Zelma Stone’s Chloe Studebaker on the Grief and Growth in Her Latest EP

By Devon Chodzin

Chloe Studebaker has always worn her heart on her sleeve as Zelma Stone. Over her expansive EPs, she’s confronted more grief and challenge than many, and embraced every opportunity to share the brilliance and complexity of emotion. Between the bravado in her vocals and her soaring instrumentations, Zelma Stone’s emotional tapestries are imbued with wisdom. Nowhere is that more clear than on The Best, a forward-facing EP dedicated to the future. 

As their third EP in as many years, The Best is Zelma Stone’s most multifaceted endeavor. Each of the 6 tracks offers a unique opportunity to join Chloe in her own life narrative. With each listen, I can feel myself getting lost in the synths and guitars, both layered with perfect determination. The Best has grit, vulnerability, and more, and I find myself inspired with every listen.

We got the chance to catch up with Chloe just ahead of The Best’s release on everything from cool collaborators to the Bay Area musicians who inspired her first. Chloe also took her film camera around, capturing the people and pets who she holds dear and sharing a behind-the-scenes archive of the making of the “Money Honey” video – check this out and give The Best a listen tomorrow when it’s out. 

Slumber: If you only had three words to describe The Best to someone who’d never heard it, what words would you choose?

Chloe Studebaker: I’d say: exciting, vulnerable, and hopeful.

Slumber: This record really glows, and it’s cool that you’ve put out 3 EPs in as many years. What throughlines do you see through these EPs and what feels like the biggest departure for you on The Best?

Chloe: A lot of the songs I’ve written on these EPs stem from grief, so I would say grief is definitely a theme that pops up throughout all 3 EPs. I have had a good amount of loss in my life, so I would definitely say grief. The Best feels more accepting of the grief, but it’s also a departure from the grief in general because I go into on moving forward. It’s about  being grateful for what I have.

Slumber: The cover really stands out in that it appears to be a current photo of yourself – what inspired the move towards a current photo and how did this composition idea emerge?

Chloe: Yeah, that was a photoshoot I had in mind to do! Originally, we wanted cows in the background. I just have a love for cows – I just like what they represent, they’re nurturing. The reflective background ended up looking a bit like a time portal. It’s shot by Andy Hoffman, who’s a good friend/collaborator in the Bay Area. The portal seemed really epic. We didn’t plan for it to look like that, but it makes so much sense with the time and with moving forward. You go into the past with grief and then into the future for acceptance. I’m happy with how it came out!

Slumber: I like it! Ideally, where should someone be when they hear this record for the first time?

Chloe: I would say on a walk in a really nice area where the listener’s feeling really comfortable, or maybe on an epic drive.

Slumber: A couple months back, we got to interview Maryam Qudus about production and Spacemoth – what has the experience been like to collaborate with her over these past couple records?

Chloe: It’s been amazing – Maryam’s awesome! She’s extremely talented, extremely knowledgeable. I have a lot of trust in her. I feel like we work really well together. She’s very organized, and I am a little more on the not-so-organized line, so she helps with that! She’s great, she’s wonderful. I’m very grateful that I got to work with her.

Slumber: Do you have any particularly distinct memories from recording The Best with her?

Chloe: We had to do it during COVID, so we had to negotiate the best/safest way to do it. We ended up doing a lot of the mixing remotely, but then we did a session in her garage with the door open and she had it set up really cool in there. We have a great time when we’re together, especially when it’s the two of us doing synth tracks on top. She’ll come up with the coolest ideas and she’s not afraid to try things. I’ll say, “What if we do this little guitar thing?” and she’ll respond “Yeah, cool, let me put all this shit on it and let me reverse it.” Then it comes out really cool! In “Come Back,” for example, there’s some really cool/weird sounds on that which are just reversed guitar noises.

The Best feels more accepting of the grief, but it’s also a departure from the grief in general because I go into on moving forward. It’s about  being grateful for what I have.”

Slumber: You and the cow, Tag, in the “Gift Horse” music video look like best friends – do you have much experience around livestock and how important are cows in your creative life?

Chloe: I spent some time as a teenager in Switzerland, which was right after my brother passed away, and I would spend a lot of time walking and saw so many cows. I developed this love for them since they’re so cool and curious animals. They have this nurturing sense to them, and since I’ve lost my mother, they have this motherly protective vibe to them that I like. 

