I was in a pretty unhealthy relationship, where I found myself being constantly gaslit

By Maria Winter

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Zela, the enigmatic alternative pop duo hailing from the North East, have once again mesmerized listeners with their latest single, ‘Gaslighting isn’t real, you’re just mental’ – or just ‘Gaslighting’ if you want to keep it snappy.

At just 2 minutes 28 seconds, siblings Max and Liv Griff have constructed a track full of motivating self-assurance with an edgy sonic punch. Zela’s music transcends boundaries by taking audiences on an emotive journey, but ‘Gaslighting’ respectably takes that passion to a whole new level.    

Featuring an irresistible palette of alt-rock musicality alongside witty lyricism, this single perfectly embodies the duo’s signature eclectic style – think System of a Down meets Charlie XCX. 

I sat down with Liv Griff, lead vocalist from the duo, who delved into the depths of their newest offering – from musical inspirations to future visions.    

Having already racked up over 35 thousand streams on Spotify, your new single ‘Gaslighting isn’t real, you’re just mental’ has certainly made its mark on the wider music scene. Could you explain the inspiration behind the song and its overall message? 

“I was in a pretty unhealthy relationship at the back end of last year and early this year, where I found myself being constantly gaslit. After being made to feel like I was crazy (even though I was right all along), it was a song that I felt like I really needed to write, as I had a lot to say and get off my chest. The whole process happened very quickly, and it was extremely cathartic. Max writes the instrumentals for our songs and he came up with this simple four-bar bass loop on Logic. I came across the track when he was on holiday one day, sat down, and wrote the entire song in one go. It felt right and raw, and I didn’t touch any of the lyrics once the song had been written – the passion was truly there.”     

How do you hope this single resonates with your local and global audience? 

“It already seems to be connecting with a wide variety of people. We have landed some sick Spotify playlists, and when we’ve checked the stats, there’s a big chunk of listeners from the US. We initially thought that with it being quite a British song through the language and terms used, the hype would predominantly be in the UK, but it’s definitely getting further afield, too. I say ‘unfortunately’ because it’s not an experience that anyone should go through, but many people are resonating with the whole gaslighting theme. I’m just happy that I can offer some kind of space for others to let their emotions feel valid – be it rage, sadness, or whatever – it’s therapeutic.”   

What did the songwriting process look like for this single, and did it align with your music-making processes prior? 

“There’s never a set method that we stick to. We just kind of go with what feels right. I usually write 100 per cent of the lyrics, and although we do work with other producers, the foundations for the instrumentals always come from Max. We go through endless synth sounds and build layers together. Sometimes will vibe with what he creates and sometimes, I won’t, but that’s the beauty of having a bank of songs and sounds we can revisit. We work with a producer in Harrogate and we’ve developed a bank of channels which we now call the ‘Zelaments’ – which is totally cringe, but those channels are the epitome of our sound. We’ve got the blueprint now of what makes us who we are, and then we evolve from that each time.” 

Your music often tackles important societal issues. How do you see your role in using music as a platform for social commentary? 

“Songwriting fundamentally is a form of self-expression and therapy, but I want the listener to feel something and connect with the music too. I strive for that emotional response and connection. As long as I can be a voice for those people, then I’m doing it right. We see a lot of women, in particular, coming forward and explaining how our songs such as ‘I Want Attention’ make them feel empowered. I get shivers talking about it because that’s so important to me. Even on TikTok, I receive comments from people saying that they feel as if they’re in a room with one of their best mates and that they feel heard. I love how I can constantly connect with people online, and that’s been one of the driving forces behind our music.” 

How do you balance staying true to your artistic vision while catering to your audience’s tastes? 

“I do think that there’s a conversation in the room now that we’re moving forward. The early Zela a couple of years ago, when we first started releasing during the pandemic, were still testing the waters to see what worked for them. Now we’ve got that ‘unapologetic pop’ framework. It’s all about going for bold choices. When we release new material, we’re very conscious about the narrative – what have we just said and what do we want to say next? As an artist, you don’t want to put the same things out all the time, but you also want to stay true to yourself, so it’s something we are aware of.”  

As a duo from the North East, are there any specific venues or organizations that hold a special significance for you as musicians? 

“Firstly, the support from this region has been mega from day one. We put our initial single out and then the first lockdown hit around two weeks later, so we were stumped as to what to do – whether to push forward or put everything on hold. During that time, the support from the NE music scene was paramount. We had people from BBC Introducing, including Rianne Thompson and Shakk on our side, alongside other local bands reaching out. Forming those bonds in our early Zela era was vital for us. Obviously, we love going further afield to places like London or Manchester, but the hometown shows will always hold a special place in our hearts and they’re so important to us. The Cluny is wonderful, as well as Zerox. We even shot a music video at Zerox too – one minute you’re doing a gig somewhere, which then leads to something more creative and you meet even more inspiring people.”

Finally, how do you envision your contribution to shaping the North East music scene in the years to come?      

“I would like to think that we make a big mark in a good way! We want to continue connecting with people in the way we do and grow. I see the next couple of years being really good for Zela. We have got a number of cool things planned and we’re excited to expand. The support and love so far have truly filled our hearts with joy!” 

As Zela’s latest single continues to resonate with audiences, it stands as a testament to the duo’s ability to craft music that touches hearts and pushes artistic boundaries. With each release, Zela solidifies their position as trailblazers within the alternative pop scene, leaving a lasting imprint with their evocative melodies and profound lyricism. 

As fans eagerly await what unfolds next in the duo’s musical journey, one thing remains certain: Zela’s unique blend of authenticity and innovation with continue to captivate and inspire listeners worldwide. 

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