EZI embraces depression and redemption in her forthcoming EP release ‘Afraid of the Dark.’
“It’s delicate, it’s how I’m made. I use these moments to create,” sings dance-pop powerhouse EZI on her self-explorative single, “Redemption.” It’s a line that shows all her cards, the concept that emotional vulnerability is fuel for crafting real, emotion-driven tracks that let listeners into her darkest moments.
With only three singles released off her upcoming EP, Afraid of the Dark, EZI is a rising name and a musical rookie. Though some may have seen her before – she starred in Nickelodeon’s “The Other Kingdom” and has featured in a handful of other projects – EZI’s music career has only just begun. Now, she’s the first artist signed to Steve Madden’s, (yep, the fashion designer) label 5Towns Records, and even after a mere three releases, it’s clear she’s got what it takes to make a name for herself in whatever genre she chooses to frequent.
Afraid of the Dark, to be released Jan. 12, 2018 via 5Towns Records, is an inspirational debut, one with complete lyrical transparency and vocal perfection. Each of the five tracks holds an individual importance, one that lets listeners into the mind of EZI and the moments she struggled to find her way out of a mental “rabbit hole,” a depression she holds to a standard of momentary perception. It’s rare to find a collection so emotionally raw, let alone in a debut project. It’s clear EZI is leading with her most selfless foot, publicizing her struggles and crafting a beautiful art form around what she considers one of the worst times in her life. And it’s one of the most valuable, well-constructed, tales of a self-relationship that’s been released on any creative platform in years.
The EP opens with party-worthy track “Dancing In A Room,” a song lyrically synonymous with self-empowerment. Many listeners have taken the message to represent a romantic relationship on its last legs. But remembering that the collection was written about EZI’s relationship with herself, the lyrics take a different angle. Lines like “I might be broken but it’s not showing, it’s how I’m coping,” hold a greater meaning and reflect multiple angles of interpretation, any way you spin it, filled with lonesome vulnerability.
The depth of the track’s message isn’t lost under dance production, but it is framed in a lighter way, adding a power to the track’s message that implies potential recovery and personal reformation. The sound proves EZI’s ability to compete with top names on the pop charts. It’s seen here, and in the other flawless dance tracks on the EP. Each is laced with EZI’s robust and sweet vocals and built on a solid foundation of inviting, statement-making production.
The still-unreleased “Anxious” shows a dramatic contrast to “Dancing In A Room,” by speaking with blatant intention and stripping down some of layers that made the first dance track such a radio draw. Its lyrics are universally relatable, speaking of obsessive overthinking and embracing the simple chorus lyric “I’m so anxious.” It’s a topic so relatable, yet rarely discussed in the pop genre, one obsessed with being confident and filled with untouchable attitude.
There is no one thing that EZI is good at: she’s good at it all. From her songwriting and vocal skills to her bravery in addressing mental illness with very few veils on the topic, it’s as if she’s inviting listeners into her home and letting them see all of the flaws in the woodwork, or crumbs on the floor. It’s the small imperfections in a story that make it appealing, and EZI has captured this in Afraid of the Dark, a collection designed to embrace the bad and make it sound good.
Atwood Magazine spoke with EZI about the inspiration behind the record, her musical roots and how she turned pain into art.
Atwood Magazine: Can you start from the beginning, when you found a love for music or decided it's what you wanted to do?
EZI: So my dad is a classical violinist. He’s a violin teacher. I think being exposed to so much music made me love it from a very early age. He’d always be playing violin or teaching from the house so I literally was never in silence. I was always surrounded by music. IT’s weird. For me, even when I was really little, I always had this weird gravity toward humming melodies that I would just make up. And I didn’t realize what I was doing, I would just sit by the window and hum some melodies. Or I always loved writing poetry. When I was eight, we had to write journals, and instead of writing actual journals I just wanted to write poems. So, I think for me it just came really naturally until I realized that it’s something I can actually do. It’s a real thing, not just something that I’m doing.
I’m trying to think of when it really started. This is the long story. When I was 15 I signed to an acting management, because I was also acting. I still am. Someone at the management heard me sing from an audition tape I made and they sent it to this music producer and a songwriter and they basically invited me into the studio to just record a couple of songs. I didn’t know… I wasn’t actively trying to pursue being a singer at the time because I really didn’t think that was even a possibility. But, going to the studio just lit this fire in me. I loved it so much. From there, I realized I needed to learn how to do it on my own. I started learning a little bit of guitar and I would really try to write songs on my own until I was 18 and I moved to the city for college, New York City, and everywhere I went, like I was at a party and if I met somebody I’d be like “We have to write together.” [Laughs.] It ended up being that through college I was writing a lot with one person, in his bedroom in Harlem, and we ended up writing a bunch of demos. And then, those demos were heard by, now, my manager, and he just heard something in my voice and my songwriting and wanted to work with me. As a writer, but he heard something in me as an artist. And that’s how it all came together.
I did get a chance to listen to your upcoming EP. I know it's based basically on your relationship with yourself.
Can you explain the process of writing that?
