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ZÖ - Interview with ZÖ

16 Apr 2019 // An interview by J_Plates

ZÖ is a new artist who’s set to release a small collection of songs, in which she sings candidly about her experiences and struggles in a way that lets others be vulnerable. Jeremy from Muzic.net.nz asked ZÖ about growing up, the lyrics on her upcoming EP, her songwriting influences and much more. Here's what she had to say:

You’re based in Wellington, but originally from Whangarei, what was it like growing up in Northland and then moving to a larger city?

Growing up in a rural coastal town was the best; I lived right by the beach near my old primary school. We had bush area we could play in, the estuary to swim in, and dolphins would come in all the time, so we got to run out of class and watch them. I feel really lucky to have grown up in the environment that I did. Coming from that, where the pace is slow and you smile and say hello to everyone you pass, transitioning was extremely hard; it took me about a year or two to fully adjust.

Before moving to Wellington to study music I had been home-schooled for the last three years of High School, so I had little interaction with the outside world; I couldn’t drive into the city, so I was pretty isolated. I went from quietness and isolation to a loud, chaotic city. It gave me so much anxiety just waiting at the lights because there would be loads of people waiting on the other side; I just wasn’t used to it. It was really awful at the time, but I’ve adjusted now. It’s nice that I can at least bus to the beach here; it makes me feel more at home.

Does your location & surrounding atmosphere influence your material and how you write, and what’s your ideal writing scenario?

Hmm, I would say so. I wrote most of Water Baby and War back home, so I think you can hear the influence in there. To Be Loved, I wrote in Wellington, which sounds quite different to the other two. Your environment can definitely influence your music, but that’s not always the case.

My ideal writing scenario is to write on my own somewhere quiet and peaceful, with no distractions or the feeling that I might be annoying someone; I need to feel comfortable to write. I want to collaborate more, and I’d love to write with Olafur Arnalds or Max Richter; I’m obsessed with classical music right now.

The lyrics on your forthcoming War EP are rather self-reflective, what inspired your songwriting for this particular release, and how did you translate your thoughts and feelings into the tracks?

They are quite self-reflective and honest; I don’t know any other way to write. I tend to just write what I’m feeling and forget that the songs I do write will be listened to. I had a verse already written for the song War as well as Water Baby, but To Be Loved was basically written in one night when I was upset. I put them together for this EP because I felt they all made sense together. It's about being at war with myself, but also having a sense of hope that I can change my situation if I wanted to, and a reminder to be kinder to myself.

Who are your biggest songwriting influences, and what are two of your favourite tracks you keep going back to?

That’s such a hard question, it’s always changing for me, but there’s a circle of people that inspire my writing, Bjork, Sufjan Stevens, AURORA, Bon Iver. The emotion they put in their songs is so beautiful; they inspire me to replicate the same feeling in my own songs.

Two tracks that I keep going back to are Hyperballad and Unravel by Bjork, I feel like they’ll never get old.

What’s your typical songwriting process for coming up with ideas i.e. do you keep a notepad with you for when inspiration strikes, and how do you flesh out your ideas into full songs?

I wish I was that person who wrote in a notebook but writing into my phone or my computer is much easier. I’ll be out on a walk back home without my phone and I’ll get a melody in my head, so I’ll sing it over and over again until I get home to record it; I should really remember to have my phone with me!

I tend to work with melodies first; I get a lot of ideas pop up in my head, and I’ll quickly record it on my phone, so I don’t lose it. It’s interesting though, I’ll sing a melody and sing random words, and sometimes the right words will just come out. This happened with the song To Be Loved; it was my easiest song to write. I was feeling upset one night, I felt really unworthy of love and I just sat in bed quietly singing about it, and all the lyrics except for the bridge were written that night.

So, I mostly work with melodies, but I love to play one note on a drone or loop and sing over top of it and generate some more melodies. I find it hard to flesh out ideas if I’m not in the right mood, but it’s important to keep working at it anyway. I’ll try different melodies until the right one fits and then write the lyrics.

Drawing on your own experience and tastes, what makes a good song?

A good song will make you feel something; it will make you cry or make you feel powerful, or make you dance like an idiot in your room. I guess if you listen to it on repeat, it’s a good song.

This is the kind of music I want to make; I want it to do something for someone, and I want it to be special. If you can’t listen to it in 10 years, it’s probably not good. The best songs stand the test of time.

The instrumentation and production on the track To Be Loved is brilliant and very fitting for the song, who produced it and how did you develop the song?

Thank you so much! Jesse Austin produced it. I had the melody and lyrics and an overall feel of how I wanted it to sound like. I had an idea for the way the piano is in the song, I wanted it to be sparse but punchy, so I messaged that idea to Jesse, and he tried different chords and ways of playing it to get it how I wanted it. I’m thankful that Jesse could figure out what I was trying to get across to him; I find it hard to articulate exactly what I want, but we got there in the end. I had a melody for the bridge, and Jesse made it really bass-y and moody which I love.

What does a typical ZÖ live performance consist of, and if you could perform anywhere in the world, what location would be at the top of the list?

Well, I’ve only done a few shows as ZÖ so far, so it’s just me performing at the moment, but I’d like to form a band soon.

I feel really drawn to Scandinavian countries, so I’d love to perform in Iceland or Norway, but a big festival like Glastonbury would be cool too. Anywhere that is beautiful I’d love to perform, whether it‘s a particular country or venue, like a Cathedral; I think that’s a beautiful space to perform in.

Do you have any future plans for releasing new music, and what might fans expect from any new material?

Yes! I’m in my last year of Commercial Music right now completing my major project; I want to release a more up-beat/powerful classical and electronic EP and then perform it live with a string quartet and a band at an art gallery.

When is your War EP due to be released, and where’s the best place to get a copy and keep up to date with all things ZÖ?

My EP comes out Tuesday, May 14th and you can listen to it on all streaming services or buy it on Bandcamp. You can follow me on FB and Instagram at @zoeleanor


About ZÖ

ZÖ is an evocative singer who is unafraid to bare her vulnerabilities to the world through her intimate, unfiltered pop songs.

In 2019, ZÖ debuted a modest three-track EP that revealed what is at the heart of it all - to be unashamedly honest and vulnerable in her music while inviting others to do the same. Not only that, but she solidified herself as an evocative and empowering songwriter who validates and brings to light experiences that other people are afraid to talk about, or don’t know how to express themselves.

Growing up in a small town living by the sea, ZÖ was a shy and highly sensitive kid, who simply loved to sing. Now, music is more than just an outlet to ZÖ, more than just “sad pop music”, it’s a cathartic process that holds a strong sense of purpose and responsibility to others.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for ZÖ


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