Poppy guides us through the creation of her latest release, ‘Zig’, available now via Sumerian Records.
From lyric writing to choosing the title and planning for the future, this is the inside story of the creation of her fifth studio album.
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Ahead of the release of Poppy’s fifth studio album ‘Zig’, she’s still fielding the same question: who is Poppy? The artist, born Moriah Rose Pereira, began her career lampooning internet culture and playing a character some have described as an “uncanny valley-like android.” For a while, it was hard to tell where Poppy ended and Moriah began: “People always ask: is this you? Is this not you? Where’s the line? Where’s the separation?” Poppy says now. “I’m always myself, but the dial is turned up on certain elements at certain times. It’s always been that way since the beginning.” That’s just the nature of art, especially when the artist plays with a persona. While her career began on YouTube, from the release of 2017’s ‘Poppy.Computer’ and ‘Am I a Girl?’, Poppy has been exploring those questions of identity through music.
At 28, Poppy has an impressive music career that has already seen her tour, win awards, and traverse genres with ease. Signed to Sumerian Records, she’s a prolific artist who can only be so by getting her head down and ignoring what people want. What’s behind the audience’s impulse, though, to separate the artist from the person? “I think people really want to see things in black and white, and they want to have an immediate answer and be able to put something in a box. They are so uncomfortable with the unknown and the grey areas,” Poppy ruminates. The grey area, though, is where Poppy thrives: “Sometimes the uncertainty is the most beautiful part. We should live more in that space. I think there would be a lot less tension in the world if there was truly more acceptance of the unknown.”
Poppy, for the record, never intends to let the public truly know her. She’s an eloquent speaker, one who thinks a great deal before she lets out a full thought. She’s articulate, especially when it comes to her own work, but on this topic in particular, she’s more animated. “I don’t have the capacity nor the desire to explain myself nor understand somebody in their entirety. Life’s too short. I mean, if somebody wants to make it their entire life’s mission and job to understand every nuance and every action and every detail about a person, go on,” she laughs. “But I think you can do something a bit more constructive with your time.”
‘Zig’ sees Poppy coming home to herself, becoming more comfortable in her own skin as she grows up. Part of that is utilising her body in her art, both onstage and music videos. “I knew going into making this record that it was going to be significantly different because it was important for me to incorporate a lot of my dance background,” says Poppy. “I have a newer appreciation for my body’s capabilities.” She feels stronger than ever–physically and mentally–which is crucial to her. “As a woman, it’s important to feel able to take on things by yourself or lift heavy things and not rely on somebody. It’s functional. I feel ready. Ready to lift things,” she laughs. What else does she feel ready for? “The zombie apocalypse. Just get behind me. We leave at dawn!”
‘Zig’ is Poppy’s fifth album in just six years. From record to record, her sound has evolved and matured with her–and ‘Zig’ is no exception. It’s a little heavier than 2021’s Flux, but it still has a poppy, playful feeling that makes it instantly catchy. “I feel like ‘Zig’ very much has its own identity. I’ve been describing it as a more rhythmic, hi-fi record in comparison to my last work,” says Poppy. She notes that interviewers have been pointing out that it’s a pop record, but she’s not shy of that fact. “I don’t think I’ve ever made music that wasn’t pop or wasn’t catchy. The instrumentation or the production style changes, but I love a catchy song and hooks. If that means pop, then so be it, but I just make songs that I find to be enjoyable.” Poppy is always writing and recording music, so the songs on ‘Zig’ were less written for it than curated after the fact. “When it comes to choosing songs that make the record, I feel like they identify themselves as a body of work and it’s easier to choose from that.” Her influences are diverse–at the time, she was listening to a lot of dance music. She namechecks Burial, Cocteau Twins and Venetian Snares as big influences. “I love Portishead, of course, and Massive Attack too. So maybe that had some influence in the end.”
