About Zero 7
From backroom bods to the Hollywood Bowl, from tiny specialist shops to a million-selling album, from using more singers than a Broadway musical and trucking on regardless, Zero 7’s story has always been about thinking that little big bigger. How else to explain I Have Seen, a record that brims with the smouldering orchestral soul of a thousand strings, yet was made in a tiny makeshift studio in Swiss Cottage, London?
Long before that studio there were lunchtime spliffs on Hampstead Heath, where 16-year-old schoolkids Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker began what Sam calls “a long conversation about music which has lasted ever since”. Sam’s main concerns were typical of the time – proving he could listen to a whole Herbie Hancock album and smoke a bong without being sick. But he was impressed by Henry’s taste for “slightly effeminate ’80s soul tunes”, people like Teddy Pendergrass who combined sex with a sophisticated grandeur.
The band’s early beginnings were forged when duo Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker worked at Mickie Most’s RAK studios in London. This is where they kept the studio’s visiting stars fed and lubricated whilst honing their production skills, anxious to satisfy their own creative pursuits. They soon set up a studio space in Swiss Cottage and bothered their old friend and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich “incessantly” to let them have a crack at remixing one of the band’s tracks, and the hauntingly dreamy rework of ‘Climbing Up The Walls’ was born. Following support from Gilles Peterson and various notable commissions, the band’s reputation as remixers du jour began to gather pace.
In what has been a recurring theme in Zero 7’s career, the band were quick to push down their own creative doors and began working on their own original material, putting out a self-released, sold-out EP. It was then that Zero 7 as we know them now begun to take true shape- singers Sia, Mozez and Sophie Barker brought new layers of soul to the duo’s jazz-funk roots, resulting in 2001’s million-selling, Mercury-nominated Simple Things. The album’s runaway success meant the band once again faced a new challenge – how to deliver a live set. “We discussed the live thing and decided it’s not something we do, this is a record that was made in the studio, not with a band sitting down playing,” says Henry. “We decided we weren’t gonna do that. Six months later it wasn’t an option.” Live debuts were duly forged at Barcelona’s Sonar and, for their home turf, Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
2004 saw the same line-up reunite for the sophomore When It Falls, adding fourth vocalist Tina Dico into the mix. The album included standout tracks such as ‘Home’ and ‘Somersault’, but the band felt in need of renewed inspiration. Henry had relocated to Glastonbury village and set up a studio there, so the pair began work on The Garden album. This time vocal duties were divided between old friend and collaborator Sia, and Swedish star José González. Despite, or perhaps because of, the bucolic setting, the album sounds more upbeat than its predecessor (see the peppy Throw It All Away or dreamy Futures for evidence); a reflection of Henry’s “liberated feeling of moving somewhere else”.
The Garden won Zero 7 a Grammy nomination in the US, and became their third consecutive gold-seller in the UK. Despite seemingly having found their groove, Sam in particular was hungry for a creative shake-up, and determined to seize the opportunity for change. They hit the road as Ingrid Eto, giving them a vehicle to experiment and try new ideas. The test run delivered tracks that surfaced on fourth album Yeah Ghost- the glitchy, broken electro funk of ‘Ghost sYMbOL’, the classic mellow Zero 7 sound of ‘Swing’ and the motivational message of ‘Everything Up (Zizou)’. Dance-pop anthems ‘Mr McGee’ and ‘Medicine Man’ saw boxfresh talent Eska add a fizzing effervescence to the songs- “That’s what you want from a collaboration, someone to take you somewhere completely different. It was really positive,” says Sam.
Record, a collection of Zero 7 favourites past and present, the album also included a disc of remixes – some previously issued, some brand new commissions – from luminaries such as Carl Craig, Metronomy, Photek, Joker and Madlib.
Zero 7 came an extraordinarily long way in five albums and one decade. But this is an ongoing story. Henry is still beavering away in his Glastonbury studio (in between “milking pigs”, as devout Londoner Sam has it). Sam has re-kitted and reopened the Swiss Cottage premises where it all began, the small space in which the huge, expansive Simple Things was made, whilst the duo ponder how next to squeeze the sound of a cast of thousands from its cramped confines.
In late 2013, and finding themselves with a load of new music and acting as free agents, Zero 7 have decided to follow the model of self-reliance that epitomised their early days and chimes in with the post-Internet musical landscape. Their first new material since the release of ‘Yeah Ghost’ is a white label 12-inch, which features two vocal tracks recorded in their London studio.
Speaking about the new songs, Sam & Henry said: Both tracks were written with singers we haven’t worked with previously. Title track ‘On My Own’ features Danny Pratt (AKA Danny Boy), a native of Canberra, Australia who we met in London last year. This is the first of a couple of songs that we plan to release featuring Danny on vocals. ‘On My Own’ is a hypnotic song, restless, alive with melody that surfaces imperceptibly over spectral guitars before burrowing into your brain, never to leave.
Flip-side track ‘Don’t Call it Love’ is one of many tracks that we have co-written recently with the mysterious and benevolent singer/songwriter Tom Leonard from Los Angeles. ‘Don’t Call it Love’ is soulful, warm and provocative, with Leonard’s voice drifting to the foreground, gliding dreamily through the seductive rhythm of entrancing bass lines, brooding synths and keyboards. These songs are bright and playful or as Sam & Henry put it a bit of sunshine music from the west coast via NW6! .
A further new track ‘Take Me Away’ was released digitally at the end of 2013. To quote the band; ‘Here’s a new track featuring Only Girl on vocals. It’s a Sweat n Glitter number. Made of lost nights, danced away with friends in grotty nightclubs…’
The new material from Zero 7 found the dynamic duo draw from their previous palette of post-club sounds, this time injecting their music with the fresh and soothing vocal tones of new singers from the furthest corners of the globe.
Summer 2014 saw two 12″ vinyl releases of more new material emerge; the Simple Science / Red, Blue & Green (dub copy) 12″ and the “Take Me Away” / U Know 12″. The digital ‘Simple Science EP including all 4 vinyl tracks is out in August. In the band’s words:
“We’re really glad to let you know that we’ve got a couple more vinyl releases coming. We plan to put out two 12″s, the first includes another track featuring the gorgeous Danny Pratt entitled ‘Simple Science’. On the flip is a dub of an unreleased song called ‘Red, Blue and Green’.12″ no.2 includes previous digital release ‘Take Me Away’ featuring (the one and) Only Girl. On the b side of this one is a track we knocked up after a long hang out at Block 9 at Glastonbury last year called ‘U Know’”
More releases will follow in 2014 and into 2015.
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