Zoe Graham on songwriting, pop music & Wide Days

Ahead of her performance at this year's Wide Days showcase we catch up with Zoe Graham to talk songwriting, rivalry and the merits of pop music

Feature by Stephen Butchard | 13 Apr 2018
  • Zoe Graham

The first time we saw Zoe Graham perform was at a student magazine launch. You know, the kind of event where there's always some form of live acoustic background music. Zoe Graham was not background music. Her voice was controlled and intimate, with a sureness of delivery most can’t give in such a sparse setting. The lyrics were vivid and intangibly nostalgic. Her heartbreak ballad The Anniesland Lights gained her more than a few fans that night.

A year later, after countless support sets, a shiny new EP and a spot on the Wide Days line-up, we catch up with Graham to talk about about her biggest year yet. “I started that song with having to go through an awful break-up,” she jokes, nursing a black coffee. “I write songs different every time, but with Anniesland Lights, I sat down and it came out, which doesn’t happen to me very often. Now everyone thinks I’m from Anniesland, but it’s more that my bedroom window and the other person’s bedroom window – you can see the same [Anniesland] tower from both.”

Anniesland Lights represents a turning point for Graham, reflected on her new EP Hacket and Knackered: “My first EP was released when I was 16 and still at school,” says Graham. “They were all made up stories and none of them were true. I didn’t really have a personal connection to any of the songs. But every single song on this EP is personal to me on some level." 

Graham is a seasoned gig veteran frequently on support duty around Glasgow, and she jokes with us that she essentially lives at The Hug and Pint. Her latest slot supporting Rae Morris at The Art School was her biggest gig to date. “The best part of playing that set was just getting to meet Rae Morris. When I got the gig, I hadn’t actually heard of Rae," she tells us. "I started listening to her music and I really liked it, so I tried my best not to become a fan because I didn’t want to go support her then meet her and be a mess. Now I can be a fan!"

Impressive support slots like this are what have helped earn Graham her spot at this year's Wide Days showcase. “I really was not expecting to get it to be honest," she says. "It’s probably the biggest opportunity I’ve had so far.” The line-up feels like a community of sorts for Graham. Her college classmate Lucia Fairfull (LUCIA) has also made the bill, while her girlfriend Lizzie Reid is the bassist for CRYSTAL. “I was worried there would be a rivalry but there’s not – I think what helps is that we do different kinds of stuff.”

A self-described Tumblr-kid, Graham started her career covering songs on acoustic guitar and now she’s incorporating a mix of styles. Throughout our chat, influences from Sufjan Stevens and Laura Marling to Hookworms, KT Tunstall and hip-hop get a mention. This diverse range of tastes has encouraged her to follow her gut; “When I was growing up I was way more closed-minded than I am now, I used to avoid anything with a synthesiser because I thought it was a piss-take. I thought it was easy to do. But now I realise that it’s incredibly difficult. It’s architecture,” she says.

“I think it’s the underrated term of the century: pop music. You want something that’s satisfying like Rae Morris’s album. It’s satisfying because you don’t know what’s coming next. The most difficult thing to do is to write a pop song. If you’re going to write a song that caters to a lot of people, I think that’s a noble thing to do, especially if you can make it weird, interesting and fulfilling. I’m totally comfortable with the term now.”

Wide Days 2018: 6 more acts to catch

This Glasgow quartet – who won the public vote to support Paolo Nutini at Edinburgh's Hogmanay in 2016 – do catchy and thrashy well, flitting from punk aggression to sweet balladry in an instant on their latest EP SEX RICH. Vocalists Anna Shields and Blair Crichton emphasise this dichotomy, alternating song by song.

Edwin Organ
A true eccentric, Dunfermline’s Edwin Organ's music rivals the cheese of Ariel Pink, and the scatter-brained production of IGLOOGHOST. His goofy baritone sits under instrumentals that mine from 80s ballads as much as they do footwork. Fans of Thundercat, Aphex Twin and C Duncan will find something to like in this oddball.

Graham Costello’s STRATA
There’s a punk energy to STRATA, a jazz ensemble that are as comfortable at the Royal Conservatoire as they are Bar Bloc. BADBADNOTGOOD are the obvious point of reference, but their slow, earthy builds stand up all on their own.

LUCIA are a Wide Days band clearly shooting for indie rock stardom. Their retro grunge sounds ubiquitious. On new single Melted Ice Cream they proudly wear their Pixies influence over every part of their body, while the bratty vocals and sleek production add a modern flavour.

Rascalton look and sound like your classic lad band, but there's more depth to the Glasgow punk four-piece than you'd think. Their latest singles are gutsy and grimy, like a bolder version of Slaves.

Wuh Oh
Glasgow producer Peter Ferguson blurs the lines between jazz, dance and pop, with visceral, drum-led tracks that capture a free, sunburnt euphoria. His music is somehow complex and innocent, his unabashed enthusiasm and giddy use of colourful samples reading like an unironic take on Sega Bodega’s sound.

Wide Days showcases take place on 20 Apr in Edinburgh at Teviot Debating Hall, La Belle Angele and The Mash House. Register for free tickets at widedays.com
We have three Wide Days goodie bags to give away in our competition (closes 15 Apr)