A POP SOPRANO HAUNTS THE THEATER
Name: Rachel Zeffira
Where She’s From: London, England by way of Kootenays, Canada
When She Started: 2011 With Cat’s Eyes
Most Similar: Esben and the Witch, Still Corners, Amanda Mair
Sounds Like: Goldfrapp goes to the opera.
At seventeen, singer/multi-instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira began building a backstory that would rival even the most assured of Jane Austin’s heroines. On the eve of a performance that would secure her a spot in one of London’s top opera schools, she was accidentally deported from England and forced to return to her native Canada. But, possessing preternatural pluck and minimal savings, she chose to return to the U.K. There, claiming to be six years older and in possession of an advanced education degree, Zeffira began a slow reinvention, easing herself out of the classic world and into the rock venue.
Last year, a decade or so after her change in career path, Zeffira stepped into the public eye with the release of Cat’s Eyes’ self-titled album. Alongside The Horrors’ Faris Badwan, the opera singer turned pop player honed the duo’s sinister/sweet take on 1960s girl groups, writing and producing the album’s ten gauzy tracks. There’s a distinct through line between Cat’s Eyes and Zeffira’s solo debut, The Deserters: a haunting after-hours sense of dread, the daydream-like deconstruction of a known genre, and a pervasive sense of darkness—only heightened by her crystalline soprano.
But while Cat’s Eyes is largely a work rooted in homage, The Deserters removes the listener even further from its initial associations. An accomplished musician, Zeffira wrote and performed a large part of the instrumentals herself, bringing members of like-minded acts Toy and S.C.U.M into the studio to pinch-hit on bass and drums. She peppers the album with light orchestral and operatic flourishes, able to evoke the theater without the sticky sweet overtones of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and skirt disingenuous melodrama (cue: jazz hands). What stands out is an extraordinary level of craftsmanship, Zeffira twisting her training in voice, oboe, and organ/piano into new and delicate shapes, able to float away on a breeze, even as they pierce the subconscious.
Get swept up in Zeffira’s grayscale fantasy world with the video for The Deserters’ title track below. Sweet Dreams. —Laura Studarus