Darling Musical Specimen: Zoe Boekbinder

If there’s one thing I love more than craft brewed beers, it’s independent music. Working in college radio introduced me to so many great musicians. One awesome one is Zoe Boekbinder. She most recently released Darling Specimens, which was produced by the very talented Shenandoah Davis. Zoe is currently on tour in support of this record and I was able to do a quick Q&A with her.

As a beer and music blog, I have to ask- firstly, are you a beer drinker, and secondly, if you could have any brew on tour with you at all times, what would it be?

Selectively, yes. One of my favorite countries to tour is Belgium, for the beer and the chocolate.  Unibroue (Quebec) is once of my favorite breweries, and Fin Du Monde might be my favorite of their concoctions. I wouldn’t mind if it were in every green room I ever occupied.

That’s awesome! Unibroue makes some great beers; I especially like their labels. What is your favorite bar or place to hang out when you’re at home?

If I’m in no mood for beer I go to Pravda for absinthe. I don’t really go to bars all that often though. There is a tree in Audubon Park, locally known as the “tree of life”, that makes me feel like I’m in the movie Ferngully. The branches reach down to the ground like the outstretched arms of a giant. You can walk right up them. Sea foam colored lichen hangs from every branch and when a piece is placed between one’s nose and mouth, it makes a very convincing moustache.

You released Darling Specimens last year. Can you tell me a little about making that album and working with Shenandoah Davis?

Making that album was incredible and incredibly stressful. I’ve always worked with self imposed deadlines and albums shouldn’t be on deadlines. That said, working with Shenandoah was wonderful. She is such a talented composer and gave really great direction in the studio. Our friend, Ethan Demarest, engineered the album. He can work a microphone like no one else I know.
I remember Darling Specimens on the college radio charts. What have your experiences working with college radio been like so far?
Darling Specimens got the most airplay of any album I’ve released (on my own and with previous projects). That was really exciting. I felt like all the work I put into the album paid off when it made the top 100 list. I’ve always loved interviewing and playing songs on college radio as well.
You’ve recently been working on a collaboration with inmates at Folsom Prison. How did that come about?
I’ve been volunteering at the prison (NEW Folsom actually… right next to Old Folsom but higher security) for two and a half years, playing concerts and teaching workshops on looping (I donated two loop pedals to the music room there) and songwriting. I’ve met a lot of really talented songwriters and lyricists who are incarcerated there. I asked one rapper, who I’d seen perform in class, if I could use his words for a song. That was the beginning and now I have nine songs, using songs and poems from seven inmates, and I’m still composing. I’m going to release an album that will benefit the arts program there (which is currently funded mostly through the community and not by the state).
That’s so awesome. I can’t help but think of Johnny Cash performing there in the late 60s. Did you take any inspiration from that?
How could I not? Its not the way it used to be though. Johnny Cash played in an auditorium. Its hard to get clearance for big concerts like that now because its considered a risk, additionally the auditorium is now inmate bunk housing (an effect of overpopulated prisons). I play for smaller groups, often in one of the prison libraries. Since I play at New Folsom Prison, I sometimes joke that I’m the New Johnny Cash.
Do you have plans to make this a full-length record? If not, what are your plans for the near future?
Yes. I am taking the next year off touring, something I’ve never done, to work on the record. I plan on releasing 12-14 songs. They will be a combination of covers and collaborations. Many of the songs are taken from poems or raps. In those cases, I write the melody. I don’t know how long the album will take to complete but I feel really invested in its success because its not just mine. Not only do the songs belong to the inmates, but the profits from the album are going to go towards the arts program at New Folsom and to helping start similar programs at other prisons.
Zoe Boekbinder will be performing at Cafe 9 in New Haven on Tuesday, November 27 with Mal Blum, An Historic, and Jacket Thor, presented by Manic Productions. Tickets are $6 and can be purchased in advance online or at Redscroll Records in Wallingford.

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