Hi ZHAO, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
I’ve been great! Just did a short showcase in LA, ready to share my new music with the world.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Lifetime”?
The original sketches for “Lifetime” actually started quite a while ago. I had recently moved to LA, and had an idea to write a song that captures the vibe of what I was experiencing, while also staying true to my own experience.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
LA culture, along with a personal romantic experience, served as the inspiration.
When I first moved out to LA a lot of my friends were DJs, and I remember going to their shows. That chill, poolside vibe was so ubiquitous from one event to another, and yet the conversations I was having at these events seemed to be completely detached. I decided to write a song that matched a carefree groove with real human emotion – something more than just sunshine and happiness. Telling someone you love them has consequences, and consequences aren’t a popular topic of conversation at a pool party.
How was the film experience?
Fantastic! It was really fun to exercise a different kind of creative muscle. A friend of mine downtown lent me his rooftop for shooting, and I brought a few other friends to operate the camera, lights, and sound. I love bringing talented people together and creating something from scratch, so this was a perfect opportunity to do that. We shot the whole thing in three hours, cut it over two days – it was mad efficient.
The single comes off your new EP Ride – what’s the story behind the title?
For me it’s a reminder to focus on the journey instead of building up expectations. This EP marks the first time I’m really taking myself seriously as an artist, and with that comes a lot of self-examination as well as a lot of potential for over-analysis. I’m a very analytical person when it comes to my creative work, so I wanted the title to be a reminder to let things run their course. It’s meant to feel somewhat carefree, but I think at its heart the message is quite important.
How was the recording and writing process?
I created the whole EP myself start to finish, so by now I’ve spent a lot of time with these songs! I tend to get pretty heady with the ideas surrounding my projects, both before and during the creative process. So once I have a few exciting ideas, I try to pin down a sonic palette and an overall concept. This time around I was discovering analog synths and drum machines, so those play a pretty big role in the sound.
I can definitely be a bit of a perfectionist, but having already spent countless hours on a previous EP, I decided to be a bit more reckless this time. I wanted to preserve what made the songs exciting to me in the first place, so I made sure I didn’t revise too much.
How has your upbringing influenced your writing?
I grew up with Chinese parents, where classical piano was really a means to get accepted into a good university. Though I did have some initial frustration with the instrument, I was kind definitely a natural – by high school I was winning state competitions. And while piano didn’t really inform my songwriting specifically, it’s definitely shaped the way I think about music arrangement and structure.
Because of the piano, I always imagine music at least two voices at a time. Having studied music theory in college, it’s relatively easy to recognize those voices as specific chords and arrangements. I also picked up perfect pitch while playing viola and guitar in high school – that’s been super helpful for translating ideas in my mind. So when I get struck with a musical idea it’s a relatively simple process to commit that digitally with a keyboard and a microphone.
Growing up with Chinese immigrant parents, I’ve always felt I had to make a decision between my American community and the cultural heritage I experienced with my parents and during visits to China. The Zhao project is my attempt to bridge those two sides. In other words, everything I’m doing right now is a reaction to my upbringing.
Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
I fell in love! I mean, it’s true – that’s really what happened. So these songs are all about my feelings and observations as they relate to that experience (which I’m still having). As for the individual tracks, I’ll spare you the details – I think if listeners go in with the concept of love in mind, they’ll get the right idea.
I want the music to have a life outside of my own process, and I hope it provides a setting for people to live in their own moments. My manager actually invited me to play “Lifetime” at his wedding – that’s the best kind of emotional response I could ask for.
Any plans to hit the road?
Of course! I’m super excited to start playing shows. The process of producing the music involved all kinds of different instruments and drum machines, so I’ve spent every day gearing those tools toward a live show.
I just performed downtown in LA this past weekend, so naturally I’m doing a complete overhaul of my live setup. I’m always looking for new and exciting ways to make my music, and I have a short attention span with things I already know how to do. So I’m working to build a show that will excite me every time I get on stage, while also making things exciting for the audience. Having an audience is something I take very seriously, and I want to give people the best of me. As long as I’m making music that bar will keep on rising.
What else is happening next in ZHAO’s world?
The EP will be dropping Oct. 27th, so I’ll be promoting that heavily. I also have a few tracks coming out with DJ Eric Sharp, so I’m looking forward to playing shows with him in support of that project. Overall I’m just excited to learn more, to grow as a performer, and to share my journey with everyone! I also have several ideas for a followup release in the works, so my guess is you won’t have to wait too long for more Zhao content.
As for long term? I’ll be taking the Zhao show on the road, and hopefully one day, to China.