Interview with Zilched

Photo credit: Rose Catherine Hohl

We jumped on Zoom with Chloë Drallos, the mastermind behind Detroit-based noise-pop project Zilched! Though Chloë is only 22, she’s been making music under “Zilched” since she was seventeen. Her first EP, Pulling Teeth, was released in 2018. Since then, her sound and image have continued to grow and evolve into her first ever LP, DOOMPOP, which she put out in 2020 via local label Young Heavy Souls. On this record, bandmate Nick Russo adds a “droning percussive force” to Chloë Drallos’ rock-infused pop sensibilities. Together, they combine to create a “Lynchian dream,” a sound that “embodies the notorious ethos of their hometown, Detroit.”

In this interview, we explore Chloë’s personal history as an artist and how she came to grow in the world of music and hit her stride as Zilched. We also explore how she looks back on the themes in DOOMPOP two years post-release, and see how she reflects on that time in her life and the memories she infused into the record. We also discuss in-depth her musical influences, both within the Detroit music scene and beyond into legendary names like Florence and the Machine and Sky Ferreira. Next, we get an inside look at what the small but ever-growing music community in Detroit is like. Finally— and perhaps most excitingly — we discuss her live tour with The Paranoyds, a band she’s loved since her first foray into the world of music.

What’s your star sign, and do you feel like it reflects you as an artist? Why or why not?

Yes, I’m a Capricorn. And I have a Pisces moon and an Aries rising. So I definitely think about that, how Capricorn is half goat, half fish. And then I’m still half fish, and then half ram again. I’m very driven and I feel like… every medium of art that I do, I just like to work with polar opposites all the time.

“DOOMPOP” is a testament to the growing pains of getting through our high school years. Now on the other side of that, has that record allowed you to let go of that person you used to be or look back at her with a gentle kindness?

Um, definitely the latter. I was writing it as I was coming into adulthood. I wasn’t necessarily writing through high school. I started right as I was graduating, and I spent, basically a full year writing it, and then another full year of the recording and the preparing of the record. And then the record comes out, and you spend the next year having it be your new thing. And so, I feel like I was just able to look at all of those things from such an objective perspective at that point, that it really helps me to just feel like I got to tie a little bow on it, almost. And I feel I feel very far from it now. But it was such a tangible way to process all those things.

You’ve spoken before about connecting with the vocals and sound of artists like Cat Power and Sky Ferreira. Do you credit any other artists in influencing the style in which you write lyrics?

Every time I’m asked those things, I forget everyone I love. But there’s a lot of people because I read a lot of music. Like, I like to read every song I get into, you know? Big influences on the record that I just made were more people like… Love and Rockets is a huge influence on it. And Bauhaus too, but like mostly Love and Rockets, which is like members of Bauhaus. I love when songwriters sound like they’re influenced by what they read too, because I think I started getting more influenced by books I was reading at the time. Lots of beatnik shit and gothic horror got me through covid haha, I think it comes through when you listen.

I love SOKO. I always forget to mention her, too. I feel like I’ve only mentioned her once in an interview. But that is someone where I love everything she’s done since she first started. And she’s covered so much ground. If I could swap musical discographies with someone, it would honestly be her. Totally. And it’s cool too, because she’s to someone who is active in my lifetime, because I really do try not to live too much in the past with music, its hard though. I love the greats of all decades… late 70s-early 80s the most.

You know who else, I kind of fell off with her for a little bit but I love the newest Florence and the Machine. Oh my god, that new record. It’s like an ethereal horror soundtrack. But it’s so cool.
New Arctic Monkeys keeps me interested too.

Looking at the timeline of Zilched from “Pulling Teeth” to present day, is there anything about the way the band or you yourself as a musician has evolved that’s surprised you?

Yes, definitely. Because, I started writing and playing music when I was 11-12, and I just played an acoustic guitar until I was 15. And I wanted to be a folk singer and stuff, and I just wanted to be like a singer-songwriter. And then I got really into, you know, louder things, started playing electric guitar, getting into pedals. And Pulling Teeth is basically the first thing I did as that, you know? And then again with DOOMPOP, I almost wanted to see how creative I could be in a confined space of just bass guitar and drums. And with my vocal stylings, I think I was still figuring out my voice. And then, with this last record that I finished this year, which will hopefully come out early next year, I definitely dropped a lot of that, and opened up more, and have found myself going back to kind of viewing myself as a singer-songwriter, just within genres that don’t always include that. And bringing back acoustic guitars on some songs, and experimenting with synths and keys. I really feel like I’ve gone all the way back with that. And because I’ve been performing so much I have really figured out my voice a lot more. And just not worrying about “genre”, just singing what feels right for that song and using the instruments in ways that feel right for that song.

Despite being only 22, you’ve been putting out music for five years. Would you like to share with us the start of your journey into music?

The very, very start was just that there were guitars in my house. But my brother graduated the year I was born, so we didn’t really live together ever. But he has been a musician my whole life. I always thought that was cool. But we didn’t really hang out enough when I was younger for him to help me when he was over. I didn’t really even have the confidence to go into that. And I had a friend who just had ukuleles and she showed me a thing on it. And because I was like 10 years old, you know, you’re like, “Oh my god, that’s so easy.”

