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Chase Zera talks fully-realising her project & making it happen

29 May 2019 | 6:02 pm | Caitlin Medcalf

This ain't CHASE ZERA's first rodeo. The Sydney-based triple threat has been writing music for years now, navigating her way through her first project before settling in with her new moniker. This project is more than just a means for creating, but it's a culmination of years of training, working hard and digging deep to hone in on something that she feels is inherently her own.

A few months back, we premiered her debut single, 'Clovers', an uplifting anthem that is still. stuck. in. our. heads. She's gearing up to release her second single 'Mess' on Friday AND she's going to be performing live at our thirteenth birthday as part of Vivid Sydney on Saturday, June 15.

We wanted to get to know Zera a little better, so we sat down with her for a chat and wandered the streets of Surry Hills to take some snaps too. Take a read below.

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Chase Zera marks the beginning of a new project, but also the end of an old one. Can you tell us a bit about the transition period between projects?

It was good. The main reason I did it was with the old project, I had so many ideas and interests, but because of that, none of my stuff was cohesive. I didn't really have direction. I went travelling for a while, and I was away from my laptop, so it kind of forced me, while I wasn't making music, to think about the branding and all of the assets and how I wanted things to be. Once I had all of that in mind, then I came home and started making music and it all sort of came into its own. The music matches the live show and that's something that's huge for me because performing is a priority to me. It was good that I had that time away to plan, and that made it a lot easier because it wasn't rushed. I wanted to have everything ready before I put even one song out because I wanted to make sure it was right. I feel like the old project was a trial run and after a few years, I knew what suited me and what I really wanted to do, so it was a very natural transition into what I've actually always wanted to, but I just knew how to make it happen this time.

You've been making music for a long time hey.

I've always been a creative, but I was mostly a dancer for the first part of my life. I did singing lessons and I could sing, but I needed to learn how to make music because at that time, I was just singing acapellas. So I started learning the basics of piano and then during the HSC I would head to Ableton Live School to do music production lessons. From there, I was like, this is what I want: to be able to finish full songs. I do some producing on my own, but I also work with other producers.

Probably since I was 13 or 14, I've been singing and that's when the whole music thing just spiralled along. A year at a time, I learn new things.

Has being a dancer informed the way you create music?

The thing that dancing really helps with is musicality. When you're a dancer, it's all about counting and hearing every sound in a song. When you're choreographing a dance or someone's choreographing a dance for you, you hear every beat, every lyric, and that's what you dance to. It trains you to hear what you're hearing in a song, and then when you're making a song, I have that structure in my head. It helps in that way.

I don't make music thinking that I could do a dance to this, but I think naturally because I like dancing, I like that sort of pop music and more upbeat stuff, which is why I've gone in that direction. It definitely does influence it, but more in an underlying way. I don't do it outwardly, but they're both a big part of my life.

I think it's rare, for an electronic musician especially, to have a background in something that's not just making music, but actually feeling it.

It helps with creativity because if I'm having a creative block with music, I'll go to the dance studio and choreograph something and that's a way for me to feel creative. Or if I do a dance workshop, sometimes it inspires me to go home and write a song based on what kind of style I danced to that day. They're very good distractions from one another.

As a dancer growing up, they always tell you, if you want to be a dancer you have to sing as well, and that's sort of why I started singing lessons, but then I realised that it was more the music that I actually wanted to do and dancing was just a hobby.

How do you feel that your sound has formed since your last project?

I think my sound is really based on my voice. I have quite a blues-trained, mid-range voice. Similar to Thelma Plum, kind of. Because of that, I get in a session either on my own or with someone else and I go okay, so my voice really suits a minor key. The tempo always changes and the instrumentation always changes, but it's my voice that keeps it cohesive.

I think that's a good thing about being a singer. Your sound can be identified by your voice. Producers need to come up with a sound, but I can sort of muck around with all sorts of instrumentation and genres, and my voice will still make it sound like it's mine. It's just what suits my voice and because of that tone, I tend to write dark, moody pop. It also depends on what mood I'm in and what I'm writing about. If I'm writing about something sad, it will be a bit more downtempo. If it's like a confident kind of anthem like 'Clover's, it will be more upbeat. It ebbs and flows.

