What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a ukulele? Maple leaves? Snow? Hockey? Not yet, but if Canada keeps it up, these things may become synonymous with the ukulele the way palm trees and grass skirts are now. First there was J. Chalmers Doane’s innovative use of ukuleles in music education. Then they gave us James Hill and his masterful technique, followed by the yodeling vaudevillian Ralph Shaw. What’s next – charming young Canadian lassies plying us with their witty wordplay and artful strumming?!?!
Too late! If you haven’t already, prepare to meet Zoe, better known as Ukulelezo, from Southern Ontario. Her choice of cover songs, and her earnest yet whimsical performances, have quickly made her a darling of the ukulele Internet set. And now she has started writing original songs that are both clever and hummable.
To learn more about Zoe, we asked her the following questions:
Donnie Bubbles: How did you come to play the ukulele? Had you already been playing another instrument?
Zoe: I literally picked it up on a whim. I was in a music store and they had some of the J. Chalmers Doane cool looking ukuleles on display. I think they look like the love child of a traditional ukulele and a flying V guitar, which is probably why I was immediately drawn to them. I picked one up to give it a strum, and although it wasn't in tune, I was compelled to buy it! I had played guitar for a few years. I'm very much an autodidact, so I taught myself to play in all sorts of alternate tunings, with chords I never bothered to find out the names for, but it never quite felt right. The ukulele felt like coming home.
DB: Surprisingly, with the millions of songs in human history, few have been written about the allure of the moustache, the career aspirations of future bikini models, or love stories featuring people who live with insects. How do you account for your unusual subject matter?
Zoe: I like amusing subjects. I'm drawn to unexpected stories and things that make me laugh. Some of the best songs are written about love and people's own experiences, but I just can't write those kinds of songs. It takes a real bravery to put that out there, and I guess I'm just not ready yet. I appreciate it, but I can't do it. Instead, I will bring you "Urban Dictionary - The Song" and "I want to be like She-Ra". I just made those titles up right now. They have not been written...yet.
DB: As a child of the punk era, it’s heart warming to know that someone younger than me has heard of Jello Biafra. Is this due to your having worked in a record store? Are we, as a society, losing something with the demise of the record store, or is the expanded-reach/lower-entry-bar of the digital age worth the cost?
Zoe: I used to listen to the Dead Kennedys in high school. It was music to skip class to! I'm a fan of a lot different types of music: Jazz, Blues, Folk, Rock, Funk, Electronica, Rap, Bluegrass, Punk, the list goes on and on. It just depends what kind of a mood I'm in that day. I love independent record stores and spending hours trolling through the bins, talking to other customers and finding out what they are into. I hope there will always be a place for them, but the digital age brings music to ears all over the world much more easily. I don't think being a musician is easy, but there are now so many accessible forums and ways to get your music heard! I've discovered so many great bands and songwriters through blogs, Myspace, YouTube and other Internet adventures, that I probably would never have heard of before the digital age. I think it's worth the cost - anything to give musicians more of a chance.
DB: Your duet with Seeso on Angel from Montgomery was described by Woodshed of Ukehunt as “bursting with sexual tension.” Ummm – was the duet experience good for you? Do you have more duets planned?
Zoe: I don't know about that whole "sexual tension" thing. I recorded my part first, by myself, in my room, in another country! It was a lot of fun to do though, and Seeso is a great player, writer and person in general. I've never met him, but hopefully I'll get the chance. It would be great to sing with him live, and we both really love that song, so maybe someday. I don't have any more duets planned right now, but if anyone is interested, I'd love to hear from them!
DB: You are publishing one new song a month for Grumpy Coyote’s Bring the Song Challenge. Do you find that the self-imposed deadlines help focus your creative energies?
Zoe: Yes! I'm a terrible procrastinator. I have a lot of first verses to songs I haven't completed yet. Ideas will run around in my head for a long time. I usually need to force myself to sit down and flesh it out into a full-fledged song. There are always too many distractions, so a deadline, even self imposed, is key to me being at all productive!