The other day I had an opportunity to speak with a very talented artist who dabbles in many areas of the arts. Many of you may know her from her contributions to many Portugal. The Man songs.
Franco: So tell me a little about yourself.
Zoe English Manville: Well, I am from a pretty small northern town in England, I left there around 3 years ago, from Manchester to go and live in Dublin, and I then ended up in the US after finally receiving a very long awaited residency. I have two families so to speak, one in the UK, my mother’s side, I have 4 siblings, and over here (my father’s side) 3 siblings. I thought I would like to live here at some point, after my first visit at 14. I just came over once all that fell into place. During my time in Manchester & Dublin, and the US, I have focused mainly on art and music.
Franco: What was it that got you interested in art and music?
ZEM: I think the art interest progressed at high school because we had a photography lab & dark room, which wasn’t common in the UK really for a high school. (from age 11-16). I absolutely hated being there really, so that was the only thing getting me though.
I had been drawing from an early age, non stop really, and had always looked forward to anything creative, but I think it was having subjects like graphic products and photography in high school that really made me decide early what I wanted to do with my future and time. Those things just came to me, and so I just went with that. Focusing all my attention to things that I thought I could maybe be good at one day. Everything else just felt forced at the time.
Franco: Yeah, I’ll attest to that as well. Being able to get your hands dirty in a dark room really brings you to another world of tranquility. So you started off with photography at first which later let to other mediums?
ZEM: I had always drawn with fine point pens, images that I didn’t really think much about as a kid, I would just draw all over anything… envelopes that came in the post, bills, newspapers, (I still do to a certain extent) but it was really learning the process of things that made me interested in that of others. Graphic Design, and computers interested me greatly, so I started with that after high school, I would scan stuff in and play with it for hours.
Now I still mainly draw with fine pens, with the occasional use of watercolors or acrylics. But I think my favorite thing is just simple black ink on white paper. With recent things I sometimes alter or piece them together later digitally but, often there is no need, and there are points when that stuff can become cheesy and not necessary.
You don’t want to over think things I think. I am a fan of whatever comes out because I believe wholeheartedly that it was supposed to happen that way, it was natural.
Franco: I’m jealous that you’re able to grasp the whole digital graphic design concept. As much as I love computers, I hate using them for digital art, whether its photography of design. Something about it just doesn’t click with me.
ZEM: Well, I mean people that can use Photoshop or Illustrator and those that can use it well are different. Those things are great tools for piecing things together like I often do because I draw things with that in mind, but I don’t think not knowing or really being interested in that stuff will stump you as an artist. Its just handy to know for particular things.
Franco: I like how you mentioned you go with the flow. Have you ever tried to force something to the point where you gave up on it–or maybe the other way around; it came out better than expected.
ZEM: Ha, I usually don’t force things, sometimes I will sit on ideas for weeks if I don’t think or feel like I can do them justice at the time. It depends on what I am feeling like that week. Sometimes I get bored with working by myself, especially if its music. I am also guilty of accumulating unfinished ideas- bits and pieces… all the time, because I usually become bored or distracted by something else. I’ve never been good at handling my time well.
But song writing wise and playing music, I think you just have to get over that and stick with it, because in an instant it can just change on you and go from the worst sounding crap to the most amazing fun. I think its best to just try to stay focused and have faith in what you’re doing. I have that type of problem mostly with music though, rather than art/drawing. Music is just weird like that sometimes you need a break to come back to it with fresh ears. Things sound differently depending on mood, and surroundings I am certain of this.
Franco: What kind of music would you say you create? I know it may be hard to categorize or explain. Music to me is interesting because sometimes you CAN’T categorize, only maybe to some degree. But to get the full effect you need to listen to it to achieve what mood the artist is trying to give off.
ZEM: This is the hardest question because people will never want to put themselves anywhere and will always protest to be so original and unique in the music world, and if they don’t think it, then they are usually advised to say it ha- but I don’t really care about that, I think there are folky elements to what I do and write and I have some soul and 60’s British influence from my childhood. I also grew up watching all of my family members playing shows and I could see their appreciation was immeasurable. The fact that I usually write with a guitar, leads me close to sea shanty reminiscence and vocal wise kind of a little 30’s 40’s wartime. That’s just how it happens with me when I sit down to write alone. When I work with others, we usually have fun with harmonies and its amazing what you can get done in a group compared to solely, but everyone works differently. I have more fun bouncing ideas back and forth. I should probably get on that. I will always like to do fun projects that are not the norm for me. Its just good to test yourself and push it to see where you can go.
