by Adam Goldsmith
Zoe Mead talks tackling industry stereotypes ahead of the release of a new album which is authentically hers
It is often said that actions speak louder than words. But what about a combination of the two? On her self-written, produced, recorded, and mixed album, Monthly Friend, Wyldest (aka London’s Zoe Mead), manifests her criticisms of female subjugation by taking the music industry on – all on her own.
As we battle through the patchy Zoom connection that links us together from our cramped London flats, it is obvious that the singer-songwriter enjoys a challenge. Mead confesses that personally, the isolation of the last year has been difficult. ‘I feel like a big part of my identity is not here, not because I’m not playing, but because I’m not being able to go and watch shows and hang out with friends.’ Professionally though, the extra time alone presented the opportunity to experiment. Without her usual support network of a band, producers and mixing engineers, Mead didn’t opt to take some time out. In fact, she leaned in the opposite direction – embracing the opportunity for total control.
Though resembling a different challenge for the London-born musician, Mead’s latest work retains its signature aural atmosphere. In fact, the sonic worlds that Mead creates have grown rather than shrunk in the absence of her bandmates. She tells me this is down partly to the new soundtrack-composition hobby she picked up. A quick Spotify search reveals that one of Mead’s most streamed singles is Seastroke – a quasi-instrumental track she produced for short film, Birdwatcher. ‘That process is really fun because I don’t put pressure on myself. Then I bring it back to when I’m writing the albums or the songs, so that I can use those textures again and take influence from the kind of music that I’ve done for these films when I’ve had time to explore and actually make different sounds.’
The depth of field which characterises Mead’s music – film scores or otherwise – is all the more impressive when the singer-songwriter confesses that she produces these immersive soundscapes from the comfort of her bedroom. ‘I was just recording in my room under my bed – I have a loft bed, it’s quite funny, I’ve made it into a little den. And to my neighbour’s dismay, I was recording under that bed.’ Indeed, the convenience of a bed-side recording studio fuels Mead’s ferocious work ethic; she released, and then re-recorded and re-released a debut album in the space of two years, while also testing her instrumental abilities through soundtrack work. The multi-talented musician admits, ‘I am pretty relentless with the way I work – maybe it’s an anxiety thing, I don’t know. I have to be working on the next thing whenever I’m releasing something.’
But this self-doubt belies an inner confidence which drives Mead to grasp opportunities with both of her talented hands. Before this record, she says, mixing ‘was the one thing that I was like “nah, I can’t do that…” but then it just happened because I had the time and I put it into learning and realised it was something that I can do.’ Still, Mead is modest enough to thank her male mixing/engineer friends for their advice, acknowledging their care not to veer into the territory of mansplaining. She gets the last laugh, though: ‘equally I’m showing them things and I’m like ‘I don’t want to womansplain to you but…’
Monthly Friend marks a personal stand against the industry’s historical gender-specific separation of roles. It’s therefore fitting that the topic of womanhood sits at the heart of this second album. Mead explains that the decision to centre this subject arose out of a lack of focus, as much as anything else. ‘I had a bit of writers’ block – I’m sitting in my flat, what am I going to write about, my Wi-Fi going down? But I was reading a lot of feminist poetry, and also hearing about everything that’s just prejudiced and bad. Sexism is just a tiny part of this whole spectrum of prejudice, but it’s the thing that I can personally write home about because it’s something that I experience.’
It’s no surprise that looking internally for inspiration inspired an album which Mead proudly declares is ‘completely me. It’s an amalgamation of everything that I’ve done before.’ Still, the singer-songwriter is keen not to give too much of herself away, and her lyricism is appropriately veiled. ‘I don’t like being very literal. I like everything being metaphor, and everything to be able to be interpreted by everyone. Just because it’s a concept album about womanhood doesn’t mean that men can’t enjoy it, and I don’t want it to be “I am a woman and I hate men” because I don’t. It’s more about exploring ideas, and men can feel these things as well.’
Alongside the album’s announcement, Mead released tickets for a short socially-distanced tour, and it’s evident she is itching for the personal moments live performance can bring. ‘I’m excited to actually go out and talk to people, and not just play music, but connect again, and really connect on a different level this time.’ Unfortunately, it’s impossible to escape a discussion about the torrent of male-led festival lineups, and Mead confesses her disappointment. ‘It is frustrating. It just feels like “C’mon guys!” It’s not like I’m going to boycott a festival because there’s more males on the bill, but you can really see when there’s a split. I love male-led music as much as I love female-led music, it’s just music.’
But with Monthly Friend, Mead goes a little further than simply releasing new indie music; she puts a marker in the ground for what women can achieve in the industry. ‘This album represents the women-in-music-wave. Women have always been in music and part of the music scene, but it’s always been roles where women normally sit… but now things are changing.’
As we round off our chat, the glow of Mead’s ambition is obvious. I tell her I was particularly struck by the lyricism of Almost Bliss and ask her to elaborate. ‘We all fall into that trap where we just think that almost is enough. But things are changing now and people are wise to it… if you’re not satisfied, this is the one life you will get, don’t compromise it. Don’t just be okay with almost.’ True to form, Zoe Mead matches her words with action.
If you’d like to support us by subscribing to our zine, click here – it’s just £6 a year for four copies (inc p&p).