‘Zig’ marks Poppy’s first time working with producer Ali Payami. Songwriter Simon Wilcox, who Poppy has been working with since the start of her music career, also lent a hand on a few tracks. “I was really inspired by my collaborative partners. Ali Payami and I were working together for the first time, and it felt really fresh and like having a good day with my friends when we would get in the studio,” says Poppy. “The energy in the room is really important to me. When you’re working with people that closely, you get to know a lot about them, and I feel you can’t help but become really close,” she says, describing both Ali and Simon as close friends. “There are days I remember showing up to the studio, and there was a heaviness just because of life coming with all of the shades that it comes with. I feel that reflected in the composition too.” That collaborative spirit and balance between light and dark defines ‘Zig’: “There’s a certain energy I feel when in a collaborative dynamic, where I spit out an idea, then the person I’m working with spits out one, then we rise up to the next level together,” Poppy explains. “Then it’s a battle of the best idea, and the best idea wins. I feel like I’m always trying to excite the other person that I’m in the room with. There’s this very vibrant energy with us.” That closeness, Poppy confesses, has pulled her out of some dark places. “For me personally, if I spend too much time alone, I get into the pits of darkness a little bit too far. Knowing that at this stage that I’m at in life, I put up certain guardrails.”
On ‘Zig’, Poppy grows lyrically, delving into more personal themes while maintaining a degree of playful humour. ‘Motorbike’, for example, is a sexy, funny track about seeing a girl on a motorbike and engaging in a fantasy. “I had fun making it, so I’m glad that that comes across. It makes me smile when I hear it. It’s empowering, and a little bit flirtatious,” Poppy smiles. At the same time, ‘Zig’ deftly handles some complicated, grown-up feelings. “There are themes of love and also freedom and empowerment, but also frustration. I found that I was misunderstanding certain parts of life and unlearning a lot of things that I thought were truths and digesting what that means to me. There’s a duality there.” What was she unlearning? “My idea of a relationship’s function,” says Poppy. The result is an album that’s self-assured. “One song that I feel very proud of, or find to be closer to my centre, is ‘Flicker’,” Poppy reveals. She tells a story of playing it for a friend who exclaimed: “Pop, it sounds like you!” “It’s so me. It really reflects how I speak about my fears of love and loss and relationships and my desire to understand.”
On the cover of ‘Zig’, Poppy faces away from the camera, kneeling and tied up with rope and a sword strapped to her back. The provocative image, and the other photos in the album package, were taken by Amy Lee, a photographer and artist known as Le3ay. Why a sword? “I love swords and sword fighting. I like the intensity, the sharpness, the fact that they’re lethal. Dangerous, but also beautiful.” On ‘Zig’, Poppy wanted to explore her relationship to her body and return to her dance background. “Dance has been a part of my life since I could walk. I was dancing before I was singing. Then I stopped dancing to follow the project,” says Poppy. “I always dreamt of when the worlds would merge together, and I feel like I’m at the beginning of that right now. It’s exciting for me.” Poppy says that, through this process, she has fallen in love with movement. “I am fortunate to have the body that I have. My relationship to it and to myself has changed over the years. I was very destructive towards myself for a while and my body and not really valuing it and its capabilities,” she shares. “Now it’s very much about my routine and feeling good within myself. In turn that translates to other parts of my life and feeling good in those areas too, but maybe it’s just something that comes with growing up and finding a new awareness of yourself.”
The title of the record, ‘Zig’, speaks for itself. Poppy explores her relationship to the word further on the title track, but it evokes an image of someone who’s always moving in the other direction. “’Zig’, true to its definition, is a sharp change in course or direction. It’s also one half of Zag. So I feel it’s appropriate,” says Poppy. “Three letters, short title, letter Z is an attractive letter for me.” She adds, though, that defying people’s expectations of her is not important–she’s only ever pursuing her own desires. “I don’t know what people expect from me at this point. I know that it is not something that I care about. I think my journey on this planet is more about me understanding myself, and in turn, I feel whoever that resonates with will be magnetised. So I’m just following my interests.”
When we catch up with Poppy, ahead of the release of ‘Zig’, she’s already planning to start recording again. She says that she is “always” writing and recording new music, so fans should have something to look forward to soon. “I am ready to go back on the road,” she adds, saying that she’ll be heading out on tour in January and February of next year, first in Europe with Bad Omens and then in the UK on a headliner. “I’ll be releasing more things that I’ve made. We’ll see what happens,” she says, with an audible smile that says she already knows exactly what’s next–she’s just not ready to share quite yet.