Emma Zander is a multitalented singer songwriter from New York. After college, Emma moved to the West Coast to pursue her passion for music. Zander is heavily involved in every aspect of the creative process when it comes to bringing her music to life. I was fortunate enough to have a Q+A with Emma and hear about her journey.
Growing up in New York, being involved in theater, was there a specific moment when you knew that music was your calling?
I don’t know if there was a specific moment, but I do remember going to musicals, or concerts, or seeing performers on TV and thinking, I have to do this. I want to be up there.
You attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, one of the most exclusive and competitive arts programs in the country. How does your background in theater influence your music? Does it play a role in crafting your on stage presence during your live shows?
My time at the musical theatre conservatory taught me so much about discipline and the importance of honing your craft. We had 12 hour days, and the professors expected so much from us — it was pretty cut throat. But the level of preparation they demanded really made me feel so proud of the work I did there — and I carry that work ethic with me in my artistry today.
When it comes to stage presence, I really learned how to portray the emotion of a song on stage. Every single word we sang on stage had to have meaning and purpose — so that acting training really helps me with performing my songs today.
You’ve achieved some huge milestones in your career so far, and not only are you a talented singer. But many people may not know you have some pretty impressive writing credits. One of them that stood out to me was writing the theme song for EDC. How did you get started in songwriting? Do you prefer to work behind the scenes or on stage?
Thank you! I have been a writer and avid reader my whole life, and grew up listening to Sara Bareilles and Regina Spektor. I started writing songs on the guitar at 14, but I didn’t really start taking songwriting seriously until I moved to LA & started collaborating with other writers. From the moment I had my first studio session, I was hooked. I started writing with as many people as I could, DMing songwriters and producers and asking for sessions. To me, it felt like no session was wasted — everything led to something. And I learned something new from every different collaborator and their process.
There’s so much magic both in the recording process and being on stage — but I think the stage takes the cake. There’s no better feeling than connecting with an audience in real time. It’s electrifying.
I’ve heard you also do some directing! Specifically music videos and that makes sense since yours are so well done. As someone who has a love for film and creates stunning visuals and aesthetics, are there any films in particular that inspired the visual elements for your videos?
I am absolutely obsessed with the medium of film and it inspires so much of what I do. My Bad Dream video was inspired by Network, a 1976 film about a newsroom. My latest was inspired by La La Land — I love that romantic, Hollywood cinematic feel. Euphoria is one of the most beautifully shot shows I’ve ever seen — and I LOVE that they shot the last season on film. The grainy, retro film aesthetic is one of my favorite vibes for visuals.
And we can’t talk about your music videos without bringing up Jacob Elordi. You got him to play your love interest in your “Bad Dream” video. Describe what that day on set with him was like.
Ahh, of course! Jacob is so cool. He was so involved in every part of the process, from rehearsals to shoot day. On set, he was super sweet and quiet and mostly kept to himself. He read a book between takes. He really truly cared about the product, and stayed later than planned to get the perfect shot. He was really a team player. Nothing but awesome things to say about Jacob.
It seems like you ooze art and aesthetics in every medium. Your Instagram features you in some pretty breathtaking outfits. Who inspires your fashion? Would you say your music matches your fashion aesthetic?
My fashion aesthetic is constantly evolving, and I feel like it’s just a part of my natural expression, like my music. Of course I’m totally into Rihanna, the Kardashians, Kate Moss, the big style icons. But I feel like I really get inspiration from the women around me — my best friend Jaimie is always wearing flowy robes and hats, gliding across the room like a total hippy. My friend Kimberly wears stacked earrings that make even the most casual outfit so cool. I love stealing bits and pieces from other women and making them my own.
I used to think so much about whether my music aligned with my fashion, but now, I’m a little more chill about it. I think as long as my fashion and my music are true to ME, they’ll match. There’s no need to try to be different — I am different, because I am me.
Getting back to the music, I saw on your tiktok, that Papa Roach released your cover of “Last Resort”. You took their song in a completely different direction which I’m sure was a gamble. What was that experience like?
It was honestly a song that I never dreamed of covering, but director Brandon Dermer had the idea to create a female pop version for his movie ‘I’m Totally Fine,’ so I got in the studio with the wonderful Kayhan Azhadi and it just flowed like magic. When it was set to come out, Brandon sent it to Papa Roach’s team — they not only approved of the new version, but decided to put it out on their label. It was such a cool moment for me. I loved them growing up. Also, seeing it on the big screen was so much fun.
You’ve got some new music coming out too! You just dropped a new single, “Not A Fairytale,” how did that song come to be?
‘Not a Fairytale’ was written right after Folklore came out, so I was super inspired by Taylor Swift’s lyrical, poetic storytelling. I challenged myself to write a song that truly told a story, even if it was from the point of view of a character that wasn’t me. So that’s what I did. I wrote from a TV character’s perspective — then later realized that it absolutely had EVERYTHING to do with me. My experience of a toxic relationship had totally informed the song — but maybe it was easier to dive in from someone else’s perspective, trying to make sense of it all.
What can fans look forward to after the music video for “Not A Fairytale” is released? Any new music coming out that you can give us a sneak peak?
I have a new EP ready to go and it’s really a departure from anything I’ve done so far. I collaborated with incredible producer John Velasquez (Zella Day, Vacations) on this one, and it’s super weird and trippy and emotional and alternative. We recorded everything on live instruments, which is really different than the vibe I’m used to. I’m so excited for the next chapter.
I’d like to personally like to thank Emma for taking the time for us to get to know her. Make sure to check out the music video for “Not a Fairytale” dropping this Friday. If you’d like to learn more about Emma and her journey follow her on : Instagram @emmazander TikTok @emma.zander Facebook @Emma Zander