I was not familiar with the term “vanlife” before I met Zoe Lemon, but for the Philly singer-songwriter, there couldn’t be a better encapsulation of the year-and-a-half creative journey she experienced. Graduating from Temple’s Boyer College of Music almost directly into a global pandemic, Zoe didn’t know quite what to do with herself. Once it was safe to be around people outdoors — but before the world fully reopened — she got her hands on a renovated camper van and began to travel, visiting friends and family around the country, playing pick-up gigs to fund her journey from place to place, and writing introspective songs on her violin.
Composed on the road, based around portable instrumentation and sound loopers, and recorded on her laptop, the music had a raw immediacy to it as much as a sense of breathless introspection. Zoe says the experience “helped me process and grow and heal during a time when the world felt like it was stuck and stunted.” Upon arrival back on the east coast, Zoe enlisted a couple friends — keyboardist Packie Cronan and multi-instrumentalist Rob Bolz — to flesh her demos into the Tailspin EP, released this past August.
There’s a playful undercurrent of hairstyle imagery throughout the project’s five tracks; in addition to “Shampoo” and “Messy Bun,” which Zoe and Packie perform live in this week’s Key Studio Session, there’s a song called “Split Ends,” and the triptych collectively uses ever-changing hair as a metaphor for personal growth, as well as moments of frustration and exasperation. The Key Session (and EP) also features the cheeky and relatable “Kurt Vonnegut Would Love You,” a story about two people who discover connection with one another as well as their stark differences (“you listen to punk rock, I’m more indie pop”).
Zoe’s touring travels in support of Tailspin took her around the country again, as well as abroad; email dispatches as she submitted her EP to WXPN this summer showed up from destinations like Berlin, Puerto Rico, and northbound I-95. Heading into 2024, she plans to travel and record more, but not before two final gigs in ’23. This Saturday, Zoe Lemon plays a house show in Brooklyn, and on December 22nd she’s at Anchor Rock Club in Atlantic City; her first gig of 2024 is at The Grape Room in Manayunk on January 13th, and you can get details on all these concerts by following her on Instagram at @zoh_notzoey. Below, watch Zoe Lemon’s full performance for The Key Studio Sessions, and check out a photo gallery from the studio.