As I sit with Zuli, born Ryan Camenzuli, we immediately bond over our Long Island roots and our early love for pop punk bands (like The Starting Line, Patent Pending and Paramore). That’s without mentioning our shared nostalgia for local childhood staples like The Crazy Donkey, where most teenagers (like myself) saw their first real live show. So in the case of shared hometowns and early tastes in music, Camenzuli and I are two birds of a feather. But, he shares of his journey to a solo career, the road to finding his independent sound was a path he had to travel all by himself. Zuli got his start working with a few different bands, but only recently made the decision to strip himself of bandmates. “Bands are tricky. There are a lot of personalities and emotions involved,” he says. “I really wanted to have full creative and artistic control over what I was making, so I went into my home studio and started working by myself.”
Spoiler alert: the solo life suits him. Zuli’s debut full-length album, On Human Freakout Mountain is relatable, cool and somewhat trippy. Being inspired by his own personal fears of taking a leap of faith to create music on his own, the album offers an empathetic voice paired with a bright, melodic sound.
“I was inspired a lot by the struggles and fears of life as far as writing and making music go but I think the concept applies to everything,” he explains. “Whether you’re trying to make it as a software designer or a musician, everyone has tribulations.” As far as his musical inspiration, Zuli remains steadfast in his love for the band Animal Collective but admits there’s a lot of Beach Boys influence on the album. Compared to his 2015 EP Supernatural Voodoo, Zuli continues to keep pop sensibility at the forefront of his sound, but really strives to develop his lyrical content and expand on his range. “When it’s loud, it gets really loud. And when it’s quiet, it’s really subdued. I think it’s just more abrasive,” he admits.
With a group of his best friends as his band on the road, Zuli gushes to me about his team within the music community. “I’m able to work on everything myself, composing all the songs to the best of my ability and then I bring it to the guys and we figure out how to perform them,” he says. He continues to explain how although he has a strong singular vision, having the support system that he’s been blessed with makes the process that much better.
As our conversation shifts to Zuli’s upcoming schedule, which includes a few festivals, we naturally migrate back to the importance of live music. “Music is a beautiful thing. Going to live music changed my life. If I hadn’t seen some of the bands I grew up loving, I would never have even considered doing something like this,” he says. With shows in Brooklyn, Charlottesville and Nashville this fall, Zuli will be busy returning that same favor to music lovers, spreading his good vibes and good tunes.