London Duo Zelah Amp Up the Drama on Cinematic Debut EP

Zelah Van-Gowler and Elliot Neale met during a music class in college, and ever since moving to London after graduation, they’ve been hard at work on their indie pop project Zelah, which released its first album on May 1. With audible inspiration from bands including London Grammar and Glass Animals, the album explores the transitional moments of life, from quitting jobs to ending relationships.

Van-Gowler, in fact, credits a breakup for the EP’s inception. “It was kind of my first proper relationship, and that was coming to an end about the same time that this started up, so it was perfect timing,” she says. The track “Run Away” is about that relationship, while “Closer” deals with Van-Gowler’s subsequent experiences in the London dating scene, and “Static” expresses infatuation with a new love interest.

“Let Go,” the last song on the EP, was inspired by Van-Gowler’s frustration with an unfulfilling day job as an assistant at a digital agency when she longed to devote herself to music. “It’s basically just about that feeling that you’re in the wrong place and not quite where you’re meant to be and something’s kind of off with what you’re doing — this urgency to feel something real and be doing something that you really believe in,” she says.

Nowadays, Van-Gowler’s life is dedicated to music; when she’s not working on Zelah, she’s working for an indie record label. “My whole life has always been music for me, and every other job has never really equated to the feeling I get with making music, so I feel like now I’m in a much better place with it,” she says. Neale, on the other hand, enjoys his day job in retail. “I actually like the separation,” he explains. “Otherwise, I think I get too in my head about music.”

Rather than sit down to write music together, the two usually write in stages: Van-Gowler will write a song’s lyrics and melodies, and then Neale will come up with the chords (or that process will happen in the opposite order). “I can’t write lyrics when I’m around other people,” says Van-Gowler. “I just kind of have to be by myself and be in my own zone.”

Their goal with this EP was to create music that sounded fit for a Hollywood action film soundtrack. “We’ve always loved quite dramatic-sounding music,” says Neale. They accomplished this through heavy bass sounds and, in the case of “Let Go,” cello. The addition of the instrument was a last-minute decision after a cello-playing friend of the producer’s heard the track.

The EP’s title is meant to read as “one,” a simple way to demarcate this as the group’s first EP. Their plan is to release more under the monikers II and III, which Neale sees as part of the dramatic theme: “It kind of reminds me of ‘act one’ or ‘act two.'”

Currently separated in different parts of the countryside, the band members are grateful that the state of the world today is compatible with their usual process. As they work on their second act, they’re checking out Netflix movies and Instagram cinematography for inspiration.

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