I wanted to talk about 'Clovers'. Did you produce that one yourself?

No, Xavier Dunn produced that one. I met him at Splendour three or four years ago, and we talked for hours about music and life in general. I think I've seen him everyday since then. We became best friends and it's good to be creative with people you feel comfortable around. He's one of those people that even with his expertise, he'll listen to every idea I have. It's really collaborative. He teaches me things as well.

With 'Clovers', I had an exact idea of what I wanted it to sound like and I had this idea. I was listening to Hayden James, 'Just Friends' and a lot of his songs, and I loved how he'd have these big builds in the pre-chorus and then in the chorus it dropped out. I was listening going, how is it so powerful when it's just bass and vocals? I wanted to try and do that.

We started off with this huge textural thing, and I was like, let's just pull it all out in the chorus and make the pre like that. Xavier produced it, but I had it all in mind. I just needed him to articulate it for me because I was still learning production then and it was all new to me. I can produce, but to get that really symphonic sound, I needed someone more experienced than me to do it.

That helps you learn as well.

Since then, we've written a few songs together and I've learned new techniques and new ways of doing things.

You've got a new single coming out this Friday. It's a bit of a different direction from 'Clovers'. Can you tell me a bit about it?

Like I was saying with my voice keeping things cohesive, I wanted to be able to do songs in different moods and different instruments, but have it sound like it's still a cohesive project. A lot of my other songs that are in the bank are very uptempo like 'Clovers', and I thought that this new one shows off the lyricism and my voice. I came out with 'Clovers' which is my style, and then I want to come out with this one which really shows my voice and my songwriting and it's all sort of out there for me to show what else I have. I wanted with the first two tracks, to show two different sides of what I have to offer.

'Mess' - I still wanted to keep that build in the pre-chorus, really stripping it back to a minimal chorus with the bassline and my vocals. It's a bit more downtempo and it still makes people feel something, but in a different way to 'Clovers'. 'Clovers' makes people want to dance, and this one makes people want to listen. The lyrics are not as poppy, they're more emotional. It's still very much me, but in a different way.

I like 'Mess' because it's one of those songs that I knew exactly what I wanted to say and it all came out in about two hours. Some songs, you sit down, come up with an idea and it takes a few months to finish it. This was that one that worked so naturally. It's really special, but when it's that special and emotional it's hard to think that people are going to hear that, but I'm excited to put it out.

Are you working on a bigger body of work?

I am working on an EP. In this day and age, it's hard. There's so many different ways to release things now. I've got a huge body of work, but I'm still deciding how I want to release it. I'm going to have to do some research on my audience and how they prefer to hear music. I want to base it on my listeners and what suits them best, but I do have a lot of songs and they're going to be coming out frequently this year, it's just a matter of how.

It's nice being able to go into the project with all of these ideas and the work to show for it too.

Yeah. At this stage because it's really early days with me, I can just write and produce and make songs, go into sessions and it doesn't necessarily have to be for something. Without having that pressure of 'Oh shit, I need to write a whole album', things just flow and I've written so much. I feel like that's the best way to do it, is just to do it because you love it and do what you're feeling at that time and then see what fits in where, rather than trying to fit your songs into an EP or an album.

It's great to take advantage of that, while you're feeling really creative. You might pull something out in a few years time and be able to rework it.

There's been a few times like that where, the other day I had something stuck in my head, and I was like what is this? It was a melody that I'd written ages ago, and now I'm getting into the studio next week with someone and we're going to run with that idea and turn it into a song. If it got stuck in my head from ages ago, hopefully it will get stuck in other people's heads too.

I wanted to ask about the live show. You've got your first live shows coming up. What's it been like putting that together?

