photo by Karman Kruschke
Emily Zuzik strikes an array of chords; she experiments with multiple genres and wears many hats.
Not only is she a musician, but has worked in fashion, as a journalist, and, most notably, is a self-proclaimed “Rocker Mom.”
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Natalie Durkin (TribeLA Magazine): Give yourself and your work a tagline and tell us why.
Emily Zuzik: I’ve actually had 2 for a while.
The first is “Emily Zuzik — Singer. Writer. Rocker Mom!” This one is first and foremost. I’m a singer, have been all my life. I’m a writer, both of songs and journals most of my life. I also worked as a print and online journalist and reviewer in the 90s. Rocker Mom! Well, I’m a mom and I still play rock shows. I also have tried to live a bit more unconventionally than I was raised, so my kid has been to shows and art events from an early age. I like to expose her to wild, weird and wonderful things in the world.
My other tagline is “Zuzik, it’s like Music with a Z.” I originally took the idea of explaining the pronunciation of my last name from another female musician who made t-shirts with her phrase. There’s nothing like a last name that rhymes with your chosen calling. (laughs) But it’s catchy and helps folks with introductions…
ND: What got you started in music? What is the reason you are here today?
EZ: I always say I popped out singing because I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawn to music or singing songs. I had Casio keyboards and was gifted my first guitar around 10 years old, but I wore out records on my Fisher Price record player even before that. I think all kids find something they’re passionate about around that age, and mine was music. I listened. I sang. I wrote songs. I recorded them (there is still cassette evidence of some of those…).
The reason I’m still here is that I don’t know how to NOT have music in my life. I sing all the time. Others like my voice, so I sing with them live and on recordings. I write all the time. My iPhone has Voice Memos and Notes with lyric ideas for days. Even when I supposedly take a break, I always end up either innocently agreeing to a show or taking on a co-writing project or just finding myself strumming the guitar again.
ND: How do you hope to influence your audience?
EZ: The older I get, I feel like it’s my job to write from my experience and while I’ve done that for most of my career, I have a different life now than I did when I was starting out. So, there are new challenges in writing from different perspectives.
It’s not all love and war, passion and breakups. It’s subtle shifts. It’s letting go. It’s facing long-held fears. It’s trying to capture more complex feelings and experiences in 3-5 minutes.
It forces you to examine every word choice, every potential cliché and push through. I hope when people hear my songs and my words that they will consider trying to live their truth as well. It’s not easy and that’s why they call it work. I’m a bit of a seeker though, so that’s what fuels me.
ND: What do you do when your creativity is blocked?
EZ: First, I get frustrated. Then, I try to distract myself with projects. Then, I wait. I haven’t been let down yet. Sometimes the waiting takes longer, but I have always found something later on. Often, I practice another creative pursuit, like photography or sketching or fashion design or improvisational cooking or even household/furniture redesign. I dabble in many areas and really enjoy the process of creation.
ND: What fires you up and gives you energy?
EZ: Loud rock-n-roll. Quiet meditation and yoga. Nature that humbles. Strong coffee. Inspirational conversations. Certain Modern painters.
ND: Can you tell us a little known fact?
EZ: My nickname was Emmy for my entire childhood. My Dad still calls me that. Also, both he, my brother and I were known as Zuz in high school. (pronounced ZOOZ)
ND: Where is your favorite place in Los Angeles and why?
EZ: One of them is the Self-Realization Fellowship on Mt. Washington. I love that part of the city. It’s so nestled in nature and yet one hill away from the skyscrapers of downtown. It’s quiet. There are coyotes everywhere in that neighborhood. The gardens at the center are so lush and welcoming. I have gone there many times to quietly think and write. I’ve taken my daughter there to explore. I’ve written many lyrics there. It’s a special place. Really good energy.
ND: How do you make music? Briefly chronicle your creative process.
