Informed by her diverse upbringing, Russian singer and artist TZAR makes her debut after years of sharing her talent with merited acts among the Bay Area and Los Angeles scenes. Linking up with everyone, to A Tribe Called Quest, a large source of her hip hop rhythms, and partaking in the growing hub of LA’s most skilled producers, the songstress hones her exposure and involvement in these communities to make a stellar debut.
A nostalgic 80s pop number, “What Ur Lookin’ For” has all the superb qualities of an artist coming into her own. Featuring production with close friend Djemba Djemba the track boasts self-confidence with bright synths and a slick palette of melodic arrangements. I recently had the opportunity to catch up with the artist and discuss everything from her upbringing as an immigrant, to the emotive storytelling that accompanies her upcoming EP.
How have your surroundings and/or upbringing informed you as an artist?
My surroundings are undoubtedly a formative part of my artistry. I was born in Moscow in the former USSR, and moved to the Bay in the midst of a burgeoning early 90s Silicon Valley. I played classical piano competitively all the way through college until I decided that I wanted to pursue singing – so I don’t really remember a time without music to be honest.
I played piano in Moscow before I even knew how to form sentences, and that eventually became my safe space when my family moved since I didn’t speak English and always felt pretty out of place as an immigrant. At one point though, singing became my primary outlet. Being fortunate enough to grow up in and around the Bay – San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley – and the absolutely legendary musical culture that came out of there, my influences were vast as fuck.
You have Bay artists happening right now – the obvious contenders Kehlani, G-eazy, P-Lo. And You have your E-40’s and your Too $horts, but then you also had the likes of Goapele, Ledisi, Mystic. Zion-I, Living Legends, of course Hieroglyphics, Souls of Mischief, Green Day, even Smash Mouth hahaha. Then you look a little further back and you have the Hendrixes and the Joplins that were all just posted in the Bay for a while. It’s such an immensely rich place culturally. So I really got thrown into a melting pot that I will forever be grateful for. I wouldn’t be making the records I’m making today if it wasn’t for growing up in the Bay.
You’ve worked with a number of producers like Djemba Djemba and JULiA LEWiS, what drew you to their sound and how do you feel your artistry has been complimented by their production?
I have been so fortunate to work with some of the dopest creators in the game on this record. I met Julia Lewis back in the Bay. His energy was always super familiar just because we come from the same place, so when I moved out to LA and we reconnected it just seemed like an absolute no brainer that he’d be a part of making this record. He just knows how to bring out the magic sauce in a song. Djemba and I met when I moved to LA. I can’t even lie, his reputation had superseded him – I was so nervous in our first session. Just knowing the artist is this dude worked with was super intimidating at first. Once we began to work, and watching his process honestly just reminded me why the fuck I wanted to make music in the first place.
Like I said, I was fresh off a super intense break-up and in that weird, dark, vulnerable place Djemba and I became good friends through making music. I tell him this all the time – he really became kind of a beacon of light for me in this often shady industry. He’d often take the time in the session to turn around and ask for my opinion or what I thought should happen in the song – he made space for me.
In my experience very few producers actually give two shits about a woman’s opinion in the room. I hate to say it, but it’s true, unfortunately. Djemba definitely changed my entire perspective on men in the music industry. I’m very grateful for that and I’m very grateful for our friendship. And for all the people involved in helping me make this song. Shout out to Hollis Wong-Wear (co-writer on this record), Kid Froopy, and Jordan Lewis. Such amazingly talented people and now great friends of mine.
What can we expect on your debut EP?
Expect shimmering, dreamy bangers with a strong undercurrent of feels. It will 100% make you want to re-watch classic 80’s films (on VHS – ask your dad to pull out the VCR from the garage, you feel?) Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, maybe even Risky Business while you’re at it.
There’s always been something super magical to me about that era in America and how that all showed up in film, art, and music. I find myself always missing that unapologetic, bittersweet raw-ness I felt when I listened to Whitney, Prince, and Kate Bush. That epic nostalgia of the 80’s is what you can expect from this EP. Vulnerable ass bangers. Get ready to cry – but like – while you’re also going HAM at the best festival you’ve ever been to (post covid of course).
Cover photo: Donslens