Defying odds: Layla Zoe has faith in the blues

Justin Brake
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On the outside Layla Zoe defies all stereotypes of a blues musician. She's Canadian. She's white. She's female. And she's inked.

On the inside, though, there's something undeniably different about the 29-year-old singer-songwriter, and people are starting to pay attention.

Blues singer/songwriter Layla Zoe.

On the outside Layla Zoe defies all stereotypes of a blues musician. She's Canadian. She's white. She's female. And she's inked.

On the inside, though, there's something undeniably different about the 29-year-old singer-songwriter, and people are starting to pay attention.

"I've really learned to just be myself and have faith that my voice and my songs and the soul that I pour into my live performances will carry through any pre-judgment," she explains while sipping a chai latte in a cafÉ on Duckworth Street Wednesday afternoon.

"People tend to be a lot less judgmental once they hear my voice. Prior to that, they don't know anything about me, so I'm lucky to have a voice that opens doors for me and knocks down walls of judgment because we live with that every day in society."

These and other words of encouragement are part of the reason Zoe is spending the week in St. John's.

Upon her arrival she visited five area high schools to speak with students about blues, the music business, and ultimately, about following their dreams.

"I told the kids at the high school today that nothing is a mistake," she says.

"It's just a learning experience, so don't be afraid to get out there and make mistakes."

Today and Saturday, she will perform at the Gower St. United Church Lecture Hall with local group Chris Kirby and The Marquee.

The trip to Newfoundland is her first and gives her cross-country exposure, something uncommon among independent musicians who fund their own travel expenses.

But this is all just part of Zoe's unique approach to making a living as a musician.

"One really important thing I learned living back on the West Coast was not to over-saturate yourself and try to do too much in your own town."

During an audition for Canadian Idol in 2003, which resulted in her rejection being aired on prime time television, Zoe spoke her mind before making her exit and then carefully rethought her strategy to getting her music heard.

"The experience was really good for me," she says.

"I was lucky because the show's producer happened to be in the room when I did my audition. He came to me after ... and said 'I just wanted to say although you didn't make it to the next round I really respected what you said to the judges and I think you're going to go far. Keep on doing what you're doing.'"

Since then, she has released three records, relocated to Toronto, won a blues competition in Finland and earned a fan base there, been praised by some of North America's most respected blues media as well as notable musicians like Mick Taylor of Rolling Stones fame, Eric Clapton and Jeff Healey.

But seeing what fame has done to other musicians, she says she will take whatever comes her way and is prepared to endure the struggles inevitable in the life of an independent musician in order to keep music a part of her daily life.

"The hardest part of being a musician is actually making a living," she acknowledges, but adds it's a worthwhile compromise because music has the greatest potential to offer change.

"I always say music opens doors. It's like the language of everything."

Layla Zoe with guests Chris Kirby and The Marquee takes place Friday and Saturday evening at the Gower St. United Church Lecture Hall. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the shows begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 and available at Fred's Records or at C.B.S. and Paradise-area Irving stations.

Organizations: United Church Lecture Hall, Rolling Stones, Fred's

Geographic location: Duckworth Street, St. John's, Newfoundland West Coast Toronto Finland North America Paradise

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