Sounds Local: Forming ZoKi ‘a dream come true’ for local teens

  • The indie folk-rock trio ZoKi has several upcoming shows, including one Friday at the Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield. Contributed photo

  • Ona Canoa members — from left, Eliza Hollister on flute, Tess Burdick on guitar and Chelsie Field on baritone ukulele — is one of three bands set to perform Sunday as part of the Lobby Tapes Listening Series at the Shea Theater Arts Center. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Indie-folk singer-songwriter Izzy Heltai, who is releasing a new four-song EP called “Only Yesterday,” is set to perform Sunday as part of the Lobby Tapes Listening Series at the Shea Theater Arts Center. Contributed photo/Emma Kate Rothenberg-Ware


For the Recorder
Published: 4/10/2019 5:20:17 PM

If you ask the three members of the indie folk-rock group ZoKi what brought them together and made their group one of the area’s rising young bands, they’ll say three components played a role: the Institute for the Musical Arts (IMA), Luthier’s Co-op and Courtney Barnett.

Zoe Lemos, 16, of Ashfield and Kim Chin-Gibbons, 18, of Amherst — who both play guitar, bass and share vocals — formed the band last April. Lily Kulp, 15, of Conway came on board in August, playing drums and trumpet.

In its brief time as a band, ZoKi has played all over the local music scene, including opening for NRBQ at the The Stone Church in Brattleboro, Vt., and for Antigone Rising at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton. The band is also putting the finishing touches on its soon-to-be-released debut album.

ZoKi is the latest in a host of great bands to come out of IMA, a rock ’n’ roll training ground for young women led by June Millington and Ann Hackler. Chin-Gibbons and Lemos — both talented multi-instrumentalists and songwriters who have been involved in music since they were young children — met at an IMA summer training session. Before joining forces, they worked with other bands — Chin-Gibbons in Parlicium and Lemos in FlexisJinx.

The two young women were drawn together over a shared love of the music of indie rocker Courtney Barnett.

“We love her, she is such an inspiration,” Lemos said of the Australian singer-songwriter. “Her witty lyrics and her music is really original and cool.”

After bonding over Barnett’s music, they casually started playing together.

“We would sing songs that we each wrote, and then we decided to accompany each other and it turned out really well,” Chin-Gibbons said.

They started honing their craft by performing at open mic nights at Luthier’s Co-op in Easthampton, backing each other by switching off on bass and drums.

For Kulp, a longtime friend of Lemos who made the duo into a trio in August, being in a band was a new experience, but one she took to instantly.

“I’ve always loved music and wanted to be in a band,” said Kulp, herself an IMA student. “This has been like a dream come true. It’s worked out really well for us.”

There’s an undeniable chemistry between the three women that is obvious once they’re on stage. Kulp’s powerful backbeat propels the harmonies and the solid guitar work of Chin-Gibbons and Lemos, who continue to swap off on bass and guitar. There’s a charming, off-beat quality about their music that makes them irresistible. Most of the material is written by either Chin-Gibbons or Lemos, but don’t be surprised to hear a few Courtney Barnett tunes slipped into their sets.

When asked the dreaded question of how they describe their music, all three hesitated. Chin-Gibbons finally said that while the band is moving toward more of a rock ’n’ roll sound, the three usually call their music indie folk-rock.

“Some of Zoe’s compositions are sort of funky, so it’s sort of a nontraditional folk-rocky kind of sound, and very catchy, I think,” Kulp said.

Both Chin-Gibbons and Lemos started songwriting when they were children, and honed their talents at IMA. Their inspiration comes from a variety of sources.

“I love the Tedeschi Trucks Band and old blues, and am currently into a band called Mandolin Orange,” Chin-Gibbons said. “Courtney Barnett is my main inspiration, but when it comes to my writing, sometimes a phrase will come to me, and I’ll try and write a song around that and see what comes of it.”

Kulp doesn’t see herself as a songwriter, but does like composing instrumental parts. Her bandmates are quick to point out that she has a real gift for arranging.

When it comes to inspiration, they also look to some of their IMA alums like And The Kids and Kalliope Jones.

“They are not that much older than us, but we look up to them,” Lemos said. “We love their music and they are super amazing.”

ZoKi’s upcoming album is being recorded by Frederic Rigollaud (FRecording) in Greenfield. The yet-to-be-titled album will feature nine tracks and will be collection of songs with titles like “Life in the City” and “Lonely Soul” that cover everything from politics to love.

Before the album’s release, ZoKi has a host of shows to play. It all starts Friday night at 8 p.m. with an opening slot for Habibi at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center, 289 Main St. in Greenfield.

Next is a show opening for Y La Bamba at New City Brewery, 180 Pleasant St. in Easthampton, on Sunday at 6 p.m., followed by a show at The Root Cellar, 10 Fiske Ave. in Greenfield, on Thursday, April 25, at 8 p.m.

On Sunday, April 28, at 3 p.m., ZoKi will perform a benefit for the LGBT Asylum Task Force at IMA, 165 Cape St. in Goshen. This show is especially important to the group, as Lemos is organizing the event and all the money raised will support LGBT asylum seekers who come from countries where being gay is illegal.

There’s no denying that ZoKi is rapidly moving forward after a year its members described as “amazing.” Chin-Gibbons will be off to college next year (Lemos and Kulp are sophomores in high school), but she plans to stay close enough to the area so she can continue to play with ZoKi.

“We feel so lucky that we get to do this,” Lemos said. “We meet cool people, play with new bands and play music with our friends. We love it all!”

Tickets for the shows can be purchased at

Lobby Tapes Listening Series coming to Shea Theater

On Sunday at 7 p.m., the lobby of the Shea Theater Arts Center, 71 Avenue A in Turners Falls, is going to be transformed into a cozy performance space as part of a series of monthly folk, roots and Americana performances.

Performing Sunday is the Emma June Band, folk trio Ona Canoa and indie-folk singer-songwriter Izzy Heltai. Heltai is releasing a new four-song EP on April 19 called “Only Yesterday,” that is definitely worth checking out.

This series will be recorded live and available for retroactive listening. Local brews will be sold. Considering what a small space this is, you probably want to purchase your tickets now.

Next up on the schedule for the Lobby Tapes Listening Series is Lily Sexton of Mamma’s Marmalade and Max Wareham on May 19.

Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at or at the door, if available. For more information, call 413-648-7432.

Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at


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