Country singer-songwriter Just Zoe releases debut EP, Hometown

  • NQ reporter Amy Stott interviews country singer-songwriter, Just Zoe.

From The Bee Gees rise to fame in the late 60’s and 70’s, to the Madchester rave scene in the late 80’s and early 90’s, there’s no denying that Manchester is home to a diverse range of music. But a genre you probably wouldn’t associate with the Northern city is country music.

Singer-songwriter, come blogger and journalist, Just Zoe, brings all things country to Manchester, including cowboy boots, blue denim, colourfully embroidered Western shirts, and most importantly her music.

This month the Oldham born 22 year-old is releasing her debut EP, Hometown, featuring five songs. The ‘busk’ funded EP tells typical country stories of heartbreak and hometowns, with lead track Hometown Showdown flaunting Zoe’s more playful personality.

Zoe says: “It’s about hometowns and the slightly more sinister side of them. Sure, everyone pulls together in a crisis but the rest of the time it’s full of gossip.”

The second song on the EP, I Love Cowboys, sees Zoe take inspiration from a fun question she always asks the artists she interviews on her websites The Writers Room and Best of British Country Music – “What’s the strangest thing you’ve written a song about?” 

The EP also features a cover of The Time I’ve Wasted, composed by songwriters Lori McKenna, Liz Rose and Jesse Walker.

Zoe says: “I Love Cowboys was a silly song but people really enjoy that when I perform and it’s different to anything else I’ve written. Last minute I decided to put a cover of a Lori McKenna song on there as it’s one of my gran’s favourites.”

Cold and rainy Oldham is a world away from the home of country music, America’s Deep South, but Zoe recently filmed her music video for Hometown Showdown in various locations, close to where she grew up.

She says: “I’ve just filmed a music video all around Royton, so places like Tandle Hills feature in it and Royton Town Centre and my favourite bar Secret Sip is in it too.”

During her time studying Songwriting at university in London, Zoe began travelling to Nashville to write songs. She also spent time busking in Bulgaria, which helped fund the Hometown EP.

She says: “I loved performing in Nashville. It’s been my dream to go there for years and to get to perform on my first trip out there was just incredible. One day I’d like to play at The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville or maybe even the Grand Ole Opry or The Ryman.”

While studying she also began writing her own songs, but has only recently decided to share them in this EP.

Zoe says: “I decided about a year ago that I had so many songs and it’d be nice to actually share some of them with the world. I didn’t specifically start writing for the EP. There’s a song on there I wrote four years ago in my first year at uni that I just really love to play live, the more recent ones like Hometown Showdown and Hotel Room were just songs I was really proud of.”

Whilst in London Zoe got a license to busk on the London Underground and was sponsored to go on a busking trip to Bulgaria.

She says: “I had the opportunity to go on a busking trip to Bulgaria fully funded by Beefeater Gin. We played on the streets of Sofia for 10 nights. That was incredible as it was like a once in a lifetime experience. I didn’t know the other people I went with but we soon got to know each other and one day decided to take a trip up a mountain with all our instruments.”

Zoe’s favourite song from the EP is Hotel Room, because that was written last so it’s fresh and new.

She says: “It’s not a personal song or anything. I spent a lot of time in hotel rooms and it got me thinking about what other people get up to there. All I got up to was eating pizza and watching Netflix, but that wouldn’t make for an interesting song.”

Confrontation is a central part to the Hometown EP but Zoe hopes that people see a more lighthearted side to it as well.

She says: “Obviously in Hometown Showdown there’s confrontation, it’s kind of in the title. In Hotel Room two women who are with the same man have this conversation. In fact four out of the five songs definitely have confrontation in them.”

“If there’s any kind of message it’s just to be yourself as someone will always judge you for it, stand up for what you believe in and don’t let people walk all over you. But really I just want people to have fun listening to these songs. They’re all kind of light hearted so don’t take anything too seriously.”

Zoe’s love for country music stems from both the influence of her family and her love of Taylor Swift.

She says: “Early Taylor Swift, particularly her first album, inspired me to take up guitar and start writing songs. She has a song on that record called Tim McGraw and I was like “oh who’s this Tim McGraw guy she’s talking about” and so I found his music. Then around the same time my cousins lived in Arizona and one Christmas they bought me a Sugarland album called Love on the Inside. I’d never heard of the band before but I fell in love with that album and asked my cousins for more suggestions like that.”

“But the music my parents played to me when I was growing up still inspires me. They played Abba, Meatloaf and Andrew Lloyd Webber. I think there’s a lot of similarities between country music and the music in musicals because they’re both based around telling a story and I’d love to write a musical one day – it’s on my bucket list.”

Each song on the EP tells its own story and Zoe takes influence from Kacey Musgraves’ and Brandy Clark’s storytelling style lyrics.

She says: “My biggest inspiration right now is Brandy Clark. She’s one of the best songwriters in country music. Kacey Musgraves is also a big inspiration to me and the writers behind the hit country songs like Shane McAnally, Barry Dean, Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, Jessi Alexander, Sonia Leigh and Liz Rose who has written a lot with Taylor Swift.”

Drummer George Latham, known for working with Jools Holland and bassist and guitarist Sam Wilcock who’s worked with Angaleena Presley, have both used their expertise to help Zoe bring the EP to life.

Zoe is already planning ahead and has some new songs ready to record after the release of Hometown.

She says: “I just played a gig in Wakefield and an hour before I went on stage I finished writing a song. I played it at this gig to try it out and two people came up to me afterwards and said it was their favourite so it’s on my list of songs for the next EP, haha.”

Right now Zoe has no plans to tour but is hoping to play a few gigs in Manchester this year.

She says: “I don’t currently have any plans to tour as it’s so expensive and I’m not sure how many people would turn up. I’m trying to do festival slots though and I’m trying to plan a show in Manchester with one of my good friends from Nashville.”

“I’ve played a couple of good venues in Manchester and I’m wanting to plan a show at Gullivers around June time. There’s actually quite a good UK Country scene in Manchester.”

Hometown will be released on the 16th March but is available to pre-order on Amazon now.

To keep up with Just Zoe, you can visit her website and follow her Facebook page.