ZOE K has a message for the critics wanting to shame her for expressing her sexuality: “My body is my vehicle and I’m going to drive it until it breaks down or runs out of petrol.”
The Newcastle soul diva has copped criticism since promotional shots for her long-awaited second album It’s Just What I Like appeared online. The photographs are cheeky – literally and figuratively – but delivered with the endearing sense of humour Zoe Klemenczuk is renown for.
The mentality that you have to expect it, means then the people who are saying the nasty things don’t take responsibility for being an arsehole.Zoe K
“No one was the right to slander anyone based on their appearance, whether they have their arse hanging out or a missing leg,” Zoe says.
“The mentality that you have to expect it, means then the people who are saying the nasty things don’t take responsibility for being an arsehole.”
Zoe’s experience isn’t unique. Fellow Melbourne-based soul singer Clairy Browne was berated on social media last year when she revealed a sexier and more provocative image with the release of her debut solo record Pool.
“It’s that age old thing, instead of telling women to cover up and be more demure in how they express themselves, why can’t we just tell men or the perpetrators who put them down, and sometimes it’s women too, to respect people,” Zoe says.
Zoe is a strong and fiercely independent woman. That’s clear in the lyrics on It’s Just What I Like and in the record’s creation.
Without any support from a label, the former Maitland Grossman High student funded the album through working three jobs – waitressing, working in a retro furniture shop and dog walking.
“When it’s released I can not only look back and say I’ve released an album, but I made it happen,” she says. “You have to be a realist, and I was, and if I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity I had to work three jobs and I did.
“It does make you pretty proud because of that whole working hard part.”
She also travelled between New Orleans and Melbourne, using her gift of the gab to network with some of the US’s finest jazz musicians. This led to Trombone Shorty’s Michael Ballard (bass), Terence Houston (drummer), Raja Kassis (guitar) and Mister Goldfinger (keyboard solo on Put It Down) working on her album.
The album was recorded in Melbourne and New Orleans, except the track Glad I Stayed, co-written with Newcastle musician Shane Landry. It was recorded by Robbie Long in Newcastle’s Funky Lizard Studios.
Zoe wrote the songs over a six-year period, following the release of her self-titled debut album in 2011 with her former backing band the Shadow Katz.
It’s Just What I Like is an infusion of non-traditional jazz, blues and indie soul. One minute Zoe is crooning like Amy Winehouse on Yes, I’m Leaving and then she’s rocking out on the Motown-styled Wedding Ring.
Throughout Zoe expresses her struggles with love, but with equal shades of melancholy, defiance and humour.
“I don’t know, is it jazz, is it soul, is it crass, is it sad girl music,” Zoe says.
“Lyrically I thought a lot of the songs are sad girl songs, but a lot of the feedback I get from my shows is it’s relatable. I don’t muck around with too many fancy metaphors. I say how it is.”
One song Zoe certainly doesn’t leave anything to interpretation is Walls (For The Ladies) featuring vocals from New Orleans’ Nika Revader.
The track is a provocative and direct declaration of Zoe’s sexual desire. It’s so honest she initially balked in including the song on the album.
“I had a moment of insecurity, what if people think I’m some crass-talking banshee?” she laughs. “I then had a realisation, that that’s who I am. So I guess you can’t win them all. The song is about empowerment, so why would I care?
“Everything about a woman in sex is about a ho or a man treating her bad and I don’t entirely agree with that narrative, so I’m going to try and change it.”
It’s Just What I Like is released on Saturday through zoekofficial.com. Zoe K will launch the album at Islington’s Small Ballroom on May 6.