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A&E >  Entertainment

L.A. inspiration fuels Zella Day’s sound

Zella Day is seen on the Universal Music Group stage at the SXSW 2015 Experience, Friday, March 20, 2015, in Austin, Texas. (Jack Dempsey / Invision for Universal Music Group)
Zella Day is seen on the Universal Music Group stage at the SXSW 2015 Experience, Friday, March 20, 2015, in Austin, Texas. (Jack Dempsey / Invision for Universal Music Group)

Singer-songwriter Zella Day moved to Los Angeles four years ago, having fantasized about living in the city since she was a kid. Born and raised in the small resort town of Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona, Day got her start performing in her parents’ coffee shop, releasing an independent album titled “Powered by Love” when she was only 13.

“I had my sights set on California for a long time,” Day said. “I always viewed California as being more open-minded, a place where there was room for everybody and everything. There weren’t kids my age making music when I was growing up. So I had this idealistic approach to California and how being there would further my career, which it did, and I’m actually still inspired by the same things being here.”

Day’s latest album, “Kicker,” is defined by the wide-eyed optimism of a small town kid newly arrived in a big, sparkly city, a collection of stories about runaways, modern-day outlaws, hippies and heartbreakers. In that sense, it’s a distinctly Los Angeles record. But Day, who performs at the Knitting Factory on Wednesday, says she was conscious about allowing her Arizona roots to creep into the music.

“I found it important to bring in my home and somehow incorporate the landscapes and influences of Arizona,” Day said. “I quickly realized moving to L.A. that my upbringing wasn’t something to be ashamed of.”

“Kicker” is also a record of conflicting interests, since its characters are as troubled as they are carefree, and a song about an intense love affair might be followed by an aching, heartsick ballad. That approach clearly reflects Day’s headspace when she was working on the album.

“I moved out of my mom’s house in Long Beach, was living in L.A. by myself, going through a break-up and finishing a record,” Day said. “There was a darker thematic side of my heart being torn between two places and two sides of who I was. … But there’s also an optimistic side of the record, with my fresh eyes of L.A. and the excitement and rush of being in California, and the departure from being a kid.”

Day cites Fleetwood Mac and Joni Mitchell as early musical influences, and she says that everything from the Zombies and old-school country inspired her most recent batch of songs. “Kicker” was produced by pop impresarios Wax Ltd., and it’s fueled by pulsating electronic rhythms, arena-ready percussion and lush harmonies. Day’s airy, come-hither voice recalls Lana Del Ray and Florence Welch, and her lovelorn, radio-friendly lyrics resemble Taylor Swift’s most recent work.

“My taste definitely became more eclectic as I was around different bands here in L.A. and exposed to different music,” Day said. “It’s been years of connecting with producers and writers and growing into myself as a songwriter.”

Day comes to Spokane as an opener for rock-rapper Michael Franti, and she’ll be backed by a full band. Day says her live songs sound identical to their recorded counterparts, but the energy on stage is much more vibrant.

“I wrote ‘Kicker’ before I had ever toured a day in my life, so the way the record comes to life onstage feels a lot more rock ‘n’ roll,” Day said. “Which I think is exciting, because people don’t know what to expect from an alternative pop artist. The show is a beautiful representation of the record. I think I enjoy the record more onstage than I do off stage.”

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