Zowie's altered ego

By Jacqueline Smith

Zowie, aka Zoe Fleury, has recently discovered a poppier side to her sound. Photo / Supplied
Zowie, aka Zoe Fleury, has recently discovered a poppier side to her sound. Photo / Supplied

An act who has done her time on local summer festival stages and now is poised to take over in 2011, starting with shows this weekend. Jacqueline Smith reports.

The fact that the word Zowie looks like it has David Bowie connections (his only son answered to the name for most of his young life) is just a happy accident, says the girl with the thick fringe and pink sparkly Dr. Martens.

It's actually pronounced Zoe, as in Zoe Fleury, the real name of this tiny 23 year-old drumming sensation from the North Shore. You may also know her as the metallic-and-PVC-wearing Bionic Pixie who played at local festivals and has opened for the Kills and Peaches.

Bionic Pixie sprouted massive shoulder pads when she metamorphosed into Zowie early this year. She's still cheeky and fiery, but she is more melodic and self-assured.

"I like to say that if Bionic Pixie is a toaster, then Zowie is a transformer," Fleury explains.

The first character was born in 2008 when Fleury and her friend, fashion stylist Serena Fagence, decided to fuse their two passions. Fagence watched in awe as her futuristic costume transformed her bubbly little friend into a raging stage presence - M.I.A. meets Peaches meets Karen O.

Fleury always speaks about her costumed-self in the third person. "I'm not the girl on stage."

In the next few years she expects her stage persona to undergo several transformations, like David Bowie or Michael Jackson.

"Zowie's just started but already I can see her developing," she says, reflecting on her recent writing and recording trip to Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Toronto, London and Stockholm which saw her in workshops with a dream list of music bigwigs.

She won't reveal who until the album comes out next year, but they were the kind of people who had worked with everyone from Lady Gaga to Britney Spears to Miike Snow.

"I was sitting in a studio and someone said, oh we wrote [Lady Gaga's] Bad Romance here and I was like, really? I was just trying to play it cool," she says.

Fleury says she noticed a change coming on after her Bionic Pixie performance at Rhythm & Vines last year, when she wrote a less drum-driven song - Broken Machine - that seemed to come from somewhere else.

Accepting that the Pixie had grown up, she gave her a more human name, and Fagence jumped in with some new costuming - tighter, bolder, louder.

For three months of this year Fleury took Zowie and her three-piece PVC-wearing band to America to develop the character's sound further.

While there, she played gigs as Zowie in everything from typically New York underground bars to a writhing gay bar in LA that has hosted the likes of Kelis and Kylie Minogue.

Her shows caught the attention of the scenester's fashion-bible Nylon magazine and The New York Times. The latter sent her on a photo shoot and featured her as the cover star of the style section after a music reviewer raved about her live show.

Could she be New Zealand's answer to Lady Gaga? Well, in the most modest way possible, she doesn't mind the label one bit.

She's no stranger to sticking out - she was the spindly dark haired-kid who played the drums with the school jazz band at Northcote College. And she's no stranger to pushing boundaries either - her dad is Johnny Fleury, one of New Zealand's top bassists, who is known for playing incomprehensibly complex instruments like the Chapman Stick.

"He inspired me not to follow what everyone else does," she says.

After high school, Fleury studied drums at the Music and Audio Institute of New Zealand (Mainz) where her father is a tutor, and formed punky rock band Bengal Lights with a girl from her course before launching herself as Bionic Pixie.

While Fleury says her heart will always lie in darker, Nine Inch Nails-style music, her recent travels helped her discover a poppier side to her sound.

Bionic Pixie was very rhythm-based, but her mentors taught her new methods of song construction and that not only could she yelp into the microphone, but she could sing.

While Bionic Pixie resided on alternative radio stations like bFM and George, her first Zowie single Broken Machine is being blasted from mainstream radio stations.

The prospect of the New Zealand tall poppy syndrome that goes with such a change doesn't bother her in the slightest. "It's such a weird attitude. I really don't understand it, but it doesn't affect me."

Anyway, Fleury thinks Broken Machine is probably the "poppiest" song in her new Zowie collection, which is being worked into an album due to be released on Sony next year.

She's still madly writing lyrics as floods of creativity hit her in the wee hours of the morning and she's keeping the doors open for whatever inspiration she finds in those moments.

When she's on stage she becomes a spandexed, drum-bashing, Bionic transformer and those cryptic songs come from deep, human experiences. A robot with a human heart. Fleury's heart.

"I'm still Bionic Pixie but now I have a name," she says.

LOWDOWN

Who: Zoe Fleury aka Zowie, the artist formerly known as Bionic Pixie

When and where: Saturday, Galatos (all ages 5.30pm), R18 (8.30pm)

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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