Zulu: “The best part about music is that you can do whatever you want with it”
Modern hardcore has experienced an incredible resurgence in the past few years. With diverse perspectives getting a platform and artists pushing the genre in new ways — lyrically, socially and sonically — there isn’t a better example of this than the Los Angeles-based group Zulu. Through the raw intensity and lyrical depth of their two EPs, Zulu have made a name for themselves as they lead the charge for the next generation of hardcore. Additionally, Zulu have already gained a significant amount of hype, which led the band to secure a deal with Flatspot Records, tour with bands ranging from Knocked Loose to Comeback Kid and record their first proper LP, which is due tentatively by the end of this year.
Read more: 20 greatest punk-rock drummers of all time
When talking to the band’s vocalist and chief songwriter Anaiah Lei, it’s clear that Zulu are ready for whatever is to come next. However, one thing is certain: They have no plans to do the same thing twice. With Zulu’s forthcoming release, the band aim to explore new territories sonically and embrace whatever left-field ideas they may have…
What was the process like forming Zulu? If I’m not mistaken, you started out as primarily a drummer in the LA hardcore scene prior to forming the band.
Yeah, I pretty much only played drums in bands exclusively. For Zulu, I wanted to start a vegan-straight edge band, but I couldn’t find enough vegan-straight edge people to start it. However, I knew I wanted to create a project where I sang. I wrote the first EP, recorded it and that was basically it. I had a little help from our guitarist Braxton [Marcellous], but I recorded and wrote everything on my own for the most part.
What were the early influences that helped inspire the project from the beginning?
I’ve always loved Trash Talk and that crossover sound where it’s hardcore but not your standard hardcore. I knew I wanted to do something like that. I also liked bands like Weekend Nachos, Mind Eraser and Sex Prisoner. When I started this project, I knew I really liked heading in the direction of those bands and their sound.
Was it an adjustment to switch to fronting a band vocally as opposed to being a drummer? Did it take you a while to develop your vocal style?
It absolutely was an adjustment. I was not used to singing and only really sang backup vocals for previous projects that I was in. When I did the first recordings, I wanted to emulate the vocal styles that I liked, which were in much higher ranges, and I realized that I couldn’t really do it. I had to be mindful of how I could do this long-term. I learned more about my range, talked to other vocalists and eventually learned my voice works better in a lower register. Playing shows helped me learn a lot as well, but it’s definitely been a journey. I’m now at a point where I like how I sound, but I am always wanting to learn how to do it better, but for now, it works.
How did you end up linking with Flatspot Records?
I actually knew Ricky [Singh] from the label for several years. He hit me up randomly and told me he would love to put out our EP on 12-inch vinyl. When it comes to hardcore labels, I’m a little bit wary, but we knew each other, and I respect what they do. They have a really sick lineup, and the bands that they have are crushing it. We’re all just doing our own thing, all at the same time and in our own respective areas just going for it. When you hear about labels that really blew up and had a moment, it really feels like that in real-time.
Undoubtedly, modern hardcore is looking so much more diverse, and artists are pushing the genre forward both lyrically and sonically more than ever. What do you make of the new scene? What is working about it, and what needs to change?
While it’s doing really well and getting better with more diversity, it still is very white-dominated. Younger generations are coming out, and it is more inclusive, but it still can feel exclusive and judgmental. It’s getting there, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. It’s up to everyone to change that.
There is a considerable amount of hype around your forthcoming debut LP. Do you pay attention to the excitement?
It’s not that I stay sheltered away from that stuff, but it does trip me out that it’s doing something. [Laughs.] I’m hoping with this new LP that it takes it to the next level because just on the strength of two EPs, we’ve been able to do so much already. Without giving anything away, it’s going to be different.
I can imagine that this LP will be considerably different and more left field.
It’s 100% going to be left field. What I love about Zulu is that everyone in the band is an amazing musician with different styles and genres. It seems limitless since we all have these skills, so why would I limit Zulu to just being a hardcore band? We can do anything. This hardcore stuff is cool, but on a day to day, I don’t listen to just that. Zulu’s influence pulls from soul, jazz and reggae. That’s what gets me still.
When I sat down to write this new record, I obviously knew we wanted to evolve as a heavy band but also do other stuff that isn’t just heavy. I don’t want to just play to hardcore people — I want to have all sorts of fans. The best part about music is that you can do whatever you want with it. Imagine a band that is playing on late-night television shows like Turnstile and then imagine a power-violence band that gets to play on there as well. That’s inspiration, and it actually isn’t so far off.
How did growing up in LA shape you as both an artist and a person?
It was nice because LA has everything, and it just feels warm here, not in the sense of temperature, but the vibe feels warm. There’s so much culture, and when I tour other places, I really get a firsthand look that there is no culture in some places, and usually, it’s predominantly white. It’s amazing that I got to grow up in a place with so much history, and it really just shaped how I look at everything.
What does the immediate future look like for Zulu?
I have no time frame for the album yet, but I’m aiming for either the end of this year or early next year. We are heading to Canada soon to do some shows with Knocked Loose, and then we have a European tour in midsummer. It’s just been so amazing to see where we’ve gone, and I’m ready for whatever comes.
SONG RECOMMENDATION: “Straight From Da Tribe Of Tha Moon”
This interview appeared in issue #406, available below.