Zulu is a powerviolence band out of L.A. who have captured the attention of people across the country with their savagely groovy style of hardcore and straightforward message on matters of race in the United States (and beyond). They aim to open up the scene and make it a space for anyone who loves the music, and not just for people who fit a particular demographic profile.

The band are lead by vocalist Anaiah Lei, and while Anaiah puts a lot of himself into each and every track, it is very much a collaborative effort. They’re currently in the process of working on a new record following their signing to Flatspot Records earlier this year.

To get a sense of where the band are as they put together their first full-length, we touched base with Anaiah in the waning days of summer for a short phone conversation. You can check out want Anaiah had to say about the band, their latest video for “Straight from Da Tribe of Tha Moon,” and recent “controversies” regarding their merch below.

Interview was conducted on September 1, 2021 via phone. The transcript has been edited for the sake of clarity. 

So the first thing I wanted to know is: what is the status of the band Zulu? As I understand, the band started out as sort of a personal project. It was pretty much just you, writing and performing a lot of the instrumentation. But in recent press, the band has been referred to as a collective. So I’m wondering what that transition has been like if there has been a transition in the status or the makeup of the band, and what the band looks like now.
Oh, yeah, it’s currently just members that play the music live. Those are the members of the band, and they are part of it just as much as I am. But, you know, I still write the majority of the music, and it is pretty much still my baby. But the band helps see my vision through. We write together, but I still write a lot on my own. That’s the vibe right now.

As I understand, it was kind of difficult putting together your current band. You had conceived of Zulu as an all-Black hardcore band, but then it took a little bit of time for you to put together a lineup that represented that vision.
Yeah, it was tough because there aren’t that many Black musicians that want to play this kind of music. The scene is mainly just white people-dominated. And it’s kind of intimidating to play in a space like that. So I get why there are not as many musicians like me in the scene who are doing what I’m doing.

Do you think it’s an issue of representation? Or do you think that there are things that happen in hardcore scenes that make them unwelcoming to Black people?
Probably a combination of the two.

So you recently signed to FlatSpot. How did that come about?
Yeah, Ricky [Singh] hit me up and was interested in the band. I had met Ricky multiple times and knew multiple bands who were signed to FlatSpot. I think they are a great label, and it was a cool opportunity, so I was just like, “Screw it! Let’s go! Let’s get something going together if you guys are down.” It’s a great label with great people over there. I’m a fan of what they do all around.

Yeah, I’m in Chicago so I was pretty glad to see them sign Buggin. They’re a great band. Cool people too.
Yeah, Buggin is Awesome. I love them.

You’re gonna be touring with them this year, right?
Yeah, we’ll be doing three weeks together later in November on the East Coast.

That sounds pretty badass. As far as future releases go, what do you have in the works?
I’m just trying to work on an LP. That’s pretty much it right now. That’s it for Zulu. We’re pretty much writing our LP. Slowly but surely.

How’s that been working out with also playing in DARE?
Well, DARE’s tour hasn’t started yet, but it’s gonna be a little tough. I’m going to be able to handle myself and still make it work. But definitely when I’m home that’s when I’m going to be full-time Zulu.

How do you make time for yourself while you’re on tour to work on other projects?
It’s kind of hard. I usually just wait till I go home. But I’ll get ideas while I’m on the road, and I write them down. And then when I get the chance later, I’ll record them. But while I’m on the road I’m usually just gathering a bunch of the thoughts and writing them down. That’s how I get work done when it comes to trying to work while being on the road.

And do you still start with the drum part? Or have you started to feel more comfortable with other parts of the composition, like guitar?
I’ve been experimenting a bit. I’ll still start with drums. But more and more, I’ve been trying to sit down and write with the guitar. And I am a big fan of taking one lyric, saving it on my phone, and then coming back and writing to that line and finishing it up that way. So I’ve been trying all kinds of ways.

What inspired you to step out in front of the band as a singer? As I understand, you’ve spent most of your experience with bands as been as the drummer. What inspired you to jump out in front in order to be the voice of a band like Zulu?
It’s exciting. It looked exciting to be a singer in a band. And I literally just wanted to be in a band where I didn’t just play drums. I like playing guitar. I’ve always wanted to sing in a band to some degree. So I started Zulu with the intention of fronting it and being the singer

Well, you look really cool doing it.
I try my best. I try to have fun with it.

I’ve heard that you try to write mostly in your own voice when you’re writing for the band. How do you constrain what you want to say to fit within a power violence format? I feel like the stuff that you are talking about is really important and touches on issues that you ruminate on a lot, so condense those ideas and those feelings into short three to four-word verses.
That is the toughest thing. I am still having trouble getting that right, to this day. But I figured what I’m talking about is already very obvious, and stuff that people should already know about. So, I’m just doing a really dumbed-down version of all that stuff. And I don’t want to say a whole lot on these topics either. I’m not a teacher. I’m not an educator. I’m literally just a person trying to make music and talk about some real-life stuff. So I keep it short and sweet. I don’t have a whole lot to say on it already. I just want to get the main point across.

I’ve noticed that about your lyrics. They’re very direct.
Yeah, I’m not abstract. I’m not trying to be poetic with it. And that’s because that’s not how I am. I’m not like abstract or poetic in my regular life. So if I’m going to write lyrics, I’m going to do it very straightforward. That’s just what I do. I’m not stepping out of my boundaries when it comes to my lyrics, necessarily.

Right, so you’re just being direct with people. That’s how you are in your everyday life. So why should that be any different when it comes to your music?
Yeah, exactly.

How does your experience as both a Black American and Asian American influence Zulu’s music? Or does it? Is your message just for Black Americans, or all Americans, is what I am asking?
No, I’m just talking about being Black in general. It doesn’t matter whether that is in the United States or not, either.

I’m interested in the last single that you released and the video that comes with it. “Straight from Da Tribe of Tha Moon”? It looked like a really fun video shoot. How did it come together?
Well, it wasn’t a single, to begin with. It’s just a song off the EP that I wanted to do a video for. I don’t think it’s going to be on the new record. I don’t think I want to put anything that I’ve already put out on the record. Maybe … there is one song off the first EP, but that’s kind of up in the air. Not too sure if I want to include anything I’ve already done on the new record. We’ll see when the time comes.

But the video is pretty simple. We’re always talking about ideas of what we want to shoot and what we want to do. And growing up in L.A., I’ve always loved low riders and low rider culture. That’s a big part of L.A., it’s what makes L.A., L.A. So I just wanted to do a video where we’re all just out having a good time and jamming out to the song. There wasn’t too much thought put into it. So obviously, some of the band members are in it. Apart from Christine, she couldn’t make it. And we did a little post for people to hit us up about it, asking people to hit us up in the DMs on Instagram, and got a bunch of cool people in it that way. Pretty straightforward. You know, nothing complex. We had a concept and it turned out pretty cool.

Yeah, as I said, it looked like a lot of fun. What about the title, “Straight from Da Tribe of Tha Moon,” Is that a specific reference?
Um, well, it is actually a Black Moon song, which was a group from Brooklyn in the ‘90s. And they have a song called “Slave.” And in the lyrics, they mention someone who is from the tribe of the moon. But I’ve taken it upon myself to use the lyric to refer to other folks that are Black. That’s pretty much it. It’s just one lyric that I took, and I got a little jazzy with it. Because it’s dark when the moon is out and it is for dark people.

Ok, so it’s just a reference to Black people and their shared experience?
Yeah, I guess. Something like that. It’s mostly just a reference to a song.

I really like how many references to music make their way into your own music. You pull from a lot of stuff outside of hardcore. How do you go about selecting samples and reference points?
It’s pretty much just all stuff I listen to on a day-to-day. The referencing all comes pretty easy because it’s all just stuff that I like. I don’t dig for and I don’t go too far out of my way for any of it.

Yeah, it’s just there in your life. And it’s something that you’re sharing with people.
Yeah, I’m always skeptical to share stuff with people but I thought for this project I’d go ahead and do it.

One of the last things that I wanted to talk to you about was the merch item you revealed recently. It’s a white t-shirt that reads “Abolish White Hardcore.” Some people have said that it’s racist, and while it’s clearly not, I want to give you a chance to elaborate and clear the air about it. Do you have anything you’d like to tell people about it?
On the real, not really, but I guess I could talk about it a little bit. We literally just made a shirt that our guitarist thought was a good idea, and we were all like, “Yeah, that sounds cool as heck. Let’s actually do it.” So I made the design at home, and then we printed it.

And it means literally what it means. It’s pretty obvious. We’re not saying anything about kicking out white people at hardcore shows. Those shows are mainly just white people anyway. I therefore don’t like to explain it, but for the people who don’t get it … It’s kind of sucky because now, you’re asking me to explain something that is very obvious. That’s just not very nice. Hardcore is just such a white-dominated space. That is that whole idea. Just pointing that out. We’re not trying to get rid of anyone. We just want to make way for everyone else. That’s really what it is.

As you said, there is no deep meaning behind it. You just believe these spaces should be for everyone.
Yeah, the idea of it just being white-centered, and it always just being based around that … that has got to go. If anyone has a problem with that, they’re stupid. I literally don’t pay them any mind.

Have there been any consequences for the call-outs that people have attempted to make online, or has it just helped promote the band?
Yeah, it helped promote us and our shows. Honestly, it’s just created some cool press for us. There’s been no real consequence at all—as there shouldn’t be.

That’s good that the press has been mostly positive.
Yeah, pretty positive. Very positive vibes.

Ok, last question. When are we going to get another Sensual Healing release?
Wow. That’s a great question. You know, I didn’t even know I was going to do one. Probably at some point, I’ll do another. That was fun to make. Hopefully next year, I’ll be a little somethin’ somethin’. Probably with more production. A couple of people have been asking me about that actually…

 

Good, I’m glad. I’m a big fan of R ’n’ B and soul and respect fusion music a lot in general. So it’s very cool to see someone in a hardcore band also doing that sort of thing on the side.
Yeah, you never know. Some of that stuff might make its way onto the new record.

That would be extremely cool.
Well, I’m trying to do things differently from your average hardcore band. So there could be some soul. There could be some R ’n’ B. The sky is the limit.

I feel like Turnstile is starting to play around with a little bit of contemporary neo-soul and R ’n’ B as well, which I feel like is a pretty positive development.
Oh, yeah! They’re one of my favorite bands of all time. They are playing around with some dope stuff. That record was insanity. It can’t be touched. It breaks down lots and lots of barriers.

Their recent stuff is such a smooth blend of influences. I love it.
I wish I could be in that band. I would play tambourine if it meant that I could play in that band. I’m very hyped on them.

Photo by Nick Santana.

Get Zulu merch here. 

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Metal. Cats. Scary Movies. Etc... Read more of my errant thoughts over on my blog at I Thought I Heard a Sound (https://thasound.blogspot.com/) or follow me on Twitter @thasoundblog

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