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.

PREMIERE: ZZZAHARA Confronts Death With DIY Ethos in “Starry Eyed” Video Debut

musician Zahara sips a bubble tea in front of a lavender wall covered in graffiti
musician Zahara sips a bubble tea in front of a lavender wall covered in graffiti
Photo Credit: Amy Avazian

On her debut single “Starry Eyed,” ZZZAHARA (a.k.a. Zahara Jaime of The Simps and Eyedress) proclaims, almost proudly, “I’m already on my way/One foot out, and one foot in the grave.” This morbid hokey pokey isn’t mere ambivalence; it’s a vehicle for Zahara’s existentialist approach to life and making music, one in which she controls her own decisions and finds her own meaning in an often irrational world, moment to moment.

Zahara’s nonchalant carpe diem philosophy was influenced by unthinkable tragedy – the “close calls” she’s had with death since the age of twelve, when her younger brother passed away from Leigh Syndrome after a long and agonizing hospitalization. Zahara mentions her late brother in “Starry Eyed” only briefly, but the impact of his death is something she only recently came to terms with. “It just really boinked what I thought about life. All my friends lived a normal life, but I couldn’t wrap my head around what I was going through. I guess it kinda hit me in my early adult years, like what the hell did I see?” Zahara says. “It was confusing, that’s how I would describe it. I was sad but… I never processed it really, I just was worried about my parents. But then as I got older I was like, you know what, actually I have to process it myself.” Zahara says that therapy, philosophy, and music have all played a role in making sense of what happened. “Ultimately, my philosophy, it’s not too dark. It’s just like, I have to deal with making the world a comfortable place for me to live in, but I also want it to be comfortable for everybody that I let in.”

“Starry Eyed” finds Zahara taking comfort in sleeping all day, drinking all night, and sometimes just closing her eyes and pretending she doesn’t exist. The video was shot by first-time director (and Zahara’s roommate) J.J. Lammers; black and white scenes give it a noir feel. Zahara pours whiskey in her coffee, explores a graveyard. Suddenly she’s lying in the bottom of a hole in the ground, covered in a fine layer of dirt. In the next scene, she’s also the one shoveling – a literal interpretation of line that repeats in an otherwise minimal chorus: “I’m d-d-d-d-igging my grave.”


Zahara says the line is reflective of her cavalier approach to mortality, and also how she feels about living in general. “I do struggle with depression sometimes. There are times where I’ll sleep for a week and I’ll feel okay the rest of the month,” Zahara admits. “I live life on the edge a little bit… I like to have fun and sometimes that fun is a little risky. A lot of people fear death – people that look to life as something to be super optimistic about. I’m kind of in this purgatory, like in the middle where it’s not so good but it’s not so bad.”

Like it has for so many others, the pandemic threatened Zahara’s characteristic stoicism when she lost her day job. But she took it in stride, using the combination of unemployment funds and spare time to get serious about home recording. Zahara had played in bands for years in and around the Highland Park neighborhood where she grew up, and recently joined forces with Idris Vicuña, playing guitar in his project Eyedress. The two are also planning to release music from their collaborative project, The Simps, by the end of this year.

Zahara says Vicuña’s encouragement and guidance sparked her interest in producing her own music, and was further buoyed by support from her friend Collin Cairo, a mixing engineer at Stones Throw. Cairo pointed her toward YouTube and Sound on Sound Magazine; eventually, Zahara invested in a thirteen-hour online engineering course with Alan Parsons, as well as new mics, a laptop, software plug-ins, a synth and a bass guitar. Every other day, Zahara would record a new song based on what she’d learned from Parsons’ videos, and those songs comprise ZZZAHARA’s debut EP, out October 23.

“Everything that I learned from those classes I really put into what I made on this EP,” explains Zahara. “It’s kind of like giving yourself homework. [My] music from the start of quarantine to the end [shows that] progress: watch some things, learn things, take from it, and then do whatever you like. That’s what I was doing all of quarantine.”

The EP deals mostly with being young, queer, and looking for love. “Spam Masubi Cigarette” is a heart-pounding tribute to her current partner, who she says she was grateful to get to know better when the pandemic drew them closer. “Up On Fig” and “Straight Crushes” describe more confusing situations – an affair with a neighbor, unrequited teenage fantasies about girls with boyfriends – and though “Starry Eyed” is somewhat of an outlier thematically, all four tracks are tied together with dreamy, shimmering production and Zahara’s wistful reverb-heavy vocals. Cairo helped mix the EP, but the production was all Zahara. The vocal effects were recorded on a performance mic and edited with Ableton plug-ins – another trick she learned from Parsons’ videos, particularly one that featured Lauryn Hill.

Though it may never have existed if not for the pandemic, the EP is much more than a holdover linking Zahara’s musical past and her future. “I’m just really proud of being able to produce an entire EP by myself during quarantine,” Zahara says. “This is basically me saying hey – I learned something and here’s a little piece of me. If I seem mysterious, it’s kind of an introduction to who I am.”

Follow ZZZAHARA on Instagram and Twitter for ongoing updates.