardi B, St. Vincent, all of those modern women in music who are out there being themselves, that’s what I find inspiring. They have stories to tell that haven’t been told a hundred times before. For so long, we’ve been underrepresented, so it feels fresh because it’s a new perspective.”

Zuzu will be touring later this year, including a date at Nottingham’s very own The Bodega on 9th December. “Good!” she says when I tell her I’ll be there. In terms of who is her dream to tour with, she doesn’t even have to think; the answer is an easy “Taylor Swift”, an artist who Zuzu has been a fan of since the beginning. “I had her self-titled album on CD when I was 14!” Who knows what the future holds, but it’s clear that Zuzu has a lot of brilliant things to come. As she said herself, the most important thing is to focus on and enjoy the present.

Written by: Gemma Cockrell

Edited by: Joe Hughes

Featured and in- article images and videos courtesy of Zuzu via Facebook and YouTube