Birds are chirping when Zsela answers the phone. It’s been five days since the release of her debut EP, Ache of Victory — a collection of songs she fine-tuned for nearly three years before setting them free into the world. They paint a portrait of self-discovery and the thorny path it takes to get there, but with the singer-songwriter’s voice going down strong yet smooth, the journey feels calm and poised.
“It’s this over my family talking,” Zsela says over the chatty birds in her parents’ yard, where yesterday she helped a baby bird safely return to its nest. “It was scary,” she adds. “The mom came and saw me, and she probably thought I was kidnapping the bird. She flew in, and I almost lost my footing [on] the ladder.”
Zsela, 25, has spent the past two months with her own mom, dad, and little brother in Los Angeles, but New York is her normal homebase. Last year, she even shot a music video for “Noise” — her debut single that first made listeners’ ears perk up — smack in the middle of Times Square’s mad rush of People With Places to Go.
Victory’s visuals had to be less crowded; Zsela’s original plans were canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic, so she got scrappy while staying inside. Her mom, photographer Kate Sterlin, provided lights, and her friend Jasper Marsalis offered his camera. All three pooled their resources and filmed a black-and-white music video for “Undone,” the EP’s grand finale, in just two days. They used heavy black spaces to represent the “sense of void when you’re losing something,” and the haunting clip kicks off with Zsela pouring tears into her eyes.