I got in touch with ZÖ, a Wellington musician about to release her first EP WAR – a collection of sincere pop songs. In her final year studying Commercial Music at Massey, ZÖ talks about her studies, sadness and making music to “make someone feel something”.
How did you get into music?
There wasn’t a definitive moment where I thought that I should get into music — I had always loved singing since I was really young, and my mum put me into talent shows and things like that, so I always did it and loved it, and so I basically just carried on pursuing it.
I was in my last year of high school and I was searching music degrees in New Zealand. I came across a new degree called Commercial Music at Massey University and it felt perfect for what I wanted to get out of music. Jazz school or something more traditional wouldn’t have been a right fit for me. It’s only based in Wellington, so that’s the reason why I’m here. I’m not sure where I would be if it wasn’t for this degree — maybe Auckland.
Who have been your most significant influencers and inspirations for the commercial music industry?
Good question — It’s always changing, and I’m not sure that these artists are necessarily in the commercial music realm, but I’m loving Olafur Arnalds and Max Richter, basically any music with classical elements, like the orchestral version of Lana Del Rey’s song ‘Young and Beautiful’. It’s so good!
How did you go about making the album? Was it to tell a story, to express something in particular?
For me, I don’t write with a concept in mind or with a specific story to tell. I usually work with melodies and then lyrics. I see how I feel and the right words will come and a story is born. It weirdly just comes together for me; it’s like my mind already knows what to say or what needs to be said. The first song that I wrote was War — it started from listening to a cover of Bon Iver’s song Heavenly Father. The band used a Flugabone in the cover and I thought it sounded beautiful, so I sampled it and looped it, and then started singing over it — that’s how I wrote the verse. I had a verse for Water Baby already and so I wrote a chorus for that too, and then To Be Loved came last. I felt like they all worked well together because it talks about my struggles and insecurities and a feeling of being at war with myself. It is important to tell a story though or to express my emotions authentically, otherwise, I wouldn’t want to share it. It has to move someone, make someone feel something; that’s my ultimate goal.
Could you tell me one or two of the stories behind a couple of your songs?
I wrote these songs in a really dark time. I was depressed, lonely, riddled with anxiety, so the stories behind them are quite sad. To Be Loved is quite honest and straight to the point. I was in my room crying quietly so that my flatmates couldn’t hear me. I felt like I could never be loved or that I wasn’t worthy of being loved for a number of reasons. I was quite sad. I wrote the first verse and chorus right then and there. It was my easiest song to write. Water Baby is a metaphor for sadness. When I was a kid, I’d go swimming all the time and would run into the water and swim for hours, I loved it and never wanted to get out; I was a water baby. It felt like that when it came to sadness; I felt drawn to it and I just couldn’t get out of it. For example, the lyric “The sadness feels chronic” means that I felt like it was something I’d always feel and couldn’t get rid of.
What is your ethos towards music?
My ethos is to move people, to make them feel something; make them dance, make them cry and to inspire them. I love music that does something for me, and I want to make music that does this too – I want to give. Otherwise, what’s the point?
What are your thoughts about the music industry in New Zealand? How have you found the music scene?
I’ve only just started performing live, but I feel like the audiences in Wellington are really supportive and respectful, so that’s nice. I don’t really have any thoughts on the music industry, other than it feeling quite small.
What advice would you offer young adults wanting to get into the music scene? Any tips or tricks?
I don’t feel that I have enough experience to give out advice, but what I will say is that you should be ok with making bad music. I’ve made a lot of bad music and I’ve written a lot of terrible lyrics, but in the process of doing that, you get better. Keep making music and stop worrying about the outcome.
Where do you hope to be in the next five years?
I think it’s important not to think so far ahead, because we can put so much pressure on ourselves to be at a certain point in our lives and, if we don’t reach that goal, we feel dissatisfied with ourselves, and I think that’s really unhealthy. All I want to do is keep improving, collaborate with more people and build a sustainable career in music, that’s all I can hope for.
ZÖ’s EP WAR will be released on Tuesday May 14th, 2019.
HANNAH POWELL is your local film and theatre gal gone hippie, complete with bangs and at least one pair of Docs. Music festival enthusiast, green tea drinker and avid horoscope reader. Will most likely be found at the next gig.
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