First Published September 2020
LOVE LETTERS TO NASHVILLE
Just a few weeks back we had the pleasure of introducing readers to the fabulous singer/songwriter ZOEE. We caught up with the Australian native not too long after the release of her most recent singles, Break My Heart and The Song We Sing. In Part 1 of that chat with Zoee – a weaver of dreams through the beautiful magic of her songs, but also very much a dreamer herself, and chaser of those dreams – we took a bit of a deep dive into the story behind Break My Heart, as well as into Zoee’s songwriting in a more general sense.
And, believe it or not, we also got to hear the story behind how this Aussie songstress who’s now based in Scotland, managed to end up smack bang in the middle of Sean’s Bar in Athlone, in a session and carrying out an interview for her role as a presenter on the tv show ‘Nashville Meets World.’ Sean’s Bar, by the way, for those of you not in the know on these matters, is the oldest bar in the world.
Zoee and her family now live about two hours out of Glasgow, “way out on the coast”, having also lived in Edinburgh. As she says herself, “we’ve lived in a little bit of everywhere!” But how exactly did Zoee end up in Scotland?
“Long story to that one! I went out to the States a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it out there. Did my first show in Nashville, and decided pretty much from there on out that I wanted to do music. The family said to me when I got back to Australia, ‘You’re really good at this, why don’t you think about doing it?’ I was already leaning on that idea anyway, so I said alright, let’s do it! And they were like,’Well how can we help? What can we do to get behind you?’ And I was kinda blown away at that point. But I thought, well, we always have loved travelling, and we’ve never been to the homelands, we’ve never been to Scotland and Ireland and England, where it all kind of started for our family, so I said well, how about we go there? We’d been to Canada, we’d been to Mexico, all around Australia, so let’s go there and see how it is with music. Lo and behold, after that conversation we bought our one-way tickets and boarded a flight to London, Heathrow. That was four and a half years ago, and we haven’t been back to Australia since. It’s kinda crazy. We started initially in London, and that was super-expensive and very, very competitive for an artist very new to the scene here. So we ended up saying well let’s head further north, let’s go to Scotland and see what the scenery is like up there [laughs]. And it’s been lovely ever since, we haven’t looked back.”
Zoee’s dad’s name is actually Dundee…well…kind of! I wondered if that fact harked back to her family’s Scottish heritage?
“Absolutely! And that tied in with the Australian heritage obviously, because he’s got a super, super Australian accent. My dad is my lead-guitar player, by the way, for anybody who doesn’t know. So whenever we’re in the States, whenever he starts talking over there, he’s got a very, very thick accent – and his first name is actually Mick – so everyone’s calling him Mick Dundee! [laughs]. And obviously with all of the family coming from Dundee and Scotland and everything else, it stuck! And now it’s his stage-name. Everybody just knows him now as Dundee! [laugh].”
Zoee would have been writing in Australia before moving to Scotland, where she’s lived now for four years. I wondered if there was anything about the way she writes, or how she approaches songwriting, that has changed from living in Scotland?
“That’s a great question, I like that. I think yeah, I definitely think it has. I wrote a lot more folky stuff when I was in Australia. And I think that was because I wasn’t playing shows like I have been while I’ve been living in the U.K. So the ‘live’ scene has definitely influenced my writing style. I tend to write songs now that are crowd-starters. I always try to write stuff that’s going to be fun to play on stage. When I was back in Australia, I was writing stuff that was more or less for myself, just sitting around quietly to just play. And they were the sort of songs that you sit by the camp-fire and play, they’re the real stories. And they’re the ones that you wouldn’t necessarily get away with playing at a festival so easily! The audience might think, ‘What’s goin; on here?!’, ya know [laughs]. So, there is a bit of contrast. And obviously as a person, I’ve grown. I’m four and a half years older. I’ve been getting to see the world through different cultures and places, that definitely helps you grow and helps you see things differently. The music [you write] is so in touch with you as a person, there’s no real separation between the music and the actual person behind the music. So yeah, to answer that honestly, I would say that there’s been a lot of change in me personally, and musically. And vocally, quite a lot of change! [laughs]. I was listening back to some stuff from a couple of years ago only a few weeks back, and I thought, wow! It’s amazing how some changes happen and you don’t even notice. I’m always striving to grow every day, to always do something a little bit better, change this or change that. It’s just about constantly trying to make yourself the best version of yourself.”
