ASBO Meets: Zola Courtney

Hailing from Cornwall, singer-songwriter Zola Courtney is one of the most hotly anticipated new artists to arrive in recent years. Known for her seductive, R&B laced soundscapes and use of live instrumentation, Zola Courtney has crafted a sonic which has multiple layers and keeps you engaged.

Last year, Zola released her debut EP, entitled ‘Nothing to Lose’ an engaging, soulful 5-track offering that received praise across the board for its intimate sound and strong vocal performances. She has now revealed her latest track, entitled ‘Before We Were Us’ a stripped-back acoustic-driven track with a strong message throughout.

ASBO Magazine recently met with Zola Courtney to discuss her latest track, journey and future plans.

Photography: Joseph Clarke (josephcphoto) & Theo Batterham (@theobatterham) Stylist: Chalisa Guerrero (@chalisaguerrerostylist) Hair & Make Up: Vivi Melo (@v.000000v) Set Design: Jess Griffin (@jess.emgriffin) Talent: Zola Courtney (@zolacourtney)Lalica stripe jacket @lalicabg Foam of the days top @foamofthedays Rings Karat @karat.jewelry, ICandi Rocks @icandirocksjewellery Ajoy Sahu sandals @ajoysahu Topshop jeans @topshop

So, I read you were born in Cornwall. What was it like growing up there?

Cornwall is absolutely beautiful, I feel so lucky to have grown up there. I grew up on a small farm near Bude, so I was always outdoors exploring or playing with animals. There is a great music scene in Cornwall and I have been lucky enough this year to play at quite a few festivals there, it’s a great excuse to go home!

What are some of your first memories relating to finding an interest in music?

I’ve been singing and playing piano from the age of about 4. My Grandma and Aunt bought me a piano for my 3rd birthday and a lot of my early musical memories are sitting at that piano with my Aunty, singing and playing piano with her. My Dad also played a lot of music around the house so I was always surrounded by music. My interest definitely picked up when I was about 9 or 10, I would put on shows, singing into a toilet roll tube making up dance routines with my sisters. My first concerts were seeing Amy Winehouse and Stevie Wonder, which were both truly amazing.

What inspires you as an artist? Both musically and non-musically?

I’d say my biggest inspiration is from other artists. I love listening to music and drawing inspiration from that, it always spurs me on to make better music. I also love watching artists live. Cleo Sol, Little Simz, Samm Henshaw and Lianne La Havas are really inspiring me at the moment. Situations that arise in everyday life bring me inspiration and ideas to write about too.

Lyrically, ‘Before we were us’ is very heartfelt, when making tracks with emotive lyrics like this where do you draw ideas from? Is it from personal experience or is it more abstract?

I draw ideas from personal experiences. This specific song was written after quite a turbulent time for me, back in 2019. I had a lot of stuff going on at home and songwriting really helped me process and articulate how I was feeling at the time. This song is the first time I’ve put myself in someone else’s shoes and written from their perspective about what I thought they’d be feeling.

What has been the most challenging thing about being an artist in today's climate, and what has been the most rewarding?

Honestly for me, the most challenging thing is social media. I find it so hard to continually post and be active on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok. It sometimes feels like a full-time job getting together content to post. It can be quite disheartening how essential it is now for artists to have a massive following or thousands of likes, it feels like it’s not just about the music anymore. People are getting signed just because they’re TikTok famous.

But then on the flipside the most rewarding is definitely the messages I receive from people telling me how much their music has helped them through a difficult time, or how much joy it brings them, it’s so rewarding and makes all the stress worthwhile.

’Before we were us’’ has an acoustic focus, what made you want to go with a more relaxed, stripped back vibe for this track?

Lyrically, the song is a bit more personal and raw so it felt right to make the production relatively stripped back and acoustic. I didn’t want to overcomplicate the song as I think it speaks for itself. The producer Spencer Steward did a really good job of building the song up in an organic way, without taking away the focus from what’s being said.

What would you say is your biggest goal for your music career?

I think one of my biggest goals is to play Glastonbury. I’m sure a lot of other artists have this as a goal as well - it feels like a rite of passage. The festival is just the best, it would be such an honour to play there one day, hopefully on the Pyramid Stage!

If you could give any advice to an upcoming musician or someone who wants to get involved in creating music, what would you say?

Always be authentic to yourself and follow your gut instinct. I’d also say to make sure you have the right people working for you, people that genuinely want what’s best for you and your career.

You released your debut EP “Nothing to Lose” Last year, how has it felt since releasing the EP? I know it received lots of praise

It’s been great! I had a few festivals and a support tour lined up for the summer following the E.P release, however COVID happened. I had to postpone a lot of things I had planned for that year but I also had a lot of new opportunities that I don’t think would’ve arisen if it wasn’t for the lockdown. Having ‘Nothing to Lose’ chosen as Radio 1’s BBC Introducing’s track of the week was definitely a highlight for me.

If you could give any advice to an upcoming musician or someone who wants to get involved in creating music, what would you say?

Always be authentic to yourself and follow your gut instinct. I’d also say to make sure you have the right people working for you, people that genuinely want what’s best for you and your career.

What do you have planned for the rest of 2021/ start of 2022? Any tours, festivals or releases on the horizon?

I have an E.P coming out in September! ‘Before We Were Us’ actually features on it. I’m also supporting Dermot Kennedy on his UK tour this September which is going to be so much fun. I’m hoping to do some of my own shows in October too!

Photography: Joseph Clarke (josephcphoto) & Theo Batterham (@theobatterham) Stylist: Chalisa Guerrero (@chalisaguerrerostylist) Hair & Make Up: Vivi Melo (@v.000000v) Set Design: Jess Griffin (@jess.emgriffin) Talent: Zola Courtney (@zolacourtney)Lalica stripe jacket @lalicabg Foam of the days top @foamofthedays Rings Karat @karat.jewelry, ICandi Rocks @icandirocksjewellery Ajoy Sahu sandals @ajoysahu Topshop jeans @topshop

Photography: Joseph Clarke (josephcphoto) & Theo Batterham (@theobatterham)

Stylist: Chalisa Guerrero (@chalisaguerrerostylist)

Hair & Make Up: Vivi Melo (@v.000000v)

Set Design: Jess Griffin (@jess.emgriffin)

Talent: Zola Courtney (@zolacourtney)

Lalica stripe jacket @lalicabg

Foam of the days top @foamofthedays

Rings Karat @karat.jewelry, ICandi Rocks @icandirocksjewellery

Ajoy Sahu sandals @ajoysahu

Topshop jeans @topshop

Words: David Pratt