Zheani Sparkes is the genre-defying Australian artist who is blurring the lines between rap and hardcore emo. In her self-titled upcoming EP, The Zheani Sparkes EP, the talented rapper and songwriter’s raw, heartfelt lyrics interweave between soft melodic tones, sad reflective trap and darker metal sounds that illustrate the complexity of her character, and the stories she is sharing. Opening Pandora’s box of healing, Zheani embraces her past trauma and self-shame all while facing off against external criticism through self-reflection and revelation.
Having dealt with censorship and online harassment in 2019, Zheani Sparkes is coming into her own, feeling empowered to share her truth and leave the shame in the past.
Firstly, how are you surviving these crazy pandemic times?
Mostly reishi and yoga, trying to get some sun in the morning. Lots of reishi and eating good food and being really grateful for the health that we have and try to embrace that even more considering the time we are living in.
Have you found the current events are impacting you as an artist?
I kind of speak things into existence, and I feel like the internet is going to be the largest chunk of our economy moving into the future. That’s what I was saying in 2017, really wanting to base all of my energy and art into a kind of online paradigm and now in 2020 I very much am in that position and I am really lucky that everything I do is online. All of my music is uploaded online and I don’t play live shows yet, I tried to in the past but it didn’t work out for me. So I feel like artists that are predominantly tour-based acts that do live shows to make their income are the ones who would be getting affected the most right now.
Yeah, if you can just continue to create from your own space, it wouldn’t affect you so much.
I record at home, in my bedroom. I don’t have to go anywhere to do it, so that’s why I can be based somewhere like Byron Bay. It’s incredible I’m right by the beach. I don’t really spend time with people so for me all of this social distancing and hibernation is totally normal.
Did growing up in rural Queensland influence your perspective on the music industry?
So I grew up in central Queensland, so I come from the lowest socioeconomic background that we have in Australia. It was really rough, there was a lot of chaos, drugs, violence, that whole rock and roll country vibes was what was around me because of the adults in my life. I was kind of encouraged to not have dreams. It was just twice removed from anything regarding the music industry. It’s just completely different worlds, people like me don’t do what I’m doing and people like me don’t know where to even start. I didn’t even know what the music industry was to have an opinion on it. I feel like an outsider and I probably always will because of my background.
How did you manage to step into the music industry with such a removed background?
It all sort of happened organically. I got to a point in my life where I realized I really did have a lot to say and a lot to get out. That probably was by the time I was about 25, and that’s when I started to work on projects and try to really see if I could even make music. I started working on my computer at home, just putting myself through the test and just seeing if it was something that I had the ability to see through, you know from start to finish.
When I started to do that it began to be this great form of self-expression and being able to talk about who I am. I guess that is the main reason my music falls into the genre of rap, because I am talking about my story. If you want to do something you gotta make it happen yourself and it shouldn’t matter what your background is or what your resources are. I’m definitely not someone who has any support from the industry; it just all happened from my own making as an artist.
Did you have any musical influences that helped you shape your sound?
Yea totally, when I was a kid just before I turned into a teenager all of the adults were pumping 90’s or early 2000’s gangster rap and it was that Pitbull in the backyard and Cypress Hill playing inside, and grand theft auto on the TV, and that was the vibe, right. But to rebel when going through puberty I thought to find the most scary shit that I could find, because it was the one thing I could play that would piss the drug dealing adults in my vicinity off and make me feel differentiated from them. It was this coming together of Eminem and Marylin Manson, the Cyprus Hill’s, and you got Korn and My Chemical Romance as a 12-year-old, there was that clash of two different genres.
As a teenager it was that hard shit emo movement, turning into the hardcore movement. So I guess that’s my influence, and how it can be not just bragging gangster rap about doing drugs and getting litt, but it’s also that whole existentialism dread and emo undertone coming together with the rap vibe.
You just released your new single and video for ‘Dirtbike’, which blends elements of trap and metal to explore dark moments in your past, particularly your rough childhood. Is finding inspiration in old wounds a cathartic process for you?
Yeah absolutely, the whole point of The Zheani Sparkes EP was to provide context. To me, I’m gonna dive into all of my past memories and put them on one public display, and for me on a spiritual level at this point in my life it feels like it’s really necessary to do to provide that context, basically for me doing so it’s helped already.
I feel less ashamed and alone in my story. It’s something I had been really embarrassed about. It’s not something that I ever wanted people to know about, a young adult growing up I wanted to just blend in with all the other suburban kids that would’ve been my peers. I’m talking about the real shit and my background and the feedback I’m seeing on a track like Dirtbike, it seems to be making other people feel less ashamed and alone in their own stories and their own hard backgrounds. I think that there are so many people who can relate, but there aren’t a lot of artists who are representing these stories and representing these socioeconomic types of backgrounds. So that’s really great, but it’s a really hard process to do, it’s really draining and exhausting and it’s painful. To have the guts to finally get it out and get past that threshold and then to see how other people are able to relate and feel empowered in something they aren’t usually represented by.
You do such a great job of making the hostile lyrics on ‘Angel Dust’ sound so beautiful and melodic. Can you share your process in making the two contrasts come together?
