ZULU: “I wanted to represent this idea of hope and happiness and a better future”

Los Angeles’ ZULU bring together a world of sounds for their debut album ‘A New Tomorrow’, a release that aims to create a space of positivity despite the world around them.

If you were wondering what the clashing sounds of jazz and hardcore sound like when carefully posed next to each other, then look no further. With the breathtaking excitement of an illegal fireworks display, Los Angeles’ ZULU have created a debut that disregards any notions of audible healthy and safety for a no holds barred glimpse into the mind of the project’s brainchild, Anaiah Lei.

“I was in two very different places when I started the band, and to be quite real, I didn’t know how to do something on my own,” Anaiah begins. Having played in various outfits as a drummer, “I’ve been in situations where I was made to feel like my contributions didn’t matter. So when I started writing it, I was very nervous,” he admits. Bringing himself to the front of the stage, his idea for ZULU’s hardcore and powerviolence – a genre that cuts through hardcore’s throat to take things that little bit further – began to take shape throughout two early EPs. 

2019’s ‘Our Day Will Come’ and 2020’s ‘My People… Hold On’ were hefty slabs of adrenaline-fused hardcore, dealing as much in celebrating black culture as they did channelling the fury of injustice. More importantly, however, as things progressed, Anaiah’s confidence grew away from the subdued “Oh, I’m just a drummer, and that’s as good as it gets” that began ZULU, to fighting, “I knew how to play those other instruments – let me try it at least.”

Settling on a group consisting of guitarists Dez Yousef and Braxton Marcellous, with bassist Satchel Brown and drummer Christine Cadette, ZULU set forth on a quest to shake things up. Culminating in this moment, the second you hit play on ZULU’s debut album ‘A New Tomorrow’ all bets are off. “When it came time for the LP I felt even more confident because now people liked the band,” Anaiah quietly says. But it’s this mentioned confidence that breathes through ‘Tomorrow’’s swerves around genre. 

An idea Anaiah has wanted to try for a while now, the innate journey through genres rich in black history and some new, play into the ideas Tomorrow totes. “This crazy all over-the-place style that also encompasses hardcore, and powerviolence especially, you can say the same thing about jazz music which is a big influence on the band.” Noting that he wanted ‘Tomorrow’ to be a statement piece, on what that is he offers an assuredly sweeping statement that applies as much to ZULU as it does to the world around its creator: “Not everything is going to stay the same.”

Positivity is the name of the game for ZULU this time around. “I knew I wanted to write something from a better place because I wanted the album to represent that, and I wanted to represent this idea of hope and happiness and a better future.” While putting the PMA work in alongside the creation of the album itself helped, the purpose it was truly serving was one of spiritual manifestation. Anaiah quickly stresses, “not in like a toxic sort of way, but I wanted to do it in a way that’s authentic to me, and believing what I’m saying, as opposed to just blankly writing something and then having a completely different opinion on it.”

“I scrapped so many lyrics and just restarted because when I first started writing for it, I was in a really negative space,” he continues. “And by the end of it, I was in a better space. I didn’t want to necessarily talk about the things that I wanted to talk about when I first started writing the record.”

Getting out of this negative space for Anaiah included going through therapy. More importantly, it concerned: “Figuring out myself more coming into adulthood; the way I navigate the world, and the way I have to navigate the world; being aware and looking the way I do. All those things play into the change of direction and having to think a little bit into the future about what this [record] is. Hopefully, this is a record that people are listening to for a long time.”

For all ‘Tomorrow’’s embattling sounds, the concept of positivity and flourishing within a space you create for yourself is Anaiah’s focus. It involves a careful acknowledgement that if you’re beaming with joy, that doesn’t mean you have to shy away from the truth. “It’s good to be realistic about things, and it’s good to be realistic about the world,” he says. 

“You’ve got to think about what’s going on, but it’s also good to try to not push through. Try to turn stuff around – if you can – and learn how to make room for the negative moments that happen in your life. To make room for them, to nurture them and to be able to not allow them to consume you completely because that is tough when you have to live with that weight all the time and not know what to do. And that happens to a lot of people. It’s happened to me, and it takes a long time to be able to try to turn it around and try to hold space for that and to be able to properly address those emotions and feelings. I think it is important for everyone to be able to do that.”

Photo credit: Alice Baxley

Coming out of the gates with a debut entirely disconnected in sounds but unified in ideas is a bold move, but with that newfound confidence, carving their own space in the hardcore scene is both a challenge ZULU more than up for – and one that needs to happen. On the current state of hardcore, Anaiah immediately retorts wryly. “That’s a loaded question!” But quickly offering his take, he starts, “To be quite honest, there are these two realities that exist within the same space.” 

Describing one section that is deeply rooted in the past, where people “are just angry and bitter and want to write about those things.” While this is where the scene found its start, as an outlet for frustration, as he continues explaining, it morphed into something more sinister. “But there’s a side that comes with it where it is just this toxic masculine/cis headspace that does not give room to other people to exist in. There’s just a straight-up ignorance to that, where you’re actually not allowing people to be in these spaces without making them feel awkward – and this goes for literally anyone that isn’t in that bubble of being a cis white male.”

But the other side of this duality is a new generation. “There are so many people coming in from various walks of life and feeling accepted because they look to bands that they can relate to that share similar experiences, or even look alike and identify with what they identify with. So there’s a whole scene of people doing that and coming in and feeling welcomed into a space that used to have their gates closed.

Continuing, he says, “But at the same time, I don’t know if the gates were closed. I think it’s just people didn’t know it was even there. It’s now a lot more accessible, and for some reason, the people from the other reality are mad about hardcore being so accessible when, in reality, I think it’s a blessing that people can find this stuff because they’re able to find something that they can also seek help in from the outside world and I think that’s really what it was about – being able to find a place that welcomes them when the rest of the room likes to shun them out or make them feel alienated.”

“It’s this weird duality – and not in a good way. We come under the same umbrella and sometimes are in the same spaces, which confuses me. I think we’re going in a more positive direction, but then you have all these other people that say otherwise and still clearly show that they’re not for any of that. Sometimes they say it in an outwardly manner, sometimes they say it in subtle ways that they’re not for that openness, and that’s kind of where we’re at. So I am confused too because I’m just like, well, we’re moving forward and backwards at the same time. But that’s how it is sometimes… with some things, there’s not going to be everyone that’s on board, and it’s going to get pushed and pulled in certain ways.”

The future is calling and hardcore is undoubtedly learning to shake itself up. With the likes of ZULU being proponents, change will be the one to rise as it always has, particularly with powerful messages that form impacts like craters on moons, such as ZULU hope to have created.  

“I say this with humility, I hope to make a record that people can look to as being something that got them into the genre,” he mentions of his grander plan. “Or something that got them excited about going forward with the genre and something that excites them that they can relate to on some level. We all have those records that stand the test of time. I would love to be able to make a record like that, and I would hope it can be this record. 

“And I would hope, even if it wasn’t this record, that one day I’ll make that record with this band for those people and hope that they can look to release and not just see all the negatives, but see some positives in their life. That is a major goal for me to accomplish with ZULU, to bring people together and feel welcomed.”

Taken from the March 2023 edition of Upset. Order a copy below. ZULU’s album ‘A New Tomorrow’ is out 3rd March.