“I am a woman from the South. If that’s what country is then I guess we are!” For Jessi Zazu of Nashville rock ‘n’ roll band Those Darlins, self-acceptance comes from art, be it found through her drawings or genre-defying hits created collectively with band members Nikki Kvarnes and Linwood Regensburg. Zazu speaks (and sings) with a rawness that’s honest and insightful – while maintaining a rough boldness that can catch you off guard. Prior to a show with Adia Victoria at Brooklyn’s Rough Trade Jessi took a moment to catch up with AudioFemme, and we were so impressed we decided to make her our Artist of the Month, then paired cowboy boots with Armani and shook our asses.
AF: How’s the tour going?
JZ: It’s going great.
[Adia Victoria] is a good friend of mine, and the people in her band as well, so it’s fun. I’m just a huge fan of her music, and I’ve been watching her since she did solo night at writer’s night. It’s been really cool to watch her grow and take over.
AF: How’d you guys get hooked up with her?
JZ: She was at one of our shows when we were opening for Dan Auerbach. She saw us at Bowery Ballroom I think, and she just really liked us, and a couple years later she moved down here [Nashville]. My friends have a venue and I put on a few shows to help promote it, and she came up to me and said ‘I like your dress’ or something, and I remember thinking ‘Oh gosh, I don’t know who this girl is, but I like her!’ We became friends pretty quickly.
AF: What a dream come true for her. So how do you guys travel on tour: van, bus, or fly?
JZ: We have a van, a 12-passenger van. We drive around, we crash people’s houses.
AF: Who drives?
JZ: We take turns, but I would say Linwood drives the most.
AF: Any wild stories from the most recent run?
JZ: There was this one night where this guy was being kind of a douche bag. Everyone was pretty pissed at him…and I’m pretty sure that he was about to get it.
AF: Was he a fan?
JZ: I don’t know! I don’t really get it! He stood in front of me the whole set and seemingly enjoyed it, but he kept saying really rude things, it was kind of, I don’t know… I think part of him really liked it because it was good, haha! But I think the other part of him was something that deep down inside of him couldn’t accept that there were girls on stage. It was just very strange. And he was particularly kind of like trying to provoke me and stuff. He ended up getting kicked out of there though. He was also really wasted.
AF: Does that happen often, sexism from people in the crowd or music industry?
You know, not all the time, but it happens occasionally. Most people aren’t that aggressive, subtle stuff is more common.
AF: What recommendations do you have at the moment from the Nashville music scene?
JZ: Adia [Victoria] is my favorite new artist from Nashville at the moment. It’s been interesting over the past five years, because they say there’s like 85 people a day moving to Nashville. It was kind of weird whenever people started saying ‘Oh yeah, I moved here from LA, New York, and we’re like ‘Oh wait, what?’ It used to be the opposite. People from Nashville moved to LA and New York. But there’s just been more and more bands.
AF: Is the country sound – one a lot of people associate with Nashville – one you embrace?
JZ: When we started our band the first album was country, but it wasn’t like….Nashville country. It was something totally different. I think we found pretty quickly that we didn’t really fit within that world because it’s kind of traditionalist world, and what we were doing we felt was a little bit more punk, it terms of playing country, but not being reverend to what country is supposed to be. Just doing our own thing. We eventually started moving out of that towards garage rock. But ever since then we’ve always been categorized as country. I mean, I’m from Tennessee. I’ve got a country accent, and when I sing it’s pretty obvious. So no matter what genre I’m singing I’m still going to have a country accent. So I don’t really think of us as country music, but I do think of us as a band from the South. I don’t feel like I’m one kind of artist or another; I just feel like I make music, and that music is a reflection of who I am. I am a woman from the South. If that’s what country is then I guess we are!
AF: I’m curious about your art, will you tell me about that? I know you’ve had some art shows.
JZ: Well both my parents are visual artists. I grew up doing visual art before I even started playing music. It’s really kind of like my foundation. Nikki’s the same way. So I’ve always done art alongside music A couple years ago when I was working on our last album Blur the Line, and in the same way that the album was much more about self examination than our first album, it was a little more personal and vulnerable. And I was doing a lot of self portraits around that time. The show was called Spit and it was mostly self portraits, but there was a few portraits of others sprinkled in there too, my friends and family. I just sort of got to this point where I was drawing myself a lot because it helped me bring up a lot of stuff about myself that I was wanting to tackle. I called them “demons” at the time. Things that I didn’t like necessarily or things that I had done. Things that had been done to me. And I just had been going through a weird time with my body, I was sick for a while and I got really skinny. I would draw ugly pictures of myself and I would draw more masculine features. Just like all these ideas I had about myself in my head to get it out there. I’m working on another show now, but it’s going to be a while before I get it done.
AF: That’s such a beautiful description of art as therapy.
JZ: Well, I’ve always used art as therapy. Before I ever started playing music. And I always kept sketchbooks growing up. Both my parent were artists as I’ve said, but my mom was very…we’re both kind of nuts, honestly. And she’s like, ‘If you don’t do art, you’ll be crazy.’ And that’s how I am – I have all this stuff, and if I don’t get it out in some way, if I’m not constantly creating I just don’t function. I need to constantly process everything to function.
AF: How does it feel to get your emotions out through your art as opposed to your song writing?
JZ: Art is a very singular process. I’m by myself and it’s one on one. And that [Spit] was my first show ever so that was really intense because for so long I had been doing this stuff in private and I didn’t know what it would feel like to put it out there to the world. So that was intense. For the most part it just feels like a much more private – and the thing is when you draw a drawing it’s just drawn. You just do it and it’s done. With music, in the beginning for me it is still one on one with myself writing, but then I take it to my band members and it changes, and for me I’ve got to be a little bit more open about it. It’s a collaborative experience. But I think both mediums are very scary – if you’re writing or drawing. To create pieces based on your own inner dialogue.
AF: What are you working on at the moment?
JZ: As a band we’ve been demoing new songs, and we’re kind of taking a little break from it since we’ve got these shows, which I’m feeling good about, because my brain needs a break! But yeah, we’re at the stage of: ‘Here’s a song, what do you want to do with it?’ It’s a weird phase because the songs aren’t quite there. It can be frustrating sometimes; it can be exciting sometimes. As far as art work I’ve been doing a lot of commissioned work for other people. And Adia and I just released a book, it’s like a double book where one side’s my book and one side’s her book. It’s poetry, both of our poetry, and then I illustrated. We’re going to be selling them at our shows. Her book’s called Lonely Language and my book’s called Purge. And they’re both Volume I, we’re going to do a second volume.
AF: So much art going on!
JZ: I try to keep myself busy all the time. No breaks! But I’ve got to slow down sometimes.