Zeph explains why she doesn’t enter a new year expecting anything—interview
Last year, Zephani Jong went from a bedroom songwriter to touring with Waterparks after securing herself as a social media savant with brutally honest and witty observations. It’s these same homed-in exposés she’s channeling within her lo-fi pop tunes as Zeph. Finding more fans by the day jumping on board, with her puppy Basil pacing around the room, she’s trying to figure out what it is she wants out of 2022. It’s time for Zeph to begin her brilliant next chapter.
How are you feeling about this year?
I don’t know. I feel like now that I’ve done shows, I’m open to more things than I was before. Also, I’m trying to move to California soon, so I’m excited. I was supposed to move there at the end of [last] year, but then I went on the Waterparks tour, so that got pushed back, but I’m trying to move out there within the next couple months if possible.
How do you feel now that you’ve got your first shows out of the way — and in such a big way?
That was crazy because I’d never done any shows at all before that. My first-ever show was at the Brooklyn Steel to a ton of people, which was terrifying. I still get nervous onstage, but now I’m like, “OK, I’ve done it before. I could do it again. It’s fine.” So hopefully it’s easier. But now that I’ve done it, I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, what if I did my own show or something cool?”
Do you have much planned for this year now that you’ve officially hit the road?
I have no idea. [Laughs.] I’ve been so caught up in finishing my EP, and then the EP release and then going on tour and having to move out and stuff. I haven’t really sat down and thought about any of my future stuff yet. But because everything is going better than I thought it would, I’m now like, “Oh, maybe I should probably start thinking about things.” I got scared that no one’s gonna listen to my EP or no one’s gonna care, but I heard people singing back my own songs to me, and I was just an opener. That was crazy!
Are you a goal-setting person when it comes to a new year?
I feel like I definitely should be, and I used to when I was younger, but then I gave up on it because having expectations for myself just stresses me out. It makes me nervous and prevents me from actually doing anything. So if I’m going into it without expecting anything, it’s like, “Oh, I did this. That means I can do something bigger.” So just step by step. I really do want to put out more music, though. That’s my one thing. [But] all my best writing happens to me when I write it for a reason.
Do you have plans for when you finally hit California?
Probably try to settle down first, find a place to live, but in terms of doing stuff, I want to try working with other producers, which I feel like would be fine now that I’ve had my mind open to working [with others]. Because I tried working with my friends, [and] it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but I’m so used to doing everything myself. I’m excited to try to work with other people because I have a lot of music friends out there.
It sounds like you keep things super open.
That’s how I’m trying to keep it because when I set too many expectations for myself, I shut down. But keeping it open also just makes me more excited for things instead of stressed about it because I’m just like, “Whatever happens, happens, and if it goes well, good.” That’s why I’ve been able to do music for so long because I used to do art, but then I started taking myself way too seriously, and then I got really bad art block. To this day, I can’t draw anymore because of it.
So, I’m trying to keep it light on myself. That’s why all my SoundCloud has all the pictures of Kermit [The Frog] because I’m not taking music more seriously than I have to because it is my hobby. It’s my coping mechanism. It’s really cool that I get to do this for a living now, but I want to make sure, first and foremost, I keep doing it, so I’m not trying to put too much extra pressure on myself, but I probably should come up with some goals. [Laughs.]
It sounds quite freeing to not have goals set.
My life is so crazy to me because that’s how it’s been for the longest time. I don’t set goals, but I’ll casually mention something or in my head have this unspoken goal, or I’ll be like, “It’d be really cool if this happened.” Then it always ends up happening, which is crazy to me. A lot of stuff happens that I can’t explain, but I’m very thankful for it. Like, my whole music career. I was never expecting that to happen, but little things would happen, and everything would fall into place like a butterfly effect, and now I’m here, which is crazy. So I’m just trusting that that’ll keep happening.
Do you have any words for 2022 Zeph?
That’s a good question. I don’t know how it’s gonna be when I’m living [in California], but I’ll just remind myself of my hometown and be like, “This is where you started. This is why you’re doing this. It’s fine if things like collabs or other people don’t work out — you started with yourself. You can keep doing this.”
I know a lot of times, I’ve tried to remind myself [that] I’ve achieved things that I never thought I would. I would never even have expected myself to have music videos or to release an EP or to tour, so if things keep happening like that, good for me. That’s so cool. But if they don’t, they’ll keep coming eventually. And not to worry about things! Just tell myself not to worry because I worry a lot. That’s why my EP is called scared of everything!
This interview first appeared in issue #402 (22 for ’22), available here.