Published Mar 18, 2013Kootenays, B.C. native Rachel Zeffira's has a long back-story that involves relocating to the UK, being deported, performing at the Vatican for the Pope and befriending the Horrors. But her tale shouldn't overshadow the fact that this classically trained soprano has accidentally become a remarkable producer and songwriter. Following the album she recorded with Horrors frontman Faris Badwan as Cat's Eyes in 2011, Zeffira has ventured on her own and applied what she's learned to a solo album that elegantly combines her influences, new and old. The Deserters does not sound like the work of an artist who just discovered "shoegaze" five year ago, but Zeffira's orchestral arrangements, recorded at Abbey Road no less, mirrors the way artists layer guitar noise. Her dizzying cover of My Bloody Valentine's "To Here Knows When" may have initiated her solo career, but it doesn't define her. She reimagines sparkling disco on the "Break the Spell" and '60s baroque pop on "Waiting for Sylvia" like a well-educated student. No matter how enchanting the music gets, nothing quite eclipses her exquisite voice, which elevates the songs on The Deserters to a beatific level that no one can really touch.
You've said recording the My Bloody Valentine cover initiated the solo album. What was it about "To Here Knows When" that made you want to record a version of it?
When I heard it, the song sounded like there was this whole world inside of the layers. As I heard it I could just hear an orchestral version that I wanted to try out for fun. Faris was the one who introduced me to the song and the band. I hadn't come across My Bloody Valentine before I met Faris, I was just in a different area of music. I just wanted to try it out because I heard all of these layers, and then I kept writing songs that became an album. I didn't plan to do the album, it was this cover that made me want to make an album.
The album features members of Toy and S.C.U.M. How hard was it allowing outside musicians in helping you perform these songs?
I wrote the parts for them, but they did put on some sounds of their own. But I had worked with Panda from Toy on Cat's Eyes, so I'd already played with him a bit. Toy and I did a couple of gigs around London for fun; we even did a Mazzy Star cover. But I really just wanted [Toy] to be on my album because they're my friends and they're really great musicians. I wrote a song so I could force them to play on my album [laughs]. Mel [from S.C.U.M.] is the most musical drummer I've ever heard, and songs always sound better when she's played on it.
How come Faris wasn't on this record?
Well, when we make music together it's for Cat's Eyes. But Faris is always a big part of my music. I just really wanted to make this album on my own and trust myself to do it. And I like challenges. Faris is the first person I play things to, and one of the only opinions I ask for and care about. In a way he's always involved in what I do.
Before you met Faris, did you ever consider recording a traditional classical album?
Yeah, I did actually. And then around the time I met Faris it was a crucial point in my classical singing where I was deciding whether I would continue singing opera and classical. So I did have that in my mind, but in the end it ended up being a pop album, which was very unexpected. I got distracted meeting Faris, writing and recording songs because it was so much fun. In a way there was no turning back. With the classical stuff I didn't get to write my own songs, or write with anyone else, or sing in a different style. There were so many things that I got to do, which distracted me.
Will you release another Cat's Eyes album?
Yes. We'll probably put it out after the next Horrors record. You have to schedule it accordingly. But the Horrors will put theirs out and then a few months later, probably early 2014 we'll put that out.
Do you see your solo album affecting that Cat's Eyes album?
No, they were so separate from each other. But, I mean, the one thing that helps is that the more you write and arrange, the more I can improve… hopefully anyway. So it might get quicker each time and I'll improve naturally. The two projects are so different though because Faris and I do everything together for Cat's Eyes, like the themes and the sound experimentation, which I didn't want to do for my solo album. I wanted to keep things purer and acoustic, and I didn't want to experiment at all. I wanted to save that for Cat's Eyes. So really, they're pretty different.
You're originally from B.C. Do you identify as a Canadian artist?
That's a hard one. You can definitely hear my Canadian accent. But I've been here in London for my whole adult life. When I lived in Canada I wasn't involved in the scene I'm in now… but I guess I feel like a Canadian artist. That was kind of a long-winded answer [laughs].