‘Coming face to face with the darkness’: Zella Day talks new EP, California inspiration

Zella Day doesn’t care if you like her music.

From performing at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival to headlining and supporting tours across the world, Day — born Zella Day Kerr — has come a long way since she first picked up a guitar at 9 years old. And, since the release of her pop album Kicker five years ago, Day’s relationship with music is deeper than ever.

“I’ve gone through such a big transition in my life and as an artist,” Day said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “I don’t expect everyone to be on board, or to be prepared for the kinds of changes that I’m enduring and the kinds of risks that I’m taking in my own art.”

Out Aug. 28, the five-song EP Where Does The Devil Hide marks Day’s significant growth since Kicker. A variety of genres are represented in Day’s vibrant discography, but this organic EP signifies her general shift from down-to-earth pop to head-in-the-clouds indie.

Working with The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach and other creative producers, Day recorded the EP in just five days — by comparison, her last project took somewhere from six months to a year to record. The songs came to her quite naturally, but she shared that their production “required a different mental approach and energy output” than with the songs from Kicker.

Where Does The Devil Hide shares compelling tales of love and loneliness, of self-discovery and sensuality. Unafraid to deeply reflect, Day looks her demons straight in the eye in order to grow not only as an artist but as a human being.

“Sometimes I felt like I was being faced a lot with resistance within my love life and within my professional life,” Day said. “In order to really move past those things — the only way I did move past those things — was coming face to face with the darkness. … In a lot of ways, these songs were my vehicle into figuring how to have redemption and have some real change happen in my life for the better.”

For now, Day spends her time in Southern California with friends and family. She finds herself constantly surrounded by inspiration, drawing creativity from a city “full of music and culture and sunshine.” Day infuses her deep admiration for California into her EP’s ethereal aesthetic: Her fittingly dreamy music video for “Only A Dream,” which was shot at San Luis Obispo’s whimsical Madonna Inn, spotlights the sparkling West Coast. The video drinks up the colors of beach afternoons, rolling hills and roaming highways.

“I’m at a very inspired time in my life, living in (Long) Beach … with my sister. And all my girlfriends are in this neighborhood,” Day said. “We spend a lot of time together, and really absorbing the colors and feels and the senses of what LA is today.”

Amid the chaos of Los Angeles, it’s important for Day to preserve a peaceful space for herself. “I prefer to create in a quiet space alone,” Day said. “I’ve created a sort of sanctuary here and in my home. … It definitely has a lot to do with the way I was raised and the way I started playing music.”

Day’s family is deeply rooted in California: Her grandmother and mother both grew up in Long Beach, and Day left her hometown to move to California when she was 16 years old. She first fell in love with music growing up in Pinetop-Lakeside, where she played songs in her grandmother’s coffee shop that connected to her mother’s arts studio.

“Living in the small town of Pinetop, Arizona, I was very isolated,” Day said. “Isolated in my experience with music, which has a deep effect on the way that I function within my writing today.”

Isolation, however, is no longer a choice in 2020. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing everyone to stay home, Day feels the effects of quarantine on her artistry.

“It’s hard for me to be ordered into a place of silence and then have to be creative,” she shared. “I feel like I might be coming out of that slump a little right now, but I’ve been gentle with myself and trying to be as patient as I can — along with the rest of the world.”

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