Brooklyn-based songwriter and chanteuse Ziemba not only pens truly gorgeous, pillowy pop melodies, hooks and harmonies that you can still bite into, she is deeply involved with a more exploratory side of music with her olfactory-music project Ardis Multiverse and writing a piece for a “Fire Organ” to be premiered at National Sawdust in Brooklyn in a few months. We spoke with Ziemba regarding her choices of sounds, words, and out-of-the-box ideas: Ziemba plays Deep Thoughts JP Friday 8/19 with Hnry Flwr, Bong Wish and Spirit Level
You got a strong emphasis on vocals, both in the background and the foreground. What inspired you to use vocals as a textural piece of the puzzle instead of a lead?
Singing has always felt like my most natural mode of communicating, and honestly I don’t think that the decision to use vocals as both a textural element and a lead element was all that conscious. It’s more that that is what has intuitively seemed right for these songs, or right for me as a musician. I play other instruments and love them, but I’ve always felt most at home as a singer.
I would say that, in general, my approach to songwriting is one where I try to make space for intuition and spontaneity. I don’t like to plan things too much because I often feel like that can suck some of the life out of a song. If I approach the skeleton of a song really freely though, and listen for what it’s trying to tell me, then in that way I can really help that song to come to life. I like to give my songs as much autonomy as possible.
Would you characterize your music as “pop” and if so, do you feel that modern pop lacks a strong sense of writing?
I would definitely characterize my music as pop. I love pop music and care about it deeply as a massively complex social beast. I don’t know that I feel prepared to comment on the nature of songwriting in modern pop as a whole, though there is certainly a difference between the writing of contemporary music that is approached from an algorithmic, capitalist mode of writing, where it is designed for mass consumption and palatability, versus less mainstream expressions of pop songs that are written from a more sincere and less calculated place.
Like, it can be hard to connect with a song that has 7 songwriters. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, and there are totally exceptions to every rule, but in general I’m looking for the real in the pop veneer. And I think many people are, that that is why its a compelling song form. Because you take something that is very formulaic in structure, and then you see all the ways that people can inject it with something fresh, with their soul.
You can always tell when there’s soul in it, or real feeling. I wouldn’t say that that is missing from modern pop, but there is a lot of music out there that doesn’t have it.
You use a lot of color in your imagery which makes one think of 1950s/black-and-white photographs – is that deliberate?
I’m very drawn to thinking synaesthetically about music, and that applies to the color choices I make in my music videos, and the fragrance work I’ve been doing for my music. Different songs have different color stories, and touch on many references. The video for “With the Fire,” for instance, was shot on super-8 film, which gives it a certain visual tonality that automatically evokes nostalgia and past eras, which echoes the content of the song itself. While a song like “Rapture” has a video with extremely bright, bold vivid colors, indicating a raw vitality that I think is important for a song about the marrow of life, and poetic, dramatic death.
As Thor mentioned – you got a very colorful imagery/videos. Were there any visual artists or directors that inspired those video pieces?
Yes, for each of my videos there has been a lot of moodboarding and researching other filmmakers and artists. The video for “Rapture” is very much inspired by Maya Deren’s film “At Land,” the feminist Czech art film “Sedmikrasky/ Daisies,” and the 70’s vampire fetish film “Daughters of Darkness,” while the video for “Phantom See” draws from Kenneth Anger imagery and Les Rita Mitsouko music videos from the late 80s. For the “With the Fire” video I was inspired by films like “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” “Hausu/House,” the 1987 version of “The Secret Garden,” & the Jan Svankmajer 1988 version of Alice in Wonderland.
The Fifth Sense mentioned that you feel a particular connection with fragrances of various kinds. Could you elaborate on that?
I’ve become increasingly excited to connect fragrance to my music, and have been working on releasing a fragrance with each musical release I put out over the past year. My last release, “A Door Into Ocean,” was designed as a sonic mist, where the sonics were actually secondary to the fragrance in a way, or at least it was not approached at all as a song, but rather as a tool for creating a particular type of space. I love the way that fragrance can transform and reshape space, and in that way think it is a perfect tool for creating a musical world that is more fleshed out and consuming. My most ambitious fragrance work to date is coming up this fall, with a fire organ performance at National Sawdust on October 15th. For that performance, I’ll be building a fragrance apparatus inside of a fire organ, so that the fragrance elements are ignited by the musical information, and the fragrance itself changes in direction relation to the music. It’s an exciting project.