Interview: Zulu Frontman Anaiah Lei Discusses the Band’s Debut Album, A New Tomorrow

Photo: Alice Baxley

California hardcore/powerviolence band Zulu exploded onto the scene with a pair of EPs that made them a band to watch. On their first proper long player, A New Tomorrow, Zulu push outward on the boundaries of powerviolence and incorporate flavors of hip-hop, jazz, alternative rock and reggae; it’s a logical expansion of the classic powerviolence sound and it’s worked out in a major way for the quintet, who are currently on tour with Show Me the Body, Jesus Piece and Scowl.

Decibel spoke with vocalist and primary songwriter Anaiah Lei about writing the album, the band’s growing popularity and playing heavy music for unfamiliar audiences. For the full story, grab issue #221A New Tomorrow is out March 3 on Flatspot.

You had a couple EPs that were pretty popular already, so do you feel any pressure to write music that sounds a certain way now that people are aware of your band?
There naturally is pressure any time when releasing new music, but especiially when it’s your first album release because that’s the really big impression, than any other type of music, the first LP has this effect where it’s seemed like a make or break. That natural pressure was kind of put on, but for me I was excited to put out this next record because I knew what I wanted to do and I had that confidence. If anything, more than nervousness, I was excited and I’m still excited. I’m proud of it.

I saw an interview where you mentioned that you didn’t want the band to be pigeonholed and you wanted to expand your musical horizons with the new record. Is that something you were able to accomplish, to bring in new ideas into the record? Do you feel like you got to do enough of that?
Absolutely. I did it in a way where it’s not overkill and we’re not just introducing this insanely new sound that people aren’t familiar with but it was like, well, I want it to be different so that the people that are fans, everyone that has heard Zulu before, it’s not a complete shock they’re hearing this. I would hope they would think, “OK, it’s like a development. Every band goes through that.” But for the new fans that come in, they’ll get a full sense of what the band is about and what the future holds, so it’s a little bit of both.

I didn’t go into the record with that in mind completely but it ended up being that way. It’s not too out there, but it’s out there enough.

You can hear the powerviolence and the fast hardcore, so even if it has evolved, the core sound is intact.
Absolutely and that’s what I wanted to do. Keep the overall sense and expand out, see what that looks like. It worked, it worked well I think.

You’re going on tour with heavier bands like Show Me the Body or on festivals with artists who aren’t really playing heavy music so that can really highlight a heavy band doing something different.
It’s super cool getting to do all this Zulu stuff because I’ve seen people that aren’t even remotely into hardcore getting into it. I’ve seen people from different worlds tapping in with it and I’m like “that’s cool” because it’s already such a specific style—we’re not just a hardcore band—it’s very different. People acknowledge that but they like it. Whatever that is, that’s cool. I don’t even question it. It’s cool that we’re able to play on these different types of shows and different types of lineups and people rock with it, you know?

What was the process for you like recording and writing this album? Did it happen quickly and easily or was it something you took a lot of time with that developed slowly?
I officially started writing for this record after the second EP came out. It was a while because most of 2021 we weren’t really playing shows and I just had the time to try and write. I started slowly writing the instrumentations for it and I didn’t really get into full swing until the later half of 2021, after we started touring more and I was more inspired when we were able to play and all that. Before even getting into writing it was the concept of the record I wanted to hone in on, what did I want to talk about and how did I want that to look? With the Zulu releases, I’m really meticulous about that.

We could easily put out a 24, 25 track album but nobody wants to listen to a 24, 25 track album even if the songs are like less than a minute long. I knew on top of that that I wanted to lengthen some of the songs and give it more room to breathe, so I think the number one thing when I first started was I want to slow it down a little bit, still be fast but slow down the tempo a bit, have it not be so convoluted. When I’m writing the record, I’m thinking about the visuals to go with it. Album covers are very important to me.

Then I started actually getting into the writing of it and that took throughout the year into 2022. I wrote the majority of it and had some of the band members come in and help me with some of the record, which was amazing. I’m very happy to have gotten them to write on it as well. We kind of finished writing right before going to record, and we recorded in April of this year, April and May. We had about a month in the studio to bust shit out. It was pretty much just me in there doing all the stuff so I was like “Man, this feels like the longest month ever.”

You played most of the instruments on the record?
Yeah, the majority of it. Christine, our drummer, she came in and played some drums on it and she recorded a lot of vocals that are on the record. Most of it was me and some members came in, did some songs, parts of the songs, soloing and stuff. Everyone else had so many different bands and was busy that time. I recorded the other stuff on my own, that’s not a big deal.

It’s evolved from a solo project so even this level of collaboration is a new thing for Zulu.
It is, yeah. It’s cool that I was able to get them involved in somehow. Something about it anyway, I kind of like just recording it. I don’t know what it is—I love getting to play guitar and getting to play bass and getting to play drums here and there. It’s fun as heck. A lot of the time, writing songs on my own, relaying that to other people is not as easy but this band luckily kind of understands how crazy I am when it comes to structuring songs and they catch on pretty quick.