Zoe Graham Interview: Songs, Suspicions & Success

By Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr)
Photos courtesy of Mairi McAnena (@mairii_)

It could be said that it was coincidental that I found myself going to the Hillhead Book Club to chat with Zoe Graham. Situated on a street that is mobbed by students every day, the establishment perfectly blends in with its surrounding and leaves its surprises till you pass its doors: random trinkets adorn the walls, peculiar tables decorated with board games are pretty much the norm and if the ping pong tables nestled upstairs aren’t in use then there’s something not quite right.

Zoe channels this vibe as well – our first encounter came at the EP launch of another Glasgow act Pests, opening the night with a charming performance that left the impression that she had achieved the same standard of her other influences, most notably the likes of KT Tunstall. Playing well and being a conventional artist on stage, it was an odd but interesting choice of topic that ignited a conversation; wapping out her phone, she began to talk to us about conspiracies, specifical one about the Denver Airport, describing its unnerving artwork found there in an all too entrancing way. To misquote Louis Theroux, I wasn’t sure what I had just seen but I know I didn’t want to leave.

This ability to convey an image with words alone is something that Zoe transmits through her music. A song that hadn’t left my mind from when I had last saw her live was Anniesland Lights and hearing the conception of it from the woman herself only resulted in a deeper admiration of it. “It’s more a symbolic track than a hometown anthem: it’s a break-up song from the viewpoint of an ex’s flat that overlooks a tower whose lights would soothe her whenever she felt nervous or anxious. It makes for a relaxing song despite the background of it“. 

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This kind of emotional layering, allowing for her songs to take on more roles than just a weepy emotional tune, is something that comes naturally to Zoe but it hasn’t happened overnight. She’s been doing this for years, constantly working on her craft in whatever way possible, whether that be pursuing a course to help improve her songwriting abilities or making some personal changes like involving her self more in the songs (which is in stark contrast to her debut 2014 EP which was from the perspective of random characters). It leads to me being given this impression that the musician in front of me is one that is organically working away as opposed to artificially donning the clothes that are in fashion.

This naturalness was something that Zoe showed throughout our chat: whether it was her comedic digs at hashtag culture, at one point stating something wasn’t #relatable, or her up-frontness about certain things that annoy her in the industry, she’s inspired but she’s not trying to be anyone other than herself. It’s no surprise then that when it came to her first ever gig, being comfortable was what made it one of her favourite performances to date: oddly enough, it happened to take place at a bowling club near Jordanhill which she remembers fondly but was open to mocking her wardrobe – “I had my high tops and flannel, it was *very* fashionable”.

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She’s got so many gigs under her belt and is very appreciative of the opportunities she’s been given: when asked about diversity, Zoe falls into the camp that there are a lot of talented women in the Glasgow music scene but that the opportunities aren’t as plentiful. “It’s not unusual for me to be the only female act on the setlist and for an audience to go ‘oh shit’ when they see a girl onstage but it’s not like there isn’t enough diversity in Glasgow, it’s just not getting to show“. This kind of awareness is refreshing especially with certain Glasgow festivals feeling saturated in certain genres and demographics, Zoe using her own tour dates to display some other up and coming acts to get the girl power going.

These tour dates are two upcoming performances that’ll prove to be the catalysts for the future of Zoe’s career; promoting her Hacket and Knackered EP, she’ll be playing The Royal Dick and The Hug & Pint in Edinburgh and Glasgow respectively. Talking about the importance of this, she contrasted the state of her older work to her new stuff: “When it came to handing my first EP over to folk I would apologise before they even opened their mouth. There’s been a real therapeutic side to my more recent musical efforts which I think is what makes me feel all the more nervous about sharing it considering I’ve put so much of myself into it“. Having been years in the making, it can be assured that what we’ll end up hearing will be at the very least polished and personal.

