ZOE VICCAJI ON HER ALBUM RELEASE

Karachi-based singer/songwriter, Zoe Viccaji, is most well known as the playback singer for the band that supported the internationally acclaimed Coke Studio, Pakistan. Born to a Parsi father and a Christian mother, Zoe started writing and singing her own songs as early as the age of 15. 

After Ganda Bandas, her first band which she began at the age of 17, she has collaborated with many artists and musicians in Pakistan, including the renowned Pakistani rock band, Strings. The ecletic singer began writing and singing in English to begin her career. Shahzad ‘Shahi’ Hasan, former bassist of acclaimed Pakistani pop rock band, Vital Signs, and now a music director and producer, collaborated with Zoe for her first ever single, “Thinking About You”, in 2009. A graduate in art from Glasgow School of Art, Zoe was inspired to sing in Hindi/Urdu after her stint at Coke Studio Pakistan for three seasons and is now planning to release her debut album. She will release a music video of “Phir Mili Tanhai”, a song from her debut album on August 18 on Pepsi MTV Indies.

Here is what she had to share with us about her music and more:

1. You are releasing the video of “Phir Mili Tanhai” on Pepsi MTV Indies on 18th August. Could you tell us more about the song?

Zoe: “Phir Mili Tanhai” was one of the very first songs I wrote. In fact it’s a marker of the period when I turned to songwriting in the first place. I was going through my first major breakup with someone who I had been with for a very long time. In our time together the highs were lovely, but the lows so low that it often felt out of my control. In low times, I felt a kind of loneliness that I had never felt before, even though we were still together. The song was written at the tail end of our relationship and after we broke up. So it’s also a kind of looking back at everything. I felt lonely, both with and without the person in my life, and that was a real head and heart kill.

2. Please give a brief insight into the story of the video. When did you start shooting the video and when did you complete the entire process?

Zoe: I was very fortunate to shoot the video with a very gifted and close friend, Adnan Malik, who was extremely sensitive to the intricacies of the song and my emotions within it. We wanted to capture the highs and lows of a relationship, the struggle to make it work, and the failure to do so at times. The video ultimately came to symbolize the acceptance that one must have when things just aren’t going a certain way, and the strength to move on and develop one’s self independently. The video shows the girl realizing the importance of finding herself, and not being so afraid or defeated by loneliness (tanhai) at the end of the day.

3. We came to know that you would be releasing your album ‘Dareeche’ very soon. Will it be your debut album? 

Zoe: Yes it’s my debut album! I’ve released a few singles and collaborations already over the past few years, but I felt like it was about time to show a collection of my stuff.

4. Will it be a concept album or will it be an album consisting of songs that tell individual stories? Could you give us a brief intro into a few songs from the album?

Zoe: I first start writing at the age of 15, so many of these songs are a reflection of the experiences I’ve been through, and the genres and music writing styles that influenced me when writing those particular songs. Hence the name, Dareeche, because it’s a few glimpses, say a window into different time periods and phases that we go though in life.

You know how Phir Mili Tanhai came about. Then there is another one called “Jis Nay Bhi Aana Hai”. It’s one of those don’t worry be happy songs that came about when I was feeling really crappy about the transience of everything. People are changeable and come and go out of our lives, we ourselves can have a change of heart and not understand why- one day we have someone, and the next they’re gone. When it all becomes too difficult to accept the only solace I can find is in just letting go, and accepting that as human beings very little is within our control.  So, that’s basically how this song came about.

5. Could you give a brief intro into the album? When did you start recording it and when do you plan to release it?

Zoe: As I mentioned before the actual compositions date back over a span of twelve years, some of the songs (many English ones did not make it into the album unfortunately) were more like diary entries that I didn’t intend to write for public distribution. I first started recording in 2012 with music producer Shahi Hasan, and at that time Universal Music showed interest. When I visited India I carried out a few more recordings in Universal’s studio and then returned to Pakistan to add yet another track- this time with Producer Omran Shafiqe. So the album in its entirety is a pastiche of experiences, musical influences, musicians and engineers- a bit of an experiment since it’s my first. We plan to release very very soon, on the 1st of September.

6. How was your experience working with Coke Studio Pakistan? What did you learn from it?

Zoe: It’s been a major contributor to my shift to singing in Hindi/Urdu, and also taking on music full time. Working with the very gifted producer Rohail Hayat and some of the nation’s top musicians helped me set high standards for myself and aspire to good work ethic. First being a backing vocalist on Coke Studio gave me an insider view into its inner-workings since I was a part of every song. I felt like a fly on the wall watching everything and absorbing both my experiences and those of others working on the project! Finally two seasons later I entered as a featured artist and that felt like the cherry on top of it all.

7. Could you tell us more about more about your acting experience in Mamma Mia and Chicago, the Pakistani musicals? What made you take up acting?

Zoe: I’ve always been interested in acting. From the time we were little kids, we would create little plays: mostly about a begum sahb (me) beating up her male cook (my brother) for messing up constantly); and we would charge our parents a small fee to enter the TV room and watch our productions. Later when I went to college I was part of the choir which put on musicals every year, and that’s where I realized that musical theatre was the perfect marriage of my two performing passions- singing and acting. So when I returned to Pakistan after college, that’s when I jumped straight into the Chicago and Mama Mia productions that were taking place at the time. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity because it’s helped me boost my confidence as a performer and really let go on stage.

8. What are your greatest musical influences? How would you describe the kind of sound that you create?

Zoe: I’ve always been drawn to artists who stood out vocally. I.e didn’t just sound beautiful but had an art and a certain quality to their voice. My very first inspiration was Ella Fitz Gerald, and then Sarah McLachlan and Alanis Morisette. I also loved the Beatles, Queen, Pink Floyd (especially Dark side of the Moon), Red Hot Chili Peppers, and local artists like Nusrat Fateh Ali and Sajjad Ali.

I think it is only after recording this first album and playing several shows with a live band, that I finally started to make sense of my own sound. The songs Jis Nay Bhi Aaana Hai, Sau Dafa and Raat Gaye are more true to the sound I’d like to create- a sort of Jazz/reggae/funk.
9. You have collaborated with many artists in Pakistan. Which is your favorite collaboration till date and why?

Zoe: It has to be Strings hands down. The first collaboration we had was Mera Bichra Yaar, and then somehow after that fate has thrown us together for various other projects. We did a commercial campaign for CLEAR shampoo last year and then worked together on Coke Studio this season. Faisal and Bilal are both wonderful down to earth people, and ones I will always look up to in our industry.

10. What are your plans for the rest of the year? Can we expect any new singles or music videos to come up after “Phir Mili Tanhai”?

Zoe: Well the rest of the album will be following Phir Mili Tanhai, and yes at least two more songs are in the process of being turned into music videos.

Listen to PHIR MILI TANHAI

Credits:

Zoe Viccaji

Phir Mili Tanhai

Lyrics by Asim Raza

Directed by Adnan Malik

Music arranged and recorded by Shahi Hasan’