After a long tour, opening for Dua Lipa and her new album Playgirl – which has just come out – Lolo Zouaï has been busy. We speak to the multi-talented artist (and absolute style icon) about her roots, spicy alter-egos, and tour mishaps. Zouaï tells us where it all started, and how hustling in New York has led to international fame. She also tells us about Playgirl, where she reveals her many sides in the form of four different playgirls, each with their own style, sound and story. From the dark and moody to the young and fun, we’re sure to each have a favourite.
Your career has skyrocketed over the past few years, but let’s start with the beginning. When did you get into making music, and how did you start?
I feel like I was always singing as a child, and playing the piano, so it was always in me, naturally. When I left high school, I was writing songs and I moved to New York. I feel like moving to New York was my decision to be an artist, and I thought “my name is Lolo Zouaï – this is my artist name now. I’m going to reach out to producers, I’m going to record in studios for the first time.” And throughout all the shit that happened, I managed to find Stelio and my sound with him, and we’ve been working together ever since.
So, you were born in France and then grew up in San Francisco. How was it growing up there and how do you think it impacted your music?
It affected everything about me. I am extremely San Francisco, and proud of where I’m from. I feel like a lot of people from San Francisco feel that way because there’s so much history and so much culture. The clothing and the people are so free. From a very young age, elementary school was in Haight – where the hippy movement began – so I saw a lot of crazy stuff at a young age. It’s city life. We would take the train and the bus at night when we were in high school and go party at the beach. So, I think from a young age I was really interested in style and dyeing my hair, thrifting, finding cool clothes... And I keep that with me now. I’m still the same.
So, for my music, the Bay area, and Bay area rap is just so good. If you’re from there, there’s so much history, and a lot of people don’t know about it in different places, but it inspired so much mainstream music. I took a lot of inspiration from that, for my vibe. Also for mixing and R&B, and my dad’s influence is Algerian Rai music, the classic Algerian music which is so beautiful. A lot of different Arabic music is unbelievable. And my mum would play classic French music all day, and on the weekend. So, it’s like holy shit! There’s so much culture coming in to box up and make ‘my’ vibe.
In another interview, you said that Angus & Julia Stone had reached out to you with regard to your early acoustic releases on Soundcloud. How come you moved away from the acoustic sound, and more towards that sexy, moody R&B pop style you’ve got now?
Because I’m not that good at guitar! I wasn’t practising enough, and I wanted to explore electric, electronic music, and digital music. When I was 17, I was listening to Kehlani, Cloud19, and she’s from the same area I’m from – she’s from Oakland. And I thought, holy shit, someone my age, from the same area, with a similar vibe and voice is making these songs. So I thought I needed to reach out to producers. The acoustic stuff – I do have some songs, and I do like it when they're stripped down, but they’re nice in contrast with the electronic stuff. But you never know, I’m going to make music forever, so maybe one day I’ll put out an acoustic album.
The world’s your oyster, so why not? You said in another interview that you have an alter ego called Jiggly Puff – tell us about her!
When I was first starting out with my music, I had Jiggly Puff as my Instagram avatar. So I thought I was Jiggly Puff because she sings and she’s a bad bitch, and she’s kinda spicy.
Also, you did Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia 2-month tour! How was that?
So, we did about thirty shows together. It was unbelievable. It was my first time playing with a band for that long. I did all my visuals, I put them all together, and I worked with a stylist to create a look for the whole tour. It was just so much fun. It was amazing to see what it takes to make an arena tour come to life. It’s so much more than you can even imagine. So many people are working to make this one moment fun – we go to concerts, and we never think about the people that need to clean up after us. It was such an honour to open for her, she’s an absolute superstar, and she’s so down to earth. It’s great to see that this can happen. It’s inspiring, it really motivated me to keep going, and keep believing in myself. She told me that you have to believe in yourself more than anyone.
Did you get nervous at all, and if so, do you have a secret cure before you go onstage?
I get pretty nervous, jittery. Nothing really works to fix that. I just have to breathe and hype myself up.
Watching the Lo-Fïles on YouTube was definitely fun, and gave us a taster of being on tour with you. There was a crazy moment where your shoe broke, so you took them off and you made it just in time for the drop! Tell us about that and any other tour mishaps.
There were so many things, I think I went through everything that could go wrong! But yeah, my shoe broke and I was so mad. I got them from Depop, they were expensive vintage shoes from Italy. I waited 2 years to wear them, for the tour, and they fucking broke! I remembered that my keyboard player, Victoria, was the same shoe size as me, and I said “Give me your shoes, give me your shoes!” She just threw them at me!
At Madison Square Garden, of course, something wasn’t connecting and it was all messed up. We couldn’t do the first three songs, and I kept restarting the set. It was awkward. You walk out and you want to be badass, and you have to keep restarting your set. At one point, I said “Madison Square Garden, I’m Lolo Zouai... Yeah, so you should listen to my music.” What are you going to do? Start singing the national anthem? I’m going to write a skit, and in case this happens again, I’m going to have a joke ready.
So, we’ve listened to Blur, which dropped this summer. It’s such a fun, summer bop, telling a tale of drunken and hazy fun. Is there a message behind it?
I wanted to make something that reminds me of a time I had. It was summer in New York, and I did actually hop into a pool with my friend. It was carefree. It sounds sweet, but I also say “I got a man, but I want two.” It’s a little reckless, and I think we need that kind of song. It’s just fun.
And we need a bit of recklessness.
I think my thing with music is if I did something bad, or that I regret, as long as I write a song about it, there’s a positive outcome.
Blur sounds a little different to some of your work, moving slightly away from the moodier, late-night R&B of Desert Rose, Moi and Give Me a Kiss. Would you say that you’re changing up your sound?
I would say I have different styles within my world. Before I put out Desert Rose, I put out Brooklyn Love, and I feel like it exactly shows that I’ve always been doing music that’s sweet and pop with the contrast of music that’s moody and dark. I make music that I feel like making, so to me, it makes sense together because I have a bigger body of work. I like making different sounds because it opens up different audiences and people can enjoy it. Some people don’t want to hear the moody, they just want to have fun. Maybe Give Me A Kiss is what leads you to Blur. Or Blur is the day after Give Me A Kiss.
Talk to us about Playgirl.
The album is a mix of everything I’ve been teasing. Within Playgirl, there are four different playgirls. Each of the playgirls has a name, a style and a sound. Like you said with Blur and Give Me A Kiss, it’s because they belong to versions of me. There’s a mix of R&B and hip-hop and hyper-pop, and there’s moody songs too. To me, everybody will have a different favourite, because each song lives in its own world.
I’m really proud of this album. I worked on it for a year and a half, and it came from wanting to do something different. To switch it up, and challenge me sonically. I got so much better at writing music and thinking about the structure of the song – how to write a better song as a songwriter. So, I’m very proud of this album. I think it’s great for the end of the summer, and I think it’s what we need right now. It touches on different periods of my life; it’s playful and will remind you of your childhood, but it’s also sexy. There are different feelings, taking you through a week with me. It’s fun and conceptual. I’ve never put this much work and thought into an album. My first one was songs I loved that I put together. With this one, I wanted to make the story make more sense.
Right! So tell us about the journey behind creating an album; did you find the process of High Highs and Low Lows very different to creating Playgirl?
The album was made by the same producer, Stelios, but he took more creative freedom this time. With my first one, I was introducing myself and I want people to know my story – where I come from, where I grew up, who hurt me and why am I depressed. It was important as my introduction. Now, people know me, let me show them what I can do. Let’s have some fun, but keep the vulnerability from the first album. I made it mainly in New York. The main difference is that this time I had a vocal engineer, who took the vocals to the next level. He helped me develop the vocal production of the album. I learnt so much about how to write a song – it’s really technical and really interesting. So I feel like I got better and hyped.
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