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Canterbury progressive rock quartet Syd Arthur have just returned home to England after spending most of their summer touring in America. When I caught up with bass player and vocalist Joel Magill on Tuesday, he had been back only 10 days and was already caught in the flurry of promotion surrounding the band’s second album ‘Sound Mirror’, which was released back in May on Harvest Records.
It was through Harvest Records that I first became acquainted with Syd Arthur earlier this year at SXSW 2014. On the first night of the festival, I saw them play at the Harvest Records showcase on the same bill as Glass Animals and Arthur Beatrice. (You can read my recap of that evening right here.) When I ask Magill about the band’s experience in Austin, he says, “there’s nothing quite like it, actually, in our experience anyway, our limited experience. So yeah, we had an amazing time. We played a load of gigs, and it was all over good music, you know, interesting characters and people.”
This year wasn’t Syd Arthur’s first appearance at SXSW. Magill talks about the band’s trip to Austin in 2013 as an important stepping stone for them. “We got some funding from the PRS here in England to come over the year before, and that’s where we somehow managed to stick our heads out enough for people to pay attention and that sort of started the whole journey for us, signing our deal with Harvest Records and stuff.”
Syd Arthur is comprised of bassist Magill and his brother, lead vocalist and guitarist Liam Magill, along with Fred Roster on drums and Raven Bush on violin, keyboards and mandolin. Joel Magill describes the band members’ musical backgrounds as being very fluid in nature. “Raven studied music for most of his life, traditionally trained as a violinist for a long time when he was growing up as a kid, playing in orchestras and things like that, but [he was] at the same time also very interested in this other kind of weird music, weird electronica or things like this. And the rest of us, we’re basically all just self-taught musicians. We’d just jam and just get interested in exploring different rhythms, different time signatures, things like that, and we just kind of found ourselves just exploring them naturally.”
The four of them have been making music together since their school days, says Magill. “We spent ages just playing live and trying to develop our sound. So we have actually been technically a band for maybe 8 or 9 years.” Alongside learning their instruments, they also found themselves becoming interested in the recording process, starting with recording other bands and experimenting with recording their own music as well.
“We got really into recording and getting into that whole side of things, we just really went on this huge journey, the kind of culmination of which was our [first album ‘On An On’, released in 2012]. Although we’d recorded stuff in the past and released it, this was the first time we’d kind of like tried to make a statement on a record. So it was a big long journey towards making that album, which we made ourselves in our studio, recorded ourselves and mixed ourselves. It was our little baby that we just kind of created in our own little world, you know in Canterbury. And then yeah, just put it out there and we started getting amazing reactions straightaway in England, and that was the whole journey to getting the funding to come out there to America. So yeah, really, the last 2, 2 and a half years have been amazing.”
‘Sound Mirror’ is Syd Arthur’s second self-produced effort, and Magill describes the band’s recording process as a fine-tuned combination of rehearsal and spontaneity. “We basically just set up in the studio so we can play as a live band. [We] just start working on the tune and take as long as we feel is necessary, just playing it and getting a really good version of it as a band. We try not to overplay it, that’s an important thing in the studio, to try and keep this freshness, the spontaneity and stuff. And we all work stuff out in the studio as well. We just record like a basic track live, and we spend a lot of time figuring that out in the rehearsal studio before we come into the recording studio. So that when we come in we can kind of fine tune a few things and just nail a few things and also keep it fresh. And then we just kind of layer on top of those tracks that we’ve made live. There’s always a live underpinning and then we build on top of that with everything else.”
Though the band have done most of their own production work in the past, Magill says they wouldn’t be opposed to working with a producer if the opportunity presented itself. “We’ve just never really been put in a position to do that, you know? We’ve done some experimental sessions with people before, like Chris Hughes, we did some experimental sessions with him. When we were making this album as well, we spent a couple of weekends with Paul Weller in the studio, and that was just a completely different experience, being in the studio with him, seeing how him and his producer worked together. We’d love to work with the right producer, I think. I think it would potentially help take it to the next level. It’s just that we have this facility, you know, we have this studio, we love recording ourselves, and so we can just go in there whenever we want and make use of the space. We’d love to try doing something with a producer at some point. We could easily just make another 20 albums ourselves, but we need to learn in a different way, you know?”
