“I Always Challenged Myself to Be Empowering in My Music.” An Interview with Artist, Julia Zahra

“I Always Challenged Myself to Be Empowering in My Music.” An Interview with Artist, Julia Zahra

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As the youngest ever winner of The Voice, Holland, Julia Zahra’s musical career accelerated and presented her with the question: what kind of artist did she want to be? Now with the release of her first studio album, she shares her journey and thought process with Joe.
Julia Zahra dancing and having fun

Well, I listened to the album yesterday and I really, really enjoyed it. I’ve obviously got some questions to ask you about your process and what this album means to you, but to start It off on a different note. How are you? These are trying times and I think it is more important than ever to check up on people.

Thanks for asking. I’m okay. It’s really tough not knowing where we can play again or when we can do shows. I miss seeing the band and a lot of the musicians I used to see. But I’m okay. I went back to school last year, so I have some assignments that I can hold on to but, you know, it’s really tough not being able to play and do what you love.

 

Yes, I hear you. Going back to your roots, growing up in and living in Holland, what was your experience with music like? Were your parents particularly musical?

My parents were not that musical but they loved listening to music. I think I got into playing music, when I was about nine or ten years old. My brother started a band with two friends of his. We have this thing called Kings Day, and it’s like this big national holiday and people go out on the streets to earn some money. We started a band to play there and we earned a lot. I started singing the songs in my bedroom. I think we played together for about four or five years, when I was 14. And then I picked up a guitar. I did some shows in really tiny bars, just amateur stuff, and I thought maybe I want to start writing some songs. So I think I was 15 when I started writing lyrics and fooling around with that. And it just went from there.

 

That’s really interesting. When did you realise that was your gift then? When did you recognise your talent and think, wow, this is what I am meant to pursue?

I was thinking about getting serious in music when I was about 15 or 16, towards the end of high school. You’re kind of forced to think about what you want to do after and I started thinking about going to a music school. Then not long after that, I was asked to join The Voice, and when I joined that program, my musical career just took off. I started playing a lot of shows and from there, it wasn’t really a question if I wanted to be in music, but in what way I wanted to do music. I could embrace the commercial side or I could write my own songs and really get involved in the artistic side of it. And that was a choice I made very quickly. I wanted to write and be involved in the music I was releasing.

 “I started playing a lot of shows and from there, it wasn’t really a question if I wanted to be in music.”

 

So, in terms of going on The Voice, that was another thing I really wanted to ask you about. You are going from being a singer in your local community band to then becoming the youngest winner in the show’s history, what was that process like for you?

I think it influenced me. It’s still influencing me. It was a big step and I noticed it right away. I just love singing. And when I joined The Voice, it’s TV, so everything is big and everything is a show. I went because I thought, well, it’s nice that I can sing some songs and meet some friends and everything was so you know, colossal. I’m really glad I had a lot really nice friends and people that were keeping me grounded. That still is a big influence. Like, do I want to reach the most people I can, but not really be true to myself as an artist? Or do I just want to write the stuff I want to and hope someone connects with it? I think there’s a big difference. There are a lot of people who just really like singing and maybe not really are working on writing and creating, which is also fine, but for me it’s an important part to be in the creative side.

“when I joined the voice, it’s TV, so everything is big and everything is a show. I went because I thought, well, it’s nice that I can sing some songs and meet some friends and everything was so… colossal”

 

So I know that you did a cover of, ‘Oops… I did It Again’ on The Voice and then on your first album as well. I’m a massive, massive Britney fan, so that made me really happy to hear that. What’s your relationship with Britney and her music? Did you grow up listening to her and would you tout her as an influence to the music you create?

Well, I don’t want to disappoint you, but I didn’t really grow up with Britney’s music. I think I came across the cover through Kina Grannis, she’s an acoustic singer. I began to notice that her songs are really interesting, like chord progression wise and song wise, I hadn’t really noticed that until I did the cover. I didn’t really look at her music that way, but it’s really interesting and really solid song writing. I kind of had to jump into that.

 

I think one of the most thrilling parts when listening to the new record was how varied and explorative It was. What inspired you to be so experimental with genre and to play around with all these different elements in one record?

Well, thanks. First of all, it’s really nice to hear. I think the album is really a reflection of the past year I had and I’ve been through a lot and I try and put it all in the songs. So, I think it’s logical that there’s many different influences and genres mixed in. Also, I want to make each song its own story. I looked for different sounds and samples with a friend of mine, we did every song separately and we wanted each of them to have their own unique production. I also don’t want to exclude myself from ever doing maybe country or reggae, you know. I just really like exploring all these different kinds of music.

 

Touching on that, I thought the lyric, “not just our bodies are six feet apart” really hit me as a listener. It has been a challenging past year no doubt, but what was creating this album like in quarantine? How do you think that influenced the music that you were creating? 

I’m really glad to hear that that line hits you, because it’s really the core of my feels. For me, this quarantine situation feels so inhumane, you know. To not be able to hug each other and not to be able just to come close to one another. And yeah, I notice it in my everyday life. It’s tough for me to see so many people be estranged from each other. I think a part of my healing process is about really letting people in, discussing your emotions and your life as human beings. I think that’s one of the most important things in my life. It’s very sad to me that it’s been almost a year without those connections.

“I think a part of my healing process is about really letting people in, discussing your emotions and your life as human beings. I think that’s one of the most important things in my life.” 

 

Yeah. That’s very true. I think just kind of speaking on that topic more, the song ‘Love Reaction, I thought it was one of the most interesting just because it felt so different from the rest of the album. In amongst the Disco and R&B, what inspired you to create something that’s so powerful and hard hitting?

It felt a bit scary because I haven’t done anything like it ever before and I was questioning myself a lot because, of course, I’m Dutch and I have some sort of a Dutch accent. In Holland, it’s a bit of a taboo to do spoken word because everybody wants to have, you know, the perfect English accent. When I first wrote it, it was kind of a spoken word poem and I wrote it pretty quickly. I was trying to turn it into a song, and then I thought, this is just what I want to say. So why not keep it spoken word? It felt so right. It had to be spoken word.  

 

I agree. Touching onto deeper topics, while I found the album incredibly hard-hitting at times, I also saw how uplifting and empowering the songs can be. Being LGBTQ, how do you think that has influenced your music and what kind of voice do you want to give the community through the music you create?

I always challenged myself to be empowering in my music. And I think, if I ever have children, then it’s just important to give them, and the people around you, the confidence to be themselves. I think I had such an easy coming out, I’m aware that I am very lucky to experience that. And that’s the only possible way for me. You have to be yourself, be confident and find people who empower you as well and want you to be who you are. Even explaining it makes it so weird for me to think that people can think it’s not okay or people can think it’s not natural. So I just want to make sure that in my music, that’s the way it is. And try to empower people to also feel like they can be themselves. 

“I always challenged myself to be empowering in my music.”

 

So rounding it all up, if you wanted the listener to take away one thing from the album, what would it be?

Wow. The whole album is just so deeply personal, you know. There’s so much healing and growth and even though it’s so personal to me, I just hope the listener can identify themselves with it, and find some hope or comfort in my stories. Just listen to the lyrics and see if you can find something that resonates with your heart and your thoughts.

I think I’m on the right path with knowing what I want as an artist right now, and that’s just making the most authentic music I can.  Writing everything that I truly feel inside, I just want to keep doing that. Production wise, I want to just discover many things still. I’m open to any sort of genre that wants to connect with me in the future. Who knows what that could be? 

Many thanks to Julia Zahra for taking the time to speak to me about her upcoming record “Remedy”, out March 12th.

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