The R&B rising star has spent his career learning how to open up
Zach Zoya is magnetic. From the second I log on to my Zoom call with the suave R&B crooner, it’s clear to me that he was born to be a star. He has an easygoing, effortless vibe that makes me certain everyone who talks to him must feel like his best friend. In his home of Montreal, they might call it “je ne sais quoi”; I’d call it the X Factor.
The whole world is starting to realize this, too. Zoya has had a banner year: he racked up a slew of international music award nominations, landed on countless artist-to-watch roundups, played at Quebec’s Osheaga Festival, and signed on to tour with it-girl Charlotte Cardin. His brand of intimate, vulnerable, irresistibly smooth R&B is taking over the airwaves, and as people start heading back to the club, it’s sure to dominate the dance floor as well — his beachy new single, Strangers in the House, drops on Feb. 18 and could make even the coldest Quebec winters feel like summertime.
What’s been your toughest career challenge?
Social media, I think it’s the least natural part. Sharing your daily life. With social media, you can kind of show your whole life all the time, privacy is kind of going away. And the demand for content — it’s so different from what I expected, or how it was before I started. It was definitely a challenge in the beginning.
And the thing is, as an artist you kind of want to go, “Ah, I’m an artist, I’m an artsy artist, I don’t want to do these things, my art is precious.” But at a certain point, you kind of have to … make it work to your advantage. I think I’m getting to that point now, and it’s rewarding to see something that was frustrating in the past become a tool that I actually enjoy doing. I started making these little videos to post on TikTok — before, I hated to do that. And now I kind of have fun.
What emotions drive your music?
My first EP was called Spectrum, and the whole concept was about covering the full spectrum of emotions. And I think that’s still something that’s very true about my music — I really try to cover 100% of all emotions. It’s also kind of like my coping mechanism, self-therapeutic. I talk about the good, the bad, what makes me angry, what makes me sad. And it’s a relief. It’s kind of like, that’s where I put my emotions, and then I get to relive them — from the outside.
Does your music act as a “safe outlet” to share those tough emotions?
I think, when I started rapping, I chose rap as my main avenue because it was less vulnerable. As a man, the rap persona is a confident one, a cocky one. It’s a macho one. Like, “I don’t care what you think, I’m gonna go on stage and do what I have to do.” And I was always in love with music, but I think it was very scary in the beginning to talk about my emotions on stage or in a song. And so I think slowly I’m starting to transition to the more touchy-feely type of songs that I do now. And I think that’s it’s liberating. I think a lot of people, a lot of men, are stuck in that circle. You kind of have to be tough all the time. And me as an artist, it’s like, oh, I can cry on a song. You know what I mean? Like, I’m free.
Kendrick Lamar, Isaiah Rashad and the Black Eyed Peas.
Watch the Start Over music video