BY HAZEL REID

Dunedin-based creative TJ aka ZExII (pronounced ‘Zee’) made an impression in their Popstars audition for judges/mentors Kimbra, Vince Harder and Nathan King and their talent shined on the show all the way to the end in the Top 4. We caught up with TJ to talk their new single Indigo, the Popstars experience and future creative plans. 

Off the heels of their Popstars finale single Tmrw Mybe comes ZExII’s new tune Indigo, a song they’ve always wanted to make and had the opportunity at the Parachute writing camp to do so. Working with Aidan Fine, Timon Martin and Ben Malone on the first day of camp, a ‘psychedelic romantic back set of the Cadillac type of song’ was born in just a few hours. “The vibes in that studio were so good. It’s crazy because my team and I decided to finish the song and get it out halfway through lockdown, I’m the king of last-minute changes… in both songs I made an 808/Bassline a day before the songs were due. It was an interesting experience producing this song remotely and sending stems back and forth to get it ready but I’m really happy with the final product,” TJ shared. 

November must be the month for releases as ZExII will also put out another song, Done in a few weeks. TJ teased about the next tune, “Done continues the story I started in Indigo but it’s completely different sounding, I don’t like to make the same song twice. Done is an earworm for sure, one of those I can’t stop singing the melodies, oh and there’s a tasty feature on it.” 

TJ’s journey with music has led them to where they are today, from sneaking onto drum kits at church at around four years old to having the support from their intermediate school to practice on a variety of instruments in the music room and even a not-so-great experience with NZ’s Got Talent, the opportunities and on-going work that has been put in is why music fans now get to experience ZExII. 

We were officially introduced to ZExII on Popstars earlier this year, Popstars is different to other creative shows like the X-Factor as the acts don’t have to do covers which made the opportunity even more special. TJ explained, “it was a show where we were actual artists, got to make artist decisions and got to experience what it’s like to be an artist at the top level, all the shots you have to call, the meetings you have to do, it was an experience – I’m super grateful I got to experience it.” 

ZExII got to regularly show their different creative sides on the show including their songwriting in Take Love The Drug, which is about mental health. We spoke about the impact of speaking up on a subject like that, TJ shared their thoughts on it mentioning it is part of the reason they went on Popstars, utilising a platform to spread messages and raise awareness. “I thought the best way to combat depression and anxiety is unconditional love, when you approach someone who is going through something like that, not making them feel like what they’re doing is irrelevant or a burden but being like ‘hey I know you’re going through this but I’m going to love you regardless if you need anything I’m here for you’ – I feel like that’s a much better approach than gaslighting them, for me, it was so important to spread that message.” 

TJ’s plans for ZExII post-Popstars shows no signs of slowing down with more music on the way with an album and tours on the horizon (you may have even seen on Popstars what his tour poster may look like!). Reflecting on 2021 and looking towards the future, TJ shared “I’m happy with where I am right now in life and I am super grateful for this year and all the support I’ve been getting. It’s been a very very long year, but also a fast one at the same time. I can’t wait to make my NZ whānau proud and represent NZ on an international scale sometime soon.” 

You can stream ZExII’s new music online now and keep up with TJ’s creative journey online.

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