“I started playing the piano at a very young age, so it feels kind of natural to me” Zylva tells us of her musical roots. However, she began to feel constrained creatively as a concert pianist and so began to pursue the production of electronic music. Her debut album, Poems in the Dark, released early last month on 9 June, demonstrates the multi-faceted nature of Zylva as an artist: her beautiful relationship with the piano, as well as her clear passion for electronic music. Now she is creator, muse, and performer.
Could you please start by introducing yourself?
I’m Zylva, musician and artist based in Berlin, and I have just released my debut album Poems from the Dark.
You originally trained as a concert pianist, what lead you down this path?
I always felt that studying music could be fulfilling, and I was torn between studying classical piano or jazz piano. I have always been fascinated by classical music and I love playing the works of Johann Sebastian Bach for example. I started playing the piano at a very young age, so it feels kind of natural to me. I had a desire to deepen my understanding of the classical music I love and enjoyed the hands-on aspect of playing an instrument, which is essential in classical piano. It made sense for me, especially since I also enjoy working with my hands in other artistic mediums such as painting, sculpting, woodwork or sewing. Also, there aren't many fields of study that offer such practicality.
You then also found a passion for electronic music. What did this genre offer you creatively that you felt being a concert pianist did not?
I began listening to electronic music at an early age and developed a strong affinity for artists like Aphex Twin and Björk during my teenage years. I wouldn't necessarily define it by genre; rather, it was my own creativity and the influences I had that shaped my output. In contrast to being a concert pianist, where the music is already written and the creative part involves interpretation, electronic music allows me to be the creator of the musical material. In short, it’s the freedom and the process of creation in electronic music that are highly fulfilling to me.
Having said this, how do you fuse what you have learned from being a concert pianist and your electronic endeavours?
I do this subconsciously, so I believe the influences naturally find their way into my music. Perhaps it is reflected in the way I deeply listen to each song, similar to how I would pay attention to every note I play on the piano. Additionally, I strive for each song to be a self-contained system, similar to the coherence I aim for in classical piano performances.
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Your debut album, Poems from the Dark, released on 9 June! What was your aim with this project?
Initially, I didn't have a specific goal, and I produced the songs for myself because they just needed to be expressed. While working with other artists, producing, and writing their songs, I started sharing my own songs with people. I felt confident about them in an unpretentious way, and the feedback I received was genuine and emotional. That inspired me to create this journey through 12 songs, aiming to be as authentic as possible. The album ended up including the demo recordings of vocals done with my MacBook microphone, as I found them more emotionally moving than the dozens of takes I recorded in well-equipped studios with expensive microphones. It's like a diary, offering listeners a direct and genuine insight into my inner world. My hope is that people can connect with the stories I tell, and perhaps our inner worlds can meet. I’d love to inspire people and making them feel understood and seen, knowing they are not alone in how they feel.
I noticed that the piano is still quite often featured on the album, do you feel your relationship with playing the piano is more positive now as a result of the change in your creative direction?
My relationship with the piano has always had a healthy core that never waned. No demanding teacher could take away my fascination for music and the piano, and I'm grateful for that. Nevertheless, I feel that I now play more freely, and my tone has become fuller since I'm less stressed and more connected with my body. The pressure in the classical world felt burdensome to me at times. I also have always produced my own music and did so even before my classical studies. It serves as a constant and a safe space where I can find solace. I started producing with Ableton 5 as a teenager, so it's more like something I rediscovered after my classical studies.
The single DreamSs is an expression of your liberation and healing after an unhealthy relationship. In what ways does the music you are now making play a part in your healing process?
Mostly, it helps me get closer to being myself and accepting who I am. Music serves as a vehicle for self-expression, and as an artist, you become visible or parts of you become visible, which invites judgment. For me, it's a great opportunity for personal growth and a lesson in standing by myself and letting go of the fear of certain people's opinions. While others' opinions do matter to me, I strive to choose more wisely whose opinions I value.
More generally, what did the creative process for Poems from the Dark look like? Could you talk us through it?
I found myself in a difficult situation within my relationship. We would meet and then part, leaving me torn and sad. When I returned home, still carrying my backpack on my shoulders and tears in my eyes, I would go to my piano and begin playing. More tears would flow, and the music would open the floodgates of emotions. A piano riff would form under my fingers, and I would enter a flow where rhythm and melody emerged. Fragments of lyrics would appear, and I would find a topline that resonated with me, repeating it over and over again.
Days later, I would listen back to the recording I made of the initial idea with my iPhone. I liked it and started working on the lyrics for the second verse, as the rest was already there. Over the following weeks and months, I would refine the lyrics until every word felt right to me. Sometimes, it was just a single word that I changed. I particularly love it when lyrics have a rhythm of their own, resembling poems.
Finally, I would sit down at my laptop and explore which sounds inspired me. I would experiment with my Prophet '08 synthesizer and find a sound that resonated with me, recording it for later use. Then, I would let it rest and return to it at a later time.
This was the creative process for my song Midsummernight and it’s a good example for how I work.
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Are there any particular ways or rituals you had when it came to searching for inspiration? Or did you find that inspiration found you?
I don't have particular rituals, but I do stuff that inspires me, such as painting and reading. However, it’s mostly intense experiences and emotions that lead me to my best songs. More precisely, emotions and certain states of mind find me, and I am inspired to translate them into music. Sometimes, I feel an urge to express myself musically to release emotional pressure. Through this process, I create space between myself and my feelings, allowing me to gain insight, understand myself and others better.
How do you continue to push yourself sonically?
I am very open to all kinds of music and constantly seek new influences. When I encounter something mind-blowing, I go to my laptop and create something that reflects that inspiration. I also enjoy experimenting with instruments that I haven't mastered professionally, such as bass, guitar, or even cello. I appreciate the nonchalance that comes with it.
Is there anything you want people who listen to the record to take away from it?
I hope that listeners have an experience with themselves through the music, finding inspiration and discovering aspects of themselves or hidden parts they hadn't noticed before.
Finally, what have you got coming up for us to look forward to?
I have a new single called Orange coming out this summer as part of a stunning compilation. I can't wait to share it with you!
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