Inspired by Joni Mitchell and quarantine, Mac student Zoé Freeman created an album all by herself
C/O Zoé Freeman
By: Serena Habib, Contributor
Meet Zoé Freeman, also known as Zoé Alexis. A fourth-year student in the arts and science program, Freeman’s album River was released in December 2020. The process of single-handedly creating an album might seem daunting to most people, but Freeman saw it as a challenge that she felt compelled to undertake.
Music has been a part of Freeman’s life for as long as she can remember. From harmonizing to songs on the radio and recording covers in her basement to performing in choirs and musical theatre troupes in Toronto, Freeman grew up singing. However, she was always afraid to write her own music.
“Music was always a thing in my house so I actually have my parents to thank for that. I got my first little music player when I was seven or eight and I just listened to the same 12 Beatles songs over and over and over again,” said Freeman.
Her fear of writing music changed when she moved to university. While going through a challenging time during first year, Freeman attempted to write her own melodies. However, she found it to be a discouraging process.
Freeman compared songwriting to flipping pancakes. Practice makes perfect, or in her case, a song she’s happy with. Through practice, the title track of Freeman’s album was born, with each drum beat created electronically and manually placed into the spellbinding track.
Freeman gained confidence while singing with an intense competitive music group in England while on exchange in her third year. When she returned home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she began a new musical journey.
“I was living completely alone during the first month or two of quarantine and I didn't see a single person, not even my family. So I went into overdrive. And I couldn't stop writing . . . The only reason I even decided to release an album was honestly because I liked the challenge. I thought to myself, “I wonder if I could write, record, produce, edit, mix and release an album, all by myself.” And once the seed was planted, I couldn't stop thinking about it. It became something I had to do to . . . prove to myself that I can actually do it,” said Freeman.
Using the same microphone, mix boxes and editing software she’s had since the age of 12, Freeman was determined to create the album on her own. In her writing, she intertwines memories to make her songs both ambiguous and relatable. This conception of memory is echoed in the childhood photos used as the artwork for her music.
“It was fun for me because I wrote about everything right now. I wrote about things that had happened years ago. I wrote about new things that were happening during quarantine. I wrote about things that people didn't even know I knew about,” explained Freeman.
Freeman’s favourite songwriter and greatest inspiration is Joni Mitchell, who invented her own type of guitar tuning and chord progression structure by ear because her polio prevented her from using traditional methods. Joni Mitchell’s story has helped Freeman overcome insecurities surrounding her own unorthodox way of creating and playing music by ear.
Freeman begins with the guitar, memorizing finger placements for her desired sounds and then designs a mental image of the other instruments. She then records voice memos of herself singing accompaniments and either send them to friends or constructs the harmonies herself. River is a tribute to Joni Mitchell’s song of the same title and the song “Oh Joni” pays homage to the singer as well.
“Part of her being my biggest musical inspiration is that it's made me realize there is no right way to play music. You can sort of just do it any way that you want and, as long as you end up getting the result that you want, it doesn't really matter how you got there,” said Freeman.
The end product of Freeman’s journey is an exquisite collection of music that stems from personal experience. However, it may be a while before fans have a new album to listen to. Freeman does not feel compelled to continue publicly releasing her music.
“I would love to be one of those people who leads a professional career, but plays in a band on the side, like that's my dream . . . Music has always been and will always be sort of something that I do for myself,” Freeman explained.
Freeman is heading to law school next year, but she plans to continue sharing her music with loved ones. Music has allowed her to connect with friends and family through hardship and it has been there for in times of loneliness. Regardless of whether she releases more songs, Freeman hopes that listening to River provides people with a sense that they are not alone.
The music video for Ellis’ first single “The Drain” opens with less than a second of television static. That glimpse of static appears several more times throughout the course of the video but it’s more than just a motif for the video, it’s the overarching theme of her debut project, The Fuzz.
[spacer height="20px"]Ellis is the musical project of Hamilton-based singer-songwriter Linnea Siggelkow, who derived the name from her initials. Her sound was once described to her as emo dream pop and this is the label she assigns to it. It is beautiful, dramatic and sad music.
The Fuzz, which dropped on Nov. 9, is a collection of songs that Ellis wrote around the same time. She independently released the six-track project, which includes her first two singles “The Drain” and “What a Mess.” The EP gets it its name from the feelings that Ellis felt while writing the songs.
“[T]he fuzz is… this metaphorical place like the noise on a TV screen. It's just the lack of clarity… a feeling of being lost and a place I found myself in often and... where a lot of the songs came from was feeling sort of disoriented and confused and uncertain in this sort of metaphorical place,” Ellis explained.
On Nov. 28, Ellis will be playing at The Casbah for her EP release show. While performing makes her anxious, one thing she loves about performing in Hamilton is being able to see the familiar faces of her friends and collaborators in the audience.
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Not originally from Hamilton, Ellis loves the creative and caring community that she has found in the city. On The Fuzz, she collaborated only with the circle of talented individuals that she feels lucky to call her friends. Being able to trust her collaborators was important in creating this personal project.
In order to share some of the meaning behind her intimate tracks, Ellis created a zine with collaborative partner, Sean Richman. The zine features a spread for each song consisting of photographs, handwritten lyrics and GPS coordinates for significant places.
“I'm trying to create a mood… and I think to me the project is moody. But I also want it to just be beautiful… I love having visual elements. I think it's a great way to connect the listener with music in a different way… I hope it's a way of, if people are interested, going a little bit deeper into the songs themselves,” Ellis explained.
While the personal nature of the project means that it’s hard for Ellis to discuss all the events that inspired the EP’s tracks, she wants listeners to be able to relate to and resonate with the music. For her, making music is a way of processing emotions and using them to create something productive and tangible.
She started playing piano as a child since her mother was a piano teacher. When she was 12 years old, she began playing guitar and writing songs. Song-writing is very much ingrained in who she is.
Her song-writing process begins solitarily, which lends itself to the intimacy of her music. She always begins with a lyric and then builds up the song as much as she can on her own before she brings in her collaborators.
[spacer height="20px"]Ellis was deeply involved in all aspects of The Fuzz. She co-directed the videos for “The Drain” and “NYE” with her friend Andy Friesen.
“I think for this project it's been mostly DIY… I definitely like to have my hands on as many things as I can to do with the project. I feel a bit possessive of it,” Ellis explained.
This homespun approach has created a sound and visuals that feel attentively crafted and beautifully raw. In the new year, Ellis hopes to create a full-length album and tour, allowing her to share her stories of fuzz and freedom with more of the world.
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