Zsela and the Art of Finding Stillness Through Music

A conversation with the artist who has captivated the fashion and art crowd.

Photography by Louisa Meng

Zsela wears a Chanel tank top, pants, shoes, and bag; her own jewelry. Hair by Malcolm Marquez for O...
Zsela wears a Chanel tank top, pants, shoes, and bag; her own jewelry. Hair by Malcolm Marquez for Oribe at Opus Beauty; makeup by Holly Silius for Chanel at R3 Management; photo assistant: Jessica Hu.

Zsela, a singular talent who is known professionally by just her first name, has been taking it slow. After making a statement with her breakout single—a languid, heartbreaking piano ballad called “Noise”—in 2019, the artist teased a debut EP called Ache of Victory until she finally released it at the beginning of the pandemic last year. Since then, the Brooklynite has relocated to Los Angeles, which has encouraged her to slow her pace down even more, letting new musical concepts creep their way into her head (she also recently remixed her EP with some more upbeat club mixes of each track, if that’s more your speed). For W’s annual Music Issue, Zsela gives insight into her laid-back collaborative process, her ideal performance venue, and her the esoteric hobby she’s picked up during the pandemic.

You released your debut EP, Ache of Victory, in April 2020, without being signed to a label. It’s a melancholic, five-track R&B project enriched by your deep vocals. Why was it important for you to release the album then, just as the pandemic was peaking?

I had the date before the pandemic. I was really doomsday about everything when it started—I was with my family, and we were just spiraling, going nuts, so I kept the date. I was thankful that I kept it, because if I can just communicate with people through my music, and hopefully provide any kind of stillness in this time, it can slow people down for a second.

The EP was produced by Daniel Aged, who is known for his work with Frank Ocean. What do you look for in a collaborator?

Passion and excitement. I’ve had a lot of egos in the studio in the past, and I’m not looking for that, because I feel that’s what has held me back from really finding my voice. With Daniel, there’s so much freedom, respect, and trust. He’s just down.

Who are your biggest musical influences?

Kate Bush. I’ve always been obsessed with her, but now I am in a new way. I’ve been reading this book that’s a collection of her lyrics. It’s challenged me to want to write more stories into my songs, because the people that I’m inspired by, like David Bowie, have real stories.

You’ve performed at fashion shows for Vaquera and Collina Strada. How did you get into that?

I’ve always loved fashion and its relation to music. Playing at fashion shows made sense at the time, because with my music it’s like, where do I play these? I would get hit up to play clubs or parties, but I’m not going to make people stop dancing for a ballad.

What do you do in your free time?

I’ve been going to estate sales a lot. I’m fixated on buying tablecloths and doilies. What else do you do in L.A.? You go for a hike. But we also got a piano, so I’ve been trying to write.

You’ve performed at MoMA PS1 and the Whitney Museum, and in theaters in New York. What’s an ideal performance venue for you in the future?

There’s a place in Santa Fe my stylist keeps talking about. It’s like an amphitheater. Or someplace crazy, wild, where no one has ever performed—put me in there.