Zolita is the Pride of LA: When local pop singer and songwriter Zolita takes to the main stage at LA Pride next week, it will mark the culmination of an incredible journey so far. The artist began her musical life as a bluegrass guitarist, studied film at college, and is now a bonafide pop star.
“I grew up playing bluegrass, just for fun,” Zolita says. “Then I went to NYU to study film because film and photography was my main love. While I was there, I was still writing music for myself and I realized I love music videos so much so I thought, why don’t I do both and make this a whole concept project. So my project was always music video-driven and, more recently, I’ve honed in on music and songwriting, making sure that I have as strong of a sonic voice as I do a visual voice.”
She certainly does, but, still that bluegrass background is fascinating. The rootsy, folky world is one of rich harmonies and technically dazzling musicianship. It also can be quite religious and conservative, given its southern origins. But there are plenty of positives to draw from.
“My dad is a banjo player, among many things that he does,” Zolita says. “He’s from Germany and plays banjo, and he got me really into bluegrass. It’s funny because I grew up in Calabasas, California, and it’s not really usual. But I went to flat-pick guitar competitions, and was on an HBO special called The Music in Me, which was about prodigy kids playing music. So I was very into it. Then when I was a teenager, I got really into pop music and had the classic ‘dad you’re making me play bluegrass and I want to play like Hannah Montana.’ Alison Krauss is one of my biggest influences for sure.”
Zolita describes her sound today as modern pop with some early 2000’s pop-punk energy. She’s utilized some of that DIY punk energy through her marketing, too, generating over 140 million global streams for her recent singles.
“I think 90% of being an artist right now in the pop space is social media,” she says. “It’s a tool that you have to get good at and use. The fact that I was able to start putting music videos on YouTube, and have them find their audience and blow up in the way they did, is so incredible. And I think you have to build your audience before you can get people on your team, believing in you. I think for me, it was always about really high-quality visuals. It took me, as an independent artist, so long to make the videos. But I think that is what made me stand out. I think the thought and intention that goes into the videos has always been what set me apart.”
Due to her aforementioned education in film, Zolita writes, directs, edits and produces her videos, including the visual for latest single “I Fucking Love You.”
“I think I’m in an ‘in love’ era of my life and very happy, which has been awesome, to see that I can still be inspired and write from that place,” she says. “I think there’s such a classic stereotype with artists that ‘I have to be heartbroken’ or ‘I have to be going through something terrible’ in order to write an impactful song. I definitely felt that way for a long time. But yeah, ‘I Fucking Love You,’ sonically but also lyrically – it’s got that first realization that you love somebody, and how scary and terrifying it is because you’re not sure if they feel the same way. That admission of love.”
That song is the third in a trilogy that also includes “I Fucked Someone Once” and “Single in September.” Zolita says that they all map a journey.
“‘Somebody I Fucked Once’ was on my deluxe debut album and then I did the video for it four months later, and I didn’t expect the response that I got,” she says. “Just seeing the way that people gravitated toward that storyline, felt so seen by it and drawn to the characters – I decided to expand it. Music-wise, in the past, I’ve written songs for video ideas, but this time I tried to choose the strongest songs and then build a video around them. For ‘I Fucking Love You,’ with my own first love story, it didn’t go quite as well. I didn’t have the happy ending that I gave my character. So for the third video, I was like, ‘it’s going to be a sad, realistic ending.’ They grow apart, etc. Then I was like, I think it’s OK to give a sense of hope to people.”
As we said at the beginning, Zolita plays LA Pride’s main stage next weekend, and it means the world to her.
“Oh my god, I’m so excited,” she says. “It’s my hometown and I can’t believe that I’m playing the main stage. I’m super, super excited. All of my friends and family will be there. LA Pride is actually the first Pride I ever went to, in 2012. I was a senior in high school, and I was still in the closet and went as an ally. I knew that I was queer, and the feeling of being there was so much excitement, that I was going to be entering that community. So much love. A Pride crowd is always the best one, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
It also means that she’ll be playing on a bill with megastar Christina Aguilera.
“I’m a huge fan,” Zolita says. “I so distinctly remember, I think for my sixth birthday, my dad giving me the first album, I think. Oh my god, I was so obsessed. I’m still obsessed.”
Zolita herself has a half hour set at Pride, and she’s planning to pull out all the stops.
“I’m definitely going to be playing all of the songs from the trilogy,” she says. “There’s going to be some new ones from the EP that’s coming out in the fall. Some old ones, and a cover as well. It’s my first time playing with a full band, which is super exciting. Everything I’ve done before has been dancers and track performance. Super, super pop. So I feel like this is going to be more about combining some rock elements, as well.”
And after that?
“The EP’s coming out in the fall and there’ll be a whole new visual world and concept that I’m fleshing out right now,” she says. “I’m really excited about it. Six brand new songs, and then touring hopefully.”
Zolita is the Pride of LA: Zolita performs at LA Pride on Saturday, June 11. More info at lapride.org.
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