EP Walkthrough: Zheani breaks down the chaos of The Zheani Sparkes EP
The Australian rapper goes deep on her new EP, dissecting its meaning and creation with art pieces its influenced by.
It's hard to find an Australian musician - or a musician anywhere else, to be frank - quite like Zheani. Over the last few years, she's become a cult-adored international flag-flyer for the boldness of Australia's rap depths, with everything she's put out pushing boundaries as a musician in a saturated and still-growing hip-hop frontier, but as a person too; her work often navigating her rollercoastering life, from growing up in rural Australia amongst "drugs, crime, violence, poverty" to auto-biographical stories that capture her a multi-faceted, forward-thinking person of today.
This blend of abrasiveness and intimacy has been at the core of Zheani's music since the start, but The Zheani Sparkes EP - her latest record, released at the tail-end of last May - seemingly goes further than anything she's put out in the past. It explores the depths of her life and how she's powerfully able to translate it into creative bursts of energy unlike anything else coming out of Australia at the moment; allowing her to simultaneously guide us through her pain and celebrate herself as she warps musical conventions and keeps us on edge.
"With The Zheani Sparkes EP, I aimed to provide context after a year of being relentlessly picked apart and judged online," she says on the EP. "I wanted to dive back into embarrassing memories that I have for the longest time suppressed and through a process like alchemy, transmute them into music. My hope is the project will help me finally resolve and leave these memories behind and also help others that have gone through similar experiences feel less alone.
"With the Zheani Sparkes EP, I take a past that I was ashamed of and stake a claim to it knowing it made me the woman I am today. A woman that I am proud of."
Throughout the EP, you can hear this transition from shame to power beginning to occur. The explosive 2002 (The Hook is a Prayer) is a quick-firing rush of percussion and distorted vocals that charade lyrics on her upbringing and the complexities of it that strike a chord with those that have been through similar experiences, while a song like Dirtbike takes Zheani to her most abrasive and musically-harsh; a 100 gecs-reminiscent storm of flavours thundering amongst lyrics that were the hardest to write on the record, according to Zheani herself.
Yet, there are moments that contrast this heaviness with a sense of light-hearted fun; Zheani making a point to surround the complex and dark-lit depths of the EP with moments that are as exhilarating as the rest but without the harshness. The EP-opening Lava is one such moment, with Zheani building a twinkling dreamscape for her kind-of lo-fi and subtle branch of hip-hop, while the closing Yippy Ky Yay acts a similar role, capturing the excitement and uniqueness of Zheani and the multi-faceted and talented person the stories of this EP have created.
There's a lot of power in The Zheani Sparkes EP and now, with a track by track EP walkthrough guiding us through its themes and creation one song at a time, you can go a little deeper on the release and what influenced it:
Lava is an anthem for going on a holiday in your mind. I intended to treat myself with a real-world holiday after completing the EP but with the pandemic, this wasn’t a possibility. It was the last song completed and it is filled with positive affirmation, tropical vibes and beautiful creatures.
The guts of the EP are grim, dark and auto-biographical and I felt the project needed something to bind that negativity so Lava and Yippy Ky Yay form a Fairy Ring surrounding the harshness inside. I’ve been working on a music video for Lava and it’s been surreal projecting happiness in a time when so many people are suffering but regardless I believe a brave face can go a long way to creating inner peace.
Earth - Aya Takano:
The Birth of Venus - Botticelli
2. 2002 (The Hook is a Prayer)
2002 was written from my perspective as a child. The themes are heartbreaking and true but a respite from the nightmare comes in the form of the hook. I’ve had countless people reach out to me saying they relate to what I speak about in my music and this has been both a positive, knowing that I am not alone and heavy when having to consider the amount pain inflicted upon people. The Hook is a prayer for everyone who can relate.
Saturn devouring his son - Goya
3. Dirt on the Name of Steven
This song came together the easiest out of everything else on the EP, which is ironic considering it is also the wordiest. I detail my relationship with my father, comparing him to the other men around me at the time and men I’ve known since he has passed. Songs like Dirt on the Name of Steven are therapy for me and allow me to air out skeletons in the hopes of being able to move forward and leave my past behind.
The Kiss - Gustav Klimt
4. Angel Dust
Angel Dust is a song about how I was feeling beginning the EP. I had gone through an extremely stressful year and felt let down by many old friends. It was almost a cry for help “I bet you’ll all pretend that you miss me”, but an ironic one at that because the people I was calling to are unlikely to ever listen to the song.
The Nightmare - Fuseli
Dirtbike was painful to make and its creation a difficult and treacherous process. I never create demos of songs but with Dirtbike I did, having written the song prior to having the production. It was painful but thanks to King Yosef who produced the beat, it is one of the best songs on the EP. On Dirtbike, I speak about really embarrassing shit, there is nothing aesthetic about growing up in a world that resembles Gummo. And for people that appropriate this aesthetic to sell themselves... shame on you.
The Temptation of St. Anthony - Dali
6. Skitz Cunt
Skitz Cunt is my dark aspect, the person I could be after the life I’ve lived. It is the chip on my shoulder, the violent rage in my heart, the result of violence begetting violence. Skitz Cunt is getting a glimpse up my skirt before my boot cracks your face.
Dante and Virgil in Hell - Bouguereau
7. I Won’t Sell My Soul
This was my attempt at writing a folk song. I didn’t start creating music out of an ambition to become a part of the music industry, quite the contrary. For me, this song was simply a reminder to myself that the music industry is evil and I must not let it bend me to its twisted will. People that have grown up like me are vulnerable to being bewitched, hypnotised and blinded by empty promises and the lures of fame and fortune.
8. Yippy Ky Yay
Yippy is most definitely the cheekiest track on the EP, forming the other side of the fairy ring and keeping all the harshness of the EP bound. I set out to write a brag rap, but me trying to brag ended up feeling more comical than braggadocios. While the song is predominantly about my pale booty jiggling and taking shots until you spew, I do also have a line in there about “Hong Kong dollars, Free all my ballers” wishing my friends in Hong Kong freedom. Since the song came out they have sadly lost their right to free speech with little hope in sight. Even when you try to be silly and uplifting, sometimes the real world just does its thing.
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