If you’re looking for the next song to scream at the top of your lungs to, Alt-Pop Rockstar Zoe Ko has just the song for you. With the recent release of her latest hit, "Baby Teeth," and the eagerly anticipated debut of her titular EP, Zoe is swiftly cementing her status as a leading influencer in the contemporary realm of alternative pop-rock music. Zoe's discography, spanning various releases and platforms, has collectively amassed over 2.5 million streams, solidifying her as one of the freshest and fiercest artists to emerge on the music scene. We spoke with Zoe about her evolving sound, her vulnerability as an artist, and the vibes of her upcoming EP.
So the first question I have for you is, how would you describe your sound to a first-time listener or someone who has never heard your music before?
I'd say I make kind of like nostalgic but really fresh, feminine pop-rock. That's usually talking about the female experience, or love and sex, and emotions with coming of age and growing up. Usually, it's very upbeat and has a lot of electric guitars and hard-hitting drums in it, and stuff.
What inspired you to pursue a music career and songwriting?
Well, it's funny. I felt I wasn't necessarily inspired. It was just something that I couldn't really not do. It was just part of me. And so forever, I was just singing and writing, and I'm always interested in the music industry. So, I was doing so many high school programs. I did internships at record labels. And I was always found myself interested in it. And yeah, music was just my best friend growing up because I was an only child. We, my mom and I, moved a lot. And yeah, I had a single mom and whatever. I just didn't have that many friends or consistent anything. Music was the only thing that was fully consistent in my life. So yeah, I think my connection to music was just always there from the beginning. I just was never gonna leave it behind, so I just fully went into it.
What was the creative process behind making “Baby Teeth” and how does it compare to the other tracks? What makes this track unique?
We did reference a lot of power, more and just kind of grungy and really high energy, but still talking about things that are important or real emotions. It's kind of like a metaphor for holding on to past insecurities and traumas and not necessarily being able to move on. I was in that same vein of coming of age and coming to terms with what's happened in my past, or just childhood experiences and stuff. I think specifically with "Baby Teeth," I pushed myself vocally more than I had ever done before. This one was just more fun and taking more risks, and really being playful. I feel like you can hear how much fun we had, you know, recording the vocals and making the song. I was making weird sounds, kind of like moaning and screaming, and in the bridge, as a joke, we did a thousand takes of the bridge in a normal voice. But then as a joke, I thought, wouldn't it be kind of funny if I did it in a British accent? And then we kind of just really liked it. And we're like, "Fuck it, let's use that," and then we did and the background vocals were in really badly done French accents. But it all added to the chaos and the weird, fun feeling in the bridge for me. So it was a lot of fun. It was like my most enjoyable song to sing in the booth, anyway, to record.
It did sound really fun, and I like how you described it. You're letting yourself be fun and weird and be all the parts that make you, you. How has letting yourself be vulnerable and like, feel those things help you grow as a person and as an artist?
Yeah, I mean, naturally, it's honestly separate from my artistry. It's just the process I'm going through naturally in life. And as I am growing up and moving out of my mom's home, getting my own place, and, you know, getting out of college and just being an adult now, and whatever high school is somehow, four and a half or five years behind me, which is crazy. In the first verse, I talk about my bullying experience in high school, and in the second verse, I allude to it, along with hardships in my family and growing up with my mom. I would say the music I'm writing now, all of the music on this EP, and specifically "Baby Teeth," just needed to be made for me to move past some of those things. And so now I feel like I'm in a very different stage where I'm even having more fun with the music. And now the newer songs that are going to come out in a really long time start to talk about raunchy sex or really just kind of fun, random stuff that I get to feel really free doing it and saying whatever. It's just less emotional and less about working through torment or anything like that. So now, I feel like I just feel way more free and kind of light. I get to really explode as a person, and figure out exactly who I am every single day.
What was the creative process like for filming the "Baby Teeth?" How did you come up with the concept?
I was working with my director, Nikolai, and, in general, because I'm still a small artist, we didn't have much of a budget. So we just thought that the actual location is also significant. The other music video that's coming out soon, which is somewhat of a hint as well, is supposed to be set in a high school bathroom. It's me going through all of the emotions that I'm experiencing in the song, or I was experiencing in high school and whatever, and exploding as a person. And not fighting who I was anymore, and stuff, and just letting it all out. I thought a bathroom was kind of the most private place, and often a place people would run to in high school to hide and not be in the lunchroom or whatever and not be seen. So, I think the music video taking place in that space where people often let out emotions or run to the bathroom to go through their feelings because they don't want to cry in class, or something, could be cool and provide a different perspective, an inside look into my own emotional process or something.
