Zoë Owen is a musician and singer-songwriter straight out of Canterbury, England and now resides in Madrid, Spain. While living in Madrid, Zoë has become involved in the city’s vibrant music scene recording solo work while also participating in the 7-piece band “Waiting For Eva,” that includes members from around the world, and a collaboration with a Belgian electronic producer. Our dialogue comments on the power of Reflection against a dangerous current of “distraction,” that can inhibit self-expression, and how Reflection and Response build on each other as symbiotic processes that are continuously happening. Zoë also brings us the interesting stories behind her original works Too Terrified and White Noise. We’re excited to watch as this artist looks to keep building while studying the craft of the ukulele and bringing her music and message to wider audiences.
If we do not reflect on our own behavior, and our own experiences or environment, then we are powerless to improve the quality of both our lives and the lives of those around us…If I am honest, I sometimes feel quite scared about how “Distraction” has usurped “Reflection” in modern society.
– Zoë Owen
Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?
ZO: Pleasure to meet you, I’m Zoë and at this present moment in time I am 28 years of age and residing in Madrid, the capital of Spain. I am a musician, singer and songwriter, living with my folding bicycle and ukulele in an unapologetically cute and colourful apartment in “barrio Malasaña”, the Hipster-heart of Madrid, a city which has been my adoptive home for about 6 years now. Why Madrid? I’m not really sure to be honest… it was a bit of a gamble to leave my somewhat institutionalized English life behind me, but as far as creativity is concerned, I feel like I really hit the jackpot! I came here with the sole intention of learning Spanish, and what I inadvertently found here was a key that unlocked a deeper chamber inside me, one where art and music had been cowering away. That key is the right mixture of people, places and circumstance.
Madrid is quite a far-cry from the places I grew up in. I hail from the leafy suburbs of Canterbury, a picturesque medieval city in England, home to Chaucer’s famous tales and, arguably, the world’s sexiest elf, Orlando Bloom. Aged 18, I swapped Canterbury for Cambridge, where I spent 3 incredibly enchanted years immersed in Latin & Greek literature, dining with Stephen Hawking and living in a spiral tower. Cambridge was the parent that taught me to work hard and aim high, because there is always something better that you can achieve. By contrast, Madrid has been the cheeky devil on my shoulder, testing me, and showing me that sometimes, it’s absolutely ok, if not essential to break the mould and to stop taking everything so damned seriously. And have a mojito. That part is non-negotiable.
What does Reflection and Response mean to you?
ZO: Nowadays, I would say reflection is the cornerstone of my life, and the principal agent of change. Without reflection we cannot achieve awareness of ourselves and the world around us. If we are not aware then we are not truly in control of our lives and we are resigned to being like the driftwood that Fran Healy sings about. “Floating underwater. Breaking into pieces. Hollow and of no use.” If we do not reflect on our own behavior, and our own experiences or environment, then we are powerless to improve the quality of both our lives and the lives of those around us. I don’t have bread in my house, or a television. I do have a quiet corner and a vase of flowers. If I am honest, I sometimes feel quite scared about how “Distraction” has usurped “Reflection” in modern society.
Response is a little harder for me to define. I think response can come about as a result of reflection or it can prompt reflection. Songwriting for me often begins with response, rather than reflection. I am often inspired to write music as a means of responding to a stimulus (something I have seen or heard). The idea is born in order to respond, but in order to decide what form my response takes, reflection is necessary. I would interpret response as a more subconscious process. We can respond to things quite thoughtlessly sometimes. So I suppose my conclusion is that Reflection & Response is akin to the “Chicken & The Egg” conundrum…
How does your work fit in with that definition?
ZO: I have written a couple of songs, which were essentially responses to feeling powerless. The first, “Too Terrified”, was conceived when I was standing on a balcony in Tuscany. I had just finished university and I honestly had no idea what to do next with my life. The feeling was suffocating and terrifying, and I remember making the connection between the vertigo that I felt being so high on that balcony, and the fact that, metaphorically I felt like I was teetering on the edge of a precipitous cliff and about to jump into the unknown. I used the balcony metaphor in the lyrics of Too Terrified” to reflect on my new situation and the lack of control I felt over where my future was going.
The same feelings are re-evoked in “White Noise”, although this song responds to the feeling of being on a path towards the wrong future, and knowing where the right path is, but ignoring this knowledge. I felt like there was a voice inside me telling me exactly what I really wanted in life, but that I had been ignoring it so strongly that the voice had become a drone, in essence, just white noise. My solo stuff is a lot more depressing than my collaborative work that’s actually more upbeat.
What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?
ZO: I’m taking a little break from solo music; right now I am working with a new project – a 7 piece band called “Waiting For Eva.” My contribution to this is ukulele, vocals and some lyrics. It’s headed up by James Jarman, a talented Scottish singer/songwriter and it’s a very unusual fusion. The band contains international members (UK, Mexico, Spain, Denmark), 4 part vocal harmonies, guitars, bass, ukulele, piano and percussion. There is also some rapping involved, although thankfully that’s not my department. We just did our first major Madrid concert in Café La Palma, which is a bit of a Madrid institution for live Music. We will be making a video to accompany one of our songs, iAddict, next month. Please don’t ask me what genre we belong to, it’s a really pointless question… :p
I have also co-written another album with a Belgian electronic artist, which is due to be released later this year. I sing on 4 tracks from the forthcoming album, “Passionate Indifference”. The project has been in the pipeline for over a year now and I am psyched to hear the final result.
I feel that I have grown a great deal as a musician through collaborative projects over the last couple of years and it is certainly giving me more confidence as a performer. I hope to be able to reflect upon the experience, for better or worse, and gradually start playing to bigger audiences. I have made the ukulele my main instrument, so I will keep working towards honing my skills. I’m in the process of trying to learn discipline right now, which is certainly something which would help my music.
Who or what inspires you?
ZO: I am inspired by how tiny, small and seemingly insignificant things can, and do add up, over time, to something big, strong and incredibly powerful.
I actually started a little ritual called “Morning Pages”, which is outlined in Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way.” It entails waking up at 6am each morning and, before you do anything, you must write 3 pages of continuous, stream of consciousness prose. I cannot tell you how much this has improved my life.
Is there anything else you would like the Collective to know?
ZO: I’ve probably already said waaaaay too much!
Shout out to…?
ZO: My Busking Buddy Rob Bertels, who is now living in Barcelona! He gave my “The Artist’s Way” for my birthday, so I owe him a shout out 😉
Reflection and Response.