EZ: Music happens many ways for me. As I briefly mentioned before, I constantly sing into my phone or dictate lyric ideas. I also have volumes of notebooks and MP3s of unfinished or unreleased songs. I took to co-writing some time ago and have been lucky to work with really wonderful people, some indie and some bigger names like Moby. I’ve written roots, country, rock, electro, pop, blues and dance music. I’ve collaborated on music for libraries, pitches for commercials, film scores and other people’s recorded albums. I find working with others pushes you in different directions, and the outcome is always something that I couldn’t do on my own.
Sometimes you start in a room with nothing but an instrument and a pencil. Sometimes people will send me a finished or partially finished demo, and I’ll write lyrics and top line melody. Sometimes I just sing the part that someone else has already written. I like to re-interpret songs in new ways, too.
ND: What is coming up?
EZ: Currently, I’m finishing production on two records–the first is an Americana rock album produced by Ted Russell Kamp and the second is a side project with my frequent collaborators Josh Ricchio and Kolby Wade. The rock album is a more traditional band in a studio kind of vibe. The second one will be a band name with a far more synth-y, Stranger Things feel. I’m hoping both will be out later in 2019.
I’m also playing a bunch of fun shows in the next few months. I’ll be returning to the Eclectic Festival in South Pasadena on April 27. I’m playing the Sunday Night Revue tribute to U2 at NABU Wines in Woodland Hills on April 28. And my next big band show is on Wed. May 15 at Highland Park Bowl as part of the Prickly Pear Presents Americana Nights with KROQ DJ Jed the Fish. I’m sharing that bill with Manda Mosher and Nikki O’Neill.
ND: Describe your style – musically and otherwise.
EZ: I’m a little bit country, a little bit rock n roll. I have a whole lot of vintage feel to my wardrobe, but you can’t deny that I’ve lived in cities like San Francisco, New York and now Los Angeles for my entire adult life. I’m from a smaller town with lots of rural surroundings. My grandfathers were a truck driver and coal miner. So I have both in me. I’ve played in rock bands, wedding bands, jazz combos, live drum-n-bass projects, Burning Man funk bands on flatbeds and folky house concerts. It’s all about telling a story and raising the roof. I love both. I chase both and have for years.
I think how you tell the story—sonically and visually—are just as important. That (in tandem with a fashion job side hustle) allows me to “costume” well, and I’ve always made that part of everything I do. I’ve been digging through Goodwills and thrift stores and pawn shops since I was old enough to drive. It wasn’t curated yet. This was before the Internet. You could still score sweet outfits and objects and even guitars pretty regularly.
In my latest years, I’ve found I have a pretty huge need for honesty. No bullshit. It’s hard working in the biz of show… (laughs) but there’s so much more than all this. I try to seek out higher meaning in every thing I create, every action I do and every statement I make. I also make mistakes, some quite publicly, but I try to face them and choose better the next time.
ND: What is the best advice you’ve received and the best advice you can impart onto us?
EZ: Well, my hippie aunt once said, you get to a point in your life and your “give a shitter” breaks. Pardon the French, but I think you get my point. Don’t get caught up in the drama. Laugh. Smile. Age naturally. These are all guiding messages for me.
I don’t know that my advice would be helpful for anyone other than me, but in that, I guess, follow what moves you. Be passionate. Don’t let others keep you down. And try not to hurt anyone, even if you’ve been hurt by others. Music can heal. It has for me.
ND: Any closing words?
EZ: Thank you for inviting me to be a part. I hope I can bring some light, levity and entertainment to people out there.
more Emily Zuzik
Sounds and the City Editor
Natalie Durkin founded Sounds and the City – highlighting emerging Los Angeles musicians – in 2017 and has since created a section on the site for Los Angeles comedians. She is a creative writer and is working on her first book which is a compilation of her Acrostic Inteviews. Natalie plays bass in Pipe Dreams and releases solo music under the moniker Ex Debutante. You can find her on Instagram @ExDebutante and on Twitter @ExxDebutante. You can email Natalie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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