If you haven't heard of EZI, you will soon. The up-and-coming pop star, who was the first artist signed to Steve Madden's record label, 5Towns Records, is gearing up to bring a little Area 51 into your life via her new EP, Afraid of the Dark. To commemorate its release, one of our favorite Adolescent photographers, Jasper Soloff, shot these photographs of EZI in New York City (check out this rad video he made of the shoot here), and we asked her a few questions about otherness, inspiration, and channeling your feelings into your art.
photograph by Jasper Soloff
Congratulations on the new EP! Could you talk a little bit about the process behind putting it together and where the ideas came from?
I’ve been working on this project for I guess two years now, maybe a year and a half. One summer I ended up becoming super depressed, and that was the first time that I felt like I needed to write about that in my music—I felt like I channeled that in my acting a lot, but I never did that in my music. When I did, something clicked, and that’s really what inspired the whole project.
You can definitely hear that in the music. It’s all very danceable, but there are some very dark ideas. How did you go about balancing these dark, adult themes with this bright and danceable sounds?
I’ve always been really drawn to dark pop music. When I was younger I listened to Robyn, and there’s an artist named Natalia Kills who had a song called “Saturday Night”. So I was really into the idea of pairing darker concepts with a brighter production. I was also really into dark party music because I’m a cynical person—whenever I’m going out I’m always questioning everything and looking at it from the outside, sort of like a wallflower.
You mentioned that you were more used to channeling these darker feelings in your acting than in your songwriting. Do you find that your work as an actor and an artist are related?
They’re definitely the same. In acting I learned how liberating it can be to put your own life into your work and into your art, and I think being an actress made me a better songwriter because I was constantly thinking about the storyline. Acting also made me think about myself, and it made me a lot more introspective, and I think that makes for good songwriting.
photograph by Jasper Soloff
It sounds like music has been part of your life for a very long time. What pushed you to actively pursue music as a career?
It kind of found me. I’d been writing songs for my whole life: I’d been writing poetry, and I felt very connected to music, but I really didn’t know that that could be a career path. My parents are both from Russia; they’re first-generation American—their goal for me was to not be broke and go to college, you know? So I just didn’t know that was an option. But when I was 15 and I started acting professionally, someone my agency introduced me to a producer and a songwriter. And that relationship didn’t last very long, but it did show me that that was something that I could do and something I felt I could be really good at.
Your music video for “Afraid of the Dark” is very atmospheric and spooky. It’s definitely a mood piece. Could you talk a little bit about the background for that song?
So, that was the last song that I wrote for the EP, and at that point I was really interested in this theme of Alice in Wonderland because the whole EP was inspired by me falling into a state of mind that I didn’t really recognize and didn’t know how to get out of. So that inspired a lot of the lyrics for the song—like, I wanted a song about comparing me to Alice, and it ended up just being like, “I’m afraid of the dark.” But it all happened organically and intuitively.
When it came to making the music video, I wanted to use some of those themes, too—like waking up in a place that you didn’t really recognize, making the whole thing feel like a dream. And then the director thought of the idea of bringing in aliens, which I loved. Those were originally supposed to be monsters under my bed, and the whole idea was me dancing with the monsters, you know, making peace with my inner demons or whatever. But when we brought in the aliens, I really loved that, because so much of the time I feel like I’m an alien and kind of out of place. If I were to break it down, that’s what I was trying to get across—it starts as feeling like an outsider, but then you end up celebrating those things [that make you different], and I’m dancing with the aliens on my bed with confetti.
Do you believe in aliens?
I so do. I really do.
Have you ever had an extraterrestrial experience?
Yes, I have.
photograph by Jasper Soloff
What advice would you give to teenagers who want to pursue music?
It’s really possible. I think that when you really perfect your craft and put yourself out there and keep working, someone will notice, whether it’s a manager or a publisher or A&R. Somebody will notice as long as you put yourself in the right situations and keep working really hard and constantly improving. Also with the internet it’s so easy to collaborate with different people. There are DJs who want top lines, and they want songwriters to collaborate with all the time—it just takes putting yourself out there.
What about dealing with self-doubt as an artist?
I can only speak for my own experiences, but I don’t think that doubt will ever go away. I don’t think it really has to do with success, I just think it’s very normal and it’s super human and it’s okay to have doubt, just not to let that consume you. Every week I go through a day when I’m like, I can’t do this anymore, and then I’ll snap out of it and be okay again. Don’t ever think it’s not normal, but don’t let it discourage you.
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Ting Ting Chen