Where do you go to or reach into when you are looking for inspiration? Is there a special place in New York or people who help you find inspiration when you feel lost?
I felt that so much of my, well, just my writing process in general has usually started with, I always come up with the concepts and usually the main line that becomes the title of the song or something, by myself. Then I'll go into the session with whoever I'm going to be working with and bring that in. I often come up with them at night on these late walks in New York. I unfortunately don't live in New York anymore, which I do miss. I'm in LA, but so many of the ideas were just me, walking outside, getting fresh air. There's something magical about New York at night when it feels like you're in the city, and there's no one around. There are lights everywhere. For some reason, that's when my brain flows the most. I get the most creative or reflective at night, and that's still true. I'm not walking outside. I'm journaling at home, or on my bed, or whatever at night, and then I'll write something down that could be a cool concept, and that's usually where the inspiration comes from. But it's definitely just my daily life.
How has it been to shift from the New York music scene to the LA scene?
I was living fully bicoastal for about 8 months before I moved here and ended up signing a little production deal with my collaborators here. So, most of my team and everyone I work with is here, and I couldn't afford to go back and forth. It cost a thousand to $2,000 every time, so I was spending literally all the money I was ever making, and my bar job at the time, just traveling back and forth. I had to make the move when I officially signed my little deal. It's been so weird; it's just such a different energy. I'm much more of a hustler and need the chaos, so it's really weird. Everything's chill here, everything's mellow, and I'm thinking, "Okay, when are we going to go crazy?" I went to a club the other night, and everyone was just not moving. I was like, "What do I do? I wanna just shake ass right now.”
At this point in your career, what has been the moment that has reaffirmed music is right for you and something you want to continue doing for the rest of your life?
Honestly, that's never faded, the feelings have never been questioned for me. But it was definitely when I went on tour not too long ago, and I opened for Friday Pilots Club, and it was just the most perfect little tour, there were no hiccups. It was just me and my manager. She also tour managed, and my two band members, and we just had the best time. And I got to do a full 30-minute set. I wore my sparkly bra that's in the "Baby Teeth" video, too, almost every night. And it just felt so perfect. And I finally, really got over my stage fright. I felt like, so many people in the crowd did become listeners and bought T-shirts, and I see them still posting the little handmade jewelry that I made that I sold, and all of that made it feel so much bigger than just me in my room making songs. I was like, "Wow, it really connects to people. And it connects me to people in the world. And I got to travel and see all these cities because of it. That's crazy."
Is there a specific lyric or lyrics you have written for a song that has been your absolute favorite?
I honestly think it might have been in “Rib Cage.” Just emotionally, that was my favorite song, which was the whole chorus in general, “Just use your lungs as my pillow” and “Look through your rib cage like a closet,” all those kinds of things that are very metaphorical, but are so true, and now, I'm in a very new early relationship, and they are just so true. I'll just be laying my head on his chest or something, and I feel so happy. And I'm, "Oh, my God! It does feel like that little statement of using your lungs as my pillow." And I think in "Baby Teeth," my favorite lyrics, Oh, the first verse is definitely my favorite part, just because it says it so cleverly, my name got chewed up in Jenni's mouth, and it spread like aerosol, and it painted bathroom stalls because she just decided to destroy my name in school and slut-shamed me. I think it, it said it really well. A clever, fun, tongue-twisted way.
If you were to pick any song as the theme song of your life at this current moment, what song would you choose and why?
It definitely would be a Gwen Stefani song. I can't believe I can't think of this right now. I can't do it; I'm freaking out. Okay, well, from my own songs, I do think it would be "Baby Teeth." But okay, I lied. Actually, I'm gonna say, even though it's kind of a lame answer, "Rush" by Troye Sivan. It makes me dance. It's so easy to sing, too. It's the main thing I put on when I'm just at home needing to dance.
If your music were a color, what color do you think it would be? And why?
I feel that most of my music is pretty versatile now. But currently, I'm honing in on my sound, which I think is more in the lane of "Petri Dish," "Lovesick in Public," and "Baby Teeth." The cover of "Baby Teeth" has that super hot pink or magenta vibe. I just think it's really bold, super feminine, and loud, and that's where I feel.
Are there any other fun projects you are working on at this moment that you would like to share?
My EP is coming out in November, and I haven't technically announced it. It's coming out on November 3rd, and I'm so excited. I have two more music videos coming out with the two extra songs on it. And yeah, I definitely have some shows that I just booked that, and I'm excited about too!