ENRG Music’s Bryce Arthur spoke to Zoe Graham before her Celtic Connections show at King Tut’s in Glasgow. Zoe discussed her influences, shows and what she has planned for the future.
So let’s start at the beginning. How long have you been doing music?
I picked up my first guitar at about 10, I got it for Christmas and I just started playing from then on. I did my first gig at 14.
How old are you now?
I’m 21 now, so I guess I’ve been playing for quite a long time. I started gigging at 14, did tonnes of tiny local gigs, but I didn’t really know that there was a huge music scene in Glasgow until I was 18. It was weird, music was something I always wanted to do but I wasn’t hugely influenced by the Glasgow music scene since it was something I came upon years afterwards.
Speaking of music and Glasgow, you’re playing a Celtic Connections show, which you’ve done a couple times before. You’ve played TRNSMT, performed at the Off The Record showcase and the St. Andrews Sessions last year. Do you prefer the vibe of a big group of musicians, rather than having all the pressure on you?
Yeah, these things differ depending on what the specific event is. Sometimes I find it’s nice being a support act because then you can build on the fans of the headliner, but sometimes nobody shows up to see the support. It’s nice to take part in a bigger thing because sometimes a lot more people are there – sometimes they’re not, though! It depends on a lot of stuff.
With Celtic Connections in mind, as well as the Scottish references in your back catalogue (Hacket & Knackered, Anniesland Lights), would you say you think of yourself as a Scottish musician? Is it a big influence or your music or more of a background thing?
It’s kind of the same as how I don’t really think about myself as a female musician, I don’t really think of myself as a Scottish musician. I sometimes think it’s because when your life is filled with tonnes of other Scottish musicians, it very much becomes the norm. It’s a lot to do with the accent, being Scottish in Scotland isn’t a big deal but the minute you go abroad –
Suddenly you’re weird.
Yeah! When I was growing up doing gigs I did this thing called Sounds of the Summers. I supported a lot of American artists there and they all had these really strong American accents, and they could tell any story and it sounded great, but after them I always felt a bit daft getting on stage with my accent. But that’s the only time I’ve ever thought about it, honestly.
So your Scottishness isn’t a huge influence, but what is? Are there artists that you hear and think “I want to sound like them”?
All the time, actually. It’s a big thing for me, sometimes it’s a hindrance as much as it is a good thing. I’ll hear something really left field and say “aw yeah I wanna sound like that!” and I’ll get really confused. I’ll forget to stick with what I’m doing and I’ll start doing really weird jazz music or try to create a rock album or something. But what I’m listening to right now is St. Vincent, Christine & The Queens, I’ve always been a huge KT Tunstall fan for a bunch of reasons, Hookworms, The National… there’s this amazing jazz musician Esperanza Spalding that’s absolutely awesome.
So being a female musician isn’t something you actively think about, but you listen to a lot of female artists, so would you say it’s been kind of an unconscious influence?
For me, it’s genuinely never really been a thing I thought about until I discovered the Glasgow music scene and I saw bands like The Van T’s or Crystal. Not to discredit all-female bands but I really like a mixture in a band, I love the teamwork there. I’ve never thought of myself as a female artist, but other people do. It comes with its burdens sometimes, even now if you’re a good female guitarist, people are a bit surprised.
Do you still find that? In 2019?
Yeah. People are like “she’s really good…for a girl.” It’s stupid to hear that but it’s still positive. It’s like people are trying to make me feel better? I dunno.
We could go on for ages but I guess I’ll wrap up. What does Zoe Graham have coming up?
I’m going to release some new music at some point this year, but no dates yet. That’s all I can really say for now, it’s all a bit mysterious.
By Bryce Arthur