Franco: Talking about working with others, how did you get involved with Portugal. The Man?
ZEM: That is quite a strange story really. I was living in Manchester, and one day I get an email from someone I know, not particularly well, but someone that had been in touch and following my artwork etc and he said, ‘hey you should take a look at this guys stuff, it reminds me a bit of you, perhaps you will like it.’ So I took a look at the drawings and paintings, and was like, ‘Yeah this really is pretty amazing…’
So I sent an email expressing my respect and my appreciation for it and I am guessing, the same friend was someone that John also was in contact with regularly, and he had also informed him of my drawings. We discussed them and we just got along from then on.
There was no real knowledge of anything outside of this, my identity was hidden on my site, because I was just starting to display my works at the time and was probably nervous. I just thought John was some Spanish artist, his messages were so funny to read.
Franco: Haha, I Just pictured John as a Spanish Conquistador. I did notice some similarities in styles between you two.
ZEM: Ha, then it turned out they were passing through the D.C. / VA area at the same time I was here visiting family, so I of course went to see the guys play. At the time when he said he was doing a tour, I thought it would be some crazy amazing exhibitions or something.
I ended up just hanging out and enjoying the music for a few days before returning home. From then on we just kept in contact after returning to Manchester, and later moving to Dublin. I was first asked to sing on [Censored Colors] when I was still living in Dublin Ireland, and the songs were just sent to me. I got it all done in a few hours and just emailed them back. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but looking back, it was a great thing to be thought of and to be included on such a great record.
So that’s that pretty much. Very random and strange for our paths to cross, them being Alaskans and Portlanders, and me being from tiny England…but life can be funny like that. I think some things are just meant to happen. They are some of my best friends here in the U.S. and I am very happy we met.
Franco: What was emailed, just the conversations, or recorded material?
ZEM: The vocals were recorded in the countryside of Dublin, in my friends little outhouse studio. Out in the middle of nowhere. I got pretty lost on the way ha. Then emailed over to whomever… I remember the day clearly, I was very sick and recording with a hood and scarf wrapped around my face, singing with a bad cold.
Franco: Well if you ask me it sounds awesome, and fits perfectly!
ZEM: I thought they would listen and be like ‘what is this shit?!’ Awkward… ha.
Franco: Instead, now you’re on multiple records haha.
ZEM: Well I just happened to be in Europe when they were, and then got my visa for US residency the same time we had just finished a European tour so I just came over and continued with helping out and adding to the mix for a little after. It is pretty non stop for those guys. There it was always practice and play… we were never still for very long.
Franco: I know, I can’t even keep up sometimes. It’s been a new record every year pretty much. I can’t get enough though. They’re extremely passionate with what they do, and it shows.
ZEM: They have always taken friends out on tours who are great musicians to add extra vocals,guitar, or synth… which I think is great of them, they just love playing and having fun doing it. It isn’t about anything else for them.
Franco: Did you record for American Ghetto? If so how was that whole process, more or less the same?
ZEM: Well for me, I think it was similar to [Satanic Satanist] because we were at the same place with the same people, and it felt homely and comfortable in that sense. Being in the studio with some great producers and an array of instruments to play around with, and just an atmosphere where you knew you would get a lot of stuff done in a day was amazing. American Ghetto was a little different, because it was done in less time, and I was only around for a few days to add what we thought could be good. It was very nice to get to know Boston and just feel still but still productive.
Franco: I’m still trying to get to know Boston myself. It’s small, yet big in a strange way.
ZEM: You live there? Well I say Boston, but it was mainly Cambridge we were in.
Franco: I live outside of Boston. But I go into Boston/Cambridge every weekend for work and to visit my girlfriend. She lives in Cambridge.
ZEM: I think being a part of all that made me prepared for future recording, and playing. I was always very shy and nervous especially when it came to singing in front of anyone or playing, but I think that is no longer an issue.
I wish it hadn’t have been so cold that’s the only thing that bothered me when I was there ha. I am not a fan of cold weather.
Franco: Haha yeah, I still feel uncomfortable when I’m just jamming with my friends. As for the weather, that’s New England for you. It just sucks haha.
ZEM: I have been writing and trying to get back into my own thing in the last few months, and I finally feel like I want to do it again, after a big break from touring and playing with the guys. So I have started with that and hopefully will have some things available in the next few months.
I am working on some things that I am sure will end up online at some point.
