GENDER-DEFYING, GREEN OBSESSED ZAND JOINS US TO TALK GENDER, TRANSPHOBIA IN THE INDUSTRY AND NEW SINGLE 'FREAK'
Interview by Charlie Long
MAY 7TH 2020
ZAND is the binary bending, gender-defying starlet taking the industry by storm. With the release of their latest single ‘FREAK’ it is not hard to see why they are proving to be one of the most exciting up and coming talents in music right now. With killer visuals, captivating aesthetics, enviable penmanship and a love affair with the colour green, ZAND is defying the odds and re-shaping what it means to be an artist in 2020.
The extraordinary artist joined us live from their bedroom in lockdown to discuss transphobia within the music industry, their inspiration behind their latest single ‘FREAK’ and what their hopes and plans are after lockdown is over.
Firstly, we must ask, how have you been coping during lockdown and how have you been dealing with it in regards to mental health?
Honestly I haven’t been dealing all that well but I don’t really know anyone who is genuinely enjoying this. If they are, they obviously have a huge amount of serotonin, which I am fully jealous of. As someone who struggles pretty badly with mental health issues and even as an introvert, I do crave being around other humans so lockdown is NOT it sis, but saying that I’m getting musical stuff done so at least there’s that, albeit at snail pace because my attention span is terrible but better late than never!
I feel you with the snail pace baby! have you been writing music whilst in lockdown and do you have any upcoming projects you an give us some tea on?
Yep - I can only focus on doing so much at one time I’ve mainly been working on finishing songs and projects that I’ve already got in the pipeline, so that’s exciting. Currently working on getting ugly pop number 4 ready for release and some other cool shit towards the end of the year. Ugly Pop is the name I’ve coined for my own genre of music that I’ve been creating with Boys Like U, Freak, Luci and the rest that are coming - the name being self explanatory - pop music that is ugly and dark either sonically, lyrically or both as well as genre defying and usually touching on topics that would be considered too “ugly” for the mainstream or general public to hear.
Your single 'FREAK' is not only a WHOLE bop, it is really anthemic and clearly allowed you to express a lot of thoughts and feelings, what was that process like for you to be able to put those emotions into a song?
Anthemic is at least one of the words I was hoping people would use to describe it as, cos that’s what it’s there for, really. My genderqueer underdogs. If every piece of ugly pop I make can resonate with at least one person then that’s sick, but if not at least there’s always myself - It was pretty therapeutic to write but also triggered some mad anger at the same time cos it was like I was digging up my past trauma to tell my own story but you can’t have good art without feeling that pain sometimes. It was the first full song I ever produced myself - with a little help on starting up the percussion from my brother when I first started putting music to it in 2018 - and I just became obsessed with getting it exactly how I wanted it to sound. That grinding dirtied up synth in there, with the distorted 808, the demonic laughter at the end - every little detail I did myself by choice, because I’m stubborn as hell and because I felt like no other producer could make Freak sound how I wanted it to sound. so from there it was like I’d accidentally taught myself how to produce just with the process of that song by sitting at my brother’s imac for hours upon days learning what I needed to make it perfect. It’s really important to me that each ugly pop song is a full experience, rather than just something thrown together from samples and trap beats. I want the listener to be able to feel a fraction of what I felt when I wrote it.
Your lyrics are very open and honest of your own struggles as a non-binary person like in 'FREAK', which I'm sure many relate to, why do you choose to write this way and is music your main outlet for your frustrations within society?
My writing style tends to be very on the nose, while simultaneously being tongue in cheek - because I’m such a sarcastic bitch and don’t shut the fuck up about stuff that bothers me. It’s a nice contrast cos I guess it allows me to express myself properly whilst keeping it... easier to understand, shall we say, by everyone in general rather than just the people who get it and have lived what I sing about, meaning it’s also easier to educate the former if that’s what I’m aiming for. But sometimes I just wanna write shit that only my people get. I’ve got a certain way I like to write and how I like to say things - some people use humor, others might be blunt - I like a mixture of both. I love trying different writing techniques though so who’s to say it’ll stay the same.
The word 'FREAK', is something that is used to hurt someone, how empowering was it for you to reclaim that word and make an anthem for all those out there who struggle with their identity?
