Peoples Champ

Acclaim Allstars Card Zheani

Zheani

From Zheani’s oft otherworldly, perhaps tough aesthetic, one that bleeds from her social media platforms by the way of tattoos, crossbows and fake blood, you’d expect the 27-year-old Queenslander to hold a demeanour dismissive or possibly intimidating. In actual fact, she’s quite the opposite. Over the phone, with a passion distinct of a musician who truly loves their art, she converses with the openness of a friend, explaining her mindset in often hyper-analytical ways that give access to the behind-the-scenes of her musical process.

Albeit a little tired she explains that she’s been up all night working on a post for a new release, “I’ve only had a one hour nap at 6:30, I don’t usually do all-nighters so my brain’s a little crispy.” But this is a testament to her work ethic as well as a process that is decidedly DIY, one that instead of encroaching on the quality of her releases, enhances them to a point of originality unrivalled by any other artist in the industry. 

Most likely this comes from floating in a genreless universe somewhere between metal, screamo, trap, rap and pop, contributing to a discography that reflects someone thoughtful in their sound, “Sometimes I’m trying to create a manifestation spell”, she explains of her anomalous sugary sweet pop ballads like ‘Lava’ and ‘Lulu’, “that’s simply me trying to evoke a certain mind to kind of fight off the bad vibes.” Though this is the case, her heavier tracks like ‘Whore Of Babylon’ are what really define her, tracks that make space for her to really “rage out”.

It’s a Zheani we get to see briefly from ‘Dirtbike’ and ‘Skitz Cunt’ on her recent autobiographical Zheani Sparkes EP, but also in her latest release ‘Skinwalker’, a song about girls from Tumblr who “jack your entire fucking drip”. 

With Zheani’s year almost at an end, one more track and a bunch of merch left to release, we got to pick the young artists mind on various matters from constructing context with music, to creating work before its time, to embodying the dark feminine archetype. 

Acclaim Allstars 2020

So, how did you first get into music?
I hadn’t been vocal throughout my twenties at all and kept everything inside and been like slowly, slowly dulling and dulling, I wasn’t being my authentic self. There was a lot locked up inside of me that was slowly fucking sending me insane. And music is a medium where you’re using your voice and saying things to power, power to truth. There was a lot of fear based around music and the music industry and speaking my truth, but I really stepped into it and it just seemed this way to unlock myself and obviously it worked. Now, I’m able to really connect to people, like share my shit through—I say it’s rap—because rap is about telling your story and connecting and putting down information to people so they can connect with themselves. The genres are kind of blurred and weird so it’s not rap down the straight and narrow.

You’ve just released your Zheani Sparkes EP, it’s very autobiographical and you talk really explicitly about what happened to you when you were younger. Did you always want to make an EP that was dedicated to your past?
No, not at all. I was kind of fucking hung and quatered in 2019 in the media and on social media. I was judged really, really harshly for lack of judgement and decisions I made as a 20-year-old coming into my young adulthood. I just realized that by actually talking about who I am, I would be more at ease with people making judgements based more on fact. A way a person is brought up in their childhood, it shapes them, it shapes what they’re susceptible to, and the Zheani Sparkes EP was a way of me being like, “If you wanna judge me, that’s fine. I fucking went through all of this before any of that other shit”, so you’re not judging some random girl from the suburbs that had a nice mum and dad that were married and blah blah blah. But that’s genuinely why I made the Zheani Sparkes EP, I never had this desire to talk about all my fucking ghosts and skeletons in the closet.

Your sound is incredibly unique, it seems to move through heavy metal, screamo, trap but then goes into bubblegum pop sometimes, or ‘fairy trap’ as it’s been labelled. Do you have an overarching method to writing your music?
Well, first and foremost, to be completely honest, I think I have so much more to learn. The whole process has just been me slowly developing skills, learning new things about the process, learning things about myself and getting better and better with each song.  With the process of music I like just having fun and playing. I feel like the times that I will really knuckle down and write a really serious rap I need to be prepared to fucking put shit on the chopping block and just write things off. It might be the best shit you think you’ve ever written and something you want to say but if it doesn’t sound good you need to just scrap it. What’s really working for me is just writing off the top of my head in the studio with the beat and then recording it immediately. When you write on the spot you’re not as emotionally attached to your lyrics, so you can trash them a lot easier

This month has been a really great month for me, the momentum has kept going and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that music taste is starting to catch up with things I had in my catalogue back in 2018. So things that I made a couple of years ago that I’d completely forgotten about, people are finding because they’re more open to different sounds and they’re running that shit up super hard in 2020. And that’s really gratifying and it shows me that I was really on the right track, and that you need to not really pay so much attention to the response you’re getting and more to what feels right and natural to you. So I’m really falling back into that groove.

With music being a focus, would you say there are other forms of art that you use to express yourself, and is there one way that trumps the rest?
I think that there is a time and a place for all different forms of art. I am using multiple mediums all at once so I’m not just making music, I’m also doing all of the photography and aesthetic work by myself and with my partner. It’s all internal, no outside artists are working with us for that. So the music videos that you’ve watched, except ‘Fear is a mind killer’, have been made by just me and my partner. No editors, no cameramen, it’s just a two-man band. I do my hair and makeup too. It’s balls to the wall stressful sometimes. Sometimes you look at video clips you watch and you’re like, “Well, that was fucking amazing!” and then you look at the credits and you’re like, “Oh, 30 people worked on it, well I don’t feel as shit anymore [laughs]”.