Aww, that’s so sweet! I was just listening to that beautiful beat and jammed the same way an artist would strum a guitar and sing a folk song. When they’re just having a drink with their friends and I’ll just sit there and say some things and write it down and vibe with it yah know? I love the blend of something, I played with the vibe of blending genres. I love to listen to fucking beautiful folk music, I like to listen to Bright Eyes and I like to think in nice, gentle ways and then I would come over in that mood and listen to a beat that just vibes like that, that’s what comes out of it.
In “I Won’t Sell My Soul” you reference incidents of abuse as a 14-year-old. Do you feel that referencing these incidents in your music can empower your listeners to speak out about their own experiences?
Yea absolutely, I think that’s been evident in a lot of my releases. It was super hard, that was just a freestyle that I made in Hong Kong last year and then people kept begging for me to upload it to platforms. So I incorporated it into one of those folky little hooks that I came up with. It kind of comes back to what I was talking about before, it is really hard to talk about this stuff, it is really painful and you feel really vulnerable and you feel really judged but I’m coming from a place as an artist where I’ve already been judged so severely and so harshly last year.
So where do you go from that? You’ve gotta hold your head up high and have a good think about what it is that you are doing. I’m trying to be as self-aware as possible and I just realise that I keep on keeping it real. If people are gonna judge you make sure that it is coming from a place where they’re fully informed about who they are judging. People will make assumptions based on their own experiences in life. Luckily for a lot of people they don’t have the same experiences that I do, and if they do, such as the people that can relate to my music, I guess they would come from a more sensitive place.
It’s difficult, especially when you’re an artist who’s primarily online, particularly with the internet culture there’s so many trolls and people commenting and sometimes it’s hard to disconnect. I find sometimes I need to get away from Instagram because it just gets too much.
I really hate Instagram. It’s a wonderful place, but I’ll be real with you, I don’t read comments, and I don’t go on my Youtube and read those comments because I don’t need to hear it. Human brains are hot wired in a way where you can have 100 beautiful comments and one can stand out and bother you, it’s how we’ve evolved, our brains are wired to pick out the negative, back when we were just hanging out around fires. We’ve evolved, but that part of our reptile brain is still there.
It’s a very smart way to approach it, just not engaging in any comments at all.
Yeah, when you’re feeling strong and there’s a bit of purpose behind it it’s great to engage with people, but as a whole it’s just not needed. You don’t want to doubt your vibe anyway, sometimes it’s best to just make it, put it out and keep focusing on creating.
I wanted to talk about your art, I spotted an Eye of Horus in the ‘Zheani’ logo on your website, and I think Sanskrit. Can you tell me more about the significance of those for you?
Beautiful. I am very much into ritual-based magic and that’s my own personal thing. I try not to talk about my philosophies because just like how I feel now is very different from how I felt five years ago on these subjects, and I do believe that in another five years I’ll feel differently again because that’s just how we are.
These are things that are personal to me, the iconography is global and understood wildly but to me they are representing personal themes. Bringing these different elements together, it’s a personal thing, it’s representing me, it’s representing certain energies. It’s representing the rejected feminine at the end of the day.
That Sanskrit is Kali Ma Sanskrit, she’s an energy that has been in my house since I was a little girl. My dad called my firstborn sister Kali, it was a divine feminine energy in my household growing up. But that’s a whole other story, my dad was completely separate to the rough country bikey vibe, he was really gentle and spiritual and kind of ridiculed for that. It was something that I moved away from as I went through teenage years, and now it’s something that I’m coming back to and showing reference in my own ways.
In the occult and the esoteric, the Eye of Horus has always been a really powerful image in the same way that the ankh is, representing the masculine and feminine and the key of life. The Eye of Horus is a protection symbol and I feel like I’ve been under extreme attack and as an occult practitioner that is something I am gonna take on and incorporate it. These symbols come from diverse backgrounds and cultures, they have an energy and it needs to be appreciated by the ones who can appreciate it, and it can still be utilized in the same way.
You’re dropping your autobiographic record on May 29th, The Zheani Sparkes EP. How does it feel to be sharing such a raw and unapologetic EP?
I’ve kind of done something that was sympathetic to understanding that there’s a lot of heavy, dark energy and things that I am touching on in The Zheani Sparkes EP, so I bordered the EP with 2 uplifting, melodic track vibes. So the first song on the EP is like that, and towards the end we have another skit, and it’s another melodic track to arc out of it. It’s kind of representing that there is light on the other side you know?
Although this is my past and although this is what shaped me and it’s hard and it’s painful, that was an experience we just got through that. We’ve also got who I am today, and who I am today is an adult who is trying to embrace the positives in my life. I wanna show the other side of the coin, so after the Zheani Sparkes EP comes out I really want to put emphasis on that positive manifestation, that’s what the kinda whole fairy trap – which is this organic genre that has been coined by a song of mine, Lie and Look. I’m gonna keep on doing that because it’s something people can relate to as external to my own experience and my personal artistic story. I’m gonna make a video clip for Lava and I’ll follow up with some more fairy trap and try to focus on the sunshine and take a break from all this heavy shit. It’s a very conscious decision and for the people who are really engaged in this release, I want to demonstrate to them, and I think it will be really clear that I am going to switch lanes and make that decision for myself. Lead by demonstration, right? And I want other people to do the same thing.
Check out the video for ‘Dirt On The Name Of Steven’ below:
The Zheani Sparkes EP comes out on May 29th on all streaming platforms.