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Faces Behind the Screen: Zoë Nutt

Zoë Nutt
Photo: Alexandra Justice

Losing one’s ability to hear doesn’t also have to mean losing one’s ability to make music.

Just ask Zoë Nutt, an emerging singer/songwriter from Knoxville, TN who’s lived without hearing in her right ear for most of her life.

By the time she was 8 years old, Zoë was completely deaf in her right ear — the result of a gradually worsening hearing condition from the time of her birth. Nonetheless, Zoë was always very passionate about music, singing in choirs and school theater productions all through high school.

Zoë’s drive to do more with her talents led her to study classical music at Belmont University where, eventually, she was accepted into a very competitive songwriting program.

Right around the time she was accepted something happened that threatened to end her musical pursuits altogether.

That same semester, my left ear started going out.

…I kind of felt a little sick one day, like I had a cold or something. And the next day, my left ear was stuffed up to a point where I couldn’t speak with someone standing right in front of me. I could barely distinguish what they were saying. And it was very scary… It was this very scary moment where I thought I was going to lose all of my hearing because just in a single day I had lost so much.

It was this very scary moment where I thought I was going to lose all of my hearing…

Also experiencing tinnitus in her left ear, Zoë went to the doctor to try and find out what was going on.

They gave me steroids and I gained a little of that hearing back in my left ear.

My doctors don’t know why the left ear decided to fail out of nowhere. They don’t know what is causing. I’ve done lots of tests. I’ve done genetic testing. I’ve done just all your basic testing, looking every which way at this ear. They can’t find anything wrong.

Zoë realized she had reached an impasse. Without knowing exactly when, how, or why, she could ultimately lose her hearing altogether.

That didn’t stop her from writing lyrics. The whole experience led her to write a song called “Like You,” which is about what her life could be like in the future if she loses all of her hearing.

I wrote “Like You” after one of the doctor appointments when it really sunk in. This is here to stay. It isn’t going to go away.

…It wasn’t a calculated thing, like “I should write a song about this.” I just started writing in my notebook, and that became the first two verses.

The song eventually turned into a letter to her future child, whom she’s worried she will never be able to hear because of her hearing loss. Zoë hasn’t had children yet, so during the writing process, she reached out to someone more familiar with that experience.

I spoke to my mother about it, and she gave me her thoughts, which was helpful. Writing a song about someone I don’t know, a child I’ve never had… I don’t know what it’s like to have kids, but my mother does, so we talked about that a lot and that helped me finish the song.

They’re always there, and they see the importance of me doing this now while I can.

Despite being very conscious of her hearing loss, Zoë’s parents always push her to pursue her musical ambitions. She told us that she learned to truly love lyrics and songwriting from listening to the radio during rides to school with her father.

[My father] would ask me what the songs meant while we were driving to school, and I wasn’t really allowed to get out of the car until I said what they meant and I had to get it right.

Zoë Nutt and her band, The Union
Photo: 105.3 WFIV. Taken at Rhythm N’ Blooms Festival (Knoxville, TN).

When Zoë’s good ear started to lose hearing, it made no difference in her parents’ eyes. They knew how passionate Zoë was about music, her art. They told her to take things to the next level and keep it up despite the obstacles.

[T]he way they looked at it was, ‘you’ve got a timer on, and just push this really hard towards your goals.’

It’s been a huge help. They’ve helped me at every turn, whenever I need some encouragement or if I need a little cash, or whatever comes up. They’re always there, and they see the importance of me doing this now while I can.

From Zoë’s perspective, challenges like hearing loss are just obstacles that shape the paths we follow in life. If we don’t let them, they can’t stop us from moving forward.

For anyone with hearing loss, I’d say just embrace it… Don’t look at it as a disability or as something that’s going to change how you want to do things.

Accept it and make it a better part of your story.

Regardless of what the future has in store for her, Zoë is making the most of the present. And to anyone paying attention, it seems to be paying off.

These days, you can find Zoë singing, playing solo acoustic, on stage with her band, The Union, or performing alongside big names like Young the Giant and Gogol Bordello at various festivals and venues in the Knoxville and Nashville, TN area.

We want to extend a huge thank you to Zoë Nutt for sharing her story with us, and to Nancy Macklin from the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) for putting us in touch.

You can find Zoë’s music on YouTube, Spotify, and NoiseTrade.com where all proceeds from downloads will go to HLAA.

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