[MD] Where are you from, raised, have you traveled, and where do you live now?
I was born and bred in Brooklyn. I lived there for thirty years, minus 4 years of college (in Oberlin, Ohio) and the year my family moved to Europe when I was 5. We lived mostly in Portugal, and I went to an international school there.
When I was younger I was lucky to travel a lot – Europe, South America, Africa and Asia. I spent a lot of time in China – I traveled there on three separate occasions because I studied Mandarin Chinese from age 13-20. But now that I have lived in Mexico for the past 12 years, every time I try to return to my Chinese, it just comes out in Spanish. I would ideally love to be fully trilingual one day, but lately I’ve focused on others things, and haven’t been improving my Spanish or Chinese.
Art rocker, soul shaker, thought provoker, sweet, kind, and super RAD singer-songwriter Zoë Dearborn sits down (virtually) with the Music Daily Show to tell us all more about her process, life, and future plans.
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[MD] What genre of music has inspired you most in your own songwriting adventures?
I would say the genre that has inspired me the most is a genre that is perhaps lesser known, and not easy to define, but I would call it Art Rock. Examples of Art Rockers are: Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, David Bowie,The Pixies and The Breeders, and even The Beatles in their later career, and then more current bands like Big Thief.
To me, Art Rock is music that tends to be made by all around artists, especially visual artists, people who come to music less as an accomplished musician, and more as someone with something to say that is a little off-center, a little less polished, more raw, unique and personal. An artist who experiments with ideas, and plays with the notion of traditional songwriting, or traditional sounds, but at the same time creates songs that are catchy and relatable. I guess it’s that line that appeals to me – the line between raw and seductive. The sense of mass appeal but with a quirky twist.
[MD] What musical instruments do you play? What is your Fav?
[ Zoë Dearborn ]
My first instrument was the piano, which I studied for a few years as a kid. I struggled with music theory and reading music because the methodology that my teacher used did not suit my learning style. I gave up piano, and then later switched to electric guitar in high school. I only studied for a year, believing I wasn’t good enough, and not yet realizing the amount of practice required to get good. If I had known then that I had the ability to write my own songs, I am sure I would have stuck with guitar.
I returned to guitar when I was 29 years old, right after I had quit my acting career and started going to therapy because of depression and anxiety. I decided it was time to really go for this secret unexpressed dream that I had been carrying around with me for so many years. I signed up for guitar lessons, voice lessons, ear training and music theory all at the same school – The Brooklyn Conservatory of Music – that I had first taken piano lessons at 8 years old.
I am now also learning (slowly) to play drums and a little bass. And I also play ukelele. My favorite instrument is electric guitar, though I am also loving the drums. I love electric guitar because there is so much variety in sound that can be created and nothing beats the power of creating that much sound with your hands.
[MD] How did Zoë and the Mischief form? Also love to hear about your previous band project(s).
Zoë and The Mischief is the brain & heart child of me and my husband, Lucas Bennett. Conceived in Brooklyn, born in Oakland, and raised in Baja California Sur.
When we first met in NYC in 2003, Lucas had been a professional multi instrumentalist since he was a small child, but had quit and had moved onto being a tv producer, among other things. He had recently bought an acoustic guitar, and I told him I was just starting to write songs and forming my first rock band. He asked me to play him a song, but I was so shy, I asked him to stand outside of his apartment to listen.
Soon after that, my band formed, Social Service, with Jen Gherardi (a friend from college that I had run into and was learning to play drums) and Polly Withers on bass, an accomplished classical musician who had never picked up bass before). After a few months of practicing weekly, we played a few gigs in NYC and recorded an EP. I had to move away soon after that to go to attend grad school in San Francisco for Psychology and Expressive Arts Therapy. And Lucas decided to come with me.
While in Oakland, Lucas acquired a vintage drum set, and I started writing new songs based on all the intense healing and learning I was doing in grad school. We had band practices, and we played out once or twice, but not much came of it. Then in 2008 we decided to move to Baja California Sur. The plan was to build a house, get married and have a baby. All those plans ended up happening in reverse order. I found out I was pregnant 3 days before we drove down to Baja and we camped on our land for 6 months of my pregnancy. Emilio, our son, was born in the hospital in La Paz and is now 11, and we’ve all had a creative, messy and exciting adventure ever since.
