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“.
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”.
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.