Speaking of festivals, and indeed, speaking of Nashville which Zoee had already mentioned, I wanted to talk about another amazing song of Zoee’s called Nashville. She had been in Nashville last year for CMA Fest, so I was wondering if the song came before the visit – from wanting to get there – or from the experience of having been in Music City?
“Well I’d been to Nashville once before I got to play CMA Fest. I grew up listening to country music, and songs from the seventies and eighties especially. And not even so much country, rock ‘n’ roll, AC/DC, Meat Loaf, so many different sounds, Paul Simon as well. So there was a lot of variety. But whenever I heard something that was country, I’ve always had this warm feeling, and just connected with it. And I can remember vividly watching a documentary on Neil Young when he was talking about going to Nashville, and that just stuck with me as a kid growing up. I was like, gosh, I want to go to Nashville someday, that sounds amazing there! And when I finally got there, I underestimated the power of the southern culture! [laughs]. And the warmth of everybody there, I didn’t expect it to be quite as lovely as it is. I got there and I was just completely overwhelmed by it, I just fell in love with the place. The fact that everybody’s just so supportive of each other too, ya know. You would think that an industry that’s so driven on competing against each other, and climbing on top of each other to get where essentially you’ve got to go – and I mean, that’s such an awful mindset to have, by the way – but you would expect a city that’s full of musicians to be very driven by that attitude. But they’re not. It’s the complete opposite. From my experience, it’s been warm and welcoming, and everyone’s like, ‘Well I’ve got a show, come and join me, I’ll get you up with me, we can play some songs. We should write a song!’ [laughs]. There’s this energy, and this loving, embracing feeling, and I just fell in love with it.”
Zoee continued, “So the song ‘Nashville’ came about when I was flying to Nashville to go play CMA Fest, and it had come to me a little bit before. I was thinking, yeah, I ‘m going to Nashville, and thinking about how it’s always felt like home, and I was thinking about it and thinking about it, and by the time I actually got to Nashville, the song was finished! So I actually played the song in Nashville before it was even recorded. And the reaction was…crazy! And wonderful. So I recorded it when we got back to England. I was going to do it while I was there in Nashville – we did record a little bit there – but time-wise, I just didn’t have enough. I was on tour in the U.K. at the time and I had a three week gap, so we went to the States and we did CMA Fest and the Bluebird Cafe and a bunch of other places. I had three weeks there, but I just didn’t have enough time to record everything. It’s kind of like my love-letter to the city, and the adventure of getting there, ya know.”
Zoee had mentioned earlier in our chat that she’d been doing a lot of songwriting during lockdown, and I’d heard that she also had plans to release a new single each month between now and the end of the year. True?
“True! Yeah [laughs]. I mean, this is the thing. I had planned for 2020 to be on the road most of this year. We were going back to Sweden, we were doing another U.K. tour, we were going to Ireland, back to the States, to Nashville, Germany and a few other European countries. But obviously with everything that all got wiped out pretty quick. So plans had to change pretty quick as well. So instead of focusing on touring this year, I focused on recording and shooting, and doing a whole bunch of other stuff to get new music out. Prior to this year, I’ve only had officially three songs released, three singles. One was for a film soundtrack for a feature film called 19 Willock Place, that was called ‘Town.’ I had an acoustic folk song out called ‘This Time’, and I had one very early song I wrote called ‘It’s The Weekend.’ But my style has changed so much from when I recorded that. So I was kind of edging at the bit to release new stuff. So this year I decided to focus on getting in the studio, and getting some stuff recorded. And by the studio, I mean at home recording, working with a producer closely, and getting a whole bunch of new stuff ready to release. So yeah, I can officially say that I have a single coming out now every month until the end of the year, and then maybe a few surprises at the beginning of the year as well.”
