Authenticity Above Everything: Zuzu Interviewed

Liverpool songwriter on reflecting her surroundings and staying true to herself…

One of the first things you might notice about Zuzu, aside from her trademark bright lipstick and (very) cool glasses, is her thick Liverpudlian accent; an accent which some people in the music industry have asked her to tone down, but – as with her music – Zuzu is uncompromising.

She explains that toning down her accent is not something she could do, even if she wanted to (and nor should she). “It’s not even that I refused, it’s just… I can’t do that. If I were to do that, I would be putting on an accent and authenticity is important to me, above anything. And I think that Northern women need to be more represented, in general.”

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Her hometown of Liverpool is a major influence in her music. “My whole identity is based around – obviously everyone’s is – where they’re from, who raised them and, for me, being back in Liverpool for lockdown was the longest I’ve ever been here without being anywhere else,” she tells us. “I feel like, even more so than usual, I was really, really inspired by my friends and family and the people that I see every day. The people that give me advice when I’m down. It’s heavily influenced by the turn of phrase, by the way that we speak to each other, by the River Mersey. Because I’ve been through every up and down there is to go through in the last two years and I’ve done that in the setting of Merseyside, I feel like it’s just seeped into my music.”

With her upcoming debut album ‘Queensway Tunnel’ only days away, Zuzu was fizzing with excitement, but also a touch nervous too (“I don’t know why I’m nervous, but I am”). ‘Queensway Tunnel’, which follows her 2020 six-track EP ‘How It Feels’ has songs on everything from alien abductions to toxic relationships, addiction, the climate crisis, self care and, of course, her hometown of Liverpool. Queensway Tunnel is actually a road tunnel under the River Mersey. It was also the location of the recent music video for ‘Lie To Myself’.

“‘Queensway Tunnel’ is about everything – every major feeling I’ve experienced – in the last few years and, I guess, my life so far, but it’s the sh*t that a lot of people go through, a lot of working class people, as well,” she tells us. Zuzu describes some difficult themes which have inspired ‘Queensway Tunnel’. She continues, “…Addiction in the family, turning to things that aren’t necessarily healthy, like relationships that aren’t necessarily healthy, learning to walk away from people and learning to let people walk away from you. Even though it’s hard.”

The title track from the album was “upsetting”, but also “the longest song I’ve ever done”. She says, “I wrote that after I’d come back from my friend’s house and she’d been telling me all this stuff that had been going on in her life and she’d been going through a break-up. It was messy and I saw her heart breaking. I came back and I was thinking about it a lot. I was thinking about how I could relate to her in a lot of ways. Not in the same way, but in a different way. I just started writing ‘Queensway Tunnel’ and I didn’t stop and it all just happened really fast and I’d just written this five minute song.”

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All the tracks on the album remain hugely personal to her and are deeply emotional, even the song ‘Toaster’ which is about how her brother gifted her a slow cooker for her 24th birthday and sent her spinning straight into an existential crisis. “‘Toaster’ is about my brother who got me this bloody slow cooker for my birthday and I thought, ‘What the f*ck is going on here?’ When writing the song, ‘toaster’ sounded more appropriate because it had the “same energy”.

Writing songs that are so personal must be challenging when it comes to performing them live. “I’ve only been playing a few of the singles off the new record over the summer, but I think… ‘My Old Life’ is a really hard song for me to not get emo at, especially if there’s people in the crowd that know it. That was a point when I felt like I was at my lowest and I had to pull my bootstraps back up. That song really takes me back to that time. At that time, I didn’t think that anyone was going to ever listen to my music again. I don’t know. I was in this place where I just thought, ‘What’s the point?’ That one gets me.” Zuzu admits her other songs have the potential to make her choke up on stage too. “I haven’t played the others yet. I’m sure the others are going to get me too.”

Zuzu played the first non-socially distanced show after lockdown as she was supporting Blossoms at the COVID-19 pilot gig in Liverpool. She describes it as being “mad”. She felt like she had “won the lottery in getting to play that gig”. “It was the best,” she says. “At that moment, everyone there just felt really lucky to be there. It was such a wholesome energy”. More recently, Zuzu has been supporting the Courteeners on their UK tour. “The Courteeners are boss. The Courteeners are absolute angels. They really look after us”.

Zuzu is looking forward to the release of her debut album (while joking that she will be “panicking” until it is out) and then headlining her own 12-date UK tour. “I’m really excited for that. I feel like I am just desperate to see everyone again and it’s going to be like f*cking having a glass of wine with your mad aunty. That’s the energy that we’re going to provide at the shows”. We can’t wait!

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‘Queensway Tunnel’ will be released on November 12th – order it HERE.

Words: Narzra Ahmed
Photo Credit: Robin Clewley

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