Zoë Nutt has a reliable sense of grit that sees her through any challenge.
Raised in Knoxville, Tennessee by a musical family, Nutt spent much of her childhood analyzing lyrics, yet believed at the time that music was an “unreachable” profession. In high school, she auditioned for the female lead in the school’s musical. Instead, she was cast in a small male role. But that’s when her determination kicked in – she hired a vocal coach to teach her how to sing classical music in order to attain the leads in the musical theatre productions. “And I did,” she asserts.
Nutt later enrolled at Nashville’s Belmont University as a classical performance major and was a few classes shy of graduating when she felt compelled to apply for the university’s esteemed songwriting program. When she got the acceptance letter, she knew she had both the talent and determination to make music a full-time job. But the new adventure didn’t come without strife. Since the age of eight, Nutt has been totally deaf in her right ear. She also has severe tinnitus, impacting the way she hears specific sounds and communicates with others. “All these sounds, like someone grabbing a water bottle or closing the door, would make me not want to leave the house,” she explains. “It’s strange – you lose your hearing, but you end up being extremely sensitive to certain things at the same time.” Then, during her first semester as a songwriting major, Nutt woke up to discover she had lost a large part of her hearing overnight.
Though the experience was “shocking,” it hasn’t stopped Nutt from pursuing her passions. Though hearing loss is not fundamental to her identity, it does play a noteworthy role in her songwriting. “Although a lot of my songs aren’t about hearing loss, a lot of the themes started focusing towards positive things happening in negative situations,” she describes. “I was definitely feeling that way of having gotten this great opportunity and then basically being told by the universe ‘that’s not in the cards for you with the hearing loss.’ So I’ve always felt that up and down feeling in my songs.”
While recording her sophomore album How Does It Feel, Nutt lost her hearing for an entire month. After multiple suggestions from her doctor, Nutt decided to go through with cochlear implant surgery to help improve her hearing, spending a year recuperating from the surgery before heading back into the studio to record the 10-song album. It was finally released this year, and thoughtfully captures the singer’s stories, which range from reliving her heartbreak due to a cheating ex on “Rewind” to a young woman aiming to break the mold on the self-fulfilling prophecy, “Girl of My Dreams.” But the album closer “Like You” tells a deeply personal story, one that Nutt hasn’t lived yet. The heartbreakingly beautiful song finds Nutt foreshadowing to the day she becomes a mother, saddened to be unable to hear her newborn child, yet hopeful in knowing she’ll feel her child’s love within. “I won’t ever hear you say you love me/I’ll never know whether you can sing/But I can’t wait to watch your lips speak wonders/Cause no one will ever sound like you,” she sings, her voice floating angelically over a melody of strings and subtle steel guitar.
“I’m not one to talk about my hearing loss a ton – it’s a very personal thing. For me to put that out there, that was really hard for a moment,” she says. “I think it’s one of those songs that later on in my life, I’m going to look at differently too, because when I wrote it, I was feeling this immense fear of not being able to hear anyone and that moment of thinking of all those important things in my life that I’m not going to be able to hear.” Writing the song, though, brought healing and new meaning into her life. “Now that I’ve moved on and I’m handling my hearing loss, I’m not in that moment when I’m thinking about it that way. But later on, I think this song is going to hit me really hard in a different way.”
Describing herself as someone who’s often felt like an outsider looking in, Nutt hopes that How Does It Feel will allow her fellow outsiders to feel not only accepted, but understood. “I think that’s what we all want down to our core is to be heard and to be understood,” Nutt refelcts. “I hope people listen to songs and feel a little understood.”