EZI: Yeah. So, I went to LA last summer, well not last summer, cause it’s fall…two summers ago, and I had a lot of free time cause I was on hiatus from this TV show that I was doing. I was like “You know what, I want to go to LA and spend a few months out there and just write.” After I got to LA I found myself extremely depressed, more so than I’d ever been in my life. I’m a very sensitive, emotional person. And I’m human. I go through ups and downs like anybody else. But this was very different. I just saw myself writing a lot about stuff that applied to me, but it wasn’t…I don’t know. Something was a disconnect, I think. If I had a crush on someone I’d be like “Okay, I’m gonna write about this feeling,” but the first song I wrote that definitely made my EP was “Redemption.” That just came from me feeling so down and so low. I literally couldn’t write about anything else. And I didn’t…I never wrote a song to myself, but that was the first song I did write to myself. And it came out so…it was so easy to write. It was one of the easiest songs I’ve ever written. It happened so fast. I just realized that there was something there. And I realized, like “Wow. That felt so good and that felt so natural. I know what this EP is gonna be about.” And then over the next few months, I flushed it out a little more and then I kind of got that whole Alice In Wonderland theme that is intermixed throughout the songs and a lot of the visuals. Yeah. It wasn’t something that was like “I’m gonna write to me!” It was more like, “I literally can’t think about anything else right now, so I’m gonna write about this.” And I realized that that method works. It makes for good songs!
Oh, absolutely. Can you explain a little bit about the Alice In Wonderland theme you have going?
EZI: Yeah, so at that point I was basically finished with my EP. I kept seeing this visual of Alice in Alice In Wonderland and the whole idea of waking up in a place that doesn’t feel like you, like falling down the rabbit hole and not being able to escape it. Even though in Alice In Wonderland, that place could have very well been her dreams or her imagination, but she couldn’t get out. That’s very much how I felt at that period in my life.
And, how much of those things are your perception? I’ve had those “I’m so low, nobody likes me…all this bullshit.” And that’s not true. But when you’re in a certain state of mind it’s very much the way you perceive it. I think in a lot of ways, the whole Alice In Wonderland motif applies to that too because it’s like the world you create for yourself is what you see.
And on the shallow end, I just really love the visuals. I thought there were some cool things we could do with the artwork. And for my third single, “Afraid of the Dark,” I literally sing those lyrics “Oh shit, I feel like Alice. Woke up in a rabbit hole, last night made it look like a palace.” That’s the one song that’s very blatant. But overall, it’s just a creative thing for me to bring it all together.
Yeah, that's a really cool concept to tie it all together. It does go perfectly with what you're trying to get across and the message of the whole collection.
EZI: Yeah. And I didn’t want it to be super obvious, too. I didn’t want for the artwork…for the third single, I’m falling. So it’s like falling down the rabbit hole. I’m really inspired by a lot of these images of someone falling in mid air. But I’m not wearing a dress. I’m wearing white and pants. I wanted to keep it true to me and also do a modern take so it’s no so blatant.
And what's given you the confidence to really explore these heavier emotions and feelings and to be comfortable putting that out in the public?
EZI: I’m also an actress. I’ve learned through acting how important it is…or at least I learned it first through acting, how liberating it is to put your life and your emotions into your art and how it can very much free you. At the time, I don’t know. With acting I always have this idea of the kind of actress I wanted to be. With music, I never had that idea. I just wanted to create. It was like my outlet for everything. That’s how it always was for me, and really, how it still is. I’m not making songs to be a popstar. I’m not making songs to get a lot of streams. Obviously, you want success in that way. But my goal was never to be a superstar. It’s just to create meaningful music. I think that outlet, just having that outlet, gave me that confidence. I never put any limits on the way I wanted to sound, or being scared of sounding too different or saying stuff that’s a little too out there. Cause that was the outlet from the part of me that was too scared to do all those things, which is in my real life.
This is your first time creating a full EP, right?
EZI: Yes. This is my first EP.
So, what have you learned about yourself through the process of writing and creating it?
EZI: Oh, that’s such a good question. I honestly think part of it is I learned how to really write for myself. I gained a lot of confidence over the last year, just in a room, writing, and trusting my own ideas. I think that’s a big part of it. I think the business aspect of it, going through the motions of getting everything together, taught me a lot about myself. It taught me how assertive I can be and how…I didn’t realize when I believe in a certain idea how stubborn I can be about it. I learned that I give a lot of critique and notes to my own songs and drive people crazy [laughs.] Anyone who is a part of my EP could very much testify to that. Yeah, I guess I just learned that I could do it. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s way more work than most people think. Unless you’ve actually done it, or you’re in music, I mean like anything. Anything that’s difficult takes a lot of work. But yeah, I learned how possible it is, and this is something I can actually do and I love. It’s a tangible thing now.
That's awesome. That's so cool. And what do you want listeners to gain from listening to your EP?
EZI: I want them to take away… it’s funny. Cause now I’m getting messages from people…someone actually messaged me a few days ago about “Dancing In A Room” and they were like “Hey, I’m actually writing a paper for college and I’m analyzing your lyrics and I just feel like there’s so many greater meanings than dancing alone in a room. I feel like it’s about a break up, or this or that.” I mean, in some ways it was a little bit about somebody, but they gave it a whole other meaning than I ever had for it, or even intended to have for it. And I think that’s incredible. I don’t want to put a stamp on what I want people to get from the music. I just want people to listen to it and if they like it, hopefully it helps them or just makes them feel good. That’s really it.
That's a really powerful concept, too.
EZI: Yeah, I think so. I love that music is so universal. I think music is really powerful in a sense that it connects you to yourself or explains certain feelings or thoughts that you have that you couldn’t. And also, in that same vein, it connects us to each other. If my music can do that for somebody, that’s the goal.
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