Q&A: Leah Cleaver of ZEBEDE

Emerging future soul band, ZEBEDE, formed only a year ago. Yet the group are already making a name for themselves in the London music scene, thanks to their truthful, exciting and unfiltered sound.

With ZEBEDE becoming regulars at Sofar Sounds, they are being heard all over the city and have just released their debut single ‘Some People’. Lead singer, Leah Cleaver, is a 22-year-old musician from Devon, with flawless vocals and an effortlessly cool style to match. We caught up with Leah to find out more about ZEBEDE.

How did ZEBEDE form?

At first It was just me and Henry (keys player) getting drunk, cooking food and jamming and we started to really like what we were coming up with, so we got max involved to play drums. After that, the three of us spent the summer in a tiny rehearsal room churning out song after song, but it wasn’t until August/September time that we got the other boys, Charlie (guitar/ vocals) and Mike (bass) involved.

How did you meet the boys?

I met all the boys at BIMM London, where we all went to university, and played alongside Henry in a band that I had in second year called Corduroy Dreams (oh god what a bad name). We actually ended up replacing Henry with Max when he broke his arm (savage) – but that band was quickly short lived. I knew Mike and Charlie from class and Mike was really keen to get involved and I literally forced Charlie into the band. It was one night last summer at one of Henry’s infamous Granville parties, and I had wanted Charlie in the band for ages, so my plan was so try and convince him that night.  I found him and literally shoved him in a room and handed him a guitar and told him to start jamming. Charlie was at rehearsals a couple days later. 

What’s the story behind the band’s name?

We were struggling so hard for a name in the beginning, like I was getting mad about it, because we had been together about 7 months without one. Then one day I asked the boys their middle names, and Henry said his was Zebede, and I was stunned. I didn’t expect it at all and I thought it was perfect. We all just clicked with it and knew it had to be that. 

Describe each band member in one sentence..

Henry: The Quincey (Quincey Jones).

Max: If Yusef Dayes and Delboy had a baby.

Mike: More chill and he’d be dead.

Charlie: Patsy Stone if she played jazz.

Who are your top female musical influences?

My influences change every time I feel like I musically go through a big change, but my constant has always been Nina Simone. Her ferocity has always excited me, and her ability to command a room is mesmerising. She paved the way for black women in music, actually just women in general I think  – I lean on her for inspiration if I’m ever in doubt of what I’m doing.

Naomi Saalfield (Hiatus Kaiyote/ Nai Palm singer and guitarist) has also been a huge inspiration to me. I just think her music is so fucking clever, and it’s nothing like I’ve ever heard before. I literally spend my spare time learning her songs, I have to break them down like maps because they’re so complex, but I love doing it. She’s definitely creating her own genre of music right now.

What was your favourite song growing up?

‘Just Friends’ by Amy Winehouse. I just remember thinking, “Oh wow, this is so incredibly sad”, but she sang with such coolness. I loved it and still listen to it all the time. 

Dream collaboration?

I would love to collaborate with Nao, I think her tone is untouchable and I think she’s doing some incredible things right now in the industry. Charlie tells us all about 5 times a day that he would die happy if we did a track with Q-tip -which would be incredible. 


Tell us about your debut single ‘Some People’..

Our single ‘Some People’ was the first song that made us realise what we were doing wasn’t just fucking around and was essentially a door that unlocked this way of writing and playing that we didn’t know we could create. It’s basically about someone saying, “I know you like me, and want me despite me clearly being crazy”, and I can relate! I think we all can. It’s one of the ‘lighter’ songs we wrote and one that felt perfect to release first. 

What has been your best gig to date?

Probably at The Troubadour last year. We didn’t expect the turn out to be that great because we had been gigging loads at the time, and it wasn’t even our own show but it just became completely rammed and I remember feeling like the gig was done in 5 minutes, I was having so much fun that I didn’t want to get off stage. There wasn’t even really anything that specific that made it my favourite. The boys would probably all tell you a different gig they loved, but I think it’s just your own personal thing. 

What can we expect from you next?

We just played the Barclaycard stage at British Summer Time which was crazy, but our debut EP is out in September so we’re putting on a big show for that. If you follow us on insta (@zebede_music) you’ll be able to see where we’re about and where you can come see us. 

Listen to ‘Some People’ below.

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Q&A: Leah Cleaver of ZEBEDE
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