Wyldest: "I found myself talking about all the imbalances in society, constantly."
Throughout lockdown, Zoe Mead aka Wyldest began wiling away the time researching and consuming the works of her favourite female artists as a source of inspiration when it was lacking in the world. What resonated was the ever-common societal restraints and battles against gender stereotypes that women have faced through the ages.
With a bone to pick and a needful desire to document her findings, her thoughts, and her own lived experience resulted in her sophomore album, Monthly Friend, which is out today via Hand In Hive.
The enforced isolation saw Mead take the bull by the horns with the album's conception, a process that helped her realise the limitations that are put on women - not only just in music, in life as a whole - but also the advantages. The outcome is her most politically-minded work to date, and the most authentic statement the shoegaze-influenced artist could've envisaged.
Now back amongst it, in the midst of a socially distanced tour throughout the UK, we caught up with Mead to talk about Monthly Friend, how the music industry continues to marginalise female voices, and being able to perform after a desperately long break:
Monthly Friend is palpably your most politically-minded statement to date. What brought this shift in perspective in your music?
For me it was the inability to collaborate, to go outside and to experience things. Being locked-down meant that I was reading a lot of literature and seeing a lot of pain and foul-play in the media. I found myself talking about all the imbalances in society constantly (mainly to friends over Zoom) and decided that I needed to make my next album about something I feel passionate about. I wanted it to be honest and organic and relevant. I think working on your own inspires this a little more. When collaborating, I feel that sometimes you hold back on being completely honest with songwriting, it's a little less intimate.
You said in a recent press release that: “A lot of the time, women are unfortunately subject to a similar fate.” Can you elaborate on what you meant?
I said that with reference to my metaphorical comparison of women to fruit. I read some feminist poetry and found it wild that females are so constantly compared to fruit and nature 'spring chicken' and 'ripe as a peach' - it was my observation that females are subject to a similar fate. 'Spring Chicken' for example becomes more mature, perhaps less able to produce eggs and then is seen as having less worth to society (purely on the basis that it lives to provide eggs). Ripe as a peach is the same thing...so a peach will slowly deteriorate and become less appealing to eat.
I find it sad that these comparisons are reality in our human society, as in my opinion, some of the greatest women who ever lived have produced their best work into their more mature years.
Were there any specific events that brought you to this conclusion, either related to the music industry or not?
Well, the music industry is perhaps a perfect example of this coming into play. From what I've seen, it has some very dark corners that promote discrimination in all forms. If you don't fit a stereotype of what's 'desired', you may not get the same chance that someone else does, despite musical ability and songwriting. This is an age-old fact and has been around for a long time. It's not something I want to delve too far into, as fortunately there are plenty of independent music entities combating this, and for me, it's about finding the right people to collaborate with, finding those wonderful people who want to help you get your music out there because they love the music.
Sonically, how does Monthly Friend differ from any of your previous work?
It is a lot more intimate. The vocals are much further to the front. It still has the same shoegaze undertones, but also a lot of acoustic guitar which puts it in a slightly different bracket, I guess. It's got some folk undertones - which is pretty different from my previous stuff - however to me it feels like I've done a complete 360 because I started writing music on acoustic in my teens and this was the vibe I went for back then.
Were there any artists that have influenced this album specifically?
Elliott Smith, Sharon Van Etten, Air and Jon Brion.
Did your work with Laurie Barraclough (on Birdwatcher and Hey Ma) change the way you approach writing, recording, and composing?
Definitely. It was very freeing and experiment with textures and drones and that is 100% something that I have taken forward into the composition of this album. I think I'll continue to work in this way too.
Is writing scores and soundtracks an avenue you’d continue to pursue?
Hell yes. It's actually become a form of catharsis for me. I have no ego attached to it, no expectation, so it's so freeing and special. I will certainly continue to pursue this. Let me know if you have a film you want music for yeah?
Which artists, either musically or otherwise, have influenced your career and craft the most?
Elliott Smith, Patti Smith (Thank god for the 'Smiths'). Will Smith (maybe not so much). Rupi Kaur (Poet), Jon Brion (film composer).
So, you’re on tour at the moment, which must be a mixture of anxiousness and excitement. How’s it being back out there?
It's definitely a mix of both. It's just about trying to get back into the rhythm of it after so much time off. It's so knackering (I forgot how knackering it is), but I'm so grateful to be out there again. Seated shows are a little different (kinda like Cabaret?), but have their charm. It's mad to have people sat watching you in silence - never been used to that one.
You’re on tour again with Lanterns On The Lake later this year. Can you describe how much of a relief it’ll be to showcase Monthly Friend at full capacity shows?
I am so excited for this, it's been pushed back so many times, that when we finally get to do it, it's gonna be extra special. For Wyldest I think this will mark the start of something very special - being back in full force, full band, playing with some incredible musicians - it really is the dream.
Monthly Friend is out today via Hand In Hive.