(photo: Nikki Pratchios)
Words by Michelle Kicherer
We are all such tiny, programmed machines
Stuffing more and more stones up our sleeves
Zelma Stone released their first LP Layla with Honey House Records on January 19. Leading up its release, they busted out a captivatingly strange music video for “Cut Hair,” released the single “Light Bulb Boy,” then headlined a nearly-sold-out Rickshaw Stop, full of fresh-faced fans singing along. Noise Pop just announced Zelma Stone is playing Swedish American Hall on March 3.
How do they react to the accelerated whirl of their success? They’re refreshingly humbled. “It’s like this switch went off and we started making all of these magical connections. All these little things started coming in from the universe they’re saying Yes, keep going, this is what you’re supposed to be doing,” says frontwoman Chloe Zelma Studebaker.
Chloe and drummer Jake Kissner met me one evening at a dim bar where a three-piece jazz band burst to life right as I walked in the door. I was greeted by a pair welcoming smiles, a big wave from Chloe and a gracious head bow from Jake. We found a cozy table in the back, where Jake told us he’d prefer Chloe take on most of the questions. “She’s the one to talk to!” he smiled with hands raised, to which Chloe laughed and shrugged with an accepting nod. Accompanied by some mellow jazz and a stiff beverage, we delved into the genesis of Zelma Stone’s weird music video, why Chloe thinks all-female bills are awesome, and how you just have to be pushy in this industry. But, you know, gently so.
The Bay Bridged: OK, can we start by talking about “Light Bulb Boy?” Because that song is so lovely and strong and complex — I’ve listened to it many times and I’m still finding new little parts.
Chloe Studebaker: Oh wow, thank you! I actually started that song a few years ago. It started with just that line, “you could be my light bulb,” but it was written during a really painful time and I had to just set it aside. But I couldn’t stop thinking about that line over the years.
TBB: What is that song about?
CS: How sometimes you’re just in something because it’s easy and feels mostly good but it’s also mostly just wrong.
TBB: You’ve mentioned that a lot of these songs revolve around difficult moments in your life.
CS: They do. I lost my brother and my mother. Then I inherited my brother’s dog (whom the album is named after). I had a hard breakup. So this album is about all of those things in a way.
TBB: You definitely feel that energy in these songs. “Light Bulb Boy” has an especially empowering vibe to it. There’s that line, “But here we are, you’re combing my bangs back as if I was numb, and there’s been nothing said.” It’s like, phew, yeah. Feel that. But it’s not just the words, it’s the backing, the composition — -can you tell us about how that song was created?
CS: For all of our songs, I’ll start with the lyrics — Jake and I write some of the lyrics together, too–and I bring some vision to the band with these kind of vague parameters and say OK, go! Make it weird and enhance it to an extreme degree. And they do!
TBB: So how does that collaboration work for you guys? You strike me as a politely pushy lady. You’re definitely the front woman of the band: so how does that energy play out?
CS: I really love the full band. I’m not complete without them. I never wanted to be a singer-songwriter type, up there with my guitar serenading a room. I’ve always wanted to play with a full, balanced band and I’m so grateful for them. For our chemistry.
TBB: So tell me about this music video for “Cut Hair.” Chloe, you seem kind of crazed in that video. That song has kind of a Kate Bush vibe anyway, so it fits pretty nicely with the cinematography.
(Chloe and Jake are laughing and shaking their heads, so I ask them:)
TBB: Wait, is this description bad? If I said you seem like a bit of a lunatic, how would that make you feel?
CS: Good! I don’t think we want to make anything normal, I guess you could say. For the video, this woman Vanessa Pla reached out to us and said she loved our music and would like to shoot our video.
TBB: So just — boom — happened?
CS: Kind of!
TBB: Well, that’s flattering. Seems like that type of stuff keeps happening to you guys. A meant-to-be type of thing.
CS: It does! It all just started happening from there. We flew her out here and she had this vision for the video and had us all acting — which I loved — and we think it looks really great. We’re so flattered at how many views it’s already gotten.
TBB: Man, it seems like things just keep “magically” falling into place for you. Isn’t that kind of how you got that record signed with Honey House?
CS: Yeah this guy Craig Jacobs (from SF group Baybs) saw us play a show at Anchor Steam Battle of the Bands. They’re on Honey House, and Craig pitched us to the label and we got signed. We ended up recording at Light Rail Studios. It was so flattering.
TBB: Wow! So aside from that meant-to-be factor, Chloe, you seem to have this air about you of: I’m really nice but I’ll get what I need. You’re not afraid to ask for things, which is so important, especially in this male-run industry. I mean, you reached out to me, you snagged your bassist via social media, the venues you’ve connected with, flying out your videographer. You’ve got your shit together.
(She and Jake both laugh. Jake chimes in:)
Jake: Chloe is pushy in a really nice way. I’m grateful for it. I think, as one of the male musicians in the group, it’s our responsibility (as men) to make way for women in this industry, too.
TBB: Amen. Chloe, do you feel like you have to be extra pushy to be heard?
CS: Sort of, yeah. I don’t want to take away from anyone else, though, I just want there to be more of a balance.
We ended our chat by nodding to this idea, enjoying the jazz music that started up at the cafe where we met, and, sweetly, ending with a hug. Onward, Zelma Stone, to Swedish American Hall and beyond! Catch them as part of Noise Pop’s killer lineup next week.
Michelle Kicherer is a fiction writer and music journalist living in Oakland, CA. She is the Associate Editor for The Deli Magazine, she enjoys long walks, and her second novel is in the works. Instagram @michellekicherer