" Interview "
Layla Zoe Interview
Layla Zoe has been called the "reincarnate of Janis Joplin" and was titled "Canada's Darling of the Blues." She was only 4 years old when she began singing, and she still loves it. Born in Victoria, British Columbia, Zoe was raised around good music for the first part of her life. "I taught myself to sing by listening to old records," she says. In 2001 Zoe metDavid Gogo and later performed to a sold-out audience at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo, British Columbia, for Gogo's "The Evolution of the Blues" concert, which aired in 2003 on CBC Radio's Saturday Night Blues Show, hosted by Stony Plain Records' Holger Petersen. Zoe also appeared on a pilot episode of the TV series Canadian Idol but was deemed "too bluesy" for the competition.
After a trip to Nashville, Zoe worked and released her first EP, the successfully received You Will, with producer Alec Watson. While planning to make a full-length album, Zoe began sharing stages with artists such as Juno winners Amos Garrett and Ken Hamm, as well as critically acclaimed guitarist Bill Johnson and world-renowned Dobro master Doug Cox. In 2006 Zoe ended up producing a new full-length album with eight out of 10 songs written or co-written by Zoe and Chris Raines. Titled Shades of Blue, it was a decidedly bluesier and rootsier set than her EP. Recently Zoe moved to Toronto and has shared stages with well-known artists such as Danny Marks, Jeff Healey, and theDownchild Blues Band. She has received kudos from Healey, Marks,Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, the Downchild Blues Band, Bill Bottrell,Rita Chiarelli, Dawn Tyler Watson, and Little Feat.
Zoe was named Female Vocalist of the Year by the Vancouver Island Music Awards in 2007 and won the Compo10 International Blues Songwriting Competition in Jarvenpaa, Finland. She also recently released another self-penned and produced album that year; Hoochie Coochie Woman featured her take on Muddy Waters' well-known Hoochie Coochie Man. Zoe has produced three music videos (one for each album released) with the help of friend and director Richard Olak. Zoe recently performed at Massey Hall in Toronto for the Toronto Blues Society's "Women's Blues Revue," which has featured such artists as Ellen McIlwaine, Watson, and Serena Ryder. Zoe will be releasing her fourth album, Layla Zoe Live at Errington Hall, in 2008 as well as a DVD of live footage. Her music has been played by DJs across the world, and she's been featured in countless magazines, most significantly inDownbeat by writer Frank-John Hadley.
Zoe is an independent artist who has financed all of her albums, music videos, and tours. She's a true talent and a force to be reckoned with. On a recent visit to New York City, I had the opportunity to catch up with this lovely performer.
Bob Putignano for BluesWax: You've recently relocated to Toronto.
Layla Zoe: That's right. I live in Toronto now, originally from British Columbia.
BW: How long have you been in Toronto?
LZ: Just since January of this year. It was the worst winter they've had in a long time!
BW: You've come a long way in short time.
LZ: I've been fortunate, and I do finance all of my recordings and videos with my own hard-earned dollars. I travel with my own expenses, but I do it because I love it! I can't imagine doing anything else. [I just want to] pay the bills; I am not expecting a lot, as it's the Blues. I do feel that this is what I'm supposed to do.
BW: Nice name for your website.
LZ: Thanks, it's www.Layla.ca. You can find me on MySpace as well.
BW: Just don't go to www.layla.com.
LZ: That's not me! I'm not an exotic dancer, which is what layla.com is. I'm the redhead with the tattoos that sings the Blues!
BW: You're off to Finland soon.
LZ: I am going to Finland in June. I was there last year where I won an International Blues Competition, so I was invited this year to perform at the Lakeside Blues Festival, which is in its 31st year. Last year was such a thrill for me, as I met Johnny Winter and Keb' Mo'. Believe it or not, there are a lot of big Blues fans in Finland, so I am really excited with going back there, as the people there are really enthusiastic.
"I do feel that this is what I'm supposed to do."
BW: I went to a Jazz and Blues festival in Norway last year and am going again this year to the Silda Jazz Festival. I was amazed how much people were into the Blues there.
LZ: They definitely have great passion for the music.
BW: Your song "Someday" is the one that won the competition?
LZ: That's the song I wrote that won it for me, that I've been singing for a while now.
BW: It's a great tune. You have a powerful voice, and you can really wail!
LZ: Thank you, Bob!
BW: Is this your first time in New York City?
LZ: Yes, it is, and I am very excited to be here. I'm staying with a friend helping out with an art-gallery opening.
BW: Are you a working musician with another job?
LZ: Sometimes, when things get a little thin, I do work a day job so that I can get out at night and sing. It's part of the Blues, so it's OK.
BW: Hoochie Coochie Woman is your latest CD?
LZ: That's right, and later this month I'm putting out a new live album. I am already working on another recording for 2009.
BW: Are you working on DVDs, too?
LZ: Just the CDs for now. I have a lot on YouTube now, and I am planning to release some of that in the future. There's a lot of stuff out there that I've produced on my own, so I want to get them released.
BW: You're proud of the fact that you are financing your career and these videos on your own, aren't you?
LZ: I really am! Plus the videos came out real well. We did them for about $1,000 each, and I think they came out really well, so I am really happy with it.
BW: One of my favorite tracks from Hoochie Coochie Woman is "I Don't Wanna Hurt Nobody." That's also a nice take on "Hoochie Coochie Man."
LZ: Yeah, I wanted a contemporary take on Muddy's version. I've been getting some nice kudos for that one.
BW: I love the photo on the back insert, with the pictures of old LPs by B.B. King and Muddy. Are you a vinyl collector?
LZ: Actually, I do collect LPs, but I had to leave them back in B.C.
BW: Was that photo taken at your home?
LZ: No, that photo was taken at a local record store. I had this idea in my mind: I saw myself in front of those old LPs, and of course with the title track directly tied to Muddy, I wanted that McKinley Morganfield LP in there, too. And, by the way, you can sample tracks on my site, as well as all of the other various online outlets. Just Google me.
BW: So you're a one-person promoter as well as a singer-songwriter.
LZ: Yes, I pretty much do everything. I still book my own gigs as well, as I'm my own agent, producer, writing songs, etc. Which sometimes is scary, but I really do enjoy it. I've got some people who might sign me in Toronto, so we'll see how that works out, but I can't say who it is. But it has to do with the possibility of my doing a Janis Joplin film.
BW: You are often referenced to Janis.
LZ: Yes, I'm very often referenced to Janis, which is a huge complement.
BW: Are you a Janis fan?
LZ: I am. I listened to her nonstop growing up. Actually, I was in a cover band for over three years just doing Janis tunes.
BW: I was just going to ask you if you cover Janis.
LZ: I don't anymore. I got so many comments all the time, so I wanted to step away from that for a while. Kind of like how k.d. lang came in through the Patsy Cline thing. But if the Janis reference helps me to open more doors, that's OK.
BW: Thank you for stopping by this morning.
LZ: Thank you for doing this for me, Bob. Thanks a lot.
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com