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profile: zara huts

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Zara Huts’ voice wavers with nerves on the opening notes of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love”. She steels herself and carries on, her roots influence infusing the song with a captivating, husky quality. The setting is a backyard party for a family friend, and silence quickly falls over the middle-aged women in attendance, as Huts finds her voice. Despite her androgynous “tough-guy” visage, she radiates a charming vulnerability when she performs. This independent Australian artist is at the beginning of what is sure to be a significant musical career.

The next evening, Huts stalks around the stage at Fremantle’s Moondyne Joe’s, preparing for a gig. There’s a problem with the sound – every thirty seconds or so, she picks up her guitar, strums it expectantly, to no avail. She smiles apologetically to the audience. It’s a drastically different crowd, mostly women under 25 who are all cooler than I could ever aspire to be. Huts is obviously more at ease in this setting, and when the set finally starts, her sound is effortless.

The set is a mixture of covers and original works, pieces that combine haunting, poetic lyricism with quirky riffs. She’s the support act for another local band, the Aunts, but it’s clear that a large chunk of the audience is here for her. In fact, at the end of the set, as she slips outside for a smoke, a lot of the punters trickle out after her. That’s a lot of love for someone who’s still working on her debut EP.

Born in Sydney, Huts was raised with music, heading along to underground gigs with her mum before she could even walk. Her dad contributed to her musical education too, and his old-school hip hop and rock leanings have made a lasting impact on her diverse repertoire. Today, Huts evokes an indie/roots vibe, but she has experimented with dark soul, progressive guitar, and even beat-boxing. Her dream gig is supporting Ben Harper, whose journey has been an inspiration to the 23 year old.

Her approach to breaking in to the music industry is that of steady optimism mixed with effortless adaptability. She views determination as the biggest test facing young musicians, stating: ‘One of the hardest challenges to face I think is keeping your head in the game, understanding that writing and composing is limitless.’ The ‘no-limits’ approach to her craft is obvious in her history, and plans for the future: ‘we really are starting our own musical culture in Australia and that’s good to see.’

One thing she doesn’t want in the future of Aussie music is the notion that guys set the standard and perpetuate traditions in genres like rock or rap. She says ‘But [those traditions] really can’t stop the dedicated, if you know where you should be creatively, then be there.’ [. . . ] ‘I try not to bind myself to the structure and standards of commercial and mainstream music so I can have the most fun.’

There is a sharp divide between female artists who see their gender as either an asset or a hindrance, and those that reject the focus on gender altogether, wishing instead to be recognised for their work. When asked whether the focus on gender impacts on her identity and work as a musician, Huts fell into the latter category, saying ‘I just want to write some music’

She believes the focus on gender comes from outside the industry, rather than within, suggesting that ‘the media do what they need to do to cause debate and controversy around current affairs.’ Challenging musical stereotypes has become ‘cool again’, but not really relevant to how Huts sees herself.

Her main focus is making music. She has already played the classic Fremantle venue Mojo’s, as part of her project Mik and Zar with James Bell. Other venues include Geisha Bar and Ya-Ya’s, clubs in the heart of Perth’s party scene.

Currently working on putting a new band together, Huts is hoping to shake WA up with a new sound as the year progresses. She’s also working on a solo album/EP, focussing on acoustic guitar and original sounds.

For more, check out her Facebook page, “Zara Huts Music”, YouTube channel, or Triple J Unearthed Profile.

By Amy Nicholls-Driver

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