The husband-and-wife musical duo Zoe Speaks consists of Mitch Barrett and Carla Gover, who jump in and out of their Eastern Kentucky vernacular to play everything from traditional ballads to guitar-thumping contemporary acoustic tunes. Their music is drenched in the sounds of the Appalachian music they were raised with, but they draw from other influences and do not try to hold the music static and unchanging. Whether theyre playing as a duo or jamming with a band, vocal harmonies are a defining feature of their sound, and their relaxed performance style and accessible attitude let audiences feel like part of the family. They accompany themselves on guitar, clawhammer banjo, and dulcimer; sometimes Mitch throws in a story or Carla some clogging. The two have won a variety of songwriting awards and tour full-time in a large van with their two daughters, Zoe and Maizie.
Growing up in the foothills of the Appalachians in Madison County, KY, Mitch spent much of his childhood in the homes of his grandfathers. One was a fox hunter and tobacco farmer who plowed with mules; the other was a musician and farmer, of sortshe grew corn with which he made moonshine). In the course of learning these grandfathers trades, there was much time for stories, jokes, and especially music.
Mitch demonstrated musical talent from an early age, performing with his mother in a regionally sought-after mountain duo. At age 17, he set out for the East Coast as part of the folk duo Mandala, which performed for more than 10 years. After moving back to Kentucky, he began to hone his storytelling skills, drawing on the life stories and experiences common to the older generations with which he was familiar but rare among his own. In 1996, he met Carla and decided to refocus on his music career as part of a duo based on songwriting, vocal harmony, and perpetuating Appalachian culture. Since then, Mitch has won both the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest and the prestigious Kerrville New Folk Award.
Carla grew up in the rural Eastern Kentucky coal town of Whitesburg, and her early years were filled with music. She was first immersed in the a cappella hymn singing of her grandmother, Ollie Gilbert Hudsonwho also taught her herbalism, cooking, sewing, quilting, gardening, and many other things she considered to be important to a young womans education. Later Carla absorbed old-time banjo/fiddle at the Saturday-night dances at the schoolhouse, the twang of local bluegrass festivals, and the soul of mountain church music. Her older brother also made a point of exposing her to great songwriters and singers of many genres, including the Beatles, Steve Goodman, John Prine, Tom Waits, and Dolly Parton.
It was always clear to Carla that she wanted to pursue a career in music herself. As a youngster, she played piano, guitar, saxophone, and French horn. In college, she studied music while earning a degree in Appalachian studies and singing in local clubs. Shortly thereafter, she recorded her first album for JuneAppal Records with a mixed cast of bluegrass and old-time musicians. She then moved to the Washington, DC area, where she performed with the percussive dance ensemble Footworks. She returned to Kentucky out of homesickness and a desire to explore a new direction as a singer/songwriter with husband Mitch. She has won the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, and Acoustic Guitar called her one of the 30 essential artists of the next generation.