Seattle’s Emmylou. It’s the name singer-songwriter Zoe Muth earned playing bars in the Emerald City where an Americana scene thrived. The first part of the moniker boasts some hometown pride; the second likens her brand of classic country to songstress Emmylou Harris. But the past year has brought change on both fronts.
Muth and her husband, the drummer in her band, loaded up a van on New Year’s Day 2013 and left Seattle behind. Their destination? Austin, Texas. Her band had started touring cross-country a couple of years prior, and it wasn’t working well, so Muth wanted to try something new.
Muth appreciated Austin for its history in rebellious country music, and liked it when she was there for South by Southwest. She’d put a pin in the map, but everything else was less certain. She didn’t have the connections in Austin that she had back in the Seattle, the relationships she’d built. She really didn’t know anyone in Austin, and she certainly didn’t have a band to play with. But later this month, a year and a half after the big move, she’ll be releasing World of Strangers – a new album made in Austin, with Austin-based musicians and an Austin-based producer. And it’s an album unlike the two that came before it, Muth says, one that strays from her classic country roots to tap into a wider range of influences.
The new surroundings did play a role in the change in sound, but Muth took a different musical direction deliberately. She’s a country singer – that’s the name she’s made for herself, that genre of music was her early influence – but she felt like she “needed to do something that wasn’t strictly country.” She wanted to be known for the songs that she wrote and not the kind of music she was expected to play.
Her past two albums, 2009’s Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers and 2011’s Starlight Hotel, were recordings of songs she’d played live time and again with her band.
This time, she went into the studio with just a guitar, a voice, and some vague ideas for how she’d like her songs to sound. She and a team of studio musicians, who’ve worked with country greats like Keith Urban and the Dixie Chicks, worked out their parts as they went along. She found that she could call upon a number of talented musicians in Austin, and that’s a network she didn’t have in Seattle. World of Strangers is an album she hadn’t ever had the resources to make, and the sound is more polished for it.
“To me, it sounds like a big step forward,” Muth says.
Approaching the May 27 release of the album, Muth has been touring from her native Seattle back down to Austin, and has a string of East Coast dates planned this summer including a stop at Jammin’ Java on June 2. She’s touring in a four-piece outfit now, and has pared down songs from the album for the road – leaving behind the violin, cello, and Wurlitzer from the studio. But the guitar, her voice, and her words remain, and that’s what she wants audiences to hear as she introduces them to the new sound on her new record.
“I’m just proud of making something different,” Muth says. “Whether people like it or not, they won’t say ‘she just made the same record again.’”
• For more information about Zoe Muth, visit zoemuth.com.