Zoe Fleury has always looked beyond the bounds of traditional music and that of her peers. Instead of embracing a single genre, her musical output takes on both dark and light qualities, merging industrial textures with more accessible pop elements and an overarching focus on rhythm.
In tandem with each of her musical projects, she has a penchant for taking on personas to match, including a frantic anime and manga-inspired drummer, a space-age pixie and a futuristic cheerleader.
Zoe follows in the footsteps of her father Johnny Fleury, a respected musician and skilled player of the Chapman Stick who has played with The Idles, Dave Dobbyn and Greg Johnson. He was a member in the original backing band for Bionic Pixie, the early incarnation of her solo act.
She initially expressed her love of music via the drums at the age of 10, and was loaned a drum kit from former Exponents manager Barry Blackler.
After finishing school at Northcote College she went on to study music at the Music and Audio Institute of New Zealand (MAINZ). Meeting fellow student Maeve Munro, the pair formed punk-rock duo The Bengal Lights, where Zoe put her fierce stick-work and raw vocals to good use as the character Yuki Yumagutchi. The duo recorded an EP, Yuki Yumagutchi and Machiko Kanoe Build Some Bomb (and Try and Destroy the Word), which remains unreleased. After a lengthy hiatus they reunited for a one-off show in 2012.
Fleury began writing her own solo material under the name Bionic Pixie, a character “sent from the year 3000 to modify the heartbeats of others”.
In between jobs at Universal Music, Warner Music and performance rights agency APRA, Fleury began writing her own solo material under the name Bionic Pixie, a character “sent from the year 3000 to modify the heartbeats of others”. Through collaboration with Auckland designer Serena Fagence, Zoe brought the character to life with eccentric, space-age fashion. Outfits were created, not so much to gain attention, but to help her get into the right character mode on stage. She drew from her musical influences: David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, as well as Michael Jackson and Prince.
Working with Justyn Pilbrow, the guitarist from Auckland band Elemeno P, Zoe wrote the singles ‘Toss The Coin’ and ‘Broken Machine’. The sharp, synth-led ‘Toss The Coin’ was released under the Bionic Pixie name and went on to feature in a commercial for clothing chain Glassons. The single’s success on student radio also led to support slots for international acts The Kills and Peaches, where she excelled with her frenetic stage presence.
After one year of independence, Zoe began to seek out management and record label support. In 2008 she funded her own trip to Sydney armed with the two singles completed with Pilbrow, and found initial interest from several labels. Through Pilbrow she was put in touch with her Australian manager, Will Larnach-Jones of Parallel Management. After a year of email correspondence, Larnach-Jones came to watch Bionic Pixie perform at New Zealand Fashion Week, after which they completed the management deal. Off the back of her performances at Auckland’s 2009 Big Day Out, Bionic Pixie also signed a global deal with Sony Music Entertainment Australia.
Through the deal, Zoe was paired with a number of handpicked international songwriters and producers to write and record her debut album as Bionic Pixie. Over a period of four months in mid-2010, Zoe wrote with songwriters in several countries and cities, including Los Angeles, Australia, Sweden, Atlanta, London and New Zealand.
She told NZ Musician magazine, “I just wrote a dream list of people I wanted to write with and just threw in some who I knew I wouldn’t get and then I got them.”
"I was writing with people who had written lots of amazing songs. It was a good brain workout that's for sure. People who'd written for Miike Snow, Britney Spears, Ladyhawke, Gwen Stefani, it was an amazing experience. I also worked with Atticus Ross who does a lot of stuff with Trent Reznor. Those tracks aren't on the album, we're still finishing them off. He was one of the main people I wanted to write with, so that was cool."
She returned with 12 complete songs earmarked for her debut album, with a further 40 in reserve. Bionic Pixie then morphed into Zowie, “an extension of Bionic Pixie."
“When I was on the writing trip I was thinking that I didn’t feel like her [Bionic Pixie] anymore. Before that I hadn’t been past Australia – and I was in LA by myself for months and London by myself, and Sweden by myself – so of course I grew and just was so much more confident in everything."
With approval from Sony Music, she launched her new mysterious character with the description “music with heart, cheek, balls, and no cheese”, together with the slick “whoiszowie.com” website and a promotional video teasing her debut release.
The single quickly hit its stride in the New Zealand market, peaking at No.9 on the New Zealand Singles Chart and staying firmly within the Top 40 for a total of 12 weeks.
‘Broken Machine’ was the first single to be released under the new Zowie name. The single quickly hit its stride in the New Zealand market, peaking at No.9 on the New Zealand Singles Chart and staying firmly within the Top 40 for a total of 12 weeks. It was accompanied by a video created by creative production house Special Problems. The song’s title was lifted from a Nine Inch Nails song, paired against a J-Pop inspired school-chant.
With the aid of both NZ On Air and Outward Sound funding, Zowie played at CMJ (October 2010), receiving praise from blogs and press including Nylon magazine and the New York Times. The positive response led to a cascade of online coverage and a slot at the 2011 South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas. Her appearance was topped with a performance at a showcase presented by US blogger Perez Hilton. ‘Broken Machine’ gained further traction after the plug from Hilton, who named her as a “Top 5 Artist to watch in 2011”.
During the trip to SXSW, Zowie was joined by synth/bass player Harry Champion, guitarist Andy Thomas and Bionic Pixie drummer Jordan Clark. The most recent line-up also included Clark’s younger brother Dom Clark on guitar and synth player Liam Hornby. Other members of the live line-up have included The Naked and Famous’ Aaron Short and Jonathan Lee of Cut Off Your Hands.
Zowie’s second single, ‘Bite Back’, was the first to be released outside of New Zealand, receiving a digital release in both Australia and the United States. The thumping, new wave-leaning single found success in Australia, spending over 20 weeks and peaking at No.2 on the Australian Dance Chart.
With the success of the single, she gained a slot on the Future Music tour through Australia and support slots with Mark Ronson and US pop star Katy Perry, performing 11 sold-out shows through Australia and New Zealand to an estimated total audience of 150,000.
The single ‘Smash It’, written with Golden Globe winning songwriter Jimmy Harry, served as her second song released outside of New Zealand. It featured on the US show Pretty Little Liars and was also used as the theme song of New Zealand comedy show Super City. Another single, ‘My Calculator’, written with collaborator Henrik Jonback, soon followed.
Despite a trio of singles being released worldwide, Zowie’s debut studio album Love Demolition was released as a full package in New Zealand only. It debuted and peaked at No.31 on the New Zealand Album Chart. It later received worldwide digital release.
The album received critical acclaim from a number of local outlets. The NZ Herald wrote, “Overall it's an accomplished pop album. The way she uses her voice rhythmically and percussively is great fun, yelping and whipping, moaning and crackling her consonants. And combined with some "hyper-production" from an array of impressive international collaborators, it's a debut that will be lapped up by dancefloor enthusiasts.”
The highly regarded UK blog PopJustice named Love Demolition one of the best albums of 2012.
Zoe Fleury is currently working on a new musical project that embraces Bionic Pixie and Zowie. “I'm writing and experimenting,” she says, “I feel like the new sound is what I’ve always wanted to do.”