With her signature neon green braids trailing down to the ground, it’s no wonder Zoe Wees is down-to-earth.
At just 20 years old, the breakout German singer-songwriter already has millions of listens to her name, but her inviting modesty surpasses any of her streaming success. As The Linda Lindas commanded Lands End in the distance, Wees sat down with The Daily Californian at the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival to discuss her music, recent travels and goals for the year.
Back when she was 17, Wees released her debut single “Control” on March 13, 2020 — almost exactly when lockdown began. Despite the struggles of quarantine, the track received major airplay and started climbing charts by the summertime.
Exploring Wees’ stellar range from her low rasp to soaring high notes, the heart-wrenching power ballad articulates her experience with benign rolandic epilepsy, a condition that can cause severe seizures. In “Control,” as she chronicles her back-and-forth battle with epilepsy and anxiety, she also shares gratitude to a supportive teacher who helped her through difficult times.
“Don’t know if you get it ’cause I can’t express how thankful I am/ That you were always with me when it hurts, I know that you’d understand,” Wees sings at the pre-chorus.
“The teacher was always there,” Wees said. “Even if I had seizures, I didn’t want to go back home … She’s been my home actually. I’m still in touch with her, and it will always be like that.”
In this way, Wees’ touching song functions as both a thank-you letter and a diary entry. Though she now shares her music publicly, she kept her writing close to her chest when she was younger. She wrote lyrical bits and pieces here and there in school, and “Control” eventually emerged as the first complete song she ever wrote.
“(My friends) weren’t into music at all, so I did it all myself. Kept it for myself,” Wees said.
Now, her debut single has more than 250 million streams.
Sharing such intimate music might have been initially nerve-wracking for the young artist, but by being aware that her music could potentially help uplift others, Wees worked to overcome this anxiety.
“I mean, it’s weird, of course, but it’s so good to get to write it down and just release the song,” Wees said. “It’s out, and people know, and I help a lot of people with it.”
As much as it serves as an individual form of therapy, Wees knows that her music has the power to help heal others. By choosing to not only embrace but also share her talents with the world, the artist reminds listeners that loneliness is something that, ironically, everyone endures.
“That was one thing that I struggled with, being lonely,” Wees said. “Feeling lonely is okay, but knowing that you’re not alone is important.”
As COVID-19 restrictions continue to loosen, loneliness wanes and communities reunite. Finally able to tour after her quarantine breakthrough, Wees is traveling more than ever. Having grown up in Hamburg, she’s now exploring the States — before landing in San Francisco for the festival, she visited Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.
In New York, after her first show in the city, she got a special souvenir.
“I got my first tattoo,” Wees said, pointing to the inked flames on her thigh. “I feel like I’m addicted now, and I want to go get another one.” (She said, excitedly, that she’s likely getting another after her Saturday Outside Lands performance).
While Wees’ spur-of-the-moment flame was more for aesthetic purposes, her second tattoo held greater personal significance.
“The wings were for my great grandma. She passed away, and I wrote a song for her,” she said. “So this will always be a reminder that she was here.”
The title of Wees’ 2021 five-song debut EP, Golden Wings, similarly pays homage to her late great-grandmother. On the EP cover, Wees wearing a shimmering jacket, golden wings flit in the periphery, symbolizing the love she holds for those she’s lost.
Wees’ career might be taking flight, but she plans to stay in Germany for now to work on music. However, she admitted that “it’s a little boring there,” so she’ll explore moving out of Germany at some point.
As Wees’ musical reach extends beyond Europe — she’s performed on “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” so far — it’s evident that some of her most avid fans are close to home. During her EU/UK headline tour earlier this year, Wees noticed a familiar face in the crowd at several shows.
“I saw this one girl. Her name was Sabina. She was traveling with me everywhere,” Wees said in awe. “That is so f—ing crazy to know that there’s people supporting you.”
Whether she’s writing new music or busy connecting with fans, support for Wees and her music will only continue to grow. She’s looking forward to “sharing the stage with artists and just performing live” the most, but ultimately, she wants to reflect on her joyful journeys in music and life.
“At the end of the year, I want to be happy with what I did,” she said.