I recently had the chance to interview acclaimed musician, Zoë Keating. Zoë has been called a “one-woman orchestra,” layering her cello into unique and captivating works. She has worked with Imogen Heap, Mark Isham, The Dresden Dolls, Rasputina, DJ Shadow, and Paolo Nutini. Her self-produced album “One Cello x 16: Natoma” soared to #1 on the iTunes Classical charts and #2 on the Electronica charts. Continue reading to get a glimpse into the mind of one of today’s musical greats.
How do you get your inspiration?
I get most of my inspiration from walking around and looking at the world as though I’m outside it. Normal things, I watch people driving, crossing the street, I like to climb up on hills and get big views. Then, I just sort of get a “feeling” from seeing these things that I then translate into music.
What single attribute do you think was most important in leading to your success?
My career, from my perspective, has seemed to develop very gradually, and organically. I never had a big break or big splash that you hear people talking about in the mainstream music biz. One thing has just lead to another and its hard to say where success begins or ends. It feels like my “success”, if it can be called that, is the sum of many tiny moments. Its always growing and ebbing and changing. I like it that way.
What is your favorite piece of musical equipment?
My computer! It can do anything! It can be a reverb unit, or a looper, or a multitrack recorder, or a distortion box. It can’t make tea though.
How do you deal with rejection?
I get rejected all the time. I think I have some kind of bloody minded, self-preservation streak that makes me honestly believe that the person or group who rejected me is just ignorant and/or maybe didn’t get the right impression me…and then I forget about it and try again. I’d still be making music even if no one was paying attention.
Looking back at your rise to success, what would you have done differently?
I wish that I had pursued music as a career in my 20’s. In addition to being shy and having the confidence of a shrimp, when I got out of college I had a mountain of student loans and was not happy about being poor. I played the cello in subway stations to get by but music really didn’t seem like a viable career option. Like many Gen Xers, I got sucked into the dot-com boom, which was interesting, lucrative and made all the relatives not worry about me. I enjoyed working in tech but I don’t think it was the best use of my talents. Thankfully the dot com crash brought me to my senses and I rediscovered that I was a musician. But I feel like I lost a few years where I should have been writing music.
How do you deal with stage fright?
I used to suffer horribly from stage fright. I practiced and practiced, but when I’d get on stage, I’d fall to pieces…drop the bow, shake, forget how to play. I remember mentioning it to my cello teacher when I was a teenager and she said “well, that just means you haven’t practiced enough”. That was the last time I ever mentioned it. I just thought that I wasn’t cut out for music. I realized, after I ditched classical music and started playing cello with rock bands, that it was classical music that was my problem. When I did my own thing, I wasn’t afraid. And, I needed to perform more to get used to being on stage. The remedy was simple, perform a lot.
I don’t get debilitating stage fright anymore and in fact, I love being on stage. I do get butterflies and of course I get nervous, but it doesn’t ruin me. I just say to myself “oh, there’s that weird feeling in my stomach”, and I eat a banana and get on with it. I’ve also already experienced the worst that can happen onstage and its not that bad. If I forget what to do I can always improvise my way out. If you practice hard enough, you’ll know automatically what to do when something goes wrong!