The journey to ‘Moon’: R&B artist Zaniah Harris on her new song’s evolution

Zaniah Harris has a voice that once you hear it, you’ll want to keep listening. Her tone is like the delicate notes of Solange combined with the celestial vibe of Willow alongside her own pop of jubilance. Harris is a rising, 21-year-old R&B artist in Louisville who has been performing and writing music since she was 15, and with the support of her mom and fellow musical collaborators, she is well on her way to being a standout. Her first single “Moon” released July 10, and she has more songs forthcoming.   

LEO: You had planned to release your first single, ‘Moon’ in June, but delayed it to allow focus on the Black Lives Matter protests. How did you know when it was right to finally release it?
Zaniah Harris: I did decide to delay the release of my first single ‘Moon’ because it just seemed really selfish to be promoting myself and music during a time where all focus needed to be on the issues of racism and police brutality. There was really never a right moment, and the release date was changed like three different times, but it was another one of those gut feelings when I decided to put the song out. When I wrote the song, it was about love gone sour, but I think mostly it’s about something only going around in circles and not moving forward, whether that be love, a lesson, thoughts, anything. For the first time, I think that most of the world is finally waking up and realizing that things aren’t changing and only repeating. People are coming together and educating themselves on the matter, which has been really beautiful. I just hope that even during this ugly time, my music brings happiness to people.

‘Moon’ went from an acoustic singer/songwriter sound to smooth R&B. Is this the direction your album is going?
‘Moon’ started off as just an acoustic song until I met Malachi Mabson and Pinky Liberachi, also known as Down to Mars. They brought the song to life with keys, some cool drums and bass giving it a nice chill soul vibe. I have about four more singles that I’ll be releasing over the next few months, and they’re all produced by Down to Mars. I would say they’re all different in their own little ways, but they all have a soulful sound to them. I haven’t started working on my album just yet, I’m focusing on the release of these singles which I’ve had under my belt for about two years now.

You’ve had over 5,000 streams in less than a month for ‘Moon.’
I feel very grateful and excited for what’s to come. This has been my journey since I was 15, and it’s amazing to look back and see my growth. I just wanna continue to grow organically and get better at my craft. My music means everything to me, and I’m happy that people are receiving it exactly how I intended them to.

Are you originally from Louisville?
Yes, born and raised! I grew up in Fern Creek, went to high school at Atherton for my first two years in high school and then moved to Smyrna, Tennessee with my mom and sister and finished high school down there.

Did you learn guitar to start writing songs?
I did! I remember asking for a guitar for my 15th birthday, and I got one. I taught myself through YouTube and learning cover songs. I think the first song I wrote was called, ‘Dream Chaser.’ I still sorta remember how it goes.

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In 2018, you performed for The Festival of Faiths as Z. Lynn Harris and recorded as ZLynn Harris. Why the name changes?
So, ZLynn was my artist name up until this year actually. Choosing between that and my actual name has always been a decision I’ve been torn between. My real name is Zaniah and my middle name is Brae’lynn, which is where ZLynn came from. My mom helped me come up with the name to keep artist-me separate from regular-me. It was the name I had used up until like a few months ago. I love my real name Zaniah. It’s different and it’s authentic to me. So, I listened to my gut and decided to rebrand myself using my real name. I’m happy so far with my decision — I love being Zaniah.

You were featured on tracks by hip-hop artist Yons and jazz artists Otis Junior & Dr. Dundiff and most recently Casey Powell. How did they all find you? What was it like working with the various producers?
Yes, I was! I actually found Casey through Instagram and reached out to him after watching all of his amazing guitar videos. We hung out and became great friends. He’s always played guitar or sometimes bass for me at my shows, and I’ve sang harmony with him at some of his shows. I feature on two of his songs, ‘Honey’ and ‘Anyway.’ He’s a dear friend to me. I met Yons through Casey. He reached out to me about featuring on a song of his called, ‘Favorite Color’ off of his EP The Goddess Equation. I’ve done a few live performances with him, and it was always a pleasure. He’s multitalented. I opened up for The Jesse Lee’s at a few of their shows and wrote a song called “Poems” with Otis on his and Dundiff’s Cool album. Otis is amazing, we have similar minds, so it was always refreshing bouncing ideas off of each other.

In April, you performed for the Kentucky Performing Arts at Home livestream. What was it like to perform virtually?
Performing virtually was a very different experience. I didn’t think I was nervous until I actually went live. I froze up a bit at the beginning [laughs]. It was weird not feeling the energy of the crowd like I’m used to. It was awkward at first in between songs not really being able to talk with the crowd, but it was a fun and challenging experience. Out of my comfort zone, for sure. I never accompany myself at my shows, I usually have a band to back me, so it was really nice to play my guitar in a stripped-down set. In some ways virtual felt more intimate, but I can’t wait to get back to doing some shows, whenever that’ll be.

You performed an original song ‘The Love Show,’ which has hints of country music. How would you describe your sound?
I actually got my start in old country music. I was listening to Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn and covering a lot of their songs when I first started singing. Then the Dixie Chicks [now, The Chicks], Dolly Parton, LeAnn Rimes and so many more. I’ve always had this natural twang and slight yodel when I sing. I sang and wrote mostly only country music up until I would say around 2017, so it’s still very much a part of my sound today. As I explored more music and experimented more with my voice, I developed my own kinda sound influenced from soul, jazz, country and blues. I would describe my sound as soulful, and angelic.

“Moon” is available on Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud and other streaming services.

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