Given that Zoee and her band are so accustomed to being on the road, what has 2020 been like for her in that regard, having to put a full-stop on ‘live’ music?
“For the first months, it was awful. I had C2C that I would have been playing, and other festivals lined up as well this year. This year, for me personally, would have been a real jump-ahead in my career, because I’d worked so hard the year before. So this was going to be the next step, if that makes sense? Because I’m independent, you’re essentially your own record label, you’re taking care of all the bookings, and the social media, the visuals, the editing, the content, the creation…there’s so much stuff you have to take into consideration. So this year, 2020, was a big one. And the team and I had a lot on the agenda. The team is obviously my family. My mum’s my manager and my booker. And my dad and my brothers. they’re my band. This year, we had a lot on the table, and we had worked hard last year for it. To see it all kind of vanish into thin air was really heartbreaking for the first months. But after that, it almost became this sigh of relief in a way, to almost say wow, this is all that we’ve achieved in the last few years. And it was nice to take a break and just re-evaluate things, I guess. To help take more precise and accurate decision making going forward. And that next step has been to record and get more stuff out, and get more stuff ready. And also giving people a chance to listen to some of the music that you wouldn’t have heard unless you’d come to a show. With everybody being at home and locked up [laughs], and nobody able to go to concerts and things, it’s been really nice to be able to connect with people online as well, and share some of the stuff that I’ve been playing and working on for years. I mean, ‘Break My Heart’, for example, I’ve only just brought that out…what was it… a month ago? But I wrote that three and a half years ago. And unless you’ve come to a show, you wouldn’t have heard it. And I’ve got so many more songs like that. Plans for touring are out of my control, they’ve been taken from underneath me, so now it’s time to turn my attention to focusing on giving everybody some music.”
C2C is obviously a huge event on the country music calendar. So as an independent artist, how did Zoee make that happen?
“Actually, funny enough, they reached out to me about playing! And I was blown away. It came through Live Nation, I’ve worked with them a few times. We’ve done quite a few things in Glasgow together. Yeah, they reached out to me. They said, ‘We know your stuff really well, and would you be interested in playing C2C?’ And I was like, would I?! OF COURSE! [laughs]. And it was the week of C2C, when it was meant to be happening, that everything got cancelled and the official lockdown happened, and I was so heartbroken, ya know. It was this close, this close…[laughs]. But ya know, I think everything happens for a reason, and it has given me a chance to just sit back and take a look at everything, and plan for 2021. My plan is to come back stronger than ever in 2021.”In keeping with her plan to release a new single every month for the rest of the year, Zoee dropped the beautiful Take Me Away on Friday last…
“The song ‘Take Me Away’ is an empowering song about the process of finding yourself. I’ve learned in order to move forward in life, you have to let go of the naysayers, the negative, and begin doing whatever it is that gets you leaping out of bed in the morning. So this is one of those songs that no matter what mood you’re in, as soon as you start playing it, your energy shifts. It’s such an uplifting song and I’m excited to be able to bring that kind of energy to everyone. The world seems to be a bit of a madhouse lately and I think we all need a balance-shift right about now. As a songwriter, I try to write from a personal place of experience.”
Earlier this month, on September 6th, Zoee also released an acoustic song I Am Your Friend, to Facebook and Instagram, a song she wrote for a friend who was suffering with suicidal thoughts. “I know the magic of music and how it’s helped me through tough times in my own life. I can only hope that my stories and songs can help lift someone somewhere through their dark times. After all, we need to be smiling and happy. It’s a short life.”
Zoee is also nominated for 12 Awards at the Fair Play Country Music Awards in Holland, with the winners being announced in November.
~ TAKE ME AWAY is out now, available on all platforms and to request from radio.