The first thing you should know about Zella Day is that Zella is her real first name. No fabricated stage names from the Pinetop, Ariz. native.
"Jerome," the opening track off Day's upcoming debut album Kicker, out on June 2, details the story of how she ended up with the distinctive designation.
"It's a song that I've been waiting to write for a long time," she said. "It's about the woman I was named after."
A coal miner's wife, named Zella, naturally, based in the Arizona town of Jerome, caught the attention of Day's parents after they were married, though most of what she knows of the woman comes mostly from her own creativity.
"I have always had this sort of dream world imagination about what Zella was like and what she went through and how we are spiritually connected," she said. "That song is about her ghost. It's kind of introducing myself to you by name."
Any introductions to the singer, who's been likened to artists Lana Del Rey, Fiona Apple and Stevie Nicks, are apt to come from her own perspective via the 12 introspective and self-revelatory tracks on Kicker. From the rebellious "Mustang Kids" to Day's reflection on her own personal growth on "Jameson," the album is a ripped-from-the diary affair.
"I have moments of feeling a little intimidated of the fact that people are going to be hearing something that's so close to me and something that's so descriptive of who I am and my experiences, and that leaves me vulnerable. And there's a part of me that feels like I have nothing to lose."
So far the result has been fruitful. With five of the album's tracks already available on her self-titled EP as well as the dissonant and slow-burning contribution to the Insurgent soundtrack, "Sacrifice," listeners can't ignore the allure of the earthy yet glamorous nature of Day's music and, thus, the similarities the songs' orchestrations and vocals have to the aforementioned Lana Del Rey. A real-life bohemian coming-of-age story that saw Day performing Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley covers in her family-owned coffee shop as a kid, Day cites her upbringing around strong women and lyrical content as one of the major differences between herself and Lizzie Grant.
"I would say our approach to our music is different," she said. "I think Lana Del Rey can be self deprecating — her music is so relatable in that way because we all have feelings at times. My music is a little bit more empowering at times."
Even though the album is still over a month away from releasing, Day hopes to set the bar high for herself. Her first extended tour is about to get underway supporting UK outfit Coasts, but not without a headlining performance at Ortlieb's on Saturday night. Even then, she feels like she's working with a blank slate. There'll be songs people have never heard before — the perfect opportunity to show off what she's been doing since adolescence: playing live.
"I want them to take away ... looking forward to my future record," she said of tour expectations. "There's nothing that is an illusion when you listen to my record and you see me live. It's all very much tangible and concrete."
Much like the music of her best friend and roommate BORNS, Day's songs work both amped up or pared down on an acoustic guitar — which is how they're written — making it more organic to take them from the studio to the stage. But it's the in-person experience that Day harps on the hardest. Even the mention of showcasing her music in a live setting incites a spark in her voice.
"I want to sound better live than I do on my record. I don't want to hide behind a speaker in your house."
Zella Day plays Ortlieb's (847 N. 3rd St.) on Saturday, April 18. Tickets are still available.