Franco: Oh nice! Oh are you going to be heading to Bonnaroo with the guys this year? Do you have a Myspace for your music or no?
ZEM: Bonnaroo? I didn’t know they were playing there…again
Franco: I think I saw them on the website…
ZEM: No, I am not sure where ill be in the summer, but I doubt Manchester Tennessee is on the cards. Just doing personal projects at the moment, art and music wise, moving and getting settled, but I’m sure that will be amazing. I think Bonaroo last year will stay with me for the rest of my life. It was a turning point, and such a mind blowing few days.
American Ghetto comes out today too. Exciting stuff, even I haven’t heard this in a while.
I really think this project is great. It will help the Holy Trinity School Of Music in Haiti out by replacing instruments destroyed there in the earthquake. My friend Mike Noyce and Ragged Claws are first of a series of limited 7″‘s. It’s beautiful.
Franco: Oh nice, I’ll definitely check that out!
ZEM: They have put together a series, so these will be limited collections of many different artists, and I am pretty excited to hear the rest.
Franco: I just have a couple more questions of that’s OK?
ZEM: Yeah, go for it.
Franco: I saw on your website you did some work for Fenchurch. Do you do any fashion work aside from designs?
ZEM: No not really, another person that I kind of knew, but didn’t, ha, emailed me briefly one day after seeing some of my work, and then I just ended up doing that on and off for a few years. It’s another great thing to be a part of, things that just land and fall into place, are things you can never get bored of. Things you can fully appreciate.
I love doing that though, sitting and thinking, ‘hmmm, one day I might see this on somebody or in a store.’ It happened once in Dublin I walked past a store and saw a drawing on a jacket in the window, that was mine and it just made me feel ecstatic to see it there, and know that it came out of my head, and traveled in so many ways. Crazy.
Franco: That is a very unique feeling. I sorta had that same feeling when my girlfriend framed and hung a photo of mine. Not as special as your experience but special none the less haha.
ZEM: Well of course. Its good to just see something you didn’t really think much into afterwords… appear like that. I plan on doing a set of t-shirts soon, as soon as I am settled into an apartment somewhere. I set up with all my screen printing equipment after Christmas and I just enjoy doing that so much. I want to get all that wrapped up to, so I can make those available to people. T-shirts are so much fun to design and make.
Franco: Let me know when you start that up, I’d love to see what you decide to make!
ZEM: Yeah I just have to sift through all my recent things. I returned to DC/VA to work on some personal things, like driving and whatnot since I never drove in Europe. So now I am having to do it later. Ha it is very surreal to be 26 in this country and not have a license! But it’s also funny, I have never really been one, (I get it from my family) to do things the right way round.
When I have some key things out of the way it will free up my mind and give me space to create endlessly, which is what I am hoping for right now.
Franco: Driving in Europe is not fun haha. When I was in my Fathers hometown I drove back from a restaurant one night, I could barely do anything since there are people walking all over the roads. No one is caring about the cars, or even noticing them for that matter. It also doesn’t help either when your siblings are in the back seat pestering you.
ZEM: Ha, well, England driving is nothing like here. Driving over there and in Ireland is totally different, in the sense that people just jaywalk all over the place over there, and feel as though they have more of a right to stand or walk wherever they want. Plus there is not a perfect grid system like here.
Franco: Last question, If you could do ANYTHING, aside from art, for the rest of your life, what would you do?
ZEM: Thats tough, anything besides partaking in it? Hmmm can it be related? Ha that’s tough
ZEM: I was thinking about this the other day actually, if I wasn’t so into what I am so passionate about, I was thinking, it would be good to be a marine biologist or just inventor, archaeologist…? Something fun, something that includes history & stories would be fun. Outside of that, ha, I have thought about having a huge space to have other peoples exhibitions and performances in, but I am not sure. I do what I do because my mind went there, and it felt right. It is hard to imagine being a part of anything that isn’t creative/artistic. I get depressed when I don’t do those things. Its Like depriving your mind of emptying and being lazy at the same time.
Franco: I’d like to be a cook myself haha. And yes I agree. There is a creative part to everyone they just need to understand a way to tap into that creative side.
ZEM: Whatever I would spend my time doing, I am sure would be something out of ordinary or something that constantly changes. I don’t like things to become stale and lifeless. It is best to just be and do as much as you can I think.
Franco: Creativity is food for the mind.
I just want to thank Zoe again for allowing me to interview her. It was both a fun and exciting experience for both of us. Hopefully more will come later down the road! Hope you enjoyed reading this!