Find fuzzzy guitars from zzzahara on Tender
Thu. November 23, 2023 by Jerry Nunn
Things are shifting from “that is a queer person” to “that’s a person.”
Backstage at House of Blues with zzzahara
Queer guitarist and songwriter zzzahara refuses to be put in a box. This non-binary identifying performer uses they/them pronouns and is out and proud from a new generation.
The moniker zzzahara was born from the name Zahara Jaime after they grew into a solo act following being part of The Simps duo alongside Eyedress, also known as Idris Vicuña.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, this talented musician released their debut album Liminal Spaces via Lex Records to critical acclaim in 2022. The new album Tender has them taking a new path and tour that has led them around the United States.
Zzzahara met up backstage at the iconic House of Blues in Chicago to tell their story and much more. By the way, this is the first interview for the queer artist by a gay reporter to discuss their quickly rising career.
JN: (Jerry Nunn) What is your background?
Z: (zzzahara) I am from Highland Park in Los Angeles, California. My mother is Filipino and my dad was born in Mexico. He came to the United States around the age of five years old.
JN: Did you grow up speaking Spanish?
JN: Would you like to make a song in Spanish?
Z: One day I would like to create a song in Spanish. I don’t speak it well enough, but I would like to learn more of the language.
JN: It might be a good challenge for you.
Z: I know some songs in Spanish and the general context. I wouldn’t be able to pop one out of my head and would need a translator to help me write it, unless I became fluent and learned the language.
JN: You could always have the lyrics double-checked for accuracy.
Z: I could be like Selena who didn’t speak Spanish in the beginning. She learned it later and her brothers helped her write it.
JN: Isn’t Highland Park a Latin neighborhood?
Z: Yes, it is very Latin and Asian with about 10 percent white people. There was only one Black kid in my entire middle school then five in my high school.
JN: Did you always want to make music?
Z: Yes, since I was very young.
JN: Is it competitive to be in the music business in California?
Z: Yes, but I never had the intention that it would go anywhere. I received my degree in speech language pathology and audiology and went after my master's degree. I always had a backup plan.
To me, music looked like it could be lucrative, but I didn’t have connections to the industry in any way. I come from a blue-collar background where art was unheard of. I didn’t go to my first museum until I was older. The only art form that I did was music.
JN: Was your video for “Peppermint” filmed in California?
Z: Yes, it was sick filming there. My dad grew up in Lincoln Heights and that is where we filmed most of it. It felt cool to be in his neighborhood. Lincoln Heights is a few steps lower than Highland Park in terms of status, which makes it nitty gritty. It had a cool vibe to shoot the music video there.
JN: “Tender” is my favorite song from you. Can you talk about the creation of it?
Z: I liked the word tender because it feels bittersweet. To get over heartbreak it doesn’t always heal right away but it is a process. It might not hurt all the way yet but there will be better days coming. It can feel achy and that is how it felt writing “Tender.”
I liked the riff that I came up with.
JN: It sounds like a personal song from what you are describing.
Z: I feel like all of my music is personal and comes from my experiences. I don’t write my songs from looking at another person’s perspective, except for the people that I am involved with.
Some people write from secondhand experience, but I tend to write firsthand.
I might write a song from someone else’s eyes in the future
JN: Your music doesn’t seem to be written from a commercial perspective either.
Z: [laughs] No.
JN: Is your song “I’d Like You to Leave” about a hookup?
Z: Well, yes. With me, I am either thriving in the chaos of being single or I am in a relationship where I am loyal to see where things might go with that person. I go out with a lot of girls and it is always changing. I go on dates all of the time and I am very open. I like to see who I can meet and who is cool or not.
“I’d Like You to Leave” is about me being uncomfortable when someone throws themselves at me in a weird way. It is hard for me to tell if someone is being genuine or not these days.
There are a lot of characters out there. I am a little introverted so I sometimes feel pressure from people right away. That is when I want them to leave.
JN: I have noticed the girl scene in Los Angeles is different than anywhere else. It is different than girls in the Midwest.
Z: How would that be?
JN: I think it is an influence from the South where I grew up. Chicago used to have more female queer-centric parties like LA continually does. Hopefully, those gatherings return. I can imagine it would be challenging to meet people sometimes.
Z: Dating is difficult…
JN: For everyone! How would you describe yourself as an artist?
Z: People ask me and I tell them I am in a band. I really do it all, like I produce. About 70 percent of that record I made in my room and I played everything. I wanted to have faith in myself while making the music. It was about trusting myself and I realized my best music was the stuff I wrote myself.
As an artist, I would describe myself as a singer, songwriter and producer.
JN: Do you have a favorite queer musician?
Z: There are so many…
JN: Finally people are out in their careers and I love meeting so many at Lollapalooza every year. It used to be so straight at that music festival when I started.
Z: It is funny you say that because now there are so many to choose from.
JN: I thought you might be into Claud.
Z: Yes, Claud is from Chicago. I have listened to a few songs and saw them perform at South by Southwest.
JN: I listen to queer artists like Clairo and girl in red.
Z: They have such a cool vibe and their fanbase is not strictly queer. Everybody can like it and that has become common. The generation is different and not so judgmental. Things are shifting from “that is a queer person” to “that’s a person.”
My entire life I have always wanted to be known as just a person. That is why I identify as non-binary so I am just a person. I know I am masc, but I love being normal.
JN: You are completely normal. Would you like me to use they/them pronouns for this article?
Z: Yes, but I never get mad at people when they misgender me, even though that happens a lot. It actually looks bad on that person and not on me necessarily. That person didn’t do their research on me. They just decided to use she/her.
JN: They assumed that instead of approaching you with an open mind.
Z: People are used to categorizing others.
JN: No one wants to be put in a box these days.
Z: Exactly. It is a lazy way to be too.
JN: True. So let’s talk about 2024. Do you have some headlining concerts coming up?
Z: Yes. There is a lot of touring next year. I am excited to tour and be on the road.
JN: Do you like traveling?
Z: I love it. I am my own tour manager, so I am looking forward to the days when someone else can do that, but other than that I love touring.
JN: This date is the last show of the current tour, correct?
Z: Yes and the last show of the year.
JN: Are you playing South by Southwest in 2024?
Z: Yes and I am excited. Even if I am not playing I love to go as a spectator.
JN: Come back to Chicago and perform at a Pride festival sometime.
Z: That would be sick!