When I first heard Zoe Boekbinder’s beautiful Artichoke Perfume, I thought it sounded like the musical child of Jolie Holland and Joanna Newsom had joined the circus and made an album. Not only do other people compare her to Holland, Boekbinder (pronounced “Bookbinder”) lists the musician as an influence, too. But the Oakland-based Canadian is hesitant to label her sound.
“It’s my least favorite thing to do. I call it geek glam—music for people who like to wear sequins to the library. ... I think it’s because I’m pretty nerdy and my lyrics are pretty nerdy,” she admits. “But the album has a lot of bling ... it’s got horns and keyboards and really fancy percussion. So that’s where the glitz fits.”
Although she does have a band— Vermillion Lies—she’s currently touring solo. So how does she carry all the glitz and the complexity present in the album into a one-woman show? “I play with a loop pedal so I can lay down the percussion and sometimes some vocal harmonies,” she explains. “Then I play the song on top of that. So some of the parts on the album are still there live.”
“I don’t front, so I’m sort of clownish in that way.”
Artichoke Perfume does indeed have fancy parts, and Boekbinder’s lyrics and presentation are quite theatrical. “I suppose I am pretty colorful sometimes,” she says of the atmosphere of her live show. “I have a theater background.” She lists clown school as an influence. Having actually been myself, I hope this isn’t a hip, ironic joke. “Yes, I did,” she tells me. “It was on an island.” (Here is where I freak out, immediately realizing we went to the same small clown school. For the sake of the reader, I will omit the part where we geek out about clowning.)
Boekbinder says theater experience influences the way she performs—especially knowing the rules of clowning. “Clowns are always honest and I love when something happens in the crowd. I love acknowledging that,” she says. “But my songwriting is also super honest and vulnerable—I don’t front, so I’m sort of clownish in that way, too.”
Those who know Vermillion Lies may find the songs on Artichoke Perfume sadder. Boekbinder agrees. “Vermillion Lies [songs] were sad but sounded happier at least.” Her melancholic solo work is the result of being unable to perform certain songs that were meaningful to her with the band. “I was like, Fuck it; I’m going to record an album of my own because I want to get these songs out there,” she swears. “It’s definitely less silly and less kitschy, and really a lot more personal.”
In a charming, totally guileless way—reminiscent of many of her lyrics—Boekbinder fawns over her work. “I have a really big crush on my album—yeah, embarrassingly big crush on it ... and my show’s gonna be really super great I think.”