The ambitious and entrancing universe of Annika Zee

The timeless and futuristic aesthetics of Annika Zee; photographed by Kimari Hazward.

The timeless and futuristic aesthetics of Annika Zee; photographed by Kimari Hazward.

Some years back Annika Zee astounded the pop realm with 2016's Aging Aesthetics EP that built worlds consumed with constructs of beauty, art, amour, extravagance and more with styles that defied time or place. Conjuring up sounds and images that imagined smoky lounges from some alternate dimension with worlds decorated like familiar bygone or futurist eras — this would become the groundwork by which would later inform the artist’s labor of love with the release of the long-awaited album debut, Factory Pageant. Over discussions around the end of 2018, Annika personally introduced Week in Pop to the record with the following insights:

The record is a bit strange/ different and at a crossroads between ambient sprawling electronica, embedded in a singer songwriter context. It deals with themes of living alongside an online avatar self, how that effects the female psyche in a capitalist economy and in general is more of a critique on society than necessarily a singer songwriter heartbreak/relationship type of project like the previous EP.  It may be a bit more clinical, but that was what was interesting me at the time I wrote it.

Factory Pageant begins with the opening airy and electronic ambient intro "Event Horizon" that sets the stage for the adventurous album. "Super Model" is the sound of a dystopian runway scene set in a not-so-distant future, where we are then guided to the electric interlude of "Justus Von Liebig" that pays an homage to the founder of organic chemistry that seamlessly blends into the floral ruby hues of "Roses, The Red", then dips into the sensual chamber grotto of "Lydia' that Annika executes in an expressive excellence that blends digital dissonance with sax brass inflections throughout. Conflicts between heroes and villains, allies and adversaries play out on the cinematic scope of "Bully", right before diving head over heels on the endearing fantasia voyage "Fantasy", then keeping that film soundtrack score in full effect on "The Monarch Flies", commencing the ceremonies on the closing number "Noziroh Tneve" where you can hear the entirety of the full-length virtually dissolve into the evocative ether. Annika Zee has gifted 2019 with a work centered on the concepts of future arts designed for the senses of today’s restless audiences.

Over the course of the past winter through spring — we talked with Annika across long distance cables to further explore and understand the stunning album that has been years in the making:

Reflections on the groundwork that brought about the inspirations for Factory Pageant.

I wanted to explore what was on the fringes of identity beyond societal constructs and the narratives of victimhood, heartbreak, or seduction. I imagined as you made your way to this edge, the female identity would start to rip and tear apart at the seams giving way to a new perspective. I wanted to look at my own condition from the outside in, breaking it down into abstractions, stereotypes and images that implode upon themselves.

The album title alludes to the mechanization of posturing that consumes our society's obsession with manufacturing online images of perfection and feigned lifestyle opulence. Thoughts on the effects that these unrealistic expectations of projections have on women amid a backdrop of a technocratic world that dictates so much to be catered to the male gaze.

This is a loaded question. I am concerned for young women—and men—and the messages mainstream media puts into their subconscious, especially because of how widespread and insidious this media is. It is less the artists at the top of the entertainment industry I dislike, but essentially the powers that be that influence the parameters of what they can create and release to the public.

Pageantry or fashion fascinates me because it liberates you through self expression while simultaneously caging you. I liked the clash and combination of Factory Pageant because Pageant is this very lush, beautiful, excessive word whereas Factory implies sterile, contained, logical, mechanical and confined. I played with the clash of these energies in the songs themselves [like] “The Monarch Flies” vs “Super Model”.

Expounding upon aesthetics and more with Annika Zee; photographed by Angelina Bergenwall.

Expounding upon aesthetics and more with Annika Zee; photographed by Angelina Bergenwall.

Describe how you found creative inspiration from the concept of these obnoxious and ubiquitous pressures of online avatar beauty pageantry to executing an ambitious piece of stylistic defying art.

Wow, thanks for the kind words! I was reading Lewis Carroll’s original Alice in Wonderland and wanted the experience of the album to be like Alice falling into the rabbit hole. As Alice falls into a technocratic world, she loses a sense of concrete reality, she morphs and changes into different points of consciousness as the digital and off screen world blend together. Alice enters into darkness yet within it there is light, vast horizons of new possibilities appear as she plunges into the unknown. At least that is one way of experiencing the record, although I had multiple interpretations in mind.

But to return to your point of avatar beauty, I was inspired and disturbed by Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue that tells the story of Mima, a young pop idol and her mental landscape in stardom. She lives a double life between her glossy girl idol projected image and her private self that becomes completely divorced from the ideological construct she presents to the world. I became interested in how this mental condition can be experienced by anyone today that constructs a persona in the digital space and wanted to bring that mental landscape to life in Factory Pageant.

From moody cinematic instrumentals to grandiose and timeless ballads — tell us about some of the things that surprised you while arranging and composing Factory Pageant.

I was surprised by how long it took me to make the record. I wrote all of the songs [over the course of one, two] years ago and I threw away many tracks. The hard work was piecing it all together. I was impressed with the talent of the musicians I worked with and how well they were able to take my reference tracks and ideas and mutate them into something better than what I imagined. Aaron Rourke nailed it with the saxophone solo on “Lydia”, also shout outs to Jesse Bielenberg, Jacob Blumberg and Eric Read.

Thoughts on how your own artistic approaches have evolved since your last EP and even before.

I’d like the next project to be more electrified, alive and from the heart space, less of an outsider art project, but who knows how I will be feeling when I start writing it. I feel like I’ve become more of a conceptual artist and am developing an artistic approach of working backwards. You start with the end goal of your artistry, of the records in mind, considering the visuals and philosophy of the sound and then move backwards from there instead of stringing a bunch of tracks together. I sort of worked that way for Factory Pageant but it was unintentional. Then again, you also don’t want to over-think too much when making music.

Meditations, hopes and mantras for 2019.

I’d like to get out of my own way for 2019, try to be more positive, accepting, and forgiving of myself and of others, and to get out of old toxic patterns that are no longer serving me. That’s about it!

Listen to more from Annika Zee via Spotify, Bandcamp and Soundcloud.