“What’s up, man” a sleepy Zack Villere grumbles on answering his phone, his voice struggling to kick into action. When NME calls, it’s 11am in LA – his current home – and his croaky voice is an indicator he’s settled into the lifestyle nicely. “It’s cool, but I couldn’t say that being physically here has really added that much,” he says. “I guess it has in terms of being around my friends and being inspired.”
Throughout the chat, Zack retains the same West Coast’s laid-back approach to conversing. Occasionally, he verges on sounding completely unbothered by things – mainly when analysing his own music – but springs into monologues when we broach topics of Soundcloud and touring. His seemingly apathetic approach hasn’t affected his rise however, now sitting comfortably alongside the likes of Clairo, Omar Apollo and Brockhampton as one of the brightest prospects in a new wave of indie.
It seems only natural for an artist who’s done just a handful of interviews before – and wasn’t hugely satisfied with the results – to have his guard up slightly. “It came out so bad man, so bad” he recalls of one particular one. Luckily, one album in (and another one teased for next year) Villere’s music does most of the talking for him. A few years ago, the eccentric artist was known as Froyo Ma, creating “Yonkers-inspired beats” in his family home and uploading them to SoundCloud. When a producer hero of his, MNDSGN (Doja Cat, Danny Brown), started singing over his beats, it inspired Zack to start putting pen to paper and flex his vocal muscles too. “I was like if he can do it, I can do this!” The first song he wrote, Window Fog was a teaser of his nonchalant style and featured on his debut EP.
It’s hard to pigeon-hole Zack Villere’s sound. Depending on where you look, he’s classed as ‘bedroom pop’, ‘lo-fi indie’ or ‘alt-rock’. Look to his musical peers mentioned earlier, who are also rough around the edges, and you’ll see a familiar brand of raw, guitar-led music that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Take the deadpan delivery of King Krule, pair it with a touch of Tyler, The Creator’s instrumentalism and add a dash of Rex Orange County and Puma Blue and you have the vibe. Zack himself struggles with the task of describing his sound too and is actually often let down by people’s evaluations. “I feel like a dickhead and it sounds lame but whenever people ask, I’m usually like ‘I don’t know,’” he explains. “For other people, it’s probably easy to categorise what I’m doing but, honestly, it’s usually a bummer.”
Whatever it is he’s creating, though, people are enjoying it. Not just new-music-hungry streamers but fellow artists, too. Brockhampton’s Kevin Abstract recently tweeted that the video for Villere’s new single ‘Sore Throat’ is “my favourite music I’ve seen all year” and back in 2017, Tyler, The Creator retweeted the visuals for his track ‘cool’. Apt. That song and two others from his debut record ‘Little World’ have racked up a combined 35 million streams between them.
Zack arrived on the scene in 2016 as part of a first real wave of raw, bedroom-produced tracks to hit the mainstream. It was a movement that celebrated music that was charmingly off-kilter, eccentric and minimalist. As some of his contemporaries progressed into more polished musical territories, launching them into wider popularity in the process, Villere stayed true to his undefinable, woozy sound. His social media followings have grown, sure, but he still remains something of a well-kept secret. It’s a position that he seems to enjoy being in. “All this streaming stuff created a middle class of music where we can be independent – not huge – but comfortable, which is pretty dope,” he explains. “I feel like so many kids on the internet can just make shit at their house, make a living off it, tour and all that shit, but also do other stuff they want and not have to be an enormous artist or signed to a label.”
Despite that, however, he argues that the excitement of the raw, unsigned artist living and releasing on the internet isn’t what it was, thanks to labels hopping on the bandwagon. “It does suck though because it seems like that stuff is being set up by the industry, so it’s becoming this whole other thing,” he says, reeling off his consciousness for the first time. “There was a window where it was super easy and fun…the Soundcloud era. You could drop a tune on Soundcloud and make friends on there, it was so sick. It all feels more like a game today.”
Thankfully, for Villere, music is just one facet of his creativity. Growing up, he would be obsessed with films and cartoons and a pencil would never be too far out of reach. Considering his music videos have caught the eyes of some of music’s most creative, he must be doing something right. “[Visuals] are definitely super important,” he tells us. “I’ve always drawn since I was a little kid. With the last album, the whole visual world of it all was really important. I want to bring people into some fully immersive shit.”
The true test for every streaming artist is when it comes to touring. Is his popularity transferable from URL to IRL? We ask, as he’s an artist who’s mastered his craft in the studio, how he’ll approach performing live. “I actually never cared about live shows,” he replies frankly. “I’m not a huge fan of going to shows and I’m not a huge fan of performing. I always felt like I had to do this. Then, two months ago, I played this random show in Vancouver and it was so fun. I’m really excited to tour now. I never cared about that until then.”
If he’s able to make the same impact on the road as he has on the streaming world, then it’s only a matter of time until he’s leading the pack. For now, though, we wait to hear more information on an album that, according to his Instagram, is finished and ready to go when the time is right. When we ask, he’s tight-lipped, holding back details his growing fanbase are craving. We approach from a different angle: what do you want from the album? “I just want to keep getting better, man” he says coyly, in typical Villere fashion.