As our conversation comes to an end, I start to recap what we’ve chatted about in my head and realise a natural transition: much like Zoe’s career, there’s been a gradual comfort to what we’ve been discussing and it’s allowed for her to be more open about not only about her music but just music in general. Many musicians are hesitant to discuss anything out with their bubble, afraid to poke any raw nerves or worse, but Zoe has shown just how much of herself she has put into her career, so much so that Zoe the musician and Zoe the real life gal are the same person as opposed to the usual exaggeration of one’s self. Much like the 

Much like the place we’ve spent the past few hours chatting in, Zoe’s personality has flown through. Come the release of her debut EP, they’ll more than likely be a few novelty items in the form of songs to feed our appetite.

Zoe Graham: Twitter + Facebook

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Gig Review: Pests, Kiki Miller & Zoe Graham @ The Hug & Pint

By Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr)

If there was one way to describe last night’s proceedings it would be this – girl power. Taking place at The Hug & Pint, hidden away on Great Western road, Pests‘ EP launch may have been primarily to promote their work that they’ve spent the past year working on but it certainly transcended into a showing of diversity and talent.

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Kicking things off was Zoe Graham, a solo alt folk singer who, despite being the one to introduce the audience, put on a performance you’d expect from a headliner. Her set was a wonderful display of alt folk musings that channelled a fair bit of bedroom pop elements throughout – Hacket and Knackered had a palpitating acoustic beat, proceeded by an ever evolving instrumental intro, that felt reminiscent of the likes of Cyberbully Mom Club which was quickly followed up by an EP cut that ended up igniting a sing along by the time it had finished.

As Graham finished off with a song she quipped was “a happy one”, her set seemed to come full circle, showcasing her versatility when armed with just a guitar, keyboard and her voice: it’s a beautiful start to her career and was just as great a start to the night.

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Up next was Kiki Miller, another female solo artist though backed up by a band that she interchangeably plays with, that definitely changed up the mood of the night. Far more rock orientated than what came before, Miller was a natural on stage and shows the same confidence during her songs as she does during intervals: at one point during her set she bluntly introduced one of her tracks as “the fuckboy song”, a funky banger that almost blows a circuit at points due to how overpowering both the instrumentals and vocals are.

Speaking of the vocals, Miller has what can only be described as some of the most broody, soothing pipes you’ll find in the ground-level of Scottish music. No matter if it was the aforementioned lad song or Wonderland, a song based on Miller’s obsession with a Swedish TV series, her singing could go from moody to bombastically upbeat and back at the drop of a hat. While their set was short-lived, Miller left an impression on the audience that will cement them in their memory.

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And then there were none – I mean, one left, the headliners themselves Pests. Having had such a talented line of support for the night, it could have been seen as the four piece shooting themselves in the foot but almost instantly, the band put any qualms to rest. 

Drunk As Sin was a standout single, packing in a deliciously funky bass and explicit chorus that took only two iterations of before it had etched itself into your memory, and Take My Soul made sure to make an impression even if it fell into the latter half of the setlist. While its rhythmic, simple guitar felt reminiscent of Cooke by Modern Baseball (don’t ask),  it had a far more upbeat sentiment to it and delivered yet another devilishly catchy hook.

If playing some tracks of their EP wasn’t enough then Pests had you covered as they played not one but three covers, all by strong female acts which the band have not been shy about wanting to see more of. Born to Die, Falling and Green Light were all showcased and managed to show not only Elanor’s knack for being a charismatic front-woman but also Charlotte and Elizabeth’s incredible vocals, culminating in the band having an amazing range which when layered is enough to bring a tear to your eye.

While their rock, funk and indie influences were very apparent, there’s a reason why they describe themselves as an alt pop outfit and Pests displayed that tonight. If this ability to hit out with ear-worms so early into their career is anything to go by then it’s only a matter of time before they cement themselves as one of the best. For now, Pests can share the title of being one of the most promising bands Scotland has to offer.

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