Julia Zahra was born in Indianapolis USA but raised in The Netherlands. At 25, she has achieved many things as she has won ‘The Voice of Holland’ at just 18, the youngest singer to ever audition for and win the show, and then in 2015 winning a show called ‘The Best Singers of Holland’.
Now, it’s time to find her own direction and try to find recognition outside of Holland. She has, since those shows, released critically acclaimed music of her own and toured extensively in Oceania where she’s garnered quite a following.
The lead single ‘Indiana’ taken from the album ‘Remedy’ which is released on March 5th is a brilliant start and we were lucky enough to get to chat with a singer who is very aware of what she wants to achieve and who wants to take us on her journey.
“I am aware that by reflecting on my personal development which gives me clarity and insight into my role in society, by incorporating my sexual orientation and bi-racial identity into my songs, allows me a beautiful and accessible way to my ultimate songwriting goal.”
EP: Firstly, let me say how much I love ‘Indiana’. It must feel like such a long journey to get to this point. For people who don’t know about you, can you tell me how it all began?
JZ: Ah thank you! So nice to hear someone enjoying my music. Yeah, sure. I think the first time I got in contact with making music for myself was when I tried a musical course of different instruments. I ended up taking saxophone lessons, but after about a year I discovered I wanted to sing. I was about 9 years old when I started singing in a band with my brother and the boy next door. We just wanted to earn a little extra pocket money. After about 5 years of playing school open mics, some bars and other nice amateur gigs, we split up and I picked up a guitar.
EP: Having won both ‘The Voice of Holland’ and ‘ The Best Singers of Holland’ by the time you were 22, did it make the challenge of penning your own material feel even more daunting?
JZ: It was a little scary, yes. I think I was pretty comfortable with singing covers and being in this commercial/tv environment. But I noticed I really wanted something more out of my music. I wanted to tell my own stories and write my own songs that people can relate to. I know that’s the most important part for me when I listen to music, so I just had to try that route.
EP: The songs that you covered at the beginning came from all sorts of genres. Who would you say are your biggest musical inspirations?
JZ: The list of musical inspirations is truly endless. I always try to soak up as much new music as I can. While walking, traveling, cooking, working out. So I can see why my taste in music is so broad. I grew up listening to a lot of Dutch artists. We had CDs at home from Anouk and Blof. Anouk has definitely had a huge influence on my singing. The lyrics of the band Blof have always fascinated me. When I got a little bit older I listened to John Mayer A LOT. His songwriting is just so textbook. It takes you on trips, illustrating his mind. His songs inspired me a lot to do what I do now.
EP: With such an array of inspiration, how did you decide how your own songs would sound? Or are you determined to avoid being pigeon holed in any one genre?
JZ: I just don’t want to rule out anything, ever. Why should I decide for my 35 year-old self that I can’t make a country-record? Not saying that I feel that urge right now haha. But I want to give myself those kinds of opportunities.
For now I feel like the writing-phase of an album gives away most of the production approach. In my demo’s I can hear a clear direction of what the song should sound like. Hopefully those little hints will still be there in the future.
EP: The new albums lead single ‘Indiana’ is a very personal song . Can you tell me the story behind the song and what made you want to release such a soul-baring single?
JZ: Indiana is a story about my adoption. When I was a little baby I was adopted from The USA to The Netherlands. The song describes my curiosity about what life could have been. I think we have dozens of ‘What If’ moments on a day to day basis. What if I didn’t meet that someone that day, or what if I hadn’t been at the right place at the right time? How different would your life have been from what you know today? I find myself wondering about these kinds of questions more often as I get older. I think it’s nice to have a certain curiosity and interest in the unknown. But it can also detach you from reality a little bit. I’m trying to find a nice balance.
EP: You’ve toured extensively across Oceania taking in New Caledonia, Tahiti, New Zealand, Samoa and Fiji and built up a growing fan base. You are very popular in Holland too. Are you looking to conquer American and UK audiences next or are you happy to take a more laid back attitude to that?
JZ: I’ll go wherever my songs take me haha. I feel incredibly grateful to have seen these beautiful islands, so far away from home. And people knowing me and my music over there is a surreal feeling. To me it feels like my music resonates with people over there and that is the biggest compliment as a songwriter. Naturally, I’m a bit more laid back about these sorts of things. ‘Whatever happens, happens’. But I’ll always want a bigger audience for my music, so if The UK and America are willing to have me, I’ll be the first to hop on a plane.
EP: I love your debut EP from 2018. ‘Something New’ and ‘Blame It All On Me’ are super songs. ‘Indiana’ feels like it takes a tentative step towards Country and Americana influences with its honesty. What can we expect from the new album ‘Remedy’?
JZ: Thank you! I think Something New was the first step to writing true songs, close from the heart. It just feels so necessary for me to write honest songs. And I hope I can keep evolving in this profession. Remedy has been a healing process for me. The songs on there all have their own personal struggle in ‘em. So if you listen closely I think you can decipher a few of my life lessons. I hope these personal stories are relatable to people and they can find some sort of comfort in them.
EP: The pandemic has been so difficult for artists, how have you managed to remain inspired with so many things put on hold? It must be especially difficult when you are in the brink of something bigger?
JZ: It’s been tough, definitely! And not just for the artists, for the whole entertainment industry of course. So many people lost their life’s work. Something they did with true passion. It’s hard to remain inspired, at least it was for me. With so little going on in the outside world, I felt I had to turn to the inside. So I started writing about my personal struggles and beliefs. I learned so much about myself, which I’m grateful for. But I think I’m ready for things to start up again.
EP: When things relax slightly, can we expect to see you tour the album in the UK? It would be great to see you live as it’s easy to see from your performances at the beginning of your journey how brilliant you are singing live and acoustic?
JZ: I really hope we get to go on tour again soon. When it’s possible again, I’ll do as many shows as I can. Solo, with my band, anything. I really miss seeing the faces of the people that listen to my music. Trying to read their reactions while you’re playing a show is really scary, but the most satisfactory.