Zeph: “People tell me it’s brave to be so vulnerable, but it doesn’t take guts. It’s just something that I do”

Between intense lyrical vulnerability, being a production whiz and taking inspiration from the Kung Fu Panda soundtrack, Zeph is an alt.pop superstar in the making. Having struggled for so long, she’s finally finding her place in the world…

Zeph: “People tell me it’s brave to be so vulnerable, but it doesn’t take guts. It’s just something that I do”
James Hickie

Zephani Jong’s mother would play Mozart to her from the age of three, in the hope of imbuing her daughter with the genius of history’s foremost child prodigy. But it was a visit to the Apple Store, and a tutorial on GarageBand, that had the greater impact, propelling the home-schooled Zeph into the world of production, aged 10.

So, too, did the scores of the films she watched, especially Hans Zimmer and John Powell’s work in Kung Fu Panda.

“I feel like my music – especially the stuff that’s more orchestrally-based – swells and carries the lyrics, much like scores carry the dialogue and heighten the emotion in a movie,” Zeph, now 24, explains from her home in Los Angeles.

Born and raised in Maryland, Zeph’s first EP, 2021’s scared of everything, captured her struggling to understand her place in the world and her dynamic with the people in it – albeit accompanied by her confident, vibrant compositions.

“It’s about me being insecure,” she reflects. “I was very self-conscious and paranoid, unsure of myself, which is very different from now. I still have doubts, but at my core I think I’m more solid as a person. I’m more self-aware now.”

The fruits of that increased self-awareness can be found on her debut full-length album, character development, featuring the single you don’t like me like that, about gaining closure from a relationship going nowhere. Elsewhere, Zeph laments on not being the right person (sorry i’m not), grappling with tentative feelings at the dawn of a new relationship (walls), and envying the attention bestowed upon someone close (my best friend).

“People tell me, ‘It’s so brave of you to be so vulnerable,’” Zeph says of enthusiastic responses to her naked lyrics. “But it doesn’t take guts. It’s just something that I do, and I don’t do it for others. I really appreciate it when I’m told the music helps, but that’s never my goal. That’s just a positive consequence.”

Being heard is undoubtedly important, though, when you consider that for many years Zeph couldn’t share her voice. As a result of selective mutism born from low self-esteem, she didn’t speak until eighth grade, and even then didn’t converse with confidence until she was in high school.

“That’s definitely had an effect on how much I want to sing in front of a large group of people,” she reveals. Meanwhile, stage fright and imposter syndrome have added to live performances being a terrifying prospect, despite sharing stages with Waterparks on tour.

“It’s weird when people tell me they’d come to one of my shows, because I can’t process that,” Zeph says of her burgeoning fanbase. “Fear of rejection has been a theme in my life and something I’ve let hold me back.”

But it’s something she’ll have to wriggle free from, as more people gravitate towards a relatable alt.pop hero who’s as vulnerable as the rest of us.

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