SeeYouSpaceCowboy singer Connie Sgarbossa said it best. "A lot of weird underground rap/hip-hop has been coming out in the past couple years," she told us in December when picking her favorite music of 2019, "but I feel like Zheani really mixes a lot of the trends with elements that have yet to be incorporated to create some releases that standout sonically [like] mixing the abrasive screaming in some songs, incorporating softer elements for trance-like [passages] in others."
This forward-looking, genre-busting musicality is on full display on Zheani's latest EP, Zheani Sparkes. Lyrically, the record, which is titled for her real name, is brutally raw and honest. The self-described "fairy trap" artist made headlines in 2019 when she accused Die Antwoord's Ninja of sexual assault — accusations addressed in her song "The Question" — and real life bleeds into her art again on the new EP, which takes an unfiltered look at her upbringing in rural Australia amid "drugs, crime, violence, poverty." On the autobiographical lead single "DIRTBIKE," she recalls "Donkey Dick Dave Jollow," one of her mother's boyfriends growing up, and reflects with anguish on her father's drug addiction — all atop harsh trap-metal production courtesy of Revolver favorite King Yosef. We recently caught up with Zheani to get some insight into the new project, her background and outlook, and more.
WHO IS ZHEANI? CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW YOU CAME TO BE THE ARTIST YOU ARE TODAY?
I grew up in rural Australia and had a pretty rough upbringing. Zheani Sparkes is my real name and everything I do on an artistic level comes back to who I am as a real person. I got to a point in my life where I just had to start opening my mouth otherwise I wouldn't be able to go any further.
IF YOU HAD TO DESCRIBE YOUR MISSION STATEMENT, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Currently, I'm trying to tell my story as bluntly as possible. I hope that by doing so, people with similar backgrounds will feel less ashamed and alone. That's what's happened for me — making music has made me feel less ashamed and alone. I pulled the thread and was honest, and its been unraveling ever since. Now I just have to see it through.
YOUR SOUND MASHES UP ALL KINDS OF MUSICAL GENRES AND INFLUENCES. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT SOME OF THE MAJOR ONES AND HOW YOU DISCOVERED THEM?
I grew up with all the "adults" around me bumping Nineties/early 2000s rap. The themes portrayed were a mirror of my surroundings: drugs, crime, violence, poverty. I rebelled from that as a teenager by entwining my identity with the emo/metal/post-hardcore scenes that I found online. This was the music I could play that would piss everyone off. These days my youngest sister torments my mother with K-pop.
When I started making music, these worlds collided for me. It wasn't just drug-dealing and braggadocio. It wasn't just existential dread and self-loathing. It was drug-dealing, existential dread, self-loathing and braggadocio.
I had no musical training at all. In high school, my dreams of being an actress or director where quashed by everyone around me. Even those charged with educating me suppressed these ambitions. Girls from Rosedale State School never amount to shit. When I finally committed to trying music as an adult, I had no skill and no experience. I didn't know what a note was to hold it, so the Auto-Tune got turned up and I hit that shit like Young Thug. But I think coming from an untrained naive place was in the end an advantage — I painted with the wrong end of the paint brush and therefore came out with something original.
WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR THE SONG "DIRTBIKE"? HOW DID YOU COME TO WORK WITH KING YOSEF ON IT?
With "DIRTBIKE," as with a number of songs on my upcoming Zheani Sparkes EP, I'm trying to give people context. I've made some bad decisions in my life like most people and I often feel judgement coming from a place of ignorance. With "DIRTBIKE," I paint a blatant picture of a memory from my childhood and I guess I hope doing so will make people more understanding of what I come from.
"DIRTBIKE" was one of the first songs I ever created a "demo" version of, rather than just smashing it out in a session. King Yosef got my vocal stems and built the beat around it, with a bit of back and forth it came together. There is actually a witchhouse version of the song, but the final version is harsher in every way and it sounds how it feels: painful, embarrassing, like something you would rather forget but can't.
BEING A MUSICAL ARTIST, WHAT'S THE HARDEST CHALLENGE YOU HAVE COME ACROSS SO FAR, AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME IT?
I'd prefer not to talk about it. Anyone that knows the past year I've had would understand why. How do you overcome it? You just don't ever back down and remain standing strong in the truth. The truth always finds a way and fakes get exposed. Karma is real.
WHAT BAND OR MUSICAL ARTIST ARE YOU A BIGGEST FAN OF? PROVE YOUR FANDOM.
There is so much great music out there. I have a diverse taste and appreciate a lot of work by a lot of talented people, but as an adult, I try not to fan over any particular individual or group.
I have experienced the dark side of fandom and realize that it's just not healthy to idolize artists. Every musician enables their fans to form a parasocial relationship with them, but all too often this is exploited by the types of narcissistic and personality disordered individuals that are drawn to performing and the limelight. It's important to remember you are a fan of an idea and not a person — when you get these mixed up you enter the danger zone. Celebrity worship devalues your soul and is a sad reality in our society.
THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC HAS SHUT DOWN THE LIVE MUSIC CIRCUIT. YOU HAVE YET TO PLAY YOUR FIRST SHOW, RIGHT?
I was supposed to do my first [show] in Berlin 2018, and the venue flooded days prior. I was starting to plan a tour this year and then the 'rona came along ... The time will come.
DO YOU HAVE HOBBIES OR PETS?
My hobbies include trying on micro bikinis and never leaving the house. I enjoy cooking, gardening and nesting like a wholesome waifu.
IF YOU COULD ONLY PLAY ONE OF YOUR SONGS FOR SOMEONE TO INTRODUCE THEM TO YOUR MUSIC, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
"Whore of Babylon" maybe? I honestly hope my best work is ahead of me. I think so.