Ken Maiuri’s Clubland: Wishbone Zoe finds her sounds, launches first CD, ‘All of These Oddities’

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Saera Kochanski has never settled for the typical. In middle and high school, when assigned to write an essay, instead of turning in some plain old paragraphs, she’d often hand the teacher a newly written song.

Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Kochanski, who performs and creates art under the name Wishbone Zoe, just finished her first-ever CD — “All of These Oddities” — and instead of packaging it in the usual plastic jewel case, she’s cradled the disc inside a full-color handmade book crammed with her drawings, collages, poems, lyrics and more. A “graphic libretto.”

Wishbone Zoe the band (Kochanski, her dad Paul on bass and longtime family friend J.J. O’Connell on drums) will celebrate the release of the new record and book with a live set at the Parlor Room in Northampton on Friday at 8 p.m. The Dire Honeys start off the night.

It took Kochanski and her band (and recording engineer Anand Nayak) a year to make the debut album, which puts some of her oldest songs next to her newest. What they all have in common is that she saw the songs “very visually and vividly. There’s a lot of dream imagery in this album.”

From the barefoot girl with a prairie thunderstorm on the way to the pig in a cage with “10,000 of his closest friends who shared the same sweat,” the 12 songs on “All of These Oddities” contain evocative images, with music to match.

Like the opening song “Agatha,” a message in a bottle that floats on a disorienting sea of African thumb piano and crunching mystery percussion (a tin can? a plastic container of coins?). “Windy City” is a waltz made ominous by some hurricane-force rock backing. Songs like “Hazel and Wine” and “Greatest Show In Town” have a bit of carnival atmosphere (the latter even features a scary fun house interlude à la The Beatles’ “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”).

And “Sacrificial Lamb” could be the album’s single, a straightforward rocker with a catchy chorus that pivots on a great chord change and a Lennon-esque guitar lick.

Kochanski’s voice and adventurousness make this writer think of Tanya Donelly and Throwing Muses, but her big influences are David Bowie, The Breeders, Pixies and English artist Jamie Hewlett (responsible for Tank Girl and the visual aspect of Gorillaz).

She calls her music “junkyard rock” to try and describe the organic, “found” nature of what she’s creating. Though she plays many instruments (guitar, banjo, bass, kalimba, melodica), her latest focus is the looper pedal, which allows her, in real time, to build up layers of her own voice, or percussion that she’s created from random objects — “pieces of trash, recyclables, bones and antlers and such.”

One video on YouTube shows a solo Kochanski performance in which she stacks her own voice with multiple harmonies and mouth percussion, then sings over it while accompanying herself with a carpenter’s drill for punctuation.

“I’ve grown up in an artistically supportive household,” Kochanski said — her mom Tracy is a wood carver who makes, among other things, rocking horses and carousel horses; her dad is a sought-after bassist for tours and studio work — and when I ask what her first musical memory was, she finds it hard to pinpoint, saying, “I don’t know if there was ever really a time when I wasn’t surrounded by music.”

She remembers seeing an old home movie from her days as a tiny tot: she’s in her rolling baby walker, “listening to Nirvana while jumping up and down and bouncing around.”

Kochanski became an introverted pre-teen. “I started to feel that I was very different from everyone else and I didn’t really want to try to fit in, but I felt like I kind of needed to,” she said. “I started doing a lot of writing. I remember being in 8th grade and doing a talent show and feeling that that was my key to communicating with the world, through music.”

She went to the summer rock and roll program for girls at the Institute for the Musical Arts in Goshen, where she played music with Hannah Mohan and Rebecca Lasaponaro (who founded the popular local band And the Kids), and she found it inspiring enough to return for a number of years, calling it “a very nurturing supportive community.”

“I was going to school in Westfield and there wasn’t a lot going on musically around me; [Mohan and Lasaponaro] were a huge influence on me,” she said. The whole experience inspired her to write more of her own music.

Her father, who’s played with Lori McKenna, The Swinging Steaks, Fancy Trash and many others, is another big influence.

“He’s where my musical education came from. Playing with my dad, it was a natural next step once I started playing shows, that he would back me on bass or guitar. And he’s always played with J.J.; [the three of us] became a solid core.”

Kochanski finishes her degree at Greenfield Community College in December, but whatever free time she may gain, she’s already planning to fill it with more creativity — possibly writing a book of short stories, a graphic novel, another Wishbone Zoe LP or EP, maybe even attempting larger-scale touring: “I’m letting the open pages of the calendar determine what happens.”

Ken Maiuri can be reached at clublandcolumn@gmail.com.