It’s the first night of Lolo Zouai’s first ever tour. She’s kicking off the festivities at Toronto’s Drake Underground, and grabbing a bite to eat at the upstairs diner before she takes the stage. “Are you here for the show?”, the bouncer asks as she enters the building, “I am the show!” she responds happily. Garbed in a bright red NASCAR jacket – acquired from a vintage store haul, and ripped fishnet tights, she puts the final touches on the graphics she’s created for the evening’s performance while waiting for the food to arrive.
Katrina Lat: So it’s your first show of your first ever tour. Congrats! I saw that you were also in Toronto on March 3rd. What was that for?
Lolo Zouai: We filmed a music video.
KL: Which music video was it?
LZ: To be announced!
KL: Do you have any special connection to Toronto? Why did you decide to film it here?
LZ: The director reached out via Instagram and said he’d been following my music for a while. He said it would be more affordable to film it here, and because we’re independent we decided to do it. We found a great group of friends and people while in Toronto.
KL: Do you know when the video is coming out so that we can keep an eye out for it?
LZ: This month!
KL: So you’ve got five dates on your tour, why did you picked Toronto as one? Is it because you made those friendships and connections when filming the video?
LZ: We just looked at Spotify streams and Instagram – all the stats on social media, and Toronto had one of the biggest followings.
KL: Well, I’m glad that Toronto has great musical taste, because it means you’re here right now.
LZ: Great music comes out of Toronto.
KL: The most recent song that you released was “Desert Rose”, and I love how you have verses in English, verses in French, some Arabic, and Algerian references in there too. When you started writing the song, did you know you wanted to include such a mishmash of cultures?
LZ: Me and Stelios, my producer, went in with that intention. It was kind of hard to write because it was a very touchy subject, so I had to dig deep. I’m really happy with how it turned out though, and I think the message that I wanted to put across is there.
KL: In some of the blogs and bios I’ve read of you, people sometimes label you as ‘French/Algerian’, and sometimes as ‘French/American’. Do you have a preference between the two, or do you wish that people wouldn’t limit themselves to just two cultures?
LZ: I think that right now, in the States, people aren’t really sure what I am. I mean, I’m also from San Francisco – I’m California raised. I come from a lot of places, so I don’t really think it matters. That’s why I think I want to make global music, because I think I’m a global person – I was born in France, grew up in California because of the visa lottery, and I’m in New York now – that’s where I met my producer and my manager, so that’s where my music career really started.
KL: Last year you won the Abe Oleman Songwriting Prize for your work on H.E.R.’s song “Still Down”. When you wrote that song, did you know it was going to them, or did you write it initially imagining yourself singing it?
LZ: She’s a good friend and we had been working together for a year and a half. She taught me a lot about songwriting. We wrote a bunch of songs together – some for me, some for her. I only found out it was on the album at the very end, and I was so excited. She’s amazing, one of the best singers.
KL: Will you guys tour together one day?
LZ: I have no idea. Can’t say. Who knows!
KL: So, my most important question for you – I noticed on Twitter and Instagram the avatar that you chose is Jigglypuff. It’s obviously a Pokemon that sings, but do you have a deeper connection with Jigglypuff?
LZ: Honestly I just love Jigglypuff, she’s so cute. I played Pokemon with my sister when I was younger; we had all the books and all the collections. A few years ago, I decided that Jigglypuff is my alter ego. It was my avatar for a really long time, and then I changed it when I started putting out music. Then I realized, I’m just going to keep using it, and now it’s even on some of my merch.
KL: Did you have to get permission from Nintendo to do that?
LZ: I don’t think I’m big enough for that to happen. But it’s a bootleg sketch – a parody. Jigglypoof. He’s not pink, he’s salmon.
KL: I noticed you have a couple of gaps in between dates on your tour. Do you have any plans between shows?
LZ: I’m going to be in LA for a bit to work with some producers there. Then, I’m going back home to San Francisco – it’s been a really long time. Then, just prepare for Paris
KL: Do you have a date for your debut album’s release?
LZ: No there isn’t a date. I’m independent, so there’s no set date that I have to do it by. I’m making singles that will eventually be cohesive enough to be together in an album. But I’ve already put out six songs, which is enough for an EP. People are asking me for an EP, and well, technically I have one. But yeah, I’m just continuing to put out singles for now. I’ve got a lot of new music.
KL: Are you worried at all about vocal strain?
LZ: Yeah I am. 100%. Constantly. Like, I’ve always been “I need to take care of this”, but when I’m actually about to perform, I’m like fuck “I actually need to take care of this”.
KL: Do you have any tips or tricks for taking care of your voice?
LZ: Tea. No caffeine. Camomile with honey. I stopped drinking coffee like 3 weeks ago. No dairy.
KL: It’s so tough for vocalists, because if you’re a guitarist or a pianist, while there’s a lot of strain, your instrument isn’t your body itself.
LZ: Unless your fingers get chopped off. Which could happen. But, if it happens to me I’ll be fine.
KL: Well, there are people playing guitar with their feet.
KL: But you’ve only got one voice. So treasure it! Keep it safe for us.
LZ: I’m drinking! I’m drinking the tea!
Thank you Lolo Zouai for taking the time to chat with us!