Name: Emilie Zoé
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Current release: The self-titled debut album by /A\ is available via Hummus.
Recommendations: I really love the graphic novel by Manu Larcenet called "Blast". It's dark but it's about human, nature, being different, being crazy (but does that even mean something?). And it's beautiful. Drawings can also mean a lot more than many words.
Have a listen to the song "Party Girl" by Michelle Gurevich. I love it so much.
If you enjoyed this interview with Emilie Zoé, visit her official website for more information.
You can also read more about the thoughts of her collaborators in /A\ in our Franz Treichler interview and our Nicolas Pittet interview.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing music at the age of 18. When I was a child, I went to see shows of my father's choir and I guess the vocal harmonies are still in my head. I listened to a lot of French singer-songwriters as teenager, in which the lyrics and the voice are the center of the songs.
Then I discovered The White Stripes and Two Gallants who made me like rough and loud music played by only 2 people at a time, and when I'm writing I feel they all have an influence.
I quit university and "tried to live as a musician" and then started to write songs. Slose friends encouraged me.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
As far as writing lyrics melodies and songs is concerned, I guess I'm mostly influenced by the music that I mentioned before and that I digested over time.
Concerning the production of the music and the way I play shows, I'm totally still learning, and mostly thanks to the people with whom I'm working or have worked: Nicolas Pittet, Franz Treichler, Louis Jucker, Félicien LiA, Anna Aaron, Christian Garcia-Gaucher ... I owe a lot to Louis Jucker who always gives me advice, musically and also as a kind of management. I learned a lot when we toured together with our band called Autisti.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I don't really understand the question. I doubt a lot and seek the validation of my colleagues and friends when I'm creating, so I guess identity may be a kind of collaborative term. I like the idea of being part of a team, it's the way I feel as a part of the label Hummus Records who releases our records.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Once a song is written, the step of production to arrange it, record it and mix it according to the initial feeling of the song is for me something challenging. And it's a constant.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I bought an electric guitar when I was 16 and I'm still fond of this instrument, I still write music with it.
For me, each song comes from the encounter with an instrument, so maybe as I possess more guitars now, the songs I write are more multicoloured than before. I also write with some old vintage organs I found in second-hand markets and it brings another colour to the music I write.
It's also easier for me to make demos because I bought an interface and a good microphone and I now know how to use Reaper. I'm more involved in the process of mixing the songs now, and I can record voices all by myself.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I like when the music is detached from the machine, so technology hasn't a big impact on me. Concerning instruments, as I said before, composing is influenced by the instruments I play with, and I like old vintage instruments.
I recently made some changes on two of my electric guitars with a friend guitar maker who added a microphone-output that captures the sound of the two lowest strings only, and I can octave these two strings separated from the others. I tested these guitars for the first time when we were jamming with /A\ and it definitely influenced my playing.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
As I said before, I always collaborate. It's capital in my work and in life in general.
I like long-time collaborations, which evolve and strengthen with the years. We've been playing together with Nicolas Pittet for 10 years now; we know each other so well that we can play with eyes completely closed, just feeling the energy of each other. For now, we arrange the songs I write in my project. But we've written an album jamming with Franz Treichler and I think it will influence the dynamic of the project "Emilie Zoé" when we'll write a new album.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Waouh. I don't have any routine, I work all the time. I don't sleep in a fixed place, I travel depending on the work I'm doing at the moment. The schedule and the hour of the wake-up alarm depends on when I rehearse, with whom, if I play shows or not ...
My social life depends almost exclusively on music: I mostly hang out with the people I work with. I have some friends that are not linked to my work and it's always a hard thing for me to take some time to see them. But when I have free days, I don't mind travelling to meet them where they live even if it's far away, and then I'm totally with them.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I can't think of such a thing at the moment. My feeling is that everything we do influences what comes next and helps us develop our knowledge of ourselves and of what we're doing.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Creativity needs free time and availability of the brain to be receptive to ideas. I think there are always ideas floating around but you need to be calm and free in your mind to hear them and develop them to create something with them.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I listen to music when I'm sad and I feel better. That's always a tool for me to heal, to be comforted.
I also remember, when my grandmother was dying and we couldn't have a proper conversation anymore, that I used to play her music. We would listen together and she was calmer. Sometimes she smiled.
On the other hand, my shoulder and my back hurt constantly because of the fact that I play the guitar almost every day, heavily.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Creation can be just linking two ideas that were separated before, even though they're not yours. If you make something more out of them by putting them together, call it a piece of art, call it yours, but don't forget to thank the people that had these ideas you just connected.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I love when you feel the sound physically in your body, when all your cells vibrate together with the music, and together with all the other bodies around you. Sound is air pressure coming to you if you hear it, if you feel it. I like this physical dimension. Music is also extremely connected to memories and I like the way I can travel through time by listening to a song.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I don't really think about it. I just write music about things / topics / subjects that touch me. But that maybe turns the songs into something political anyway, I guess, even though I don't think of it in that way. If you expose in public your situation, your thoughts and emotions in the context of your life, it's a political act, isn't it?
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
So many things. Let yourself be touched by a song and you'll know.