Sitting at a small mint-green table on the patio of a Larchmont Village apartment complex, I look over the list of questions I’ve prepared for my interview with singer-songwriter Lolo Zouaï (pronounced zoo-eye). How does she describe her sound? Who are her influences? What are her tour essentials? But really, the question I’m dying to ask is where does she get the amazing windbreaker jackets I’m seeing all over her Instagram?! The unexpected outerwear is a Lolo Zouaï signature (along with gold hoop earrings and Dr. Martens boots), and after seeing her wear them with everything from bike shorts to floral minidresses, I have the urge to purchase one stat.
Though a selling point all its own, Zouaï’s taste in vintage outerwear isn’t the only reason I’m telling everyone I know to pay attention to the rising star. The French Algerian singer has been on heavy rotation on my Spotify playlist since discovering her EP High Highs to Low Lows, which features a cool blend of moody lyricism and contemporary electro-pop tracks that are best served lounging with friends or cruising cross-country on a road trip. Not one to adhere to labels (“Genres are meant to put you in a box, and I think my music is coming from a lot of different cultures”), Zouaï offers something to love for pop, R&B, and hip-hop enthusiasts alike. Her recent sold-out headlining tour proves we aren’t alone in our obsession, and with notable campaigns for Tommy Jeans and Coach, the fashion world is starting to take note too.
I caught up with the singer in Los Angeles (a brief stop ahead of her Korean tour) to get to know her a bit more and play around with some of fall’s coolest looks. Keep reading for the exclusive shoot and interview.
How would you describe your sound to someone discovering you for the first time?
It’s hard because I don’t really like genres. Genres are meant to put you in a box, and I think my music is coming from a lot of different cultures around me, like Algeria, France, Bay Area, and New York. But I would say that I grew up listening to a lot of R&B, so I would say there is R&B influence. It’s moody and confident and vulnerable. I’m just not one thing.
Your album is titled High Highs to Low Lows. Can you tell us about some of those highs and lows that have shaped you as an artist?
You know, I was making music in high school, and after that I just didn’t feel like college was the right path for me. I didn’t see the point, because I wanted to be a singer. But I tried one semester and did songwriting. I knew instantly it was the wrong choice, but I stuck with it, and then I decided to move back to San Francisco. I was working at American Apparel and restaurants, just a bunch of jobs, and I had no time for music. But I was saving money, and I bought myself a laptop, a microphone, and an interface so I would be able to make music in my room. I was producing music, but nothing was really coming out of it. And then my mom got a job offer in New York, and we moved, and that’s when I was like, All right, this is where I can do it. It’s now or never. And so I started reaching out to music producers and spent a few years making music, but I found that people, especially when you don’t have a following yet, really start to take advantage of you. But I always had this belief in myself that I would make it on my own terms, and so I was turning down all of these offers, and it got to a point where I had to restart. That was the lowest low and when I decided to write “High Highs to Low Lows.” Luckily, I had my producer, Stelios, who is totally positive and no-ego, and we made that song, and it’s the story of the whole thing. It was just so beautiful and full-circle. It felt like this symbolic thing that that was the song that went viral on Spotify, that gave me a platform, that gave me time to quit my job and work on music and work on myself and travel and tour. It was all of that, and it was a lot. The journey gave me purpose in my music that I didn’t really have before.
Photo:Felisha Tolentino; Styling: Jil Sander Groove Satin Double-Breasted Coat ($1850)
Who are some of the artists who influence you?
I think when I was younger, it was a lot of what I would hear on the radio, like Dido. I loved Dido. There was Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, Destiny’s Child, JoJo. And then other things, like Khaled, who is an Algerian singer, or Édith Piaf, who is a classic French singer. And then on a completely separate thing, E-40 and Too Short were like my jam 15 to now. I’ve just been obsessed. But then I look up to songwriters like Dolly Parton. It’s really not about genre; it’s about passion. And then honestly The Weeknd. When he first came out, I was in high school, and I was like holy shit, he’s wild. That really inspired me too. I think he kind of changed the game
Your song “Chain” was featured in the HBO series Euphoria, which has so much excitement around it. How did you find out it was going to be included, and are you watching the show?
I’m definitely watching the show. I love it. I wrote the song “Chain” back in London a year ago with Stelios, and I was really sick when I recorded it. It was more of a melody, but we kept coming back to it, and my manager was like, “I really love that song.” My label sent a bunch of artists to the music supervisor for Euphoria, and I was pretty much one of the only artists that they were really into, which was great. They fell in love with the demo of “Chain,” but it was just a mumble. So Stelios and I were like we have to rush and finish it, and so we rushed to try and finish it, but they still loved the demo more. It’s been crazy because we got it on Shazam, and it already has thousands of searches. People are waiting for it! But yeah, that show I feel is going to make a big impact in our time. It’s real; it’s real shit.