And then, after doing that with her, I found the guitars from the basement and was really just putting in so much effort and like watching YouTube tutorials of everything, you know? And just quietly putting in as much effort as I could, and just trying to write because I feel like… I don’t know, I rode horses when I was younger and I played lacrosse at one point, but I just never felt like I had anything that represented me until I started doing that. But it was really scary. So for a long time it was super private. And then it was like, once I started Zilched with my cousin Emily—Actually, her and I did folk stuff together before that. Then she started Zilched with me. But that was, I guess I always did that stuff, but it felt very private, and I was still figuring that out, and getting louder, and really figuring out how to write songs that I like to hear, that led to what Zilched is. Before, it was like I was playing music because I loved to play music, and it made sense and I wanted to. And then being like, “Oh, I actually see what new thing I could create.” And that’s why most people start bands, I feel like.

The punk history book Please Kill Me talks a lot about how the music scene in Detroit suffered alongside the decline of the auto industry. How do you see it making a comeback, and what does it look like today?

My best friend is in a band called Zastava, and we were just talking about this today. So, I did not grow up in Detroit, I grew up on a farm, like an hour away. And then moved out here, because I had met people in bands, and I was like, “I literally have nothing else I want to do with my life. So I’m just gonna throw myself in here and try to do this.” And I will say, there is a scene here, and there are great bands here. But you have to find it, because Detroit is very spread out. Geographically, the way it looks, it’s like, “Here’s a neighborhood here, then streets have abandoned buildings, then here’s another neighborhood,” and stuff. It’s not like many other places. Which makes it really special, and you can find things that you can’t find anywhere else. But also, there’s so many well kept secrets, I feel, in Detroit, and that can make the scene a bit intimidating. Especially if you didn’t grow up with these other musicians here. Because a lot of people I know and love, and bands here that I love, can feel like they’ve just existed forever and everyone already knows each other. It can feel very intimidating for outsiders.

But that’s definitely opening up. And basically since COVID, I feel like it’s opened up a lot. And for a while, it felt kind of like I was the only person making, you know, alternative or shoegaze-ish things. So I was just getting put on all the bills for those things. Because I’m not a shoegaze band, but I guess for Detroit I am. And now my friends in Zastava are doing that, and then there’s this band Clinic started doing that. Plus my friend in Hala, Ian, he’s been around a while making great indie music. We’ve collaborated a bit but no one’s heard that yet haha

I think it’s just intimidating at first, because it’s such a special place, like you really can do whatever you want, if you’re not afraid to do it. Because you’re not being pushed like you are in New York and places like that. There, everyone is so driven, and it’s so competitive. Here it takes a lot of thoughtful efforts, which I can appreciate.

You have quite a few runs of shows under your belt from this year. Does the way you put together a live set change with every tour leg you join, and what live elements are you hoping to inject into this upcoming run with The Paranoyds?

Definitely this year, it’s been interesting having two records now. People only know one of them, but I’m kind of getting to rearrange the set for every run. We’ve just been doing that to keep it interesting, and to also road test, and figure out the new songs. Most of the songs I make, especially the new ones I’ve made primarily alone with my friend Ben Collins that I produced it with, I kind of have to rebuild for a live setting. And it’s been cool to do that. I think we’ve got a good set for this tour. I think it’s about half new, half old.

How’d you meet The Paranoyds?

So actually, I was a Tumblr girl. And so were some of the Paranoyds, they were very popular on there. And that’s how I found out about them when I was pretty young. Then when I was a sophomore in high school, they were on tour with DIIV. And, and I remember I didn’t even know who DIIV was, but I knew The Paranoyds and my friends were trying to get me to go, and I didn’t want to spend money on it. Then I found out the Paranoyds were playing, I was like, “No way. I’ve known about them for so long. And they’re actually going to be here.” So I went. I talked to them after, and they were like, “We saw you singing the words, that was crazy.” And they gave me pins. And then a couple of them followed me on Instagram. And so, we kept in touch.
They had me open for them in early 2020 when they were in town. And that was a really sweet experience. And I got to sing a song with them. And so, it’s really cool to be going on tour with them now at 22. Because I’ve been a fan since I was like 14. This isn’t like, it’s not like I have enough clout or anything. This is just, I’m a fan girl, who’s doing alright and they’re very thoughtful people.

Anything you hope to do on tour with The Paranoyds?

I’ve actually never been to Canada, which is crazy, because I live in Detroit. And I can see Canada if I go by the water. But I’m excited to go there for the first time. And then I don’t know, I’ve never been to Minneapolis either. That’s one of the places we’re going. I’d just like to see what happens when we’re there. And keep my eye out for something that looks fun off the side of the highway. Try to make time for those types of stops on tour.

Beyond the exciting tour that kicks off very soon, what are some of your upcoming plans?

I have a record that has been done for a couple of months now, and I’m trying to figure out how it’s going to come out. But hopefully, next time I’m doing a tour, it’ll be in line with a release of some sort.

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