The High Key Portrait Series: Zoe Reynolds of Kississippi

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Zoe Reynolds of Kississippi | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

For the past few years, Zoe Reynolds has been diligently crafting her gorgeous, poetic reveries, framed by the tastefully reverberating rhythm of her electric guitar, all packaged under the Kississippi brand. Sometimes touring on her own, sometimes with more rounded-out crew of other musicians she’s met at shows, her recordings and performances are evenly thoughtful and intimate, and she delivers her rich vocals with just enough empty space between the notes.

Having already produced two EP’s and a live recording, Kississippi is putting final touches on a new full-length, which Reynolds is excited to share. A crowning achievement for an eventful Summer that included her first trip up to Canada to play a few dates, Reynolds will play in the company of her compatriot artists the first weekend of Fall at World Cafe Live, taking her place in a lineup comprised exclusively of local musicians in a few weeks for September’s Philly Music Fest, in what will be her first full-band show with the all-new Kississipi lineup. Get more information on that performance at the XPN Concert Calendar, and read our interview with Reynolds below.

Zoe Reynolds of Kississippi | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

THE KEY: Are you a Philly native or transplant?

ZOE REYNOLDS: A little bit of both? I’m from Montgomery County, so pretty close. I grew up thirty minutes outside of the city, in Oreland, PA.

TK: So you didn’t go to high school in the city..

ZR: No I didn’t, I went to Springfield Township High School.

TK: What do you remember from high school?

ZR: Oh, I was definitely one of those people, where I couldn’t tell if I was like, cool or not cool. [laughs] I was just really weird, and got a lotta shit for being real weird. But also people thought that it was cool how weird I was, I think? [laughs] I don’t know how to describe it. Yeah, I was definitely not a great student, definitely a class-skipper. Definitely a little bit of a butthead.

TK: Do you have positive feelings from that, being weird?

ZR: I feel like I had more friends outside of my high school than I did in my high school. So I think that I felt kinda sure of myself, but was also like a little bit lost, being there.

Zoe Reynolds of Kississippi | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

TK: How do you remember getting connected to the Philly music scene?

ZR: OK, wow…it goes pretty far back. When I was fourteen I hung out with a lot of like, thrasher kinda kids, and a lot of like, teenage like, butthead-rock-n-roll-band kids. And then I was in a band that ranged from eight to thirteen members that was like kind of a Nana-Grizol-wanna-be like, kind of folk-punky like, kind of poppy band. So that’s kinda how I got into it. It was called Q Family Band. Yeah. [laughs]

TK: Did you have anyone who sort of mentored you as you were getting situated and getting a band started?

ZR: It’s kinda up in the air. I feel like I had some people who like, I definitely looked up to at the time, but then found reasons not to look up to them, and separated myself from it. I’m trying to think — I know that I definitely have some people that I would like, shout-out for this, but I’m kinda stuck on it right now.

TK: Who was your favorite Philly artist, or which Philly artist influenced you most?

ZR: Definitely Hop Along, definitely Frances Quinlan.

TK: Personally, or musically, or all of the above?

ZR: Musically, for sure, yeah. Just listened to a lot of Hop Along when I was in high school, and then continued to listen to them throughout adulthood and became friends with people who are friends with them, and learned more about them and look up to them, yeah. They’re a cool band.

Zoe Reynolds of Kississippi | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

TK: Where did you play your first show in Philly, and how do you remember it feeling to be on stage?

ZR: I played one of those Trocadero “Battle Of The Bands” when I was like fourteen or fifteen years old, that was my first show in Philly. And I definitely was really nervous, and I forgot the lyrics to some of our songs. Yeah. Felt weird, but, I dunno, I feel like I kind of forget about that sometimes.

TK: On purpose?

ZR: I don’t know if it’s me forgetting because I’m trying to, or just because…we started that band — that was the only show we ever played and then we were like, ‘we’re not gonna do this anymore.’ It’s like my first band. But I mean, my first show with my first actual band was one of the same things, it was one of those Trocadero shows. And there were too many people in the band, so they couldn’t fit my keyboard in the PA, [laughs] so I couldn’t play my instrument, and I had to play an egg-shaker and a tambourine, and I sang. So let’s count that as my first show. [laughs] It was downstairs. I think they had bands going up and downstairs — oh my god, I forget what it was called, it was really funny. It was just like a lotta teenagers, and it was like one of those pay-to-play like sell-tickets things, and like you have to go to meetings and stuff. It was weird.

TK: Where was the first Kississippi show?