I can tell you I’ve been called a whole lot worse than just a freak, which I’m sure you already gathered but that’s just also one of my fave reclaimed words I’d use to describe myself now. I got bullied from the second I walked into primary school for being different but bullying isn’t just left in school, especially when you walk to the beat of a different drum, don’t look the same as everyone else and are just predominantly known as a fucking weirdo for being yourself - I’ve faced really hardcore transphobic bullying as recent as a couple of years ago when I had just come out as non-binary and it was really fucking hard. Being able to write a song specifically about my story, from being a kid and not understanding my identity, to my family not getting it, to other people not getting it - that other gender non-conforming people can relate to is so important to me, because I wished that when I was a kid I’d had a song to listen to like Freak. I never had the vocabulary to be able to understand who I was until I was in my late teens and even then I didn’t 'come out' until I was 21. I’ve had fellow trans people contact me telling me the second they heard it it made them cry cos they’d never heard a song that described their experience so well, it’s mad but it’s honestly what I’m here for, I can’t be arsed writing wishy washy songs about love and heartbreak unless they’re saying something. That’s what ugly pop is. It’s taking the ugly stuff in life and making it art.
I guess im stanning ugly pop then! (laughs) identifying as non-binary, do you feel this has affected you in the industry in any way due to bigotry or ignorance?
I reckon I’d probably be a lot ‘higher up' in my career if I had 'stayed cis' (big quotation fingers) and never cut my hair you know. I used to look so much more marketable and fitted in very easily before I was out, which there’s nothing wrong with looking that way obviously, no shade - but I always felt such a huge pressure to be as feminine as possible before coming out as NBT. I was obsessed with 22 inch weaves, keeping make up on, looking 'girly' as hell ALL the time and after I came out and shaved my head. It took me a little while to become comfortable with my feminine side again. Now I fully embrace it, my curvaceous body, wear wigs sometimes cos I’m cute, whilst also flaunting my masculine side from time to time or whatever the hell I feel like because labels are annoying. I LOVE make-up, always have. I used to care so much about what people thought of me and whether I sounded stupid, or was too much, or wasn’t consumable or ‘polite' enough for the general public - Whenever anyone mentions my old alias or dead name or how I was/looked before 2016 it drags up a lot of dysphoria for me. But I’m glad I blazed my own trail and cracked out of my shell because I was so unhappy with myself and would have just continued to create watered down indie music and that’s just not me or what I want to leave behind as my legacy. I have zero interest in looking like or sounding like anyone else but myself. I’m an ugly pop star, duh.
The colour green is clearly very important in your branding, what is it about the colour green that is so symbolic to you?
Long story short - I have OCD and it manifests in a lot of ways. In November 2018 I got bored and dyed my hair neon green, then realised I had an adidas long sleeve that was the same color and from there I became obsessed with color co-ordinating my wardrobe to my hair to my nails. Now it’s just this mad identity thing and people associate the color with me which is jokes and I feel off if I wear any color that isn’t green, black or at a stretch neon yellow (I feel like that shade can get away with!) . Obviously Billie Eilish is rocking lime green hard too; love her.
I love that! Maybe thats a sign for a duet that needs to happen one day?! What part of the music process is your favourite?
It’s got to be when you’re discovering exactly what sounds you want to make up the song as you’re in production. Other than that I hate recording vocals - I get so nitpicky and I’m such a perfectionist that it takes the joy out of it sometimes. But it’s always worth it for the end product.
What topics do you wish were covered more by mainstream media outlets?
No surprise here but I’m bored as FUCK by not seeing any non-binary characters in films and shows. Like it’s 2020, people still act like we don’t exist when non-binary identities have been on the planet for generations. Programmes love to throw they/them pronouns around for cute little ‘woke’ jokes to make their shows sound inclusive but won’t actually include any of us in their shows as representation. It’s obviously fantastic that binary trans characters are being given more representation but I can only count 2 non-binary characters that I know of in recent tv shows. It’s insane. Sort it out.
You started releasing music only 3 years, what would you say the biggest growth and change within yourself has been between 2017 and now?
My outlooks on a lot of things has changed - I used to have next to no hope for non-binary representation and thought I’d be either put in a box my whole life when it comes to this industry or left out of them completely. Seeing mainstream figures like Sam Smith come out unapologetically and announce to their world they use they/them pronouns has restored my hope a lot - along with seeing attitudes towards us change. A lot of the people that used to give me shit for being non-binary trans have educated themselves and apologized to me and that’s all I could hope for.
Finally, looking to the future, what your goals and hopes for yourself in your career?
I just want to make audible and visual art that underdogs can connect to and relate to. It is not necessarily written for the masses or simpletons to consume, but if anyone can connect to one of my songs in some way and feel seen then I’ve done my job. Touring the world and living in LA at some point would be cool too.
CHECK OUT 'FREAK' BELOW -