Zoee’s journey as an artist has been interesting, hidden at first as the anonymous vocalist from Hey QT the iconic PC music banger. She then released a smattering of her own singles at various iconic labels including Ryan Hemsworth’s Secret Songs and Vegyn’s Plz Make It Ruins, but as an artist was not truly out of the undergrowth. In Flaw Flower her debut album however we see her given a larger space to flourish and become an artist completely in her own right.
Flaw Flower is an album with huge textural and instrumental breadth from varied field recordings such as train intercoms and microwave pings to saxophone and guest vocals. Overall it twists and turns breaking down in the centre to be lifted back up into a new year in The Empty Glass. The album feels like a timelapse of a dahlia perpetually stuck in a cycle of decay and re-growth on the side of the street, paradoxically delicate and strong, polluted by the passings of life in places and mesmerizingly in flux.

Amongst the experimentation and playfulness is a soberness and honesty that cuts through in Zoee’s Anne Clarke inspired vocals. Lyrical exorcism of past feelings around attachment styles and relationships ensue. Here we chat over e-mail about the creation of the album, collaboration and the healing honesty can bring.
You’ve previously released music on labels such as Ryan Hemworth's Secret Songs imprint and Vegyn’s label Plz Make It Ruins, what made you want to move on and release your debut album with Bristol’s Illegal Data and how did you meet them both?
It wasn’t a super conscious decision it just sort of evolved quite organically after Harry (Mun Sing/Illegal Data) had reached out to me in late 2018 about my EP at the time and then invited me to play an Illegal Data night. I felt so welcomed and valued by them when I went down to play their night so after that point we just kept in touch and as I started to pull together material for the debut album Harry and Arthur said they would love to release it so I just went with my gut instinct which said it would be a really nice project to work with them on as they are so passionate and invested in what they do with Illegal Data. I felt really looked after.
After joining forces with Illegal Data you went on to release the first single from Flaw Flower, Microwave. Why did you feel this song was the right track to introduce people to this album and for many Zoee as a project?
That’s a good question –on a base level it seemed to be one of the more upbeat maybe ‘radio friendly’ songs on the album but on a deeper level I think it touches upon lots of the recurring themes of the album – found sounds, candid spoken word, domestic and surreal imagery merging, a sense of something being slightly askew and off-centre. I also felt that the lyric ‘wake up to my imagination’ is a fitting introductory tag line for the whole album – welcome to my imaginary world. And generally people who I sent it to in the demo stages all seemed to feel it was a bop.
You’ve said in the past that your process of writing lyrics comes from your phone notes, and it seems from this comes a lyricism of quite a confessional and intimate nature. How does it feel to go through this process of writing and then sharing something so personal with the world?
It feels very satisfying and cathartic. I think in earlier releases and projects I was more nervous about expressing myself so I would write perhaps more cryptically or more at a distance from my own experiences. I think an artist that really inspired me to shift my approach was Anne Clark – I discovered her 1990 album Joined Up Writing/The Sitting Room – her vocal delivery is quite rhythmic and in a spoken-style – I was really moved by how frank and vulnerable her lyrics are – there’s an immediacy to it that I felt very inspired by.
A key line which stood out to me as an example of this would be “I’ve always sought validation from men / A distraction, a motivation, a desire / As if their energy is somehow more powerful than a woman’s energy”. In fact, it seems a lot of your lyrical content revolves around relationships with men/partners. When did you come to this specific realisation in this lyric and how do you reflect upon it now?
It’s funny you mention this ‘specific realisation’ because I still have the original phone note that this lyric is taken from. It was back in 2018, around that time I began to process a lot of very deep seated issues I had related to attachment and men. I started to see a pattern in my behaviour when it came to the relationships and kinds of men I was attracted to. During my twenties I spent a lot of time seeking validation from and emotional connection with unavailable and avoidant men.
Thankfully getting therapy really helped me to understand that a lot of the choices I was making were rooted in needing more consistency from my dad growing up, who was wonderful but also could be described as emotionally unavailable at times – I realised I was seeking out what was familiar to me in a subconscious attempt to try to fix something from my childhood. It’s actually so strange re-reading the phone note now, as I have grown so much and truly feel that this need for validation from men has been exorcised – writing the songs has been a big part of the exorcising.
Not only do you delve into your own innermost thoughts and feelings in an unflinching and honest way but seem to talk about incidents some people would try to forget or would cringe about in cycles of negative rumination. For example, ‘I threw up in the Carhartt bag you gave me, on the train / I was ashamed, I wanted to call you but you blocked me just last night’. Could you tell us about this event and why you have looked to focus on moments of such unflattering vulnerability throughout your album?
I guess in a similar way to the other lyric we just spoke about, I think for me a lot of the lyrics on my debut album are very much about facing my own demons, about expressing my own feelings of embarrassment and shame, rather than running away from the difficult feelings. I think I began to realise that in being more truthful with my own inner struggles I was going to be able to heal. I wanted to get to a place where I felt comfortable with my own flaws. And also because I feel like people want to know the truth, people will relate and connect with this because I feel like everyone goes through dark and difficult times.
I think I want people to feel comforted – to know that they aren’t the only one to whitie on public transport after being dumped. And just to be able to be candid through lyric writing, that excites me, I like the idea that it feels like you’re reading someone’s diary, like I am sharing secrets with a friend.
