Interview With Zinni the Queen

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Zinni the Queen is a multidisciplinary artist that writes gorgeous music pairs it with expressive poetry, then artfully mixes and produces it in crisp, delightful pieces of musical candy. Based in Vancouver, Canada, Zinni’s latest single is sublime and inspired, titled What Happened to My Sunshine. The single is drop-dead beautiful, with rich streaks of soul and gospel music flowing right through it.

I’m delighted I have a chance to ask Zinni some questions, to get to know more
about her and about her creative process.

1- Zinni the Queen! First of all, congratulations on this beautiful song. Knowing that you called it a “winter song”, could you share with us what this means to you? What do you think makes a song “wintery” or “summery”?

Thank you, it’s a pleasure to chat with you and everyone at SISTRA! What Happened to my Sunshine (WH2MS) is a winter song for a few reasons: I wrote it in December 2013 during winter, which is why the imagery in the lyrics references cold weather. My album, “for a season”, is arranged by seasons of the year: summer, autumn, winter, and spring. WH2MS occurs during the winter portion. The single dropped on 12/02/2022, which is winter in the northern hemisphere. And the lyrics are chilly because that’s how it feels to be left out in the cold—when someone who was previously warm and friendly toward
you ignores you. It was too perfect. The album “for a season” is available on SoundCloud now and will be on streaming platforms later this month. Let me know what the difference is between the winter songs and summer songs, and if you can feel that shift. It’s something I can describe, but I’ll only know if it was effective if I hear another
perspective. I have synesthesia, meaning I associate certain colors with songs (among other things…
even days of the week and numbers have certain colors in my head). If you see my tracks while I’m engineering and producing, each song has its own color palette cause that’s what I see in my head.
Being an artist is something I can’t escape [laughs] no matter how hard I try.

2- The composition and rhythmic flow are quite fluid and pleasantly loose in this song. Was this a conscious choice to add an artistic effect to the recording? Or was it a “first-take magic” kind of situation?

Of course! Everything is intentional. By the way, it’s so great to hear how you responded to the song because that’s exactly why I’m sharing my music. As a fellow writer, I appreciate your adjectives and word choices. They’re delightful.
The good news is, my first takes don’t exist anymore cause I’ve re-recorded, deleted, and edited them. It was important to me to capture how winter feels. You can’t see what’s in my head, but I can describe the imagery in the lyrics, in my tone of voice, and in the background instruments. I listened to some of the greatest Christmas holiday music and some songs I think could improve. While composing, I took note of what worked well in other people’s songs and avoided the pitfalls I observed. So every instrument you hear is intentional. You’re supposed to shove when you hear those bells.
As for it sounding like it was a first take, I’m glad. While in prayer, I was telling God about how hesitant I was to put this out. I hear every little mistake and was starting to hate my own voice again.
But He reminded me about the potter making something out of clay. In pottery, you can’t add a fallen piece back on; you just have to make the most of what you already have, molding it and shaping it into something beautiful. I don’t sound like any other musician you’ve ever heard, which is good. It’s
important for me to remember that imperfections and vulnerability add to, not take away from, the art. People will connect to what’s really more than what’s manufactured and perfect.

3- Your upcoming album has been in the making for some time now, self-produced and self-engineered. Could you share a little about your creative process with us? How do you approach writing new music or poetry? And how do you come about putting them together? Which one precedes the other, for example?

Something I’ve recently learned is, how easy it is to create when you step away from everything else.
Most of my day, I have something going on in the background: music, a podcast, voice notes, a video, just something. Trying to sit down and work after taking in a bunch of random background noise is impossible. In the recording stage, I did my studio sessions second thing in the morning, after prayer.
And if I know I need to work on a song, I go through my day in silence so I can hear my own thoughts and think about the song. A lot of the music comes from listening. I listen to the recording and create counter-melodies just by singing whatever comes naturally. My favorite example is verse 2 of “When I’m With You”. The music is in me when I listen to it. I’m sure it’s the same for other creatives. Give yourself moments of silence in your day. It doesn’t have to be complete silence, just the natural sounds that are in your environment. Even the dripping of a tap has music.

Some of the melodies come from dreams, like the baseline for “Quenched”. As I was waking up, transitioning between sleep and full wakefulness, I repeated what I heard so I could remember it. I made a natural loop in my mind, years before I learned how to loop beats on engineering software. And
the melody, I would place filler words and mumble something just so I remember how each phrase goes. It’s very common, actually. In “jeen-yuhs”, I saw Kanye doing the exact same thing. This is what I mean: the music is already in us. When you see the behind-the-scenes you realize the only thing separating us and well-known artists are opportunity and resource. I thank God my time has come.

4- for Zinni the Queen, are lyrics supposed to be plaintive, aesthetic poetry that goes well with the music to create a painting of sound? Or are they vassals of self-expression, even if the expressed emotions might make listeners sad or angry? If it’s a mix of both, which side do you find yourself leaning towards?

