I'm not sure, but I think it was while drying the dishes one Thursday evening and Bob Harris Country was on BBC Radio 2 in the background when I first heard Zoe Muth. As a big music fan it takes something really, really special to stop me in my tracks and her voice just did that and BANG; I was smitten.
Newcastle isn’t a backwater when it comes to Country music in any of its forms but none of the shops around town had heard of her self-titled début album Zoe Muth and the Lost High Ramblers; so with a heavy heart I was reduced to buying it on-line and the 72 hour wait for it to be delivered nearly killed me; but was well worth it as its been a regular listen ever since.
The next thing on the agenda was to see her play live but no matter what website I checked she never appeared to leave the United States of America; even after several glowing reviews of her latest CD Starlight Hotel appeared in the UK National music press.
Fate then played her fickle hand. As I was chasing up the management/promoter of a different act I stumbled on Zoe’s short (but sweet) UK Tour, that was coinciding with her appearance at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections. My eyes lit up when I saw she was playing a venue about 50 miles from my home. I rallied the troops and two car loads of excitable Country Music fans set off into the night.
When we arrived at the Saltburn Community Arts Centre in North Yorkshire, the band was setting up their gear and Ms Muth was sitting all alone sipping a cup of instant coffee. So, being the gentleman (and opportunist) I am I moved in and introduced myself, then admitting that I hadn’t prepared any questions but would she mind doing a short interview for the good readers of No Depression ?
Her sweet smile melted my heart as she promptly agreed and we moved to the back of the hall.
‘First of all; how do you pronounce your surname?’
“Mewth – it rhymes with youth.” Zoe politely answered and then went on to tell me about her background and recording both of her albums.
“I’ve been writing songs for as long as I can remember; but I would only sing them out loud in my bedroom and certainly not in front of my family! Then in 2005 a friend and I began attending open-mic nights along Ballard Avenue in Seattle. At first it was just a Girls night on the town seeing local singers; but my friend knew that I wrote my own songs and kept telling me that ‘I was as good as most of the people on stage’ so; with a lot of prompting I actually got up to sing at the Blue Moon one evening and no one actually laughed! It was a very eclectic mix at the Blue Moon but the more I sang, more and more people complimented me and I gained a lot of confidence in my writing abilities, but never ever thought about becoming a singer.
As the weeks went by I got to know a few of the regulars in the bar and was eventually introduced to Ethan Lawton and Dave Harmonson who were already playing in a couple of Bluegrass bands and they would occasionally accompany me on stage until it became a regular thing and eventually someone said “We should make a record!” I certainly had enough songs to make an album, but that was the easy part. We then had to start saving money until we had enough to take advantage of a friend who was an intern at a local studio who got us a great deal at $80 a day.
It was great fun actually being in a real recording studio but we knew we only had a few days to get everything on tape. While we were there the famous Rock Producer, Martin Feveryear heard us and became involved; which was a great help.
As soon as we received the final discs we set about sending them to all of the Community Radio Stations and magazines across the whole country that we thought could be receptive to our type of Country Music and word spread slowly but we eventually began picking up radio plays and positive reviews; even in the UK from Maverick magazine, Americana UK and Bob Harris on the BBC.
In the next year we toured and played whenever we got time off work; but that wasn’t easy as I’m a pre-school teacher and Dave and Ethan both had full time jobs too. Because we weren’t full time we had to change bass players and drummers three times each!
Then; one night we were supporting Eilen Jewel in Seattle and they really, really liked us; so much so they talked about us in interviews and even told their record company, Signature Records about us until they finally offered enough money as an advance to record our latest album Starlight Hotel.
Just like the first album I already had enough songs for a second album (no surprise there! Zoe laughed), but having the Record Company’s money up front meant that we could add things like the trumpet on I’ve Been Gone and great singers like Joy Mills and Tom Parker helped on backing vocals; which gives this album more….polish?
Listening to it now, I think parts sound a little bit ‘rushed’ but it’s still a record I’m incredibly proud of.
With Signature Records behind us we had to make a decision about going full time; but we have and are now real Professional Musicians!
Life on the road has been fun; but instead of seeing the US like a tourist we’ve covered 35,000 miles in four months and it’s mostly been drive-play-sleep-drive! But we wouldn’t have missed it for anything especially the night when we sold out a large venue in Boston or even the night we played to five people in Kentucky.
Being on the road can be very lonely; especially in a band with four guys, but when they want to hang around the hotel bar playing pool and drink beer I disappear into my room and write. I need total isolation to concentrate so hotels aren’t great for my writing but I make lots of notes and finish them off at home when the others are off working on their side projects.
As I only sing and play the guitar I don’t get invited to play with their other bands; but that’s fine with me as I still think of myself as more of a songwriter than a singer and I still need to work hard on that side of things. On stage I’m always very uncomfortable for the first three or four songs; but I’m getting better and more relaxed as the months go by.”
With that, Zoe was called to do a sound check and I found a bar to check my notes.