How do you use fashion to further communicate who you are as an artist?
When I was little, my dad would always bring me to thrift stores. He didn’t really know what I liked, but he would be like, “Do you want to go to Goodwill?” and then drop me off and say, “I’ll pick you up in an hour.” And it was like, “Yes, I want to go to Goodwill. I have $50. Let’s go!” So I think [thrifting] was always something I loved to do and one of my only hobbies aside from music. I find whenever I have an outfit that represents me the most, I feel happier and feel more confident. If I’m in a cute outfit, I’m probably feeling good. So I think it’s just a personal statement, and I’ve always had kind of a similar style since I was in high school. San Francisco is a very fashionable city, a lot of thrifting and a lot of culture.
NASCAR windbreaker jackets seem to be a big part of your look these days. Can you tell me about the influence there?
I have a story! I’ve been wearing them for like five years. My family in France is from this place called Le Mans, and there is this famous race every year called 24 Hours of Le Mans. When I was little, like 15, I was the girl who brought the champagne to the winners. I think I was just fascinated with cars. Even though I don’t race and no one in my family races, I’m just fascinated with cars. And I think whomever designs the NASCAR jackets is a genius. One of my dreams, and I don’t know if it will happen, but is to have an official collaboration with NASCAR. I just went to the NASCAR Hall of Fame on tour recently, and usually I thrift all of my jackets, but this time I had to do it. I had to buy a new one. So yeah, it’s a weird obsession. I honestly find them for like $10. I’m really good at thrifting. I will go with an idea of something, and I will find it—the laws of attraction.
Gold hoops are also a Lolo staple. Do you remember when the accessory first became a part of your daily repertoire?
Back in middle school in the Bay Area, there was this group called White Girl Mob with Kreayshawn and Lil Debbie. Hoops have always been part of Latin culture. There is a lot of diversity in San Francisco, and I was wearing hoops in sixth grade just from everyone else wearing them. I would wear pink hoops, all that. I remember there was this 99-cent store that sold the bamboo ones, and they were all a dollar, and I always lose things, so it was perfect. I remember I stopped wearing them when I moved to New York and for a moment felt like I lost a part of my style and where I’m from, and then when I got the hoops back, I was like oh shit, this is me. Don’t forget where you come from. It makes me feel like I have a complete outfit.
When you’re on tour, what are some pieces you always take with you?
Definitely some platform Dr. Martens, like you see in the [Who What Wear] shoot. I would say my “High Highs to Low Lows” necklace. I will bring some biker shorts. I really like to perform in biker shorts, tennis skirts, short tennis skirts, and a lot of jackets. Even if I’m going to be really hot on stage, I’d rather be in a jacket than in a tank top. I do like wearing men’s oversize shirts. Right now, I’m wearing a WrestleMania shirt I stole from an ex-boyfriend. I think vintage shirts have so much history. There is always a story. Oh and lipstick… I’m addicted to lipstick. Even if I have every color, at this point I will walk into Walgreens and need to buy lipstick. Oh, and my essential oil mister to make it feel like home.
Photo:Felisha Tolentino; Styling: Alexander Wang Collapsing Slip Dress ($1395); Jimmy Choo sandals
Where do you like to shop for everyday clothes?
You know, I’ll be honest. I don’t really buy new anymore. When I was growing up, I would just wear clothes from Ross and Payless because I didn’t have that much money, and I would just figure it out. And I think thrifting was a way to have cute clothes but for cheap. And I’m still in that habit, even though I could buy nicer things at this point. But since I’ve been doing so many photo shoots, I’ve been learning about nice brands, and I’m like okay, I can be wearing some YSL.
Speaking of nice brands, congrats on the Coach F/W campaign. What about Coach as a brand speaks to you?
I think it was when they pitched the campaign, and it was about New York and about dreams. For me, when I moved to New York, you know, I grew up in San Francisco, and New York was so far away it didn’t seem real. I remember walking down the street downtown. It sounds cheesy, but I was like I’m going to make my dreams come true. And you know with hard work, I’m on that path, and I’m starting to make my dreams come true, so when they pitched the campaign, it was literally about that feeling, and I related to it. And Juergen Teller is incredible. It just seemed like why not?
I heard you are going to New York and Paris Fashion Week. What are you most looking forward to seeing?
I did go to a Kenzo fashion show in France for the first time like a year ago, and I did not realize how fast a fashion show is. I had no knowledge of fashion show etiquette. It’s weird because I feel so out of place, but I’ve been invited. I think it’s the kind of thing where everyone feels out of place, but it’s all pretending. But I’m excited to see clothes. I love watching clothes, and I think it’s just going to be a new step in my career. I’m new to fashion, but I’m learning.