CTRL ZEN: An inside look at the mindful musician’s journey

Ctrl Zen

CTRL ZEN is a rising dark-pop duo who has been making waves with their unique sound and genre-bending approach. In a recent interview, they shared insights into their creative process, influences, and future plans.

CTRL ZEN is a dark-pop duo hailing from Meanjin, Australia. Their latest single, “OOPS I DIED,” is a haunting and atmospheric track that showcases their unique sonic landscape. With layers of distorted sounds and glitchy effects that create a feeling of discomfort in the listener, and lyrics that are derived from a painful place, the song perfectly captures the complex emotions associated with loss and grief. The duo’s approach to songwriting is a collaborative one, with LNY creating the melodic theme on the keys and TZN adding percussion on the drum pads. Together, they weave a sonic tapestry that is both otherworldly and deeply personal.

Finding a home within the creative community that is centered around the punk and grunge scenes in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, the duo draws inspiration from their surroundings, including the vibrant nightlife and the challenges of living in a highly populated area. With homelessness and crime on the rise in Brisbane, CTRL ZEN’s music reflects the tension and despair that can be felt in the city.

Despite the challenges, CTRL ZEN remains committed to creating music that pushes boundaries and challenges the listener. They are influenced by their future selves, imagining a world in which they have made a big impact on the dark pop music genre worldwide. CTRL ZEN’s music is a reflection of their personal experiences and their desire to connect with others through their art.


HAPPY: What music is CTRL ZEN listening to today?

TZN: A bit of Lorn, Night Lovell

LNY: Paganini. Half Moon Run.

HAPPY: Tell us about your suburb, what do you love/not love about where you live?

CTRL ZEN: Fortitude Valley is the nightlife capital of Brisbane. It’s great being centred in the largest part of the city’s music scene – living in the studio just walking distance from all the venues and clubs makes it so easy to transport our gear to shows.

Depending if you turn left or right from our front door, you end up in either the red light district or bougie high-street – so there is no end to the interesting characters we come across. So many people in this town are a huge source of our creative inspiration.

We’re right near this part of the river that is perfect for skateboarding late at night, and we know this great spot where heaps of cute river rats come out to play when it’s quiet. Sometimes we take Thai Food down to share with them.

The downside of such a highly-populated area means there is also a lot of crime. This part of the city gets a bad rep since so much crime is reported, but the rate doesn’t seem to actually be any worse than a lot of outer suburbs. It’s just that when you have more people, there is more of  everything and you notice more.

Homelessness is on the rise so there is a lot of tension in the city. Brisbane’s popularity is increasing at a rate it is not quite ready to support and a lot of lifelong locals are suffering for it. Times are getting tough here. The Valley’s wild party scene can be really sad to walk through if you’re not lit. All in one place you see a strange mix of worlds where some are at peak celecration, some deep in a pit of struggles and many caught somewhere else trying to live it up enough to distract themselves from their despair.

HAPPY: Describe your average work day.


  • Wake up.
  • Drink herbal tea while the sun rises.
  • Gym.
  • Flick the on switches of all the studio equipment.
  • Listen to the cosmic antenna to see what today needs achieved.
  • Work.
  • Meditation break in the sun.
  • Back to work.
  • Lunch break.
  • Play an instrument.
  • Back to work.
  • Make a black coffee.
  • Back to work.
  • Dinner break.
  • Grab the laptop and head to our local bar for a band meeting.
  • Get back to the studio for a jam session.
  • Cigar break.
  • One more song.

HAPPY: What about your ultimate day?

TZN: Waking up in the van, parked near a creek. Make a coffee. Nap in the hammock. Play didgeridoo. Make a fire. Another hammock nap.

LNY: Really heavy storm, chai tea and a few pillows on a rug on the balcony.

HAPPY: Tell us about your creative community.

CTRL ZEN: The valley scene is rife with punk and grunge fans. The bars and venues that see all the same faces every weekend seem to be emo af and this creates the largest real community of the creative scene where we live. The punks are all in bands and all their friends are in bands and they all go to each others gigs. Tarzn used to be in one of those bands when he was 18. It’s awesome.

HAPPY: How do you go about creating your music? Do you have a specific process or approach to songwriting?

CTRL ZEN: Larney creates a melodic theme on the keys, Tarzn adds percussion on the drum pads, Larney adds atmosphere, Tarzn adds additional effects, we eventually find some golden moments in our mash of thoughts. Some of those moments become what will eventually be verses and the strongest moments are the chorus. So it’s a process of bouncing back and forth between the two of us and allowing everything that inspired a feeling to be added to the mix.


HAPPY: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the spacey, alt-rock sound of “OOPS I DIED”?

CTRL ZEN: The lyrics are derived from a painful place. The beat was an expression of a scene that appears to be bouncing with fun feelings but after paying careful attention the song will give a feeling of discomfort. This was to provoke a feeling that is hard to describe but that is the purpose of music after all isn’t it?

HAPPY: The production on “OOPS I DIED” is very atmospheric and glitchy. Can you talk about your approach to creating the sonic landscape of the song?

CTRL ZEN: Input an uncomfortable noise, like a cicada, pitch tune it low, duplicate it, tap out a rhythm with it, slam the compression on it, put on too much reverb, not enough stereo width, duplicate the layer, detune one of the layers to a 2nd interval, send that layer to the back of the mix, add crunch distortion to both layers but different amounts and EQ that noise to knock out any frequencies over 9000k. That is our approach to creating a sonic landscape that makes the listener feel how the artist felt when writing the song.

HAPPY: Who are your biggest musical influences and how have they impacted your sound?

CTRL ZEN: Great question. Our biggest musical influences are our future selves. We take inspiration from the songs that we have not yet written and our mentors are ourselves when we’re 40 and have made a big impact on the dark pop music genre world-wide in the future. It’s an unnerving accidental cosmic connection to the future that is the reason we even began creating music together. Haven’t brought this up with the psychiatrist yet because anti-psychotic drugs would suppress these feelings and then we wouldn’t know what to write.

HAPPY: Your upcoming music video features cartoon versions of yourselves interacting with futuristic cosmic mentors. Can you give us a sneak peek into the concept and storyline of the video?

CTRL ZEN: All we can say is that it’s cosmic and cool.

HAPPY: Your debut single, “Jesus Christ,” was released in December. How has the response been so far and how do you feel it sets the tone for the future of CTRL ZEN’s music?

CTRL ZEN: Like all great artists that make music with creative flair, we released JC completely under the radar for the purpose of seeing who would notice. Who is lurking the shadowy corners of the YT music video scene? Mostly artists from different countries all over the world. We have made valuable connections with visual artists and animators and producers and little labels and even HAPPY MAG right here. People love it! We get fan messages every day from people in countries we’ve never heard of which is very encouraging since we wish to travel to all corners of the world with our music.

HAPPY: Can you give us any hints or teases about what you have planned for the future, in terms of new music or shows?

CTRL ZEN: ctrlzen.com We keep things updated for our email simps. Consider signing up.

HAPPY: What makes you happy?