Mama Zu’s ‘Quilt Floor’ is the “greatest hits” of a “band who never played a show”

Posthumous music releases are tricky. Especially for the creative decision maker left behind. You’re navigating loss, assumption, expectation, doubt… all without input from the voice. In the case of Mama Zu, the voice is Jessi Zazu, a crucial figure in the Middle Tennessee indie music scene who died from cancer seven years ago at the age of 28. Before her death, Zazu had been making what became Quilt Floor with Linwood Regensburg her longtime bandmate in Those Darlins and the person responsible for finishing Mama Zu’s recordings without her. There had been talk of the recordings around town for years but it took time for Regensburg to even restart it.

“Some people will ask me like ‘what took so long with it?’,” Regensburg remembers. “And explaining it is such a hassle because it’s a little vulnerable just saying ‘I didn’t want to do it.’”

Regensburg is sitting in a small home studio in East Nashville stacked with instruments, records and memories. So much of the long, complicated process behind the album took place in this room. It began in 2016 with studio sessions wedged in between Zazu’s chemotherapy to give her voice time to recover. Regensburg says for a long time, just listening to her voice was too much.

“It’s painful because you’re literally reminded of the fact that this person is gone. But then you’re also thinking about all the joyous things that were happening at the day of the session,” Regensburg recalls. “And maybe they made fun of you that day because you showed up late. Your brain just kinda goes back into that. I kinda started to try and think about it … like this is the only way I can spend time with her”

The resilience Regensburg showed in completing the project has given everyone another chance to appreciate the legacy of Jessi Zazu. Her band Those Darlins were foundational in helping build up Nashville’s It City status, showing up in articles alongside Be Your Own Pet and Kings of Leon.

She was a relentless champion for women’s rights and racial justice and a long time mentor for the Southern Girls Rock camp. The Mama Zu recordings also give Darlins fans one last listen to the band’s trademark sass and snark, country and punk, now sitting alongside something different.

“I mean one of the things I struggled with when I was getting close to where everything was done and I’d share stuff with people I felt a little self conscious,” Regensburg admits. “And I’d always use the preface ‘It may seem like it’s going from one style into the next’ and I would kind of pitch it like a compilation. In a way, like this is the Greatest Hits of our band that didn’t play a show.”

Quilt Floor not only shows off the duo’s stylistic range, the lyrics give an overall sense of Zazu’s personality and world perspective. She covers late-stage capitalism, the objectification and assault of women, the boys club of guitar heroism. It makes you want to hear more about these songs — and that’s one of the complicated parts of promoting this album.

“I mean I’m comfortable talking about what I know to be true,” Regensburg states. “And that’s the weird thing about this project I feel like – and this is really dark – if it was flipped and she lived, and I was dead, I feel like it would almost be a little simpler in terms of going forwards. Because you have the voice”

While he may not be comfortable commenting on the meaning of the songs, Regensburg does give some insight into unlikely inspiration. He says there wasn’t a particular posthumous project that he hoped to emulate or avoid and he didn’t consult with others who had been through something similar, but there was a record he “thought about a lot.” A Tribe Called Quest’s album from 2016 We Got It From Here. He says when it came out, he and Zazu”were like ‘Oh my god!’”

Regensburg says he now feels a strange parallel with that project which the group completed after the death of co-founder Phife Dog.

“That was an inspiring thing for me,” Regensburg says. “Because you want to give your friend their place to shine. And you want to see it through.”

Thanks to Regensburg, Jessi Zazu has that place to shine.