Zoe Joey Vivid Shade
Main photo: Plastic coat, Moschino. Silk jacket and matching pants, Giorgio Armani. Inset: All clothes, Joey’s own

The music Zoe Joey cranks out is hard to define. A blanket term could be experimental synth-pop, but she says it also has veins of trap, industrial, dark techno and even ’90s sludge rock. To parse it into neat categories is beside the point anyway. “I think genres are coming to an end, and I really hate defining myself and staying in any one group,” she says.

The striking 16-year-old American transplant (she’s also a model) is one-half of the barely year-old act Vivid Shade – her dad, a science teacher by day, is the other member. How’s that for a zinger? Their performances are also one hell of a visual spectacle. At last August’s edition of Tones – the annual music festival organised by students from the School of the Arts to promote local music – she ripped things up in a custom outfit by rising fashion designer Rachael Cheong, complete with a vintage gas mask modified by dad. The effect? A kaleidoscopic Sailor Moon warrior princess gone steam-punk, melding seamlessly with the dystopic themes of Clickbait, Vivid Shade’s debut EP, launched two months ago and 100% self-written and produced. We’re sold.

Below, a Q&A with the singer:

What would you say are common themes in your music?

I think dysfunction is a pretty common theme so far. Whether it’s dysfunction within relationships, society, technology, or social media; our songs explore the darker side of the human experience. I honestly think that we, as humans, are just so hateful and harmful, even though the only way for us to achieve a better society is through working together. We need to get rid of that “me vs you” and “us vs them” mindset. I try to use my music to talk about how everything is just never ever fair. And the only way to make something fair or right or even just to make any change is to recognize it.

What are your biggest music influences?

I absolutely love Of Montreal, Chad Vangaalen, Death Grips, Nine Inch Nails, Aphen Twin, Squarepusher, Animal Collective, The 1975, Glass Animals, Bay Faction, Joywave, Die Antword, GWAR, LCD Soundsystem, Tame Impala just to name a few. There are countless bands that I love and that inspire and influence our music.

I noticed that you seem to describe yourself as “us” on social media. What’s the story behind that?

There are a couple of reasons for that. One reason is that Vivid Shade is my dad and I. I get a lot of strange reactions when people realize that the dude in the mask playing with me is my dad. It’s pretty fun to see people’s different reactions though. Sometimes, people ask me about what my parents think of me being dark, experimental, and swearing in my songs; and I just point to my dad and say “Why don’t you ask my dad?”

Other times after shows I’ll be talking to people, and he will come out and I’ll introduce him as my dad and people can’t believe it. I don’t think it’s something people expect to see. Since my parents are teachers, many assume that my dad is a music teacher and that explains why we are able to write and make music like we do, but my dad is a science teacher and he also doesn’t have any formal music training. He is just a music geek and lover just like me who taught himself how to play, record, and produce music. Many teenagers go through the whole rebelling against their parents phase, but I’m lucky that I get to rebel with my dad. He’s just about as angsty as I am.

The other reason that I say “us” is that while the music is all created by me and my dad, many other aspects of Vivid Shade are only possible because of other creative people collaborating with us. I love working with other creative people and finding ways to bring my art and their art to new levels that surprise everyone involved. There are makeup artists, photographers, videographers, fashion designers, graphic artists, and many other artists that I have worked with to create some really awesome things, many of which are still in the works. These are all people that really believe in what we are doing with Vivid Shade, and I really love their art, so we are helping each other out in a really fun and exciting way. Sometimes it’s a little slow going, because we are all doing this work for next to nothing since we are all young starving artists that just want to make cool stuff. So work, life, and other priorities can get in the way. There are so many young, talented creative people in Singapore, and I feel lucky to have the opportunity to work with these people.

What would you say are your favourite moments as a musician so far?

I think so far my proudest achievement is playing the TONES music festival in August. We only started putting music out and performing live at the beginning of 2019, so to be a part of that show after just a half of year releasing songs and performing was amazing. That was our first big show on a big stage, so we put a lot of work into making sure that it would be something that people would remember.

Besides making sure the music was on point, we put a lot of work into making sure that our performance was visually interesting. We have always had a vision of a huge and elaborate stage show that’s part concert, part performance art, part theater, and part “what did I just witness.” But we are a young band with very limited funds, so we have to work with the limited resources we have. My dad modified a WWII gas mask and rigged up a microphone inside and LED lights on the eyes to wear during the distorted chorus of “We Will Destroy You”. And the central piece of the show is the custom dress that Rachael Cheong created for me. I was really happy with how that performance turned out.

Let’s talk about that amazing costume Rachael Cheong of Closet Children made for you. How did that come about?

All clothes, Joey’s own

Racheal is so amazing. I’m so thankful that I was able to work with her to create this outfit. I met Racheal through a friend of mine, and when I saw her Instagram and I was immediately hooked. I was just like “Damn. I NEED to work with this girl.” So I shot her a DM and I asked if she was down to collab. We ended up meeting and I told her my ideas for the design and she drew up some sketches. Let me tell you, they were all so fucking cool. I commissioned her for the dress, but because of the lack of a budget, we weren’t able to create everything we wanted to do for it. We had so many extra weird and crazy ideas that we wanted to do, but in the end we simplified it and created what we have now, which is still super badass.

So tell us about your new EP Clickbait that dropped last December. What’s the EP about?

Sure. It is a mini concept album that explores a dystopian future where society is crumbling and falling apart due to our complete obsession with social media and advanced technology that just keeps us engaged and entertained. Robots have become sentient and just feel sorry for us because they see what we have become. They see that while we have created advanced technology we still haven’t evolved enough to be compassionate and caring to each other and still live in a state of fear. People are tracked and monitored everywhere they go, and companies use all that data to make profit off of all of us by knowing exactly what will appeal to us, which then gets fed straight back into our social media feeds to keep the masses entertained in a very personalized way and keeps us buying products that are catered to our exact desires. This whole cycle just creates a rose colored personalized bubble which only further creates a more isolated and divided society.

With the EP we tried to create an experience that takes the listener on a roller coaster ride through this dystopian world. Each song is very different from each other, and at the same time the songs weave into one another for a pretty much a non stop musical ride. We know that people don’t listen to full albums anymore, but we hope that people will actually listen to the EP from start to finish to experience the true intentions. At the same time, we structured the songs so they can be listened to in isolation and be enjoyed on their own. That’s why the outro of one song is also the beginning of the next track, or why the transition from one song to another is it’s own track. We wanted to experiment with how we arranged the EP, and it’s not like there is anyone telling us it has to be a certain way. We just did what felt right and what we thought would be interesting.

*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

This story first appeared in the February 2020 print issue of FEMALE. 

Photography Vee Chin  Styling Imran Jalal 

Hair Erina Nakajima/ 1tto+LIM Makeup Sha Shamsi, using Dior