Usually when a musician is beginning their career, the end of it isn’t necessarily on their minds; they’re focused on what goals they want to reach and what kind of music they want to put out into the world. But what about if your career was on a timer ticking down right before your eyes? Singer Songwriter Zoë Nutt lives with progressive hearing loss and tinnitus, two diagnoses that have never stopped her from following her dreams. We asked Zoë to let us into her writing process and how her hearing has effected how she writes and what it means for her music career. Read more about her and her inspiring story below;
I couldn’t sleep at night due to the harsh ringing in my ears. I couldn’t think. I was convinced I’d go crazy over it, and I was having a hard time getting people to understand. When I recorded “Like You” I decided to put a high pitched ringing in the song, just like what I hear every day. It’s called tinnitus. The first time I played the recording for my friends I could see them shifting in their seats. I had their attention, it was very liberating. Finally someone could understand a little of what I was going through.
I have progressive hearing loss and tinnitus. I’m completely deaf in my right ear and half in my left. Doctors cannot pinpoint why I’m losing my hearing or whether I’ll lose more. I’ve never wanted my hearing loss to define me or my music, but it’s something that’s certainly important to the way I view and experience the world, and it has never been something I’ve allowed to limit or define me. I’d rather be defined by how I’ve decided to deal with my hearing loss and pursue music as long as I can. Musically, I’m greatly influenced by Norah Jones, Jack White, The Avett Brothers, and Brandi Carlile. These musicians are all great masters of simplicity in their own way. A “less is more” approach always seems to yield a great song! And with that mindset, maybe less hearing can mean more in some way too. But today I’ve been listening to Neutral Milk Hotel on my new record player! I’m about to flip over the record and listen to it again.
I didn’t sit down to write “Like You” thinking I should write a song about my hearing loss. It was a heat of the moment write, when the news had finally sunk in that I could lose all of my hearing very soon. I was crying on my front porch and it just poured out of me. When I first recorded a demo of the song I decided to put a high pitched ringing into the track, just like what I hear everyday. I didn’t want the song to be a woe is me tune. I wanted it to be an experience, a way for people to understand what I was going through physically and emotionally. Hearing loss isn’t like a broken leg, it’s not something you can see. It’s easy for people to forget you have it and difficult to understand what life with hearing loss is like. “Like You” has given me a way to show people a glimpse of what I go through daily. I’d like to keep pushing the envelope of way to make my songs experience driven.
My process as an artist is no different with hearing loss and tinnitus. It’s simply pushed me to pursue music wholeheartedly while I can. But it can make things more difficult, like when it comes to live performances, hearing the mix in my monitors can be a hassle. There are many instances when I cannot hear myself or a part of my band. Fortunately singing isn’t all about hearing yourself. It’s about feeling as well. Whether or not I can hear myself clearly in the monitors on stage, I know what it feels like when I sing a certain way and end up leaning on that when the monitors fail me.
I don’t wear hearing aids. I wore one up until I was 8 years old, when I only had hearing loss in my right ear. It wasn’t a Cochlear Implant, just a simple amplifying aid. But once my right ear lost all hearing I stopped wearing the aid. Doctors believe my right ear hearing loss is due to nerve damage. A cochlear implant wouldn’t work in my case. The hearing loss in my left ear is an anomaly as well. It looks like a normal working ear in every way. Doctors haven’t been able to give me a reason as to why I’m losing hearing in that ear.
Someone asked me the other day if I would stop playing music if I loose all of my hearing. The answer was a quick “no”. I’d live a very sad life if I didn’t have music. Whether or not I can hear something I will keep on making noise. Losing my hearing has pushed me to pursue my dreams right now instead of waiting around and playing it safe. I’m on a timer and I’m going to make the most of my time while I’ve got it!