Originally from the Tutukaka Coast, Wellington-based singer-songwriter Zoe Jennings makes music under the name Zö, a nickname she says makes it hard to find her on Spotify but that she chose as an artist name due to the personal nature of it. Her track Origami features as part of NZ On Air Music’s NewTracks compilation this June.
My name is Zoe Jennings — I gave myself an unofficial middle name of ‘Eleanor’ because I felt left out that I didn’t have one. I’m from the Tutukaka Coast near Whangarei and I’m a singer/songwriter. I’m trying to teach myself piano at the moment.
I had a lot of classical and contemporary vocal training as a kid right up until my first year of university. I based my self-worth on how well I could sing and I didn’t think I could sing as well as I could be so I took lessons. In my first year of university (studying music) I realised that my limitations are my greatest assets, that I am good enough and that I have something to offer, so I stopped taking lessons and just embraced my voice for what it is. It’s always good to keep learning and progressing but there has to be a point where you accept yourself and where you are. Music training wasn’t important to me, I just loved to sing and write music, that’s all I cared about. When I got to high school and started learning music theory I felt extremely behind because I hadn’t come across it before and I still feel out of my depth. It’s definitely helpful to have theory knowledge but it isn’t essential to what I want to do.
Maybe! I put out my first release/EP in 2019 called ‘WAR’, but I’ve just put out a song called Origami that you might have heard of.
I’ve been singing since I was very young, I loved it and always knew that music was something I was going to pursue. I was at university when I was about to put out the ‘WAR’ EP and I needed to figure out a name for myself, so I chose my nickname. I wanted something personal to me that wasn’t my full name. It’s very hard for anyone to find me on Spotify but it doesn’t make sense for me to change the name; nothing else sticks.
It has evolved so much – I remember writing songs when I was 16 with my vocal coach (Frances Dickinson) and they were really forced with no purpose to them. I was trying too hard to make a ‘good song’ and emulate other artists. Since then I’ve just let myself write a whole bunch of terrible songs until I got to a place where I felt capable in my abilities to write a song that I liked. I’m still learning and progressing at songwriting, it’s something that I will constantly have to work at, but I think I’m at a good place now. I’m trying to be more open to making something fun and more pop-driven — I’ve let outside opinions and my own assumptions of what I should sound like get in the way of having fun and enjoying myself, so you’ll hear me let loose a bit more on my new EP called ‘Do You Mind?’
I got to play the City Gallery in Wellington with my band which was cool, but I recently played an acoustic set with Reuben Topzand, my keys player, and I had three guys show up to the show wearing t-shirts with my name on them that they had made themselves. That was a really cool moment because I’m just starting out as a new artist and sometimes it can feel like no one is listening, so that was nice.
I think it stands out because of how honest and intimate it is, especially for a pop song. It’s easy to feel alone in our experiences, but if we share them with others, it gives people permission to open up too and feel their emotions.
Origami is about my complacency and asking for guidance through it — I was going to counselling for the negative thoughts and beliefs that I have about myself, and it was very helpful, but after I finished counselling I slipped back into my old ways of thinking and stopped trying to challenge them. It felt impossible to change the thoughts and beliefs I had in my head for most of my life. This song is about asking someone to remind me that my thoughts aren’t helpful and that I need to keep working through them. I need someone to keep me accountable and tell me when I’m slacking off.
My favourite line in the song is ‘if I’m folding my arms, will you unfold them for me, like Origami?’ I also love singing the bridge, where it says “me, myself and I, we will take the time, to undo” it’s a nice moment in the song.
Neil Macleod produced this song while we worked on the EP together. I sent him a voice memo from my phone of me singing parts of Origami over my terrible piano playing — I’d just play the built-in keyboard on my DAW (Logic), I didn’t even have a midi keyboard, so you can just hear me tapping on my laptop keys and the roar of my computer making noises. I was only playing two chords over and over as well and singing really quietly. I sent so many terrible voice memos to Neil; poor thing. From there I’d go to his home studio and he’d flesh out the song and arrange it properly and bring it to life.
I want them to feel comfortable with being vulnerable. Vulnerability and talking about our experiences allows others to be vulnerable too and do the same. While I’m on that subject, I highly recommend Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on vulnerability.
I’m not the type of person to write 100 songs and then pick the best ones, I like to be intentional with my writing and work on a song that I feel strongly about. If it doesn’t feel right, then I’ll move onto writing another song. With this EP, I wrote four songs and Neil and I decided Origami was the strongest to release first, but it also felt like a good follow up from the ‘WAR’ EP.
I’m an independent artist so I’m doing this on my own — I’ve had incredible guidance and mentoring from Frances Dickinson who was my vocal coach as a teenager. Her support has been amazing, she always has my back and I’ve loved working with her again. Neil has been a great supporter too.
I’m so excited to say that I’m putting out my first ever music video soon, so keep an eye out for that. I’m also going to be releasing another single from my EP in July, before the whole thing is out in August/September.
I’m still working towards gaining more NZOA criteria for single funding — I’m slowly getting there, I just need a few more before I can apply.
Thank you for reading! I’d love for you to listen to my song Origami. I hope you like it… and watch out for the Origami music video.