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New Artist of The Week: Zelly

By Ross Jones

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If you were to pop down to High Class Hillbilly, the vintage shop on Gallatin Pike owned by Nikki Lane, you may bump into aspiring and exciting new artist Zelly.

Since moving to Nashville from California, Zelly Duggan has been finding her place in Music City. With the guidance of friend and confidant Lane, she's begun working on her first EP - a wry yet vulnerable effort that desires to share an ever-thoughtful message.

With her debut single, the unshackled 'American Dream', Zelly offers evidence of the powerful and forthright songwriter she's become. Exploring the inexcusable behaviour of society today through the ideals of the American dream, Duggan wraps candid observance into her evocative vocals. Unafraid to point out the negligence that sweeps the streets and boulevards that offer such opportunity for a contented future, Zelly finds a sweet spot between drollness and sincerity that makes her an all the more enigmatic character.

Zelly's video for her debut single 'American Dream' is premiering exclusively today at Holler. Ahead of its release, we spoke to the Nashville-native about how success drives her, why Jason Isbell is the best songwriter around and listening to nothing but The Beatles for a whole year.

Where are you from and has that influenced the type of artist you are?

I’m from Ventura, CA. I grew up five minutes from the beach, but spent most of my time in Ojai (a small valley town about 15 miles from Ventura) riding horses. California never felt like home to me. I always felt very alone growing up but that fuelled the songwriting.

Speaking of influences, what were you listening to growing up?

I was lucky in that everyone in my family had great taste in music. My dad loved the Eagles and Neil Young. My grandpa was always playing old folk songs and the occasional Dylan record. I always loved real songwriters. When I discovered The Beatles for the first time I downloaded every album onto my iPod nano and listened to nothing else for a year.

Did you ever want to do something other than music?

I was very passionate about riding and competing horses. Growing up riding in the Olympics was always my dream! It wasn’t until I picked up a guitar at 14 that I dreamed of doing anything else.

Are you more creative when you’re happy or when you’re sad?

I’m the most creative when I’m vulnerable.

What drives you the most?

I would love to be successful. I would love a big light show. There’s a lot that’s out of my control but I’ll never stop hustling.

In general, which comes first for you, the title or the song?

Always the song. I write in a stream of consciousness with my guitar and a notepad. The titles come later.

Any nicknames you care to share? How did it come about?

My name is pretty short already. A lot of people think Zelly is short for something but it’s my full name! My parents were going to name me Zelda after Zelda Fitzgerald, and then came up Zelly instead.

Who would be your dream collaboration?

Hm. Probably Jason Isbell. As a songwriter I don’t think there’s anyone better.

What’s next?

The release of my first EP! And hopefully some shows!

Zelly's debut single, 'American Dream' is out this Friday (4/9) via Cardinal Club.

Photography courtesy of Lucky Bird Media.