ZR: First Kississippi show was at Michael Jordan House, which is now JJ’s Diner. It was a cool show! I did it solo, ’cause I mean this did start as a solo project. My friend Colin [Kupson] did some backup vocals. It was fun.

TK: Where does the name ‘Kississippi’ come from?

ZR: Partially because it sounded cool. It’s also from Parks And Rec, it’s a reference to that.

TK: Which Philly music venue is your favorite to play?

ZR: I think Johnny Brenda’s. I’ve only played there a few times, but it’s really good sound, really good vibes.

Zoe Reynolds of Kississippi | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

TK: What do you love most about the Philly arts scene, and at the same time what do you find the most frustrating about it?

ZR: I think that the Philly arts scene can be really cliquey, kinda negative sometimes. I feel like people listen to their friends’ bands, and they only listen to their friends’ bands, and they only support their friends’ bands. And if your band sounds like their friend’s band, then you’re in the shitter. [laughs] They don’t want anything to do with you. So, yeah I don’t know, that’s the thing I don’t like. I feel like when I moved to the city, it was that way then too, and it was just kinda hard to break into it, and it made me really afraid to do anything. So I didn’t try for awhile, because I felt like I was gonna get put down. But then there also is a really good community inside of those little cliques, and sometimes people aren’t that way, and I think that’s what I like about it, is that you can find a lotta friends, and you can find them easily, but you just gotta put yourself out there. And a lot of people don’t want to. [laughs]

TK: Which neighborhoods have you lived in, which did you love or hate?

ZR: I’ve actually moved eight times since I moved into the city in Summer 2013. So when I first moved here, I lived just north of Temple campus. After that I moved in with my mom for a few months, 22nd and Arch. Temple campus was kinda rough. Tried to have a show house, didn’t go so well. We ended up calling it “Puke Palace,” for reasons that are obvious from the name. So yeah, started staying with my mom for a little bit, then moved to South Street, close to the Whole Foods and stuff like that. It was cool, I lived with my best friend of like ten years, in a one-bedroom apartment. It was a little cramped. We had two cats. It was fun though. Holy smokes, I’m trying to go down the line — after that I lived in Point Breeze, but, this is all when I was like under 21, so there wasn’t really much to do in any of those neighborhoods, ’cause those are all kinda “bar” neighborhoods, you know? [laughs] Point Breeze, just kinda lived with three of my best friends, a little bit of a party house again but, nothin’ like the first situation. Then I moved to West Philly, and West Philly’s great. And then I moved to Lansdowne for one month, and then moved out of my house in Lansdowne, got really sick, and moved in with my mom again for a few months. And since December I’ve been in West Philly again, pretty close to Baltimore Avenue. I like it a lot. Got my first front-porch couch, which is everything I’ve ever wanted since moving to the city.

TK: Wow. Moving is such a hassle though, did you end up just tossing a lot of stuff?

ZR: I have a lot of stuff. I still have a lot of stuff. I’ve actually acquired more stuff, over the time, because I’ve been like ‘oh, now I’m gonna buy a couch, ‘cuz there’s no couch here,’ and ‘now I’m gonna move with this couch, ‘cuz I really like this couch..’ I get attached to furniture, kind of. I buy most of my stuff like, vintage. I find most of my furniture at Jinx and stuff like that. So I don’t wanna get rid of it, ‘cuz it’s like one-of-a-kind. I definitely get attached to that kinda stuff.

TK: What’s your favorite way to get around Philly?

ZR: Uber. I’m not gonna lie. I Uber everywhere. [laughs] I used to bike all the time, but like over the past few months, most of the time that I need to go somewhere, I have to carry a bunch of stuff. Over the past few months I’ve been playing a lot of shows, and recording a lot, so it’s gonna be me and my guitar on a bike, and it’s just annoying. So honestly I Uber a lot more than I should. [laughs] But now it’s nice out, so I’m getting back into the bike mode.

TK: How have you seen the city change in your time living in Philly, and has it been for the better or worse?

ZR: My friend described this pretty recently in a way that I thought was really funny, he said that all the houses looked like ice hockey rinks now. I would say that’s probably not for the better. [laughs] Like all the like, Toll-Brothers, like, house-in-a-box, you know what I’m talkin’ about. I used to make houses and stuff out of shoeboxes when I little — I would just build anything out of boxes when I was a kid. That’s what they look like. They look like the shoebox houses I made when I was a kid. But yeah I mean I haven’t spent a lotta time in one area. I moved so much, so it’s really kinda hard for me to take on how each area’s changing separately.

TK: PBC or Yards?

ZR: Yards. I feel like I always go for the Brawler. [laughs]

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