Three weeks ago, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Zella Day returned with the song “Radio Silence” in the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson decision that stripped Americans of the right to have an abortion. The song couldn’t have hit at a more overwhelming time — over an R.E.M.-esque guitar line that reflects the best of the college-rock era, Zella unveiled her own encounter with the subject matter, detailing her experience of reckoning with an unintended pregnancy. It’s an incredibly powerful and accidentally prescient song that’s been spinning in my playlists since I first heard it; the song builds to a striking climax with Zella howling “Hold my body / Can you feel it / I’ve been trying to keep this secret down / I’m trying to shake the spirit out”, and it’s impossible to not feel a clutch in your chest as you hold it in regard to the world over the past few weeks.
Today, Zella Day has unveiled the music video for “Radio Silence” directed by Alex Casnoff, who also worked on the track along with singer-songwriter Miya Folick. The video captures a Soderberghian psychological chase through LA, and it’s a claustrophobic, intense watch that matches the song’s energy. Watch the video below, and keep scrolling to read our chat with Zella about the song’s creation.
This song feels like a massive sonic variation from your previous recordings. The press release mentions R.E.M, but I also hear echoes of Angel Olsen and even the Cranberries. Can you share the story of how this song was recorded/created with Alex Casnoff and Miya Folick? In particular, I’m curious at how you landed on this subtly anthemic sound — I feel like it builds to a level of catharsis that we all need to feel at this moment.
I’ve been a longtime fan of Alex’s former project called Harriet, particularly their song “Burbank” where in the music video he gives an incredible performance of falling in love with and marrying a girl in a strip club. So when we ran into each other last year in Hollywood I gushed and wouldn’t leave him alone until he sent me a calendar invite for a future writing session. “Radio Silence” came about our second time working together, I texted him with the idea for the title the day before and brought in the opening lines of the song when we met up at his home studio. I had just seen Alanis Morisette and Garbage play at the Bowl and was obsessing over these guttural female vocal chants. The word “Radio” fit seamlessly into a half yodel pattern, something I could imagine Dolores O’Riordan singing. The chorus felt like the ultimate release up against the intimacy of the verse. The story is like a slow inhale through the nose and loud exhale through the mouth. Miya came into the picture during recording when we felt like we really needed another female vocal to add more emotional depth, aside from being a great singer Miya put her physical and emotional self into each take using her body as she interpreted the words. The spirit moved through her and onto the recording making it feel even more universal.
Songs dealing with the right to choose aren’t a new phenomenon, especially in this now post-Roe era — I can recall Amanda Shires’s “The Problem” from 2020 making a big wave as we grappled with the potentiality of losing that right. When did you start to write “Radio Silence”, and what moments led you to open up about your own story in such a deeply personal way?
Radio Silence was written in fall of last year. It’s been labeled as a pro-choice song, which in essence it is, but the song wasn’t created as a strategy to be implemented into any type of political movement. It’s a deeply personal story that I felt empowered to share knowing that it would be a healing experience for me and hopefully to anyone else that resonates with its message.
The line “I’ve been trying to keep this secret down / I’m trying to shake the spirit out” is particularly resonant to me, as I feel like even as we seek to regain the right to choose, talking about abortion and personal experiences with abortion is still heavily stigmatized even by those who exist on the pro-choice side of the political spectrum. What steps can the artistic community take toward destigmatizing the right to choose?
In my opinion, talking openly about abortion is one step that we can take in normalizing this form of healthcare. There are so many women I know who have needed and received abortions, some of them comfortable speaking openly about it while some take the opposite approach. Shame is one of the biggest things we need to extract and overcome.
The artwork for “Radio Silence” is simultaneously striking and subtle. Can you tell me more about its creation and why it fits this song?
Kristin Giorgi is a close friend of mine whose work I have great respect and reverence for. She has an incredible story of establishing herself in the art world while raising her daughter Vivian. Two stars rising at the same time. Kristin’s work ranges from abstract expressionism to large-scale figure paintings of the female form. I’ve always considered her paintings to be divinely feminine which is exactly what Radio Silence needed to reach completion. When I called her to ask if it was something she would want to be a part of our conversation quickly escalated into laughter and tears, she already knew how she wanted to tell this story. I’m truly so honored by Kristin’s contribution to Radio Silence and the way the world is “seeing” it.
Living in a post-Roe world — are there any local funds or organizations that you would like this piece to direct support towards? As a woman who’s been directly impacted by abortion and the right to choose, what steps do you believe that we, the general public should take towards making this reality fair for everyone again?
The National Network of Abortion Funds and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund are both very reputable and proactive organizations to donate to. The public needs to get active by voting, organizing, rallying, and staying persistent.