Exclusive Interview: Folk Singer Zoë Sundra

Exclusive Interview: Folk Singer Zoë Sundra

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Ani Difranco/Amy Ray-inspired New York City baby Zoë Sundra has her eye set on the prize. She knows the pay-off of patience in preparation for her big break in the music industry. Her advice from the legendary Rufus Wainwright? Put yourself out there and keep strumming that guitar! Chances are…she’ll listen.

The sequined down-to-earth singer/songwriter is humbled by the small things in life – good music, friends, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and sharing heartfelt music with her fans. She’ll be in the Pacific Northwest next week. Let’s give her a warm welcome.

Your voice is rich, deep and reflective. Who are your musical influences? From age 11, my main influence has been Ani Difranco. She is a powerhouse of a woman and a really incredible force of nature. Every time I’ve seen her live I’m always in awe of her raw energy and ability to communicate with her audience.   In high school I discovered the songwriters of the sixties, but was also going to a lot of punk and hardcore shows, so musically I was leading a double life. I felt like I had to keep my folk obsession hidden from my friends who were all exclusively into hardcore bands. But I’ve always really appreciated that education; the energy of that scene is still with me despite my songs having a folkier sound.  Believe me I still love a good moshpit as much as the next smelly punk!   These days I’m in love with Patti Smith, Martha Wainwright, Ane Brun, The Waitresses, Janelle Monae, and any new music I can get my hands on.

Have you received any advice in the music industry to help your career? The best advice I’ve ever received was from Rufus Wainwright at a NY Times Q&A. He told me [that] I need to be playing out 2-3 times a week. Also, that I need to practice playing my guitar more [laughs.]

Death by Love Songs is your current CD. Tell us about how you chose this name. Well as a folk singer, I tend to write about love and I do that almost exclusively. I’m not particularly proud of it but that’s the topic I’m most comfortable with and feel I can be the most poetic writing about. So, for my first album, I just wanted to call a spade a spade and poke a little fun at myself.

What inspires you to create? Going out to bars and meeting cuties! As artists, we have to consistently be absorbing new energy and knowledge in order to not only challenge ourselves creatively, but have new ways to say things that have been said over and over again. I love seeing good live music, whether I’m already a fan of the artist or not. Recently Martha Wainwright did a free residency at a tiny club in downtown Manhattan and it was just spectacular. She is a truly gifted performer (not surprising considering her gene pool) and going to see her was invaluable research for me. I studied the way she moved, her banter in between songs, her musical timing, etc. I try to discipline myself with this type of research in order to continually improve my own writing and performances. YouTube is also an amazing source for live footage of shows whether it is a current local act, or footage of Liza Minnelli doing a song from Liza with a Z.  For a while, I was watching this one video of Amy Ray from the Indigo Girls in 1989 singing “Blood and Fire.”  It just knocked me on my ass. She is such a powerful songwriter! All these things are relevant for me in creating a stronger, more inspiring performance for my audience. 

How do you think you appeal to the LGBT community? Other than the fact I dress in mostly sequins? Well in terms of aesthetic, I consider myself to be a drag queen, so that helps! I try to push the image of being a strong female artist, both visually and in my lyrics, which has historically been embraced by the queer community. I embrace the complex range of love and emotions within the human experience, and also believe a person is not solely defined by their sexuality. I’m a very expressive person and have always felt a deep connection to the LBGT community mostly because I have so many loved ones who identify as queer. Marriage equality and acceptance has been the number one political cause I am passionate about, and I feel lucky to be able to witness the historic changes that have been and will be made in my lifetime. 

You are currently un-signed. What challenges face you as an up-and-coming musician on the road?Living in a city like New York is a challenge in itself! My biggest hardship is staying positive and motivated when you’re surrounded by hundreds of people doing the same thing as you. It can be very discouraging when I go to three open mics a week and experience the overwhelming amount of folk singers in NYC alone. Sometimes I think to myself, “How can I distinguish myself in this sea of acoustic guitar players?” So, to me, the thought of touring with or without a label is very refreshing and exciting. I really look forward to not just meeting new people, but sharing my songs with a new community and seeing how I can fit in that particular scene. The Pacific Northwest looks promising and I can’t wait to play my shows, do an open mic and hopefully make some lasting relationships within the city.

Where can we see you perform in the Pacific Northwest this year? I’ll be in Portland on Wednesday, February 23rd at Camellia Lounge at 9pm and at The Mix in Seattle on Thursday, February 24th at 10:30pm. More information can be found online at www.themixseattle.com or www.myspace.com/zoesundra.   

What can fans do to support your music career? Listen to the music first and foremost and, if you like it, tell your friends. Album sales would be great but I’m really more interested in how people react to my songs and performances. You can always visit my MySpace for music, tour dates and entertaining photographs.

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