Introducing: Zoon’s “Vibrant Colours”

The world’s first “moccasin-gaze” artist explains his grandparents’ unusual influence on his new song.

In my early childhood I lived on and off the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation reservation in Selkirk, Manitoba. I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s and grandfather’s houses, respectively. They weren’t living together anymore so I visited each of them at different times. Growing up I always knew there was something different about each of them but I never fully understood or questioned it. I remember odd instances where I would have to go to my grandfather’s house at specific times each day to dial random phone numbers for him; in other moments my grandmother would forget who I was, even thinking at one point I was trying to break into her house. Near both of their deaths they were diagnosed with terminal illnesses: My grandfather with schizophrenia and my grandmother with brain cancer and dementia. I was eventually told that my grandfather had me dial numbers for him because he heard voices that he believed were listening to his calls and the only way to deter these unknown figures was to have me dial for him. My grandmother forgot who I was because of the two severe illnesses that had marred her mind. When I learned this, it felt like a daunting amount of information at first and I was angry and confused for a long time about it. In hindsight I understood why, though it initially left me feeling incensed. 

After going down my own path into a life full of drugs and alcohol and away from music, I found myself at rock bottom and near death. Something unlocked in my mind and suddenly I felt as though I wanted to live again, to conquer my demons. I made a promise to myself to write about my grandparents, to honor their memories and to let go and forgive. After a tremendous amount of personal reflection, as well as diving back into music head first, I began experimenting with lyrics and melodies and eventually found my way to Chris Chu (The Morning Benders, POP ETC), who helped the songs come alive. I wrote a series of songs about my childhood and mental health and one of those songs became “Vibrant Colours” (which was produced and mixed by Chu). One thing I remember clearly about my grandmother’s dementia was that whenever my mom played guitar with her she’d regain memories. That powerfully impacted me and caused my obsession with music, because now I truly and genuinely saw it as a tool to heal.

In the Ojibway language, the word Zoongide’ewin means “bravery, courage, the Bear Spirit.” It’s no wonder then that Daniel Monkman adopted Zoon as his musical moniker. The Hamilton-based musician has spent the better part of his 28 years channelling that strength to overcome such adversities as racism, poverty, and addiction. Music saved Monkman’s life, and now he wants to share his story. His debut album, Bleached Wavves, will be out on June 19 on Paper Bag Records.