Zoë Fox And The Rocket Clocks: “I’ve been writing about this relationship between humans and technology”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Melbourne-based singer and multi-instrumental Zoë Fox has released her debut album Clockwerks, an out of this world collection of intergalactic pop! It’s exciting, it’s fun, and it’ll make you dance. Zoë’s album launch was postponed due to the global pandemic we’re all living in right now, she took her music to live streaming via her Instagram stories and totally killed it!—she does live stream like no one else does. We chatted this week to get the lowdown on her LP and found Zoë to be warm and charming, funny and a fellow book lover! Maybe Zoë’s next project should be an online book club! We’d sign up for that!

How did you first get into music?

ZF: We always had a music room in our house when we were growing up, we were so lucky. My mum was in a bunch of different bands, so I was surrounded by it from a very early age. All of my favourite children’s entertainers when I was a kid were my biggest influences. I started writing songs and poems as experiments, it just evolved. I was never really a good singer when I was growing up, but did it anyway because I enjoyed it.

Do you think you can sing now?

ZF: I don’t really care anymore [laughs].

When did you first start playing guitar?

ZF: I started playing guitar when my mum gave me a few lessons when I twelve. When I was fourteen I had a friend in high school that could play and we got back into it together. I started playing songs from The Sound Of Music in her bedroom [laughs].

You originally started out doing covers; what put you on the path to writing your own songs?

ZF: I guess I always wrote my own stuff, even when doing covers. I thought people just wanted to hear songs that they already knew [laughs]. I thought no one wanted to hear the songs I was making up. When I started doing gigs I thought, maybe I can just slip a couple of originals into here.

Your debut LP Clockwerks came out last week; how are you feeling now it’s finally been released into the world?

ZF: It’s a relief! I feel like it’s not only released into the world but it’s released out of my body and my entire system, which is so good because often projects just build up inside you. Releasing it is releasing it from you and actually clearing space for new creative ideas to flow in. It’s bizarre circumstances to release your debut album in right now in the middle of a global pandemic [laughs]; selling it on bandcamp for the price of a brunch! I’m so relieved it’s out. I feel like I can cross that off my list: make an album, done!

How long were you working on it for?

ZF: I’ve been writing those songs for years. “Perfume” I probably wrote that maybe six years ago. I was just writing songs and I didn’t know that they were going to be an album until very recently and it all fell together really quickly. It was all recorded in the space of two weeks.

What was it that made you think, I have an album now?

ZF: I don’t know actually. I guess when I was recording it and I was choosing songs I just picked ones with a similar theme. I realised the whole time I’ve been writing about this relationship between humans and technology. I pulled songs that I thought would be a good family together, out of their little pockets and put them into one nest together and went, yeah, that’s an album!

What’s the significance between the album title Clockwerks?

ZF: It’s got so many meanings, so many things have lots of meanings. Initially when I first decided I wanted to call it Clockwerks I was reading Even Cowgirls Get The Blues by Tom Robbins.

I know that book!

ZF: Yeah! Well, you know how he talks about the clockworks all the time?

Yes.

ZF: Throughout the whole book he is just harping on and on about the clockworks. My interpretation of it was… you know how there’s all those caves that go into the middle of the Earth and the clock people maintain the clockworks and the Earth time is different from our constructive time, it was measuring a countdown until the end of man. I’ve been fascinated by time and space forever, it’s just so wild! I was reading that book and I thought the clockworks were perfect… it’s all about time and space and this notion that there might be something bigger going on.

I interviewed my grandad for the “Earthling Interludes” and he’s a massive clock collector, he’s like the clock master in a way; my grandparents’ house was like a clockworks of their own [laughs]. They had clocks all over the walls and every hour the whole entire house would ring and chime and tick and tock and cuckoo and ding and dong! It was the most magical thing in the whole world. All of that combined created the name Clockwerks.

Could you give us a little insight into one of our favourite songs on your LP “Tiny Little Robots”?

ZF: It got started, I picked up this tiny little robot earrings from a garage sale for $2 or $1. Every time I went over my friend’s house I’d take off my jewellery and put it on the table. I’d always forget them and I’d lose those earrings everywhere. I got a text from my friend and it said: you’ve left your tiny robots here again and they’re taking over the world! [laughs]. We started a text war in the style of Graeme Base’s Animalia. Like, “Someone needs to stop these mindless metal-heads from making such a mess!” He’d send me little pictures of them doing really naughty things like smoking a cigarette. He said they were being too naughty and they had to put them to bed, he put them to bed in a little matchbox with cotton wool. I took some of our alliteration text history and combined it with the mental image I had of all these tiny little robots in tiny little rowboats coming over to take over the city and with their technological ways making their ways into the minds of everyone and taking over from the inside.

That’s so fun! That’s one thing I love about your music—it’s so much fun!

ZF: I have a lot of fun writing it and playing it!

What about the song “Mr Gravity”?