Oooooh, this is deep. See, this is why I love SISTRA magazine. What an incredible question. Short
answer: yes.
Long answer: I’m not writing just to sound deep; I’m genuinely writing from a deep place. Nobody
knows my internal world; I’ve learned to hide it and present a neater image to everyone I interact with.
I internalize a lot of my emotions… from childhood up til now, I always seem to learn things the hard way. I never had an older sibling to guide me; I never had a space where I felt seen, heard, and safe until adulthood. So everything I do as Zinni the Queen is sharing my favorite parts of myself. I’m letting everybody into my world—at least, a little bit of it. And the reason I feel comfortable sharing is that I know it’ll resonate. Someone will hear a line and say, “That’s exactly what I feel; I just couldn’t put it into words.”
Poetry is just the best way I can express what I’m actually feeling. I’m a very dramatic person who was often told “it’s not that deep” or people stopped caring halfway through my explanations of things.
But if you actually take the time to listen, you’ll understand what I’m expressing. It’s okay to be dramatic, and I believe there should be space for us flamboyants, even outside of the art world. Because the same people who don’t take you seriously when you express yourself will watch a movie or hang a painting in their house or listen to a song that makes them feel something. Artists are the surrogates of many people’s emotions. We should definitely be taken more seriously. And we should take ourselves seriously, first.

5- What Happened to My Sunshine incorporated some haunting vocal layering, along with a sweet piano, and little else. Do you intentionally go minimal while arranging your music? Should we expect an album just as introspective and hypnotic as this single? Or is this single just one experiment among many others?

The whole album is an experiment. This is my first time producing, engineering, and mastering music, let alone recording and sharing it with the world. I’ve been vocally arranging for years. My family is very musical and my voice is a natural alto/tenor, so I hear harmonies in my head when I’m recording the supporting vocals. I want the listener to hear all the harmonies, cause those are my favorite parts.
In order to showcase my beautiful lower register, I have to go minimal on the instruments.
A lot of the album is stripped down to vocals with some supporting instruments. If I were a more experienced producer/engineer—if I made beats better than I sang—you’d probably hear that more.
Once I get as confident with that as I am with vocal arrangements, you’ll hear it in my music. But who knows, maybe I just found my signature sound.
As for introspection, yes. My lyrics are the thoughts I couldn’t bring myself to say out loud. I’ve always found romantic feelings a little bit embarrassing, but I’m still learning to see the beauty in them. Writing music gave me a way to say what I couldn’t admit to myself. It helped me make sense of the cycle I found myself in. It’s frustrating to go through the same thing over and over again, but I’m glad I coped with that pain by creating something. Introspection and self-reflection is the first step to getting out of that loop. You have to understand what is influencing you and acknowledge how you’re being affected.
My hope is that in growing out loud, the listeners can reflect on their own journeys and see their own blindspots so we can move forward in healthier ways.

6- As just one person that does almost everything from the writing to the recording to the
engineering. Which phase along this process is the most rewarding and gratifying for you
personally? and which one do you find to be most expressive and creatively charged?

Hearing the finished product, literally right after doing the final mix, is like a sigh of relief. I love that part. Editing is ongoing, so I work on each track piece by piece. To be honest, it isn’t a glamorous process. I got annoyed and frustrated a lot because my skill didn’t match my vision for the final product. But God gave me the bursts of energy I needed, gave me joy as I worked, and gave me inspiration during quiet times in my day. As I kept working, I learned more. I’ve never regretted a session, even on the days I felt hesitant to create. I’d prepare myself for the worst while listening to a session I’m editing, just to be blown away at how beautiful everything sounds.

7- And finally, do you have a word to share about your upcoming album? What does this release mean to you? And how do you feel when you’re just about to release it after all this time and effort? And what can fans expect from you in the coming time?

My word to share is, to check it out on SoundCloud first. It’s called “for a season” by Zinni the Queen.
The album is a story of childhood crushes, cycles, situation-ships, and self-love. Twelve tracks are arranged according to the season of the year each situation represents. Comment on the song that resonates most and let me know which lyrics stand out to you. Then when it’s on streaming platforms, you can add your favorite songs to your playlists. I so look forward to hearing what you think!
This release means so much to me. I used to hate the sound of my own voice, but God taught me to see the beauty in what it can do. I explored my full vocal range on it, so yes, every voice you hear on the album is one person. I’m grateful. This feels like a victory lap. I know how much I overcame to get to this point, and I just feel relieved! If you hate it, it’s not for you. This album is for the little kids of color who felt like fish out of water, trying to figure out this love thing. You don’t have to do it alone;
now you have a soundtrack.
Fans can expect to connect with me as a human being and just talk art with me. I’m on all social media
@zinnithequeen, so come through! Don’t be shy to start a respectful conversation with me. There’s more on the way, but first, I want to honor this present moment. The rest will come in time. I’ll be dropping clues in interviews, in the music, and on social media.
Zinni the Queen. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. Getting to know more about you and your state of mind has been just as inspiring as listening to your beautiful song. I wish you all the best with your upcoming release.
Thank you so much! These are beautiful questions. I hope this isn’t the last conversation I get to have with you. Thank you for giving me a chance to talk about my art; I feel seen, heard, and safe. Your work is so valuable and appreciated.