Zzzahara and Ynes Mon Join Forces on Debut U.S. Velvet Video

Photo Credit: Robb Klassen

Like mixing baking soda and vinegar in a science fair volcano, L.A.-based musicians Zahara Jaime and Collin Davis couldn’t help but react explosively once their powers combined.

Jaime has been hard at work on their solo project under the moniker Zzzahara, as well as playing guitar with Eyedress and in The Simps (both with Idris Vicuña). Davis makes expansive ambient soundscapes as Ynes Mon, releasing his debut LP Holyhead in March of this year. But once the pair started bonding over drum machines and post-punk, their combustible collaboration as U.S. Velvet began to take shape, and last week, they released a video for their eponymous single, directed by Brother Adam Willis.

Angular dance punk guitars, disenchanted attitudes, and a skronky sax solo from the mysterious Folerio soundtrack the world’s weirdest pool-party, populated mainly by cardboard cut-outs that stand in for a bygone era of idealized Hollywood glamour. “To me, the song is this hedonistic embrace of nihilism in present day America and the video reads almost like the opening scene from Blue Velvet… playing into the white picket aesthetic of the MAGA ‘American Dream’ while exposing true darkness that is hiding underneath,” explains Davis. “Then there’s Z and I, subverting and wreaking havoc upon it, like the slasher in a ’70s horror flick.”

“We live to erase/Take me to a far gone place,” the duo shout-sings, building up an arsenal of surrealist imagery along the way. Their nihilistic critique of modern-day struggle comes from observing it first-hand in rapidly gentrifying Highland Park. Jaime was born and raised there; Davis migrated from the Bay Area after dropping out of college to pursue music. “Z and I both worked service industry jobs on the same block. I had known Z very casually for a couple of years and we would just give each other free drinks at our wack jobs,” Davis remembers. “I think Z thought I was Billie Eilish’s brother for a long time because he was also a regular.”

“Collin was so friendly – every time he’d come up to me and be super smiley, and I’m just like, dude… why are you so happy all the time? Like, I’m fuckin’ miserable in my life, why are you so cool?” Jaime says with a laugh. Davis suggested they go to The OffBeat’s regular Monday night drag open mic, and though Jaime scoffed at the idea initially, they both eventually wound up there.

“Looking back I was pretty persistent on hanging out in the beginning but now they are one of my closest friends and collaborators so I’m glad I did,” says Davis. “I just always thought they had such a cool vibe from afar and then my good friend booked them at a show so I knew they were homie verified.”

By then, Davis had started working as a producer and sound engineer at Stones Throw Studios, a job he got through a mutual friend after working in a couple of different studios around L.A. “Working with all the artists who come through has been a huge blessing,” he says. “I’m always peeping game in studio sessions and learning from other artists’ process.”

It was a blessing for Jaime too, who had been recording at home for years, to finally have access to a studio setting – and their musical chemistry was on point. “Collin has taught me so much about audio stuff,” they say. “He can just read my mind and that’s why I love working with him so much. He’ll be like, ‘I feel like you need to tap into a more emotional riff…’ He brings out the better musician in me and I think I bring it out in him too because we feed off of each other. We could put together [ideas] and it becomes this poppy dark wave instrumental and it’s so sick.”

Still, Davis says, he and Jaime had no intentions of starting another band at first. “We went into Future Music on York Boulevard to browse and I pointed out a cool drum machine. The next day Z showed up at my door with the same drum machine in hand. Within 48 hours we had recorded two U.S. Velvet tracks,” he recalls. “Z and I have pretty different taste in music but we both love late ’70s and early ’80s post punk and goth so even though it was never discussed I think that became a natural jumping off point for our sound.”

Last year, they released debut single “Sleep Paralysis,” which sprawls gorgeously into the goth territory of songs like The Cure’s “Lullaby.” While “U.S. Velvet” is decidedly more boisterous, making use of cool audio tricks like a chopped up, backward vocal, both provide a nice entry point for the band’s sonic touchstones. The version of “U.S. Velvet” posted to Bandcamp is a full minute longer than the cut used for the video, thanks to a chaotically transcendent guitar solo bridge that somehow conveys just as must angst as the song’s despondent lyrics. And yet, the overall sound is nervy, infectious, and perfect for an apocalyptic dance party.

Regardless of the darker influences and motifs they’re drawn to, Jaime and Davis clearly approach U.S. Velvet from a place of wanting to have fun with it, and they develop songs for the project on a rolling basis, not worried about where they’ll go. In the meantime, Liminal Spaces, the debut album from Zzzahara, will be out on Lex Records sometime next year; Davis says he has been working on “a good amount of psych-R&B where I’m singing, and at least two instrumental albums made in collaboration with a therapist for psychedelic assisted therapy.” He will also release a song and video called “Sun Eyes” as Ynes Mon soon, with “a couple full projects done waiting in the wings for the right time.” When it comes to U.S. Velvet’s prescient dark-wave nihilism, it feels like there’s no better time than now.

Follow U.S. Velvet on Instagram for ongoing updates.

RSVP HERE: Automatic stream via Bandcamp + MORE

Automatic are an LA post-punk three piece composed of Izzy Glaudini on synths/vocals, Lola Dompé on drums/vocals, and Halle Saxon on bass/vocals. Their 2019 debut record Signal sounds like Suicide and Broadcast formed a supergroup to play at the end of a David Lynch film.

