Zack Villere is standing in front of an upright horse costume with purple hair and protuberant hindquarters that the Russian-French artist Marc Chagall made in 1966. It was made for the New York Metropolitan Opera’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute and is currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). “Damn, she slim-thicc,” he jokes, pushing up his glasses.
Villere is the deceptively confident 22-year-old whose deadpan video for “Cool” caught fire on the internet all by itself in May – even leading Tyler, the Creator to retweet it. To listen to his debut full-length, Little World, is to end up loving its goofy charm as well. If you were to break down Villere’s sound like a sommelier would wine, you’d identify notes of Madlib’s jazzy production wooze, the heady vapours of a Toro y Moi nugget, and the R&B smoothness of a Frank Ocean track. “I don’t want to be boxed in to anything, and I feel like it’s so easy to get boxed into an ‘indie’ thing,” says Villere, simply. “I’d rather people just hear it, you know?”
Hailing from the small southern town of Covington, Louisiana, Villere’s cultural mash-up comes honestly. The son of a social worker and the town’s former mayor, he studied jazz saxophone and the music industry in New Orleans, before dropping out to start his career. His early ambient electronic music, made under the name Froyo Ma, drew a cult following online, but it didn’t portend the accolades that Little World has earned since its release in June.
Now based in LA, Villere is full of ambition. Not only does he draw the wiggly creatures that adorn his releases, he’s also got a whole lot more ideas up his sleeve. As we wandered around looking at art on a Saturday afternoon, the artist formerly known as Froyo Ma told of me of his future dreams.
What is there to do in Covington?
Zack Villere: Not much. We go kayaking and tubing. It’s kind of boring, but I would love to move back, because I don’t love it (in LA). I wish my friends lived in New Orleans. I feel like the sky is more blue there, and the trees are a nicer green.
Tell me about changing your name from Froyo Ma.
ZV: There was a gas station in Covington. They had froyo (frozen yoghurt) there, and we’d get samples for free. I was like, ‘Froyo Ma!’ I hated it after a while. I have only used my real name since I got (to LA), but I’d been phasing out Froyo Ma for a long time. I just don’t want to be 40 and be ‘Froyo’. Think about ‘Diplo’ or ‘Skrillex’; I’d hate to be that.
How did you start making art?
ZV: I would doodle when I was younger, because my friend was really good at it and I wanted to be good at it too. So I traced, like, Dragon Ball Z characters, and then I just kept doing it. But I’m tired of the doodles that I’m doing now. I want to learn how to paint.
Who are some of your artistic influences?
ZV: That’s hard for me to answer honestly. With music, it’s Frank (Ocean), Andre 3000, Tyler. That’s easy. But art? It’s just fun. I don’t think about it as much. I’m inspired by artists I follow on Instagram. And by cartoons I used to watch, like Spongebob (Squarepants).
Did people start paying more attention to your work after Tyler retweeted you?
ZV: It’s hard to tell, really, because when Tyler retweeted ‘Cool’ it had already been picking up traction. But a lot of the people who are paying attention to me now weren’t paying attention a few months ago. I mean, Tyler is literally my hero, so it’s really tight.
What is it that attracted you to Tyler’s music?
ZV: I remember when I first saw the ‘Yonkers’ video. At the time, he was being edgy and saying ridiculous shit, and that’s what me and my friends were saying too. If I heard it today, I might not be turned on in the same way, because he has had some cringey lyrics. But I always liked the beats; I was making beats that sounded like his at that time.
I feel like he’s gone through an awakening.
ZV: Yeah, if you think about the shit that he blew up off, he was 17. When I think about myself at 17, I hate that person. I would say cringey-ass ignorant shit, and not think about people’s feelings. I was very in my bubble.
You have a lyric about Frank Ocean on the album. Channel Orange sounds like a landmark record for you.
ZV: For sure. I love Channel Orange. I love Blonde too. He’s definitely one of my idols. I love that he’s pretty out of the spotlight. Definitely something I’d want to do if I were to ever be at that level.
Is this your last interview?
ZV: No, I’d like to do a cover story for somebody. Then maybe I’m good. I am definitely not into the idea of being famous, and putting the whole of myself out there for everybody to see. I saw the Amy Winehouse documentary – fuck that, dude!
¨I want to work on things that make people happy. I’m going to make music, and then get my art into museums, and pitch a movie to Pixar¨ – Zack Villere
What does Little World mean?
ZV: I love when the story has to do with small things. Did you ever see The Indian in the Cupboard or Small Soldiers?
There’s a Studio Ghibli movie about small people – Arrietty.
ZV: I love little micro-people that, like, use a thimble as a hat. I imagine myself in that world.
Would you like to be a miniature person?
ZV: Yeah, maybe for a day. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, they had the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids park, where they had the big blade of grass you use as a slide.
What do your parents think about what you’re doing?
ZV: They’re happy. When I send them this magazine, they’ll be like, ‘Oh, sick.’ As long as I’m not, like, leeching off them and I’m doing OK, then they’re happy. I’m not on drugs. I don’t fuck with that shit. I’m just trying to make music.
What kind of career do you want?
ZV: I love people like Tyler or Frank or M.I.A. with one foot in the pop, mainstream sphere. Everybody knows them, but they still keep their artistic integrity. They might not necessarily have hits. That’s so sick.
You’re vulnerable on your songs, too. A lot of people can relate to feeling insecure.
ZV: I’m just talking about how I feel. There’s a lot of people in the world and somebody’s going to feel the same way. And I’m sure that feels good, if somebody feels how you feel.
Do you have a lucid vision of some of the other projects you’d like to work on?
ZV: I have ideas for a cartoon series, and for a movie that I really wanna make. I have the storyline and characters drawn out. I have a pair of shoes that I want to make. I have lists of the people I wanna get on my future albums. I want to design a grocery store. I like grocery stores. There’s this book called Architecture of Happiness (by Alain de Botton). It’s about how a city can make you feel according to how wide the road is when you’re driving, or how tall the buildings are. It would be cool to work on the design team for a town and decide how tall the buildings are, and what kind of colours to use, and where the plants are going to be. I want to work on things that make people happy. How I feel like it’s going to work is: I’m going to make music, and use that to get to a point where I can get into rooms with people, and then I can end up getting my art in museums, and pitch a movie to Pixar with my characters and my story. I don’t have time to build up my resume in every single thing I want to do, so I’ll just use music as the route to get there, and do a bunch of cool shit.
Styling assistants Ioana Ivan, Shawn Lakin.