It’s actually  interesting because I was talking to my Dad recently about this, and he asked me the same question! I told him the same thing I told you. He was surprised and realized he hadn’t told me this story. Like, one time they were in Ohio (where my dad grew up) and they saw these cows. My mom just really related to the cows in Ohio. I had no idea that she also had this connection to cows! It’s a cool thing that I have that connects me and my mom.

“Everyone has their own personal processes with grief. I have had friends who’ve recently lost a loved one and can’t play music... for me, I feel it’s important to do that and allow myself to feel the feelings.”

Slumber: In your latest releases, you have worn your grief on your sleeve. It’s not a linear process by any means. Is there anything that you have learned about grief/mourning as you’ve written and recorded and released these records?

Chloe: I’ve learned that music is extremely important to my process, personally. Everyone has their own personal processes with grief. I have had friends who’ve recently lost a loved one and can’t play music; it’s not something that they want to do or it brings too much emotion up for them. For me, I feel it’s important to do that and allow myself to feel the feelings. Music does bring a lot up for me, specifically writing. I surprise myself with the lyrics that come out, like I’ll learn a lot about me and my process when I write. It’s all so subconscious and I’ll make meaning of it later.

Slumber: Can you talk a little bit about where you took your camera for this feature? What made you go there and what story do these photos tell?

Chloe: I took a camera on set with me for the music video for “Money Honey.” I am very proud of that video – my partner and I worked together and directed that. First of all, a couple weeks before, my partner came up with one of those ideas of being inside of one of those whirling money machines. It was such a good idea! But we had less than a month until the single releases, so I wasn’t sure if it was possible. I didn’t really think about it and I said, “let’s do it.” So I looked for one of those places with one of those machines, and we weren’t sure where to do it. We wanted to do it really DIY, even on an iPhone. My friend Andy (the one who shot the cover photo) got involved, and he’s extremely talented. He does not half-ass anything he does. He was really excited and we just made it happen. He was the cinematographer and he just made it look epic. We’re super proud of that. I’m really proud of the pictures, too. Not all of them came out because the room we were in was dark, but there were a few good ones on the set with all the people who came to help. I am so grateful it could’ve happened in the short time that it did.

I also have pictures of my dog because she’s extremely important to me. She’s Layla, like the name of my first EP. I have pictures of me hanging out with people that I care a lot about. I’m excited to pick them up, they’re finally done!

“Music does bring a lot up for me, specifically writing. I surprise myself with the lyrics that come out, like I’ll learn a lot about me and my process when I write. It’s all so subconscious and I’ll make meaning of it later.”

Slumber: Did you have a musical upbringing? Are there any particular musicians who helped you realize you can make music exactly the way you want to?

Chloe: I took piano lessons when I was in elementary school. I quickly gave up, unfortunately, because I had an undiagnosed learning disability and piano specifically was very hard for me, especially classical piano. I was just not able to read music at a young age, it didn’t hit me. I had ADHD so I would never practice. 

But, my brother was an amazing guitarist and he was 5 years older than me. He gave me my first lesson when I was about 13 or so. I then started singing in my free time and my brother accompanied me. I did that for my talent show in the 7th grade – I sang the “Across the Universe” version of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” A year later, my brother died in a car accident, and after that I ended up taking lessons with my brother’s guitar teacher. I continued that for several years and that’s when I started writing music. My brother was a big influence on me. 

My sister was a couple years older than me and her friends were musicians, too. Kelly Koval – she is a local musician in Santa Cruz who was in a band at the time called audiafauna – I saw her perform as a young girl and I was blown away, I wanted  that so bad. Also, my sister’s other friend Alex Kantor was a singer-songwriter and she inspired me hugely. I remember meeting Mitski one time with my friend Jenny who was a big fan, she loved her. Unfortunately, Jenny has since passed away, but we loved Mitski. We got to meet her after a show one time. I asked Mitski (before I started Zelma Stone),“Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to be where you are?” And she said, “Play as many shows as you can and listen to yourself/what it is that you want.” That was very inspiring for me.

Slumber: What do you hope listeners get out of The Best?

Chloe: I hope that they can relate these songs to themselves and their own lives. My favorite song on The Best is “The Best” and that song is pretty much saying, “We’re just doing the best that we can.” I hope people can relate to that and can continue to just do the best they can in what they’re doing. I hope that the Universe will see that and can help you in any way!

Listen to Zelma Stone’s latest, ‘The Best’, below: