TIDAL Rising: Yumi Zouma is a ‘Kaleidoscope’ of Music
TIDAL’s Rising Artist of the Week, Yumi Zouma, has just released their second full-length album, Willowbank. Lead singer Christie Simpson spoke to TIDAL about the group’s fractured beginnings and how their growth was captured on their new record.
What was your introductory period to music like?
It was a lot of yelling and dancing in my parent’s living room followed by Hilary Duff lip syncing followed by Suzuki piano lessons and finally – high school jazz bands.
What were your first experiences with playing and performing music?
In aforementioned high school jazz bands. I performed a lot as a jazz singer in my last year of high school! I also had a band outside of music class, where we wrote angsty alt-rock tunes and won the local heats of NZ’s Rockquest competition (a nationwide high school battle-of-the-bands situation). Those first tastes got me hooked.
How did Yumi Zouma come together?
In Christchurch the music scene is pretty small, so everyone knows each other somehow. Charlie and Josh were in bands together, Sam and Charlie were in bands together, etc. etc. Charlie and Josh had both left New Zealand, moving away from each other, but they kept in touch and kept sending each other music ideas and Yumi Zouma sprung from that. They knew of me and Sam from the Christchurch scene and thus we were recruited!
How did the group arrive on their sound?
From my perspective, I’d say it’s a blend of our different tastes and influences from all corners of the musical globe. Charlie and Josh as a team, I feel, have a really good balance between them. They balance each other out. Charlie hits harder with the straight-up shimmering pop and Josh brings in the sometimes weirder, more earthy, experimental elements. The two sides are a perfect blend. And then Sam and I come in and sprinkle a little of our magic on there, too, where we can!
What colors/patterns/natural elements would you use to describe Yumi Zouma?
I always find myself associating very natural, cool colors with us: soft blues and greens, beiges and grays. Scenes of tussocky hills, blue-green sea. Very New Zealand. There are times when I think we almost reach into a bright red kind of territory, though, or some kind of intense geometric formation, a kaleidoscope maybe?
I, along with a lot of people, first took notice of Yumi Zouma from frequent appearances on blogs. What was it like to start seeing yourself featured around the Internet and becoming a regarded group so quickly?
It was unbelievably exciting for us. We grew up discovering our favorite bands on blogs, so it was exactly where we wanted to see ourselves!
Could you let us into what your world was like when the group started recording Yoncalla?
It was interesting – we recorded some of it at Charlie’s apartment in the 6th [district] in Paris and some in Josh’s apartment in Brooklyn, so there were two very contrasting surroundings for those different time periods. It felt chaotic amongst touring, but we did have the occasional immense moment of peace on a day off. The world was a little crazy for us. There was a lot of excitement.
What was your focus for the album?
We were focusing on writing the best music that we could, and as much as possible. We didn’t make any concentrated effort to branch out from the previous EPs, but I think that happened naturally in a longform album format. I think we wrote something like 22 songs, only 10 of which made it on the album!
Were there any trepidations going into your first full-length record?
I think we talked over it a few times, our worries, concerns and intentions. In the end, we decided we shouldn’t even think of the past. I think that made for a better body of work. It’s a lot easier to just write and record and just do it. Worrying too much can definitely have an effect on the music, and not usually in a positive way.
How have you reflected on the record a little over a year later?
We’re all still really proud of it, but with time comes growth and with growth comes wisdom. I think there were things we would do differently if we recorded it now. That said, I wouldn’t change a thing. That album means a lot to me and I feel we really captured ourselves in that specific point in our lives.
Compare all of that with the mindset and direction of recording Willowbank?
I think we all feel that Willowbank is a mark of growth for us, even in just the recording techniques used and the intention. I think there’s something to be said for getting together and focusing hard, using good tools and trying even harder than we had before to write something we were proud of. I definitely had more confidence and I feel that as a band we felt we could make something good if we worked hard on it.
What was the effect of recording Willowbank together in New Zealand?
It was definitely more relaxed, and more focused. I think it gave the album a more cohesive feeling, as opposed to all the touring and chopping and changing of Yoncalla. New Zealand in summer is so quiet and so peaceful and I think that shaped the sound a little.
What do you feel you personally accomplish/can express by creating this kind of music?
Every time I get on stage I feel as though I’m expressing a part of me that never gets seen in the day-to-day. With each show I become stronger, more confident. It has always been important to me to express to young girls (especially those in New Zealand) that it’s possible to be a successful musician, and that there’s no set way to do things – be powerful and be strong and don’t ever be afraid to dress or express yourself how you’d like to.
Putting a pair of heels on doesn’t make you just another vacuous pop star. I hope that our fans see that when they see us. Growing up as a girl in New Zealand, I never would’ve thought it possible to be in a band like Yumi Zouma. Even at age 19 or 20, I was struggling to find musicians to model myself on or seek inspiration from. I hope that’s something I can accomplish for someone else out there!
What’s the best music you have discovered recently?
I’m really into a band from Montreal called Men I Trust. I’ve gotten everyone in the band hooked too. They’re a little bit groovy and very chill and the vocals are just so good. You won’t regret listening to them, I promise!
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