Syd Arthur’s 2014 tours in America included support slots for Sean Lennon’s band The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, with whom they became acquainted at SXSW this year, and English progressive rock veterans Yes. “It was an interesting pairing,” Magill says of playing support for Yes, “but ultimately it worked. It was a really positive experience for us and we got really amazing reactions from the crowd and stuff, so it was pretty cool.” Talking about the tour experience overall, he says, “we played some lovely venues, big venues, and it was really good to get such a positive reaction, actually, throughout the whole tour.”
Despite the association with Yes, Magill is hesitant to describe Syd Arthur as a progressive rock band. “We don’t actually consider ourselves to be a prog rock band. We love progressive music and stuff but, you know we just listen to so much else, and we kind of feel like all of that other music we listen to is represented in what we do as well. Whether that’s classic rock and psychedelic music, world music, and even jazz and folk music we listen to a lot. So yeah, there’s definitely this progressive element to it, but we wouldn’t pigeon-hole ourselves so much toward a particular genre.”
Following on their touring in America, Syd Arthur are set to embark on their own headline tour of the UK starting tomorrow, the 17th of September. Magill and his bandmates are looking forward to playing their own shows after spending the summer opening for other bands. “The stuff we’ve been doing in the States has been support shows, and they’re great for introducing ourselves to a new audience, but it’s kind of not your show and you have a much shorter set length. So we’re really looking forward to doing these [UK)] shows, because they’re ours, and we can play a longer set and jam out and be a bit freer.”
Because their studio recordings are so live-orientated and well-rehearsed, Magill says that Syd Arthur’s live stage arrangements for allow for some spontaneous improvisation. “We do have to change a little bit how we do it because of the different things we want to draw attention to in a song, you know, how we might have layered things. We’re only four people, so it’s basically a bit more stripped back. But also live, we jam out a bit more. On our records, we can be a bit more concise, so then live we just try and do things a little bit differently so we’ll extend some sections and we’ll jam out, the improvised sections will be longer. We enjoy doing it and it’s nice to have slightly different arrangements of the tunes live than on the record. The energy of improvising really does, in our opinion, work best when it’s being experienced live, you know?” Extensive improvisation might prove to be more of a challenge for the band at this point, as Josh Magill, brother of Liam and Joel, stands in for Rother on drums.
Looking beyond their upcoming headline dates, Syd Arthur will see ‘Autograph’, the third single from ‘Sound Mirror’, released on the 6th of October. Despite the relative newness of ‘Sound Mirror’, Magill says the band is already thinking ahead to making their next album. “We kind of want to take a bit more time making this record. The last one was kind of quick [after the first], so the new one, we will take a bit longer with. We’ve got some things in the pipeline for later in the year, none of which are set in stone yet. But there is a little window for us to take a bit of time to just reflect on everything and we’re going to start jamming some new ideas.”
Thanks to Joel for taking the time to chat with me, as well as to Kat and Andy for coordinating the interview. TGTF would also like to congratulate Syd Arthur on being named Breakthrough Artist of 2014 at the recent Progressive Music Awards.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 16th September 2014 at 11:00 am
Yes, it’s September, and summer festival season is over. But that doesn’t mean that Young Kato are taking any breaks. The Cheltenham group released their latest EP this week, titled ‘Sunshine’. (You can read my In the Post analysis of the track here.)
I had the opportunity to chat with their rather well-coiffed Young Kato frontman Tommy Wright at Liverpool Sound City back in May. It was a particularly busy weekend that saw the group from Cheltenham play a show at Live at Leeds that Saturday afternoon before travelling west for their appearance at the Zanzibar in Scouseland. “Everywhere we go, we’re still quite a small band, up and coming, we expect to play to no-one, so when we walk in to something like Live at Leeds, where there are so many bands to choose from and you have a full room, what a great atmosphere. It’s a great experience.”