I spent a month in LA last February and my only regret is not catching their minimal synth soaked vibes live. Luckily they’re playing a few Bandcamp livestreams – the first being tonight at 7pm ET! – leading up to the release of their remix album out March 26, featuring new versions of Signal tracks from artists like Sudan Archives, Peaking Lights, John Dwyer, and Peanut Butter Wolf. We chatted with Automatic about records they will never get tired of, watching The Parent Trap 500 times, and custom fretless bass magic.

AF: How was the writing and recording process of your debut record?

HS: It was such a blast. We recorded with my boyfriend Joo-Joo Ashworth at Studio 22 and it was just so fun that we’re doing it again for album #2.

IG: It’s interesting to write so collaboratively because ideas evolve quickly and change as they’re passed between members of the band. You learn to be open to songs evolving. And we’re all pretty close so it’s fun. 

LD: Recording is my favorite part of the whole process because you get to really hear your song for the first time and add all the fun details. Writing with Halle and Izzy is amazing.  We’ve always made an effort to create a safe and fun space for writing. I think we work really well together, and songwriting pretty much happens very naturally. 

AF: How did your upcoming remix album come together?

IG: Peanut Butter Wolf, who runs [our] label [Stones Throw], suggested it as something to release during these unholy Corona Times.  We contacted artists we knew and loved and had them rework the songs however they wanted. Remixes are fun because other people do all the work. 

AF: What are your favorite pieces of gear? 

HS: My favorite piece of gear is my old Egmond bass that someone manually ripped the frets out of. I don’t play it anymore cuz I changed its magic strings and now it sounds terrible. But it’s a relic that I’ll keep forever and has nothing but also everything to do with my current bass sound.

IG: Maracas, the Holy Grail reverb, and my Moog Sub25 synth.

LD: I just superglued a Roland trigger to my kick drum and I love it! You can make it trigger any sound you like. 

AF: What non-musical things inspire you?

IG: My boyfriend has a cat named Pepe, and he’s got such a lust for life. Prowling animals in general.

LD: Fashion, movies and nature.

AF: What movies would you watch over and over again?

HS: Izzy and I both watch the LOTR trilogy on a regular basis.

IG: The sweet inner child in me likes LOTR and anything with magic. The dark demon inside wants to watch American Psycho or Repulsion

LD: I watched The Parent Trap probably 500 times from age 9 to 11. These days I like to watch a movie once… unless it’s Love Actually around Christmas time. 

AF: What’s a record that you’ll never get sick of?

HS: I’ll never get sick of Neu! or Suicide self-titled albums.

IG: David Bowie’s LOW.

LG: David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust.

AF: What are your favorite bands to play with and/or see live?

HS: I think we all agree: Bauhaus. But I also loved watching Black Marble every night, one of my favorite bands.

IG: Yeah! Also, hmm. John Dwyer is always a maniac. He practices in the room across from us at our rehearsal space so we get to hear free Oh Sees shows.

LD: Oh Sees are always fun, and I definitely never thought I would get to open for Bauhaus! I got to play with my friend’s band, Body Double, and I was super impressed by their music and show. 

AF: What was your last show before COVID?

HS: Opening for Shopping at 1720 in Los Angeles! We had just circled back to LA and were about to pass it again when shit hit the fan. So we were extremely lucky in that scenario! I know a lot of people that were caught in terrible tour situations that day that basically everything shut down. 

AF: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in the past year? 

HS: That capitalism is killing the earth and humans (duh, but I didn’t really get it before).

IG: I second that. I got pretty heavy into social/political theory. Chomsky, Marx, Foucault, Zizek. On a ‘chiller’ level, I got into yoga and meditation. 

LD: Staying open and curious and learning to love myself more. 

AF: What are your hopes for the next year? Next 5 years? 

HS: That everyone stops using Amazon.

LD: That people respect the earth and each other way more, so that humans, nature and animals can get their basic needs met. 

IG: Yeah it would be great if humanity stopped cannibalizing itself. But I’m down to make the soundtrack to whatever unfolds. 

RSVP HERE for Automatic via Bandcamp on 2/12 at 7pm ET.

More great livestreams this week…

2/12 Teeburr, Kola Champagne, Survivor Guilt (DJ Set)  via Elsewhere TV. 6pm Et, RSVP HERE 

2/12 Hyphenate with No Age’s Randy Randall, DJ sets by Action Bronson, Japanese Breakfast, Laura Jane Grace & more via Vans Channel 66 “On The Air.” 11am ET RSVP HERE

2/13 Proper, Eli¡ via BABY.tv. 6pm ET, $5, RSVP HERE

2/13 Mogwai via their website. 3pm ET, £15.00, RSVP HERE

2/13 Yeek, Jay Som, Ginger Root, Sosupersam via YouTube (88rising Lunar New Year). 9pm ET, RSVP HERE

2/14 Smashing Pumpkins, AWOLNATION, Portugal. The Man, Twin Peaks & more via JBTV Revolution Television Virtual Music Festival. 3pm ET, RSVP HERE

2/15 Shelter Dogs via FLTV. 8pm ET, RSVP HERE

2/16 Talib Kweli book launch via MURMRR. 7:30pm ET, $33, RSVP HERE

2/18 GZA, Scott Bolton, Sudan Archives, Quintron’s Weather Warlock, Via Imara via Atlas Obscura Rogue Routes. 8pm ET, RSVP HERE