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Moving on to collaborators on this project, throughout the album saxophonist Ben Vince (Housewives, Joy Orbison) can be heard ducking, weaving, and wailing. How did this collaboration come about and what are you trying to express through the contrast between his coarse improvisational playing and your smooth vocals? Do you see his contribution reaching for something you can’t fully express yourself?
I first met Ben Vince at a strange closing party of an artist studios in an office block in Canary Wharf. I was performing some of my early songs and he was just vibing to it all when no one else was paying much attention. We stayed in touch over the last few years and I played him some of the album ideas. He really connected with The Loft demo and I of course love his material so I thought it could be really nice to collaborate.
I didn’t really have any expectations going into the collaboration – it just came out so nice and yes I think that it is true – that his contribution brings a much more abstract element to the song that contrasts with my very literal lyrical delivery and I love that combination. I definitely am very interested in the space where pop and the avant garde collide. I think this song The Loft on my album has definitely paved the way for what comes next writing-wise.
There are also guest backing vocals on certain tracks from Saint Torrente who has also been supporting you on your recent release shows, how did they become involved?
Saint Torrente is so wonderful. They came to one of my gigs several years back when they were studying music at Goldsmiths, and then I asked them to play a night I was curating when I ran my own DIY label Insecure. I think they are such an incredibly talented song-writer, their music is so emotive and energised and authentic. We get on really well and I love their voice so I thought it would be really lovely to have them sing on the album track Fountain – and they nailed it.
It seems amongst these improvisational experimentations either from guests or your own off-kilter production runs a counteractive thread of pop campness. What is it about the theatricality of pop which draws you to it and keeps you from throwing yourself fully into the avant-garde?
Ooh this is a good question. I guess pop music has always been my first love, it’s what I grew up listening to and also a big old helping of musical theatre which is also where the campness might stem from. I performed in so much musical theatre growing up. So yes I think I would find it hard to fully depart from the more camp, pop elements – I love the immediacy of writing lyrics and trying to hone in on a feeling/a hook/a melody. But like you mention I am very into the experimental and the avant-garde too – I am always attracted to art that subverts, questions and surprises. I guess my dream is to keep exploring the ways in which music can do both these things - a sense of immediacy that pop brings alongside a sense of intrigue and questioning that can be provoked by more experimental musical elements.
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It would feel rude at this point to not have mentioned the stunning visuals which accompany this release. Firstly, I love the album artwork you used, how did this photograph come about? It seems to include a wedding veil, is this a purposeful allusion to the unveiling of Zoee as an artist in this project?
Ah thanks so much! It’s funny how the front cover happened very organically. My friend Cat Scriv is such a great photographer who has taken pics for lots of the nights I used to put on in London. We organised a shoot to create some press pics for the album so we borrowed my friend’s studio and I asked a few other talented friends to help with the make-up and styling. The pics were meant to just be the press photos but we ended up doing the more Elizabethan clown-bride shot towards the end of the day.
I think we were all a bit delirious by that point – the head piece was meant to be some kind of neck scarf and we used a dust sheet. It was all pretty spontaneous but when we looked back at the photos I just really felt like that clown shot was the album cover – it just seemed very obvious to me. There’s something slightly menacing and theatrical about it. I like your interpretation of it being some kind of unveiling of Zoee too.
You also worked with two very talented videographers for your music videos Jacek Zmarz and Daniele d’Ingeo. How involved were you with the concepts behind them and do you have any favourite moments from the shoots?
Oh yes it was a joy to work with both of them as they got so invested in it and had such wonderful ideas. Dani had a very clear vision for both of the videos he directed – he created very specific treatments for both of them - I love his concepts so much – the slightly surreal and hand-made feel to things. And it’s so nice when you feel like a director just really connects with your music – we have a mutual love of each other’s ideas so it just slots into place really easily when we work together.
My favourite moment from the Microwave shoot is when Dani had us acting like we were in some spooky forest, with the vultures made out of drainpipes and the whole band in bizarre hats and coats. It felt so fun, like we were in Narnia for the day.
With Jacek we started sharing ideas between us and it took us several months to hone in on what we wanted to create for the Host video – I knew I wanted to shoot it in the stark forest near my mums and that I wanted to be some kind of host-like being – I basically love the film Under The Skin and this was one of the main sources of inspiration for the song. Jacek then brought all his ideas to the table too and took it in the more Twilight Zone direction which I really loved – he has such a spontaneous almost frantic energy when shooting – he makes really impressive creative decisions in the moment which I found really inspiring to witness, and is also an incredible editor.
My favourite part of that shoot is when Jacek and I went to scope out the forest a month or so before the actual shoot day. It was funghi season and there were all these lush red toadstools everywhere – we kept just taking loads of pics of them and then drank G&Ts in a rubbish pub near my mum’s house.
Finally, as the dust settles after this release, what does the future of Zoee look like and are any future releases coming into focus?
I have lots of sketches on the go, but I also think it might take some time for them to be fully realised. I have various musicians and collaborators in mind already for some of the ideas. I am really happy with the way my album song The Loft came together and that contrast of pop and the experimental that you mention. I think my future work will dig into these two contrasting elements some more. I also need to live my life a bit - do some more throwing up on trains for lyrical inspiration.