“Even if there’s a thundering beat under the track,
somehow, somewhere, folk will still be in there.”
AMS Scotland alumni Zoe Graham was interviewed for the popular music publication M Magazine recently; Zoe spoke about her early influences, the new direction her music is taking , what’s been inspiring her lately, and of course, her experience taking home the prestigious SAMA award towards the end of 2019.
Read the full article below (originally published in M Magazine on 28 January 2020).
While there is a distinct contrast between early singles like Hacket & Knackered and her latest offering Sleep Talking, the storytelling nature of her songwriting is persistent amid the sharp electronics.
Despite being at a relatively early stage in her career, it’s a trait that bagged Zoe the Best Acoustic gong at last year’s Scottish Alternative Music Awards (SAMAs).
Possessing songwriting prowess beyond her years, she has steadily forged an impressive reputation in Scotland’s rich music scene.
Following a move to Glasgow, Zoe gigged heavily in the city at venues like The Hug and Pint before securing support slots for acts like Rae Morris at The Art School and a spot on the line-up for the prestigious new music showcase Wide Days.
The shift towards the electronic pop of Sleep Talking is an exciting development in an already impressive young career.
We caught up with Zoe to get the skinny on her new direction, her biggest inspirations and what it felt like to take home the SAMA award…
How did you first get into making music?
Music has always been a big part of my life. For as long as I can remember this is what I wanted to do. My older brother is a conductor and composer and I grew up listening to him blast classical music from his room and learn the piano. It’s easy to see that my brother was the main inspiration for me to then pick up the violin, and then the guitar. With my mum and dad being an actress and artist – creativity was never something to shy away from.
Does songwriting come naturally to you?
I’d say so yes! But that doesn’t make it easy for me. It’s definitely a part of me that I don’t think will ever leave me. But I labour over songs and find it very difficult to finish them. I get distracted and after writing the first verse I get very tired very quickly. That’s why I’ve really been enjoying co-writes. There’s a responsibility to get something finished and an expectation to come away with a finished and demoed song. Where if I’m writing myself, it will take me a couple of days to get around to it all.
How would you describe your music to the uninitiated?
That’s difficult, it’s changed so much throughout the years. My older stuff veers slightly more on the alt-folk side. But the new stuff is more electronic and pop based. However, I feel regardless of the instrumentation or genre I still have a foot firmly in folk music by the nature of my lyrics. They always tell a story and are quite developed. So even if there’s a thundering beat under the track somehow, somewhere folk will still be in there.
What inspirations outside of music impact your songwriting?
I’m a big art lover. My father being an artist, I’ve always been into making things my whole life. My initial plans were to actually go to art school. But instead I found The Academy of Music and Sound and decided to try that out as they had a songwriting course. I’m hugely inspired by the natural world, and I also sometimes like to pop religious themes in my lyrics too. Not in any Christian-rock or god loving kind of a way, I use that language as a leverage to make my statement hit a bit harder. For example, one of the lyrics in my new single Sleep Talking – ‘Judas you are not alone, I am with you.’ This lyric shows how bad I feel, how guilty I feel. But somehow it feels a bit worse when you add Judas into the mix.
What’s the thinking behind your latest track Sleep Talking?
I’m a really bad sleep talker, walker, and I see things in my sleep too. I used to wake up in the middle of the night with an ex-partner lying next to me thinking I had said something I didn’t mean, something horrible or untrue. And I used to really panic that they heard, or just confused if I had even said anything at all. This feeling was so awful that I knew I just had to write about it.
Can you tell us a little bit about the motivations behind the track’s accompanying video?
The video is a direct reference to the meaning of the song. I hallucinate in my sleep, I wake up seeing things; so Kieran Howe (director) and I ran with this. The three dancers in the video are my nightly hallucinations, each representing a stage of grief from a break up. Throughout the video we move from dark, to grey to light as I slowly start to accept these stages of grief. At the end I have totally accepted these emotions and they have become pillars to my progression in life, lessons learned. There are also a lot of religious themes in the video too. We used these as stylistic inspirations. For instance, the images of the hands are a nod to ‘The Creation of Adam’, and the final frame of the dancers and I is a reference to ‘The Descendant From The Cross’ by Paul Ruben. Baroque and Renascence art was the main jumping off point for Kieran and I.
How do you think your music has evolved since you first started out?
My confidence has greatly improved my songwriting. I was a very shy kid growing up. With this, I have progressed through quite a few genres. I used to write blues music, then folk music and slowly as my confidence has progressed I now have slid into the territory of more outspoken alt-pop music. Who knows where it could all go next!
How did it feel to win Best Acoustic at the 2019 Scottish Alternative Music Awards?
AMAZING! I’ve been playing gigs since I was 16 and, in that time, I’ve played hundreds of gigs (and that’s not an overstatement). Just like every musician I’ve done a lot of Bad (with a capital B) gigs in my time. Especially as a kid, you can end up getting conned quite a bit. Finally feeling like I had been recognised for my hard work and perseverance was such an amazing feeling. Winning the SAMA has now become a big driver for me to keep on going!!!
Do you have any plans for a full-length release?
What’s your take on the Scottish music scene at the moment?
It’s the place to be for new and exciting music. The music coming out of Scotland is genuine and has a real humanity to it. I’m close friends with most of the music scene in Glasgow and parts of the rest of Scotland too. It really feels like the most supportive family. Great music coming out of Scotland right now are Quiche, Russell Stewart, Kitti and VanIves, to name a few.
What’s next for you?
At the moment I’m writing, and trying to create as much music and art as possible. MORE OF THAT PLEASE! I’ll be showcasing my band a bit more this year and playing more shows across the border too.
Zoe Graham forthcoming live dates:
18 April The Poetry Club, Glasgow
This article first appeared on m-magazine.co.uk on 28 January 2020.