Eko Zu, by Robert Alleyne

“For six months, we were literally just living as nomads,” recalls Zu'RI while we discuss her challenges as an artist in the Bay Area. She is a singer songwriter in Eko Zu, an organic, soulful house band. Her confession catches me off guard. Stories of the high cost of living in the Bay Area are commonplace, however, the more we talk the more it becomes clear these experiences have shaped the band's essence.

Eko Zu is composed of  Zu'RI, Z, and Zu'CH3N — three hybrids who were found on Eko Isle then made their way to the human world, or so the back story goes. Each has their own personality, “I'm the mom that's always uptight about shit,” explains Zu'RI who takes charge of describing each band member’s characteristics. “Zu'CH3N is always up in the sky, just kind of like the goofy cat, [and Z] he's the one who's always trying to be like, 'I'm the guy,' but really, he's really clumsy.”

Each character in the band is brought to life by the Polish artist Agroshka, who creates artwork for the group's albums and the animations projected at live shows. It’s pure, unashamed, feel-good fantasy — however, once you see the band perform, it becomes clear that this is a part of who the members are. Whether they have GoPros strapped to guitars or Zu'RI is live-streaming through Snapchat Spectacles, their spirit infects the stage, and it makes hearing about their strife even more poignant.

As we continue to speak, Zu'RI and Zu'CH3N say they were forced into their nomadic situation when their former landlord decided to move back into the place they shared in Milpitas. After, a string of events lead them to live on the road. “We literally had to make a bed every day [and] break it down every day,” explains Zu'RI. The pair had to make sacrifices and overcome their ego because opening up about the situation they were in was difficult. They soon discovered that “people want conversations more than they want toilet paper,” and it enabled them to create “solid, genuine connections” with their community.

Eko Zu, by Robert Alleyne

“Being on the road has taught us to only work with the things that are really necessary,” says Zu'RI. “We don't really need that much food to get by; it's just comfort.” Z, who was in LA during this period, expands on the concept: “I think there's so much excess, in everything that we do every day, that we just want more and more and more,” he says while reflecting on the situation Zi’Ri and Zu'CH3N were living through. “Partially [it’s] human inclination [to want more], but at the same time, I feel it’s part of what is wrong with this world. People just want more. They have a nice house, but now they want a yacht and meanwhile, there are families starving.”

Reflecting back these hard times has had an unexpected consequence shares Zu'RI. “I've been finding that I've been really enjoying my life more now that [I've had] all this shit,” she says. “It's been a beautiful process. We've been connecting with people way more than ever,” she shares.

If you pay attention, traces of what she speaks of can be found in the disco tinged beats the band makes. For example  “All I Ever," a song about longing and wanting. “We use a metaphorical ball of yarn illustrations because that's like all cats ever want; just balls of yarn. Humans, however, are a bit more complicated," says Z.

Eko Zu, by Robert Alleyne

“We call it message music, it's just stuff that people need to hear on an everyday basis,” says Zu'RI as she syncs their recent struggles with the music they make. There are a lot of topics they want to touch on. However, bring people together appears to be central to all of them.

When I ask about the conversations Eko Zu hope to stimulate through their music, Z says the band's goal is to engage outside of social media. “[With] the internet and staring at a phone screen all day, we're pretty hardened up in a way that is contributing to this continued calloused outlook on the world; and this lack of global empathy that is holding us back from moving forward.” He speaks with passion as he discusses society and the place the world is in right now. “We're kind of stagnant in terms of not really growing that much as a culture. So, I think we're just trying to get that conversation started and get people opened up a little more.”

The idea of getting people to open was serendipitously present when the trio was first forming as a band. “Our really good friend, who we met through Z, had her wedding at a zoo and at the tables she had all these masks of animals,” explains Zu'CH3N when I ask about the background to Eko Zu. They immediately started playing with the masks. “It was weird, you just put the mask on, and we just opened up,” continues Zu'RI. “When we put the masks on, all of a sudden we were going wild and we don't normally go wild like that. Then all of a sudden everybody else is using the masks and going wild too,” she reminisces.

This started a ripple effect which enabled Eko Zu to fuse Zi’Ch3N and Zu'RI’s fascination with animal medicine, video games, and spirituality to tell a story of how the natural world, with all its animal instincts, merges with the modern experience. Putting on the masks helps them to be a little more playful and less reserved. “Once the masks go on, they're not masks anymore; they’re our faces,” explains Z. They hope in the future people will turn up to their shows in masks and face paint to join in. “The whole idea behind them [the masks] is to get people a little bit more loose, a little bit less self-conscious,” he says. “If they can walk away from our show being one percent less self-conscious for the rest of their lives, just based on that night, then we've done our part.”

Eko Zu, by Robert Alleyne

On top of the personal struggles faced by Zu'RI and Zu’CH3N, they had the added challenge of being 400 miles away from Z, which made making music together difficult. “There's nothing like being in the same room with somebody where you can just really quickly bounce ideas back and forth,” says Z. To remedy this, Zu'RI and Zu'CH3N are planning on moving to Los Angeles to be with Z, and they hope this will strengthen their connection to each other as musicians. “We’re using the music as a vehicle to tell a story about some deeper substance,” offers Zu'RI. "It's hard to foster that when we're all so far from each other."

There are other advantages of being in LA, and the band share fond memories of their previous times together in the City of Angels — from being star struck by Tokimonsta to hanging out with Alina Baraz’s sound engineer. The idea of being around so many creative people is exciting, and they see it opening up new doors. “The really great advantage to LA is that there's just so much opportunity down there,” shares Z. “The Bay Area feels like there's a glass ceiling and it's also changing really quickly, to where a lot of the artists are being pushed out in any direction,” he says.

“I love staying in the Bay. I love it here, but, we do have to grind pretty damn hard just to live,” says Zu'RI. While there is clear love for the Bay Area, you can sense their future as a band is down in Los Angeles so they can be together and make the music they want. When speaking about their period living between spaces, Zu'RI mentions she has not truly been able to channel these experiences into her songwriting because she was always on the move. Being in SoCal will allow them to stop moving, and start making those meaningful human connections, through music, they are striving for.

EkoZu, NVO
Hawthorne
July 23, 2017
8pm, $12

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