I actually think it's been my favourite part of the process. I say that about every part of the process [laughs]. I loved writing the music, and that was my favourite part, and now I'm doing this and it's cool because it's sort of happened in blocks. It wasn't too stressful because when I was making the music, I didn't have shows booked and I didn't have that plan, so I could write the songs not thinking about that and put all of my time into that, and then when the live show prep and choreography came around, it was focusing on that because the music was all done. It was a combination of making new live edits with extended intros and outros, changing the structure of the songs and doing cool things that I could choreograph to, cool transitions between the songs. Obviously, a few or most of my shows, will have the dancers, so a lot of the live show prep has been choreographing with them and seeing which songs best suit having dancers best and which ones like 'Mess', which is a bit more emotional, I'll be singing it by myself. It's been really fun programming it, so now we're in the rehearsal stages where it's done and we just have to do it religiously over and over again. It was a really fun part of the process.

It's nice to be able to put both of your passions in one place.

Yeah, it's also really good that I get to have other people, like my dancers, involved in my live show. I've been dancing with them my whole life. We were choreographing the dances, which we're so used to doing, but thinking of doing that to my music is such an obscene thing to me, like I'm so used to being in the studio dancing with you, but to hear my voice over the top, it's been exciting thinking that this is a real thing.

If you thought about this moment ten years ago, what would you have thought?

I remember when I was in high school, I said all that I want in the next five years, is to finish a full song, and that's what I wanted to do. And now I'm like oh honey, if only you knew [laughs]. I think because I knew very much what I wanted to do, and I'm the type of person who if I want to do something, I make it happen for myself, I don't wait for it to come to me. I went and released things and did production lessons, practiced and practiced. It all started coming together, and that's when my team started coming together.

I would have been very happy. I've always wanted to do something creative. When I was younger, probably like ten years ago, I didn't know exactly what, whether it was dancing, acting, singing, that's all I've ever really done. If I knew that I was doing this, I'd be very happy that I stuck to it, and I guess sticking to it just shows that this has always been a part of who I am.

It's great that you've got this fully realised Chase Zera project.

Yeah, it's like my baby. If I'm not writing one day, I'll focus on the dances, or I'll talk to someone about visuals. Each day, I do something towards the project. Spending the time on the project as a whole and not just the music has been something that's creatively really fun, because you don't really know how much is involved until you do it. I'm so glad I know other talented people who can help me with things like cover art. I would have been so lost before.

Where are you hoping to take this project in the future?

I sat down with Will of UNDR ctrl when I first started talking about bookings, and he asked about my goals and I said that in the next three years, I want to play a festival and maybe do a national tour. The next week, he said to me you're doing Bag Raiders and we've locked you in for a festival. Like I said, once I want to do something, I make it happen and I'm never like oh cool, that's done now. It's on to the next thing.

For now, my thoughts are that I'd love to play headline shows and festivals. I think festival crowds are so special. They're just the happiest that they've ever been and they don't think about anything else. They're completely removed from their everyday lives. It's a whole thing in itself. I'd really like to perform at more festivals.

I think that performing is a big thing and then writing music. I don't know if other artists think this, but it's weird to me to think that in a year, I'll write another however many songs that don't exist at the moment, so I'm just also really excited to hear what I come up with and what I go through in life that inspires my writing. More writing and more shows.

For those who haven't listened to Chase Zera before, what would you like them to take from this project?

It's a project that shows every side of someone. I don't want to just show my performance, confident side. There's also the stripped-back, emotional side. I don't just want to sort of put a front on for people. I want to show how I'm really feeling in every song, and if it's that I've been hurt or I've hurt someone, no matter what it is, I want them to know that every side of you is okay.

I also would hope that if people come to my shows or hear my music, whether they love it or hate it, they have an opinion. It means that I'm doing something.

Catch Chase Zera performing live at PS13.

Vivid Sydney, UNDR Ctrl & FBi Radio Present Purple Sneakers’ Thirteenth Birthday

Saturday, June 15

8PM – 3AM

The Lansdowne

2-6 City Road, Chippendale

Tickets via Intix

From $25+ BF

Words & photos by CAITLIN MEDCALF