I first saw – more importantly heard – Zula at a show at Glasslands in Williamsburg. Being the support band for Jana Hunter (Lower Dens) I didn’t expect to pay too much attention. I was excited about Hunter and honestly, whatever happened before just needed to happen quickly. Or at least that’s what I thought. Because when Zula started performing I found myself oddly intrigued and fascinated by what was going on. A sort of indefinable mix of what seemed like most genres known to man wrapped the venue in a firm grip that forced my feet to walk a step closer to the stage every time a song ended. When it all eventually did end I was simply stunned. I decided to buy their record then and there. This definitely needed some more attention.
I was lucky enough to catch Zula at another show a couple of nights after the first encounter. Band members Nate Terepka and Henry Terepka agreed to have a cup of coffee with me the following day. Here’s how our talk went down.
Tell me a bit about how it all started?
Henry: It’s pretty straightforward. Nate and I are cousins.
Henry tells me that their family is from the Western part of upstate New York. He appoints their grandmother, a church organist, as the main reason for the music in the family’s blood. Nate and Henry spent a lot of time together as kids and their shared taste in music was pretty obvious from a young age.
Henry: After we were done with school it seemed very natural to get together. We still wanted it to be a band and we wanted other people to get involved. We play with a rhythm section and they have a lot of character and contribute to the voice of the band significantly.
Other than Nate and Henry Zula consists of Pablo Eluchans from Chile, and Noga Shefi from Israel. Henry met Pablo because they shared a music space in Queens. Pablo stepped in as a substitute drummer one night and the fit seemed undeniably perfect. Noga’s been the bass player since January and they found her at an audition.
So auditioning must be a challenge – can you tell if you’ve found the right one instantly or how does it work?
Nate: We auditioned around 10 bass players over the course of two days. They had to learn three songs and then we did a jam. Just to see how we’d vibe musically with them. It was really fun. But yeah, it was a hard pick – or it would have been if Noga hadn’t been there. It was just right with her. The personality has to be there too. You spend so many hours in the car, at practice, and so on. It is sort of like a family.
Nate continues telling me about the auditions, and how they found it fun to do jams with different people that clearly didn’t have the same style as them. It would take them places they wouldn’t go otherwise. While Nate’s talking my mind wanders and I realize that I’m not surprised by his enthusiasm. As noted before, Zula is everything but just one sound, or one output. The music incorporates so many styles, genres, and emotions. To me it feels like it not only wants to walk unfamiliar territories – it longs for it.
These thoughts take me to a question that I find almost difficult to ask. I feel like I might ruin some of the magic that surrounds the music. I ask anyway.
I kind of want to ask this question and then I don’t. It might be better not explained. But here it goes: How would you yourselves describe your sound?
Henry: Yeah, people ask us that a lot. An immediate response would be groovy psychedelic pop. We grew up listening to Beatles and stuff, and then later on we became interested in krautrock, dance, punk and more experimental things. So, I think we want to take that spark of pop and then put it into a more thoughtful context.
So – with that in mind – what are the elements of a good song?
Henry: Oh boy.
Nate: Surprise is really important. Whether it’s startlingly direct or straight and simple, or just goes places you don’t expect it to go. I like when the components are rubbing against each other.
Henry: Yeah, definitely. Tension and contrast and the interplay of things. I like when there’s more than one active force.
They start talking about the intangible meaning of ‘vibe’, and how sometimes you can’t really explain why some songs are good because they shouldn’t be. The ‘je ne sais quoi’ as Nate calls it.
Nate: Yeah, we’re all chasing that magic.
There’s that magic again. Apparently, I’m not the only one thinking about it. The word magic can easily be abused to an extent where it doesn’t really mean anything anymore. And we’re obviously not talking about sparks flying out of a wizard’s wand or anything like that. More so, it’s the unexplainable feeling of something special happening right before your very eyes – or ears in this case.
Nate: Well, it’s fun. And we’re still at a place where we just want to expose ourselves to new people. And we can play a fair amount of shows that are going to be good in terms of being able to play with bands where the bill will be strong and people will want to come out. So I mean, why not?
Henry: Being in this band I have definitely learned how much community and the social side of it matters. You can make really powerful music but that’s only one side of it. In order to do justice to it you have to support your peers and be out there.
Experiencing all these shows I have to ask if there’s one in particular that stands out, or if it’s all just a blur. The latter is certainly not the case. From a recently show at The Batcave, NJ (their last show before closing) with Alex G and a small house show in Davis, California to a big show at La Poisson Rouge in Manhattan with Jasmine Hamdan a couple of years ago the mentioned shows vary quite a bit. Mostly both Henry and Nate put emphasis on atmosphere and the well-rounded feeling of a show as a whole.
Nate: Basically, I feel like any show is good. The only time we’re like bummed out about a show is if we feel like we did a poor job.
What’s the most flattering thing anyone’s ever said about you guys?
Henry: That wasn’t just total bullshit?
Nate: Nice set, man!
Nate: Okay. No seriously, I think it’s when someone tells me that our music has been a big part of a period of his or her life or helped them through something. That’s really reaffirming. You just don’t hear that a lot.
Henry: Yeah, that’s good. I like that.
Last one: shout-out time. What should people in Denmark listen to?
Henry: Uh, shout-outs! I really like the new Mr. Twin Sister record.
Nate: Celestial Shore, Jerry Paper, Ava Luna, Guerilla Toss, Cloud Becomes Your Hand, and Leapling. They’re actually about to put out a record on Inflated Records.
Henry: We’re just scratching the surface here. Also Tiny Hazard and Friend Roulette definitely.
The guys keep going and I have to interrupt them after some time. I ask what’s next for Zula. They tell me that they’re working on new material and practicing every chance that they get. They just want to be better Nate tells me. I guess chasing that magic isn’t something that comes to you without any effort. Magic or not, something got me interested that night at Glasslands. And I’m pretty sure these guys won’t stop until we’re all paying attention.