In 2014 we started to gather the equipment needed to form a rock band. In 2016 we performed our first show at La Esquina in Todos Santos. Soon after the bassist Tony Wheyland joined and we became a trio for about a year before Tony moved away. Zoë & The Mischief has been a rock duo since. We’ve been playing regularly in Todos Santos, Pescadero, and Cabo since then. We had a brief mini tour in California, which was super fun and had plans to do a bigger tour in the summer of 2020. Well that didn’t happen because of Covid. Since March, we’ve been doing livestreams and focusing on recording our songs and creating music videos.
[MD] What are your additional creative outlets other than music creation?
In addition to being a musician, I am also a visual artist – drawing, painting, photography, ceramics, a writer – mostly poetry and essays, and am currently working on a book of essays, a dancer – of the improv variety, as well as a trained actress and improvisor. As my day job, I am a counselor, teacher, coach and expressive arts therapist – and use all of these art forms as part of my work as a healer to help people unlock their creativity, and develop their self-awareness and expressiveness.
[MD] Tell us about your favorite gig all of time?
Oh man, that’s a hard one. There are a few that stand out in my mind. But I guess I would have to say the most thrilling was when we did a rooftop gig on top of the California Star Tortilleria in Todos Santos. We actually did the rooftop gig twice – the first one was not publicized as well, more like a trial run – but the second one – which we did as the rogue opening act of the Tropic of Cancer Concert Series (which we were not part of that year – that’s a whole other fun story). We had a great turn out – people gathered down below, across the street, drinking beer and eating burritos from the tortilleria – or driving by and watching from their cars. Everyone had a really good time. It was great fun and such a thrill to do something so big, so loud. It felt like us. Like the kind of thing this band was meant to do – mischievous, fun, outrageous. Also the band Alta Tension, which Lucas plays bass in, opened for us – and it was their big introduction to Todos Santos – and it was great because I love that band – and it felt like a great fit. Getting people excited, riled up. I was high from that gig for a whole month.
[MD] Are there current or future projects coming up that you would like to share a bit about with us?
We have big plans to record and release 17 original songs in the next year or so.
We are going to build our own home recording studio – and have been saving money for equipment and building costs.
We also plan to go on tour in the US, the UK, and maybe other parts of Mexico – to make up for our cancelled 2020 plans. We’d like to do house parties, festivals and concerts – as soon as it is safe to travel again.
In addition to our rock set, we are also developing purely acoustic versions of these songs. Lucas has recently acquired, and is teaching himself, stand up bass – and we look forward to what we can create musically with different arrangements of acoustic instruments.
I also have a solo project, some of my folkier, softer songs that I am working on recording. I just released Child Inside, a ten minute anthem to the inner child, that outlines my Be All Your Selves philosophy and just completely the music video (which includes a chorus of 15 children) and is now on YouTube.
We are currently in the finishing stages of releasing our first single in over 2 years. This is a highly anticipated release, and our most popular song, Wolf Spider. We hope to release it this month and it will be on all the major platforms. We will be doing a livestream with Music Daily Community group on Facebook – to promote the single. So stay tuned on the release date! We start shooting the music video for Wolf Spider to be released in early 2021.
[MD] Is there one song out of your catalog that sums up how you feel about life, right now?
Right now I am really feeling I’m On Fire – one of my fiercest songs about the intense mix of energies it takes to be a female coming into her own power. It’s hard to be an artist, but it’s especially hard to be a female artist – we have to work through a lot of internalized sexism about who gets to be heard, take up space in this world.
I have found there is a lower expectation that people have of women – unconsciously – it takes a lot of courage and working through difficult feelings to put yourself out in the world as a female artist. And the biggest thing that gives me courage is thinking about being a leader and inspiration for other women who are even more afraid than I am to use their voice, their creativity and to be seen on the larger stage.
If I can inspire someone with what I do, then I feel satisfied. If I can get them to feel, and to dance, then I am absolutely ecstatic.
[MD] Thank you Zoë Dearborn, you have us inspired!