ZF: Ohhhhhhh [laughs]. That was inspired by a relationship gone wrong, I found myself getting completely worn down. I don’t know why I always seem to date men like robots? [laugh]s. Maybe that’s something I need to look into! I was just frustrated. I created this thing where he was like “Mr Gravity” bringing me down like gravity, keeping everything down. I want people to interpret it the way they want to. I had someone go “I thought it was about being brought down to Earth and it was really grounding!” I was like, that’s great! It’s good it can be different things for different people. I was frustrated with boys that were judgemental, that would make comments about my appearance. In one of the verses – I was also learning about the war on waste at the time as well, so it was all paired in – I say: ‘you’re like a supermarket with high standards for cosmetics / disregarding nature’s fruits and all their imperfect genetics / I am a crooked house complete with feelings, thoughts and fears / three eyes, two hearts, too many ears for hearing.’ I was just saying, hey, stop bringing me down! Don’t judge me on how I look or how I am. I ended up getting out of that relationship and breaking up with him, and said: my mechanical friend I’m sure our times come to an end [laughs].

I’m sure a lot of people could relate to that! I know I do, I once dated a guy that was always complaining about how frizzy my curly hair was, it’s like, dude, it’s humid, my hair curls, hair gets frizzy, deal with it!

ZF: Yeah, or having hairy armpits. It’s like, come on dude, take me as I am. Sometimes you might be so deep in it that you don’t see that it’s happening. That was me breaking free of that! It’s a powerful song for me, I don’t feel run down by it, I feel empowered by it now. That song was my empowering breakthrough, where I rose from the ashes as a phoenix.

Was there any song that you wrote on the album that surprised you?

ZF: Probably the way the “Shiny Car” and “Tin Can Man” ended up sounding. They weren’t finished songs when I started recording but I went, nah, these are going on the album. I sat down with the producer and we used as many descriptive words as possible. I had written the main song but I didn’t know how it was going to sound, what style it was going to be. We worked on it so much and it really surprised me how it came together. I was so pleased.

I know you love to use descriptive words in your lyrics; do you have any favourites?

ZF: It’s one of those things that you can’t think of it until you’re saying it.

I was asking ‘cause I’ve worked in libraries my whole life and I’m a big book and word nerd, being a writer my whole life too, I’m just in love with words and sentences and how things go together, how things sound. I love fashion magazines because of the descriptive words they use, they can be describing an item of clothing, something that’s just made out of fabric and stitches and they make it sound like this magical thing! It can be so poetic. Words are the best.

ZF: Incredible! Yes! They are the best. I studied English Literature at uni actually, I majored in it; I write children’s books on the side.

That’s so cool!

ZF: So I’m so on-board with what you’re saying, I love it. I love when people describe the world in a different way…. Like I received a letter from my friend Archibald the other day, I was sitting in the garden and I noticed that it had been pegged to the clothes line, there was an envelope with my name on it – I guess my housemates were trying to disinfect it because of what’s going on in the world right now. He wrote: Dear Lady Fox, in my isolation I’ve been writing letters and I just wanted to write to you and pick your brain. Here’s a letter “Z”… it’s not my best but it will do. He had just written the letter “Z” and I love it when people talk about words in that way, like saying “here’s a letter” and then writing a big letter “Z”! [laughs]. It was so genius.

Have you read the The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster?

I have!

ZF: That is my favourite book of all-time! The way they talk about words, like you can taste a letter “A” in your mouth and see how it feels on your tongue! Or you can spill over a bucket of words and then your sentences become jumbled! I love that. It’s so genius. I think I read it like every year.

Nice! You wear really fun costumes when you play; did you see someone growing up wearing an amazing costume and were just so in awe of it?

ZF: Bands who I grew up with that had a common theme, I guess the Beatles did and Devo did it, they just had a look. That’s how I want to see bands. I thought what would I want to see? I want to see a show, I don’t’ want people to just stand there and play their instruments! I want costumes and dancing! Another band that does it that I saw that I love is, Sugar Fed Leopards. That’s Steph Brett, she’s in Empat Lima.

I love Empat Lima!

ZF: They had fluffy pink costumes and I thought, that’s another band that’s doing what I want to be doing!

Do you have a favourite track on the album yourself?

ZF: It changes every day. “Perfume” the first track, it’s the oldest track… I wrote that one years before the others. I’d just been reading the book Perfume: The Story of a Murderer I went into that world, I won’t’ explain it too much because I don’t’ want to spoil it if anyone’s reading it. I was reflecting on humans’ search for happiness in that song. I was feeling sad when I wrote that song…

Vid by Sofar Sounds.

Lastly, why is music important to you?

ZF: It is the way that I process all this information that is coming in from the world. Without it I would just overflow like a bath full of information and colours and ideas and sensations—music is me pulling the plug on that bath and letting it out! Letting it flow out in any way it wants to!

Awww that’s lovely! Thanks for doing what you do!

ZF: That you for what you do too! Writing is so important.

Directed by Sean Sully.

Please check out: ZOE FOX & THE ROCKET CLOCKS (get Clockwerks here also). Zoë Fox on Facebook.

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