You’ve just released a new video for ‘Skinwalker’, when it comes to your videos your creativity is always so impressive. How do you come up with the concepts for them, what’s the process behind them?
It’s always different. Sometimes I’m trying to create a manifestation spell, I’ve got a couple of super sugary bubblegum tracks circling around Youtube, and that’s simply me trying to evoke a certain mind to kind of fight off the bad vibes. I’m naturally a more stern, serious, kind of person. With ‘Skinwalker’ it was more about showing my true energy and aesthetic in a video clip cause I realized that I hadn’t done that yet. It was more about really getting back to who I am and moving forward. With ‘Lava’, my last video clip, we’d film a scene and the moment I thought the camera wasn’t filming I’d stop smiling. And if you watch the music video it’s just me having fun and being lighthearted and being all cute, but that’s just not who I am. I was like fuck I can’t do that again, especially not after 2020, I just want to like rage out and get that energy out.

Do you think you purposely make softer music, as you said before, to manifest positive energy?
Yeah, I’ve gone through some extremely hard trials and tests in my life, and in my music career, and I do believe in the power of will, and energy. And it’s just kind of like my own music can be an incantation that you put all your desire into in different ways. It’s a weird abstract way of approaching song-making but it lets me be a bit more free than if you approach it like I’m just going to make a cool song.

You just let things come out as they are?
Yeah, let your freak fly. I feel like there’s plenty of roles in life where you need to be really straight and narrow but I don’t think art and music are one of them.

I’ve noticed that there’s an element of mythology in your work. You talk about Babylon the Great, and The Mother of Harlots, and you also talk about Skinwalkers in your latest track…
Yeah, a Skinwalker is a witch or a warlock person who is never a healer, is what I read. The interesting thing about ‘Skinwalker’ is that before I wrote the song I used tumblr. Skinwalker is what you would call some random crazy bitch that studied your vibe and decided to wear your skin, so that’s what ‘Skinwalker’ is about, a bitch that jacks your entire fucking drip. But then I looked it up, and in Navajo culture, they have this folklore of the Skinwalker that mimic and shapeshift into the form that will do them service. They’re an evil witch and they’re never a healer. And I was like, “That’s synchronicity, that’s exactly what a tumblr Skinwalker is”, and I love that it has this dual nature, it exists more than internet slang.

Is there something about those archetypes like Babylon the Great, and The Mother of Harlots that you relate to?
Yeah, also Kali Ma, Goddess of time, The Destroyer. All of these archetypes are really important to me. It’s about embracing that dark essence of what it is to be part of the female realm and understanding that there is energy that we can tap into within the collective unconsciousness, something that Jungian philosophy delves deep into. I feel intrinsically linked to the dark feminine, the shunned female, the one who is cast out and shamed often for her sex and sexuality, and it’s always attacked from the masculine side. These feminine archetypes got me through the most challenging time in my life, which happened to be a time where I kept on making music, making art whilst going through real life things that would break an average human.

Is that what the intro to ‘Whore of Babylon’ is related to?
Yeah, so that’s from a scripture where they talk about Babylon and hell reining down. That’s a powerful quotation. Again tapping into a collective unconsciousness archetype, by revisiting powerful works and utilising them in modern art, in the same way Morrissey would tap back into things and books that inspired him that he’d directly quote in his music.

As an artist with a strong aesthetic when it comes to the music you make, do you ever listen to or observe other artists and their work, and notice a standout mentality or process, maybe one that you try to emulate in your own work?
Honestly, it’s kind of the opposite, I try to keep my blinkers on and not pay attention to what other people are doing. I’m a bit of a cocky cunt and I have a bit of an ego and so I’m really proud to be original, and one of my methods in truly convincing myself that I’m original is by not following other people that are making waves in music and that are trending by kind of inoculating myself from outside influence.

It’s interesting though because one of my biggest influences in music would be Bright Eyes. I love him, it’s beautiful music and it’s something that I’m always reaching to turn on since I was a young teenager. There’s real testament to that man’s talent because the new project that he released is fantastic. It’s true artistry, true poetry and he has not lost that spark, so that’s something I really look up to.

Are you looking to collaborate with anyone in the future? And also what makes a good collaborator for you?
Yeah, so I just released a track with Jazmin Bean and that was the first collaboration I have done in 2020. It was good because I usually do all of my mixing and engineering, with Jaz, they sent me the beat and I just let my shit fly, engineered it and made this entire vibe and they were able to take that and run with it.

A good feature means someone that takes something you’ve done, doesn’t fuck with it at all, leaves it as is, and you don’t have to do anything else. A good feature would be an artist that’s open to left of centre sounds and ideas, artists that are genuinely approaching me for the kind of music I make and genuinely like the kind of music I make. That’s why I’m talking about the Jazmin Bean feature cause it came out a couple of days ago and it’s fucking dope. And they approached me because they like what I did and I just did what I did and they were happy with it. That’s a good feature.

What’s for you in the future and can we expect any more new releases soon?
So I am gonna drop my final song of the year on the 20th of November and it’s very fitting for 2020, it’s called ‘Brave New World’. The main verse I did straight off the bat and it’s got this manic insanity part, it’s a vibe. It’s a way for people to channel their feelings on the current state of the world. I’m also gonna drop some merch, I’ve got a bunch of things to finalise for the end of the year and then I will be able to finally have a clean slate and work on a bunch of new shit. I’ve had a hard 2019, 2020 did not go according to plan, and I think everyone can relate to that. I just wanna play, I don’t want to be taking things too seriously. I just want to make some bangers. I’m really in the bangin’ mood.

Follow Zheani here for more.

Words: Julie Fenwick
Photography: Mikolaj Falicz