Zoey Van Goey's playful impulses begin with their name, writes FIONA SHEPHERD
ZOEY VAN GOEY'S DRUMMER, Matt Brennan is standing in guitarist Michael John McCarthy's living room, brandishing a brightly coloured toy saxophone. "We're still looking for a use for this guy," he says, in a way that suggests it's only a matter of time.
Unlike most bands, Zoey Van Goey started on their songwriting odyssey not with an acoustic or electric guitar, but with a small, beat-up Casio keyboard, before progressing to other unconventional sounds. "We've got a microwave, that makes some good beeps," says Brennan. "We don't have any money, so we go to charity shops, where you can get ten instruments for 10."
However, Zoey Van Goey are not some eccentric toy orchestra, but the latest Glasgow folk-pop experimentalists to charm the ears of their peers, including Belle & Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch, who produced their debut single Foxtrot Vandals. With Arts Council funding, they have recorded material for an album with ex-Delgados drummer Paul Savage, while his partner, Emma Pollock, recently supported the band at the launch of their second single, Sweethearts in Disguise.
The band have a busy summer festival season ahead, playing the T Break Stage at T in the Park, Wickerman, Live at Loch Lomond and Connect. As none of the band drive, they will be relying on the nation's rail network and friends with cars for transportation. "We are, by necessity, quite an eco-friendly band," says McCarthy. "But we'd never be able to make music or do any gigs if it weren't for the total generosity of a lot of people," adds Brennan.
A cosmopolitan bunch, they comprise a Canadian academic, who could rightly be described as a Doctor of Rock (but doesn't want to be), an Irish theatre composer with a quiz-kid past, and an Edinburgh-born, Shrewsbury-bred singer, Kim Moore, who has hacked her way through the Ghanaian jungle and now helps organise the Bafta Scotland Awards (transferable skills and all that).
All three have converged on Glasgow in the last few years, seduced by the city's reputation as a creative musical hub, and found each other through a series of chance meetings.
"I met Michael John on St Patrick's Day, within a month of me being here, randomly on the street," says Brennan. "He was looking for a drummer and I was looking for anybody – I'm charitable." Two days later, they were jamming a country cover of Depeche Mode's Just Can't Get Enough.
The trio fully came together through Nice'n'Sleazy's long-running open-stage night and bonded over a shared history in musical theatre. Brennan wrote a rock opera in Canada, The Adventures of Slim Johnny, "about a twentysomething everyman who works at a call centre and meets this feisty, red-headed girl and they go and fight crime together" and founded a rock opera club with his brother.
McCarthy, who has written music for a number of theatre productions in Ireland and Scotland, had composed a musical, The Volitional Brain, which was staged in Cork and Galway. "It was about an enormous walking brain who was having marriage difficulties with her husband. She could only sing in Italian and her husband could only sing in English. Then a psychiatrist came along and plotted to steal away the brain, but this made the husband realise how much he loves his brain wife – and everyone dies at the end with the exception of the brain ... I was completely sober, I had all of my faculties at the time. I wanted to write a musical written by people who didn't like musicals."
Meanwhile, singer Moore, a "fearless multi-instrumentalist" who grew up blending into school orchestras, marvelling at all the unusual instruments in her family's collection, and home-recording radio shows where she would sing over her favourite hits, often found herself performing in productions mounted by her music teacher dad.
"I always managed to play a whore or a street urchin," she says, to her bandmates' disquiet. "I sang a song called Whores Around the Corner. But those are times in my life which I don't speak of now ..."
"We've said too much already," says Brennan, hastily. "Don't get us wrong, I don't think this was our primary inspiration."
Instead, McCarthy pinpoints seeing James Yorkston play in Cork as a pivotal moment for him. "I hadn't seen anyone take the folk thing but play it almost like the Velvet Underground. I was really impressed by that."
Zoey Van Goey's music is lighter and sunnier in style, but often contains a darker lyrical twist. "There's a really strong narrative in our songs," says Moore. "There's always some protagonist, or two lovers usually, in slightly scary circumstances. My favourite thing about playing live is that between songs you always get a story."
Brennan is chief storyteller. He certainly seems to be the band member who knows most about the elusive artist they say they are named after. Their Myspace site outlines the story of an Amish girl who became part of the New York street art movement in the early 1980s, before falling in with film director Wim Wenders, then going to ground in Berlin shortly after the fall of the Wall. Strangely, no-one else in the whole of internetland appears familiar with the legend of Zoey Van Goey.
"Every legend has a grain of truth," says McCarthy, enigmatically. "And it's becoming more real every day," adds Brennan. "But the problem is that I'm running out of stories."
Moore turns to reassure him: "We'll collect stories for you over the summer," she says.
• Sweethearts In Disguise is out now on Say Dirty/Lucky Number Nine Records. Zoey Van Goey play T In The Park tomorrow.
What other people are saying …
"Bookish folk-cellar pop with electronic elements, the subject matter covering everything from impending apocalypse to teaching English in Japan."
"Mixing frothy folk-pop tunes with a slight electronic edge and some weird percussion, while swapping instruments like swingers at a musical orgy, the Van Goeys certainly leave their mark. From the experimental soundscape of The City is Exploding to the more carnal pleasures of I Want to Jump Your Bones, they manage to engage both head and feet with alarming regularity. Definitely one to watch."
– Is This Music?