ZAND isn’t scared of making a statement, but with new release ‘Sewerstar’, they’re out to challenge everything.
Words: Steven Loftin.
Photos: Frances Beach.
2020’s ‘Ugly Pop’ properly introduced ZAND as unapologetically spirited. By slanging around brash pop music that delivered a lusty dose of liberation and confidence, including cuts like ‘Slut Money’ and ‘Freak’, it built upon the work of the London-based artist’s 2018 singles, including ‘Boys Like U’ and Luci’.
With upcoming EP ‘Sewerstar’, they’re embracing these previous notes with another healthy hit of X-rated attitude. Including ‘DTF’’s playful exhibition of self-care in the horniest of orders and ‘Religion’’s entangling of life’s two constants – sex and organised worship – into a devilish, electro-bashing, demonic entity, it’s ZAND tripling down on their experimental pop attitude.
But before these brash attacks could happen, ZAND required their own moment of liberation, which came in the form of hip-hop provocateur Tommy Cash’s 2017 music video for ‘WINALOTO’. Featuring contorting bodies and Tommy’s face being imposed upon crotches, recalling their reaction, ZAND enthuses, “It was so cool to see someone else be so authentically themselves, and so authentically weird, and inputting that into their art visually – it opened up something in my brain like, I want to fuckin’ do that!”
The surrealism of Tommy Cash’s vision is what entranced ZAND. As they put it, “I was so inspired to just be as weird as fuck – as the budget would allow.” Their early videos, particularly ‘Boys Like U’, feature goading content warnings for the depiction of drug use and violence. “I like the idea of surrealism and stuff that makes people uncomfortable,” they smirk. “Even some of my tamest music videos, I will still get comments from people, like, what the fuck is going on?” they scoff. “And I’m like, it’s so funny that you think this is crazy because, for me, this is tame – we have not reached my final form yet! It’s weird how different people find different things disturbing.”
Understanding that their initial reaction to ‘WINALOTO’ – and their own insatiable search for a reaction – is a consequence of their journey, ZAND’s unapologetic nature is the result of experiences marred in darkness. “I have a very hard exterior because of how I’ve been treated in the past; I’ve just grown to be this way,” they explain. But turning this into their vision is a lighting strike of their artistic merit. It’s also based on a simple response they want from the audience: “What the fuck is going on?”
When ZAND hears these words, they know they’re doing something right. “I want to make people uncomfortable with my music and my visuals because they don’t have a fucking clue what’s going on,” they explain. This confrontational aspect is meant to challenge, but most importantly, it’s a calling card. When you see ZAND’s contemptuous glare, often seamlessly morphing from give-a-fuck to fuck-you, it is all a part of the plan. “To some people, visuals just aren’t important to them,” ZAND says. “And that’s fine. Everyone wants to project that art differently. But if I had all the budget in the world, I would make the weirdest shit possible.”
With this threat hanging surreptitiously, the topic of ZAND’s confidence comes to the forefront. Tattoos that border their silhouette as if they’ve emerged from the depths of a copper-sulphate hell come twinned with empowering aesthetics that embrace their queer identity and sexuality. Confidence is the one thing ZAND carries front and centre, and you’d be hard-pressed to miss it.
“I am confident in how I look even though loads of people don’t like it all,” they say. “They’ll make fun of me, or whatever, [but] I’m still confident in how I look.” A striking visual indeed, the inspiration they serve to others is as important to them. “There are people who maybe look similar, who are alternative, or just people who genuinely may not look anything like me but are still inspired by the fact that people like me look the way that we want to because we want to look this way.” They see it as just being a part of them. No ulterior motives. “It’s just the same as anyone really. It doesn’t faze me. People are like, ‘Oh my God, how are you so confident to walk around like that’, and I’m just like, this is just how I look. It’s not that deep to me, but to other people, it is.”
“I like the idea of surrealism and stuff that makes people uncomfortable”ZAND
Other people are a mystery to ZAND. From how they react to their art to how they respond to their look, ZAND’s under the distinct impression that “different things inspire different people depending on like their upbringings and how they see the world.” It’s how they get by in a world that tries to fit things in neat little boxes. “If something might come along that is unorthodox, or that they don’t understand – whether that’s music, whether that’s how someone looks, whether that’s anything to do with that sort of shit – they either turn their nose or they relate to it in some way, even though it might not have anything to do with them.”
These experiences are reflected in ZAND’s music. They mention that ‘Ugly Pop’ was written “from a place of writing about unhealed trauma and shit that I was really angry about.” And while this is still the case for a lot of what they’re creating, when it comes to ‘Sewerstar’ and its offerings, it’s about trying to be a little less serious with it. “I just want to have a little fun with it and write about stupid shit like wanking or ‘HA, this is really funny, I’m going to say something really funny in this’ and just seeing what comes out.”
While ZAND’s first artistic pursuits were a far cry from who they are today (“I was a baby, it was me singing a song on my guitar doing twee… but I was still a gobshite”), the writing has come to be just as important as the vision. “The music, and how I do it, leads in terms of personality and whatever the fuck else. A lot of things in my life have fuelled me to want to protect myself that way.”
ZAND’s transformation into the artist before us today was a process. “We’re all constantly posturing, right? Depending on the song, we’re all putting a version of ourselves out there that we might not necessarily be. And that’s the kind of thing that I find interesting to play with when it’s like playing different characters and songs. You’re performing a personality; you’re performing this viewpoint.”
These building blocks of bravado are important, but more prescient is the fact that whomever ZAND is on a deeper level is, rightfully so, to remain a mystery. “There’s always going to be a story that people don’t know,” they say. “Even if someone writes an autobiography, you’re still not going to know every single thing about someone’s life and what’s led them to be the way they are.”
Mentioning that the confidence and bravery they present is a big reason fans have latched onto them, they’re not always what people expect. “I am like a big softy, sensitive person,” they laugh. “Like I literally cry about everything, but people will often be like, ‘Oh my God, yes, you’re badass. Like you just don’t give a fuck; you’re so confident.’
“Obviously, that is the perception people have of me when they see me or when they see me perform. Because I just go a bit insane, and I guess that’s the knock-on effect it has; people think one thing about you from how you project yourself and your music and your performance. But there’s the personality ZAND, and then there’s me. It’s still a part of me. I’m not saying I’m faking it, but it’s just one part of it – you’re not going to always see the rest.”
Chances are, if you’ve found ZAND already, then you’re one of their kind. The masses they’re building are kindred spirits, and that’s what their master plan is: “Not everyone’s gonna get it, but if you know, you know.” ■
Taken from the August 2023 edition of Upset. ZAND’s ‘SEWERSTAR’ EP is out soon.