It’s impossible to overestimate the value of teachers. Sure, there are those who don’t care as much as they should. But most educators appreciate their jobs and work to open up the minds and worlds of their students. Case in point: the sensational German-born songwriter and performer Zoe Wees. As a young person, as a student, Wees was encouraged to become a songwriter by one of her teachers. It was an important spark in a still-burgeoning career that has seen Wees earn millions of streams and even a coveted spot on the Forbes “30 Under 30” list.
Today, Wees, just 20 years old, is on her way. She has performances at Lollapalooza and the American Music Awards under her belt. She has songs that have gone viral. All without a full-length album out in the world (but she’s working on it). Wees, who released her latest single “Daddy’s Eyes” on Friday (September 23), has an entire future in front of her. Thanks, in part, to the lessons she’s learned early on.
“I had a little concert with my school,” Wees tells American Songwriter. “And then there was this random teacher who said, ‘Let’s hang out, let’s write songs.’ To me, it wasn’t cool because hanging out with your teacher is not the dopest thing [laughs]. But then I did that. We wrote songs. They were very bad. But then he said his best friends are producers and had a studio. I went to the studio a year after. That’s where we started just writing songs, finding myself.”
Wees, who doesn’t remember a “moment” when music entered her life because she’s always adored it, has long had the dream to participate in the art form, to write songs. She learned by doing. It can be hard for a young person to feel confident in their ambition, in their work, and in what they make. But Wees was smart, she didn’t listen to those doubts. Instead, as a teenager, she put her nose to the proverbial grindstone and gutted it out.
“My favorite part of music is creating the songs,” she says. “I started when I was very young, at 14. I went into the studio at 16. I think I just got better because I got inspired and saw other people working so hard.”
She gained confidence as she worked. Wees is a fast learner, a quick study. She acknowledges today that if she asked herself outright if she was “ready” to start in the studio so young, she likely would have told herself no. But she didn’t let herself look at that choice, or those crossroads. Instead, she followed what inspired her. Including herself.
“I wanted to make sure,” she says, “that the things I’m going to put out there are 100% Zoe.”
The artist says she made “a lot of mistakes” early on, but she recalibrated quickly with each. She watched others work, and picked up on their habits, skills, and talents, incorporating them into her own processes and procedures.
Born in Hamburg, Wees listened to a lot of American pop as a young person, from Miley Cyrus to Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber. She wasn’t so much into German music, which can be a bit harsher. Contemporary German music is “just not the vibe” for her, she says. Again, she followed her instincts. And those instincts led her to early hits like “Girls Like Us” and “Control,” which showcase her signature skills for rhyme and vocal performance. She can growl with the best.
“’Control’ was the first real song I ever wrote in my entire life in the studio,” Wees says. “To me, these are my babies. And they’re perfect. And I love these songs. I’m very happy to be able to write songs that heal the world, heal myself, heal other people.”
By 18, the wunderkind had earned a nomination for an Image Award from the NAACP, along with the Forbes nod. These bring a sense of pride, Wees says, but they’re also weird, surreal. More than anything, though, they prove she’s on the right track. As such, she feels happy. She loves where she’s at, creatively. She has support. She works hard. She has a team and they’re growing together, one song release at a time. The music industry can be unforgiving, and hard to navigate. But Wees says she takes it day-by-day, not one to think too hard about tomorrow or yesterday.
“We always talk so big,” she says of the business. “But at the end of the day, you’re alone, anyway.”
Wees’ latest single is about absence. Especially that of her father, whom she didn’t grow up with. While the track just got released, it’s something she’d written years back. It’s a personal song and one she felt a bit unsure about releasing, showing so much of her internal side. But music is how she sorts through the world, in many ways. So, as usual, she went with her gut and let it fall into the world like a sonic teardrop. The emotive song marks a successful achievement.
“I just want to come through the day,” Wees says. “I just want to go through the day and not think about tomorrow, not think about the past. I want to live in the moment.”
Looking ahead, Wees says she’s “definitely” working on a full-length, but it’s going to take time. She wants it to be just right, totally her. She also has a European tour slated for the winter, beginning in November. She’s excited for more stage performances, having just finished a spring 2022 string of dates, as well. During those, she employs a live band, knowing people like to watch a larger group on stage. It’s a vibe, she says. But it all stems from what she loves most: music, songwriting, and sharing her heart. That’s the lesson she’s learned along the way.
“What I love most about music is that everything you do is right and nothing is wrong,” Wees says. “No one can ever judge you for you telling the story. You’re able to express yourself through your song, through your words. The good thing about music is that it will never end.”
Photo by Megan Courtis / Courtesy UMusic