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dwi Unleashes His Inner Animal on “Zoo Life”

The Vancouver musician and Zolas bassist on his fuzzy, analog-inspired new video single.

by Dave MacIntyre

Photo by Zach Vague

There’s something inherently endearing about old-school VHS film. Not only does it recall simpler times, but its aesthetic is an instantly recognizable one that can still be used to excellent effect today — imperfections and all. Vancouver’s dwi — perhaps best known up until now as the bassist for indie pop outfit the Zolas — has taken full advantage of this with the live video for his forthcoming sophomore album’s first single, “PHONY,” as well as its second single and title track, “Zoo Life.”

The video shows the artist — born Dwight Abell — in full frontman mode, sporting a jean jacket and eyeliner while grooving and swaying along to the peppy indie rock tune with a deliciously funky bassline and chopped-up string sample as its bedrock.

RANGE caught up with dwi to talk about “Zoo Life,” the forthcoming album of the same name (out July 7 via Light Organ Records), and his favourite video games. Here’s our Q&A with the zany and compassionate Vancouverite.

Where are you right now?

I’m sitting in my kitchen answering promo questions and trying to organize a birthday party for a six-year-old. They both feel oddly similar.

Your new album Zoo Life is coming July 7. Can you tell us a bit about it and what we can expect?

This is a pretty high-energy record, loaded with hooks. I get pretty bored of staying in one spot, so you’ll find that parts tend to jump outa nowhere a lot and each song has its own identity. Lyrically it’s dark, as I use music for processing things I can’t control — but I think you’ll also get a sense of my neurodiversity with the overall structure lol.

What inspired the video for this title track?

DIY high school horror movies.

The video has this warm, 90s VHS aesthetic to it. What attracts you to that kind of style?

I love the look of analog and old digital. It reminds me of when my siblings and I would make ridiculous home videos. It’s pretty cheeky to make a high produced product only to borderline ruin it with an outdated camera. That process just feels very me. Haha

What inspired the song musically?

I wanted to write a song with the hook being a sample, something like Daft Punk, UNKLE or DJ Shadow would do. I found a really beautiful string arrangement and randomly chopped it up. When I played it back I could hear voices saying “The river runs wild,” so I sang it overtop and BAM!, the foundation of the song was formed.

When is the last time you actually went to the zoo? What are your favourite kinds of zoo animals?

A couple months ago actually. My son LOVES Capybaras, so we go just to see them. I honestly get a bit bummed every time I go.

What does the title “Zoo Life” represent to you in the context of the album?

It’s a metaphor for foster care. Being “rescued” only to spend your youth in an unfamiliar cage. 

Your album of the same name is inspired by gaming. Do you remember which game you played that made you first fall in love with gaming? If so, which one and why? 

Oh man… the very first one? Probably Duck Hunt, I think.

What are your top three desert island video games?

EASY — Final Fantasy 7, Zelda Ocarina Of Time, Mario RPG (Soo underrated!)

You’ve lyrically referenced GoldenEye — one of THE seminal N64 games — in your song “Party4One”. What is it about that game that has stuck with you for so many years?

Haha I referenced this because I suck at it and always get shot immediately… I’m the dude you see with his gun pointed to the sky running into walls.

Your track “PHONY” takes huge inspiration from Britpop. You’ve claimed Oasis as one of your biggest musical influences. Which Oasis songs most shaped you as a person and as a musician? 

“Cast No Shadow”.

What are your plans for the rest of 2023?

I spent a full year writing a record all by myself in a basement, now I just want to play it in front of as many people as possible. Shows shows shows.

Anything else you want to add? 

I want to connect with foster kids (people) and people who have been misplaced as children. That’s who this record is for. I want to hear people’s stories and thoughts on the system and how it affected them. I’m not really an activist, but making this record made me realize that opening the door to my past has really helped me heal in ways I didn’t know I needed.