I met Zoe Hoetzel about two years ago at a friend’s barbecue. I’d seen her music video ‘Explosion’ already, and was happy to find that the woman behind the persona was incredibly down-to-earth and hardworking, easy to befriend and always down for collaborations.
Born in New York but raised in Los Angeles, Hoetzel returned to the city to attend NYU, where studied film. Having felt the creative limits of the school’s program, she branched off onto a multimedia path, ultimately combining her talents into one visual and musical brand: Zolita.
Fast-forward to now and she’s at over 40K followers on Instagram, with a loyal fanbase and loads of fun projects and collaborations on the horizon. Her music sits close to her identity as an LGBTQ+ artist, with many of the themes and motifs in her songs relating to her experience as a queer woman. Along with creating the music to support her identity, Hoetzel also directs all of her music videos.
Most recently, after a series of heartbreaking discoveries regarding a former girlfriend, Zolita released the song and video “Truth Tea,” one of her biggest hits to date, which detailed the betrayal and strength that comes from removing oneself from a bad relationship. We chat with her below about the making of this masterpiece, her views on the music industry, and how she’s making artwork that reaches and represents an audience that has historically been underrepresented by the pop music scene.
Zolita! What is your background? I’m aware you came to NYU from LA to study film—what made the transition into music?
Zolita: “I grew up playing bluegrass and flatpack guitar competitively, but it was something I grew out of in my teens when I became obsessed with pop music. Around that time, I also became infatuated with film and photography, and music transitioned into something I did more casually. Then I went to NYU to study film, and was super-frustrated with the typical narrative structure most of my professors were preaching. I was definitely more interested in aesthetics and style and shot composition than I was in telling a linear story. I think every single film I made in high school and in the beginning of college had some sort of dream sequence as an excuse to put in a nonsensical music montage! I realized pretty quickly that music videos were my favorite medium because they combined all of the things I love—film, music, activism, and style. At that point, I didn’t have access to music artists that I felt compelled to make videos for. So I decided to make music myself. I think the most incredible thing about music as a medium is how fast the turnaround can be. A single person can write a song in an hour, and it can be very accessible and has the potential to touch millions of lives. Film is a much longer and more collaborative process.”
How has studying film influenced your musical choices, or your choices in regards to your music videos?
Z: “When I make music, there’s never a moment I’m not thinking about the visuals to go with it. A lot of the time, I even write the music video ideas before I make the music! I also think I always strive to make music that has a cinematic quality to it.”
What is something you always look to have in your songs/music videos?
Z: “I always want my music and videos to be vulnerable and truthful to something I’m actually experiencing. An empowered LGBTQ+/feminist message is also really important to me. Sometimes, people ask me why all my work has to ‘be so queer,’ to which my response is: I live my life as a queer woman, and a lot of the time I’m writing about relationships…so of course my work is going to be queer!”
What hopes do you have for your music in terms of resonance to your audience?
Z: “Making music that tells authentic stories about LGBTQ+ people and their relationships is so important to me because young queer people don’t have enough work in the mainstream that’s specifically about their experiences. My music is very proudly queer, but I don’t think that should hinder its ability to connect with a heterosexual audience. Love is love, and music is a universal language.”
You recently released “Truth Tea,” which has become one of your most popular songs! It’s about going through the stresses, sadness, anger, and trauma of a bad relationship and making light of it, and it’s quite a contrast to your previous music videos. Can you tell me a bit about the process of making it? What do you hope your fans will take away from the video?
Z: “Towards the end of August, I experienced a massive betrayal and I started feeling a level of anger I’d never felt in my life. I’ve always been an extremely light, forgiving, rose-colored-glasses type of person, so the anger was very new to me. I needed to work through it, so I did through my music. I first wrote the “Truth Tea” video idea, and then I went into the studio and wrote the song. The whole process was very cathartic.
The biggest thing I want my fans to take away from “Truth Tea” is that they are entitled to their anger. I think forgiveness and gratitude for the things a bad relationship has taught you is a lovely sentiment and an important step, but I also think that when someone has hurt you badly, you should allow yourself to feel the anger too. I honestly also wanted to call out the person who did what they did, because I wasn’t the first one they’d done it to. It’s not fair to go around hurting so many people without repercussions.”
Do you have any funny stories from the set of “Truth Tea?”
Z: “Originally, the opening shot was going to be a take on the 10 of swords tarot card, because it was the first card I pulled after I found out what was going on. The 10 of swords imagery is of a dead man with ten knives in his back. It didn’t end up making it into the actual video, but it was the shot we spent the longest on because of special effects makeup! I had to lie for two hours as they put knives into my back, and when I had to pee, I had to walk across the set totally naked like a hunchback gremlin so the knives wouldn’t fall off cause they were so heavy. It was a funny image.”
If you could change something about the past few years, what would it be?
Z: “I’m a big believer in everything happening for a reason, so I wouldn’t necessarily change anything. But I did learn a lot in the past few years that I will 100% live by going forward. The biggest one is to follow my intuition, because it’s always right. I can’t let my idealism quiet it. Going forward, I think I’ll also be better at recognizing when a relationship drains more from my cup than it fills. It’s frustrating to think about how much precious energy I spent constantly fixing a relationship rather than questioning why it kept breaking in the first place. 2019 is about putting all of my energy into my work and my friends and family and my healing.”
What do you see for your future? Any exciting projects coming up?
Z: “A big dream is to put out a visual album and take it on a world tour! There are a lot of exciting projects coming up in the near future… the first is my next single “Black Magic” and the short film I’m making for it. It’ll be 10-12 minutes. Then I’m going to put out another six-song EP in the spring and take that on a mini tour. Aside from my music endeavors, I’m starting a creative agency with a friend that will be comprised of all women/POC/LGBTQ+ artists.”
Check out Zolita’s ‘Truth Tea’ below!