As strongly supported by the comments of Henry Binns in Carrie’s recent Skype interview with the producer/musician of Zero 7, song syncing in television is now an important source of revenue for bands. But what seems more important in the case of Young Kato is the visibility leading to fame. There is no denying that the size of the throngs that now seem to follow the six-piece around the country are at least in part a direct benefit from their music being played on and their gig associations with E4 reality drama Made in Chelsea, which has clearly made the band much more well known in the country. When I asked him about how it happened, Wright said he wasn’t sure how MiC’s music producer Andrea found their music, but “she played us a few times in the background, they put us on a Spotify playlist, and the script was written with the idea that there would be a band on the show, playing live. Fortunately, she pushed for us and so that’s how it came about. And it’s been amazing for us, obviously.”
He also told me an amusing anecdote about how he’d still been working in a shop around the time when the episode with their live appearance aired and the next morning, “someone walked into the shop and stared at me for a long, long time and asked, ‘were you on tv last night?’ ‘Uh, yeah…” Still, he said at the time the guys don’t expect to be recognised when they’re out and about but when they are, it’s really nice to be noticed. I think it’s safe to say that they should be getting comfortable with the notion of this now, having graduated to a contract with major label BMG, “a force to be reckoned with”.
This past weekend, I was lucky enough to touch base with Tommy again to see how their summer had been. “Our summer was great, thank you! We’ve been kept busy playing festies and writing more and more music. Highlights have to be playing BST Hyde Park, [our] London headline show at the Islington and writing/recording the upcoming EP.” I prodded him for more about the ‘Sunshine’ EP and how it fits in the ongoing Young Kato story. “I believe ‘Sunshine’ is a perfect representation to where we are as a band at this very moment. We’re in very good place, hence the joyous and carefree vibe. Not everyone’s the same, but it’s completely natural to me for my writing to be dictated by how I’m feeling at the time.”
It sounds like the new EP is a good next progression for the band such that they’re not staying in the same place, while also not saying goodbye to what has made them already fast fan favourites all over the UK. “The songs on the EP certainly keep with the Young Kato sound and feel. I’d say ‘Sunshine’ leans more towards [former single] ‘Drink, Dance, Play’ due to its natural energy, chants and all. I’m most proud of track two, ‘Ultraviolet’, as it is heavily inspired by big ‘80s tunes. [Bandmate and guitarist Joe] Green and I have even included breathing loops throughout, inspired by a Kraftwerk song we stumbled upon around the time we were writing it. This EP is fun, a celebration of where we’re at right now.” I also asked that given that we’re closing in on astrological autumn, if he or the band had any reservations on the release date in September for an album clearly made in a sunnier, warmer environment. His reply was brilliant: “I guess it is slightly weird, but that’s the beauty of music. Music has the ability to brighten up even the darkest, coldest days.” That’s very true, isn’t it?
The promo video for ‘Sunshine’ released in early August doesn’t star the band – I’m sure many fans are mourning over this – but instead features a young girl listening to music on her headphones, dancing in her own dream world although she’s actually in a council estate. Tommy explains the premise: “The ‘Sunshine’ video for me needed to be simplistic and sunny. This would allow our song with a joyous chorus, big chants and hooks to be the centre point. Given that, we always take care in the aesthetics of a video, hand picking directors we like who cinematically are [at the] top of their game.” This attention to detail is, to me, yet another indicator of Young Kato’s great pride in being in a band and making music for the masses.
Going back to the song, I had to ask Tommy what the deal was with the saxophone. “We had the hook nailed in the song for a long time, then we set off to investigate sounds that would be best suited for the role. When researching back to some great ‘90s dance tunes and even some more current songs around at the moment, Harry [Steele, their keyboardist] thought the use of a saxophone would be ideal. There’s only one tune with the sax unfortunately, and that’s ‘Sunshine’! It’s something we’d definitely think about using again though.”
Finally, before I could leave the young Mr Wright alone, I had to ask how progress was coming along with their debut album release. In Liverpool in May, he’d said that they were the ultimate in perfectionists, going back into the studio to faff around with already worked on tune again. This time when I asked though, it sounds like things are set in stone, or are at least closer to being that way: “The album is on its way and we can guarantee that an album will be out, [we’re] looking at early next year! We’ve been adding some finishing touches to it, but it will be everything we’ve promised and more. Keep your eyes peeled.” And that we shall.
Many thanks to Tommy for being so kind to answer my questions yet again (we’re either headed towards becoming best buds or he already thinks I’m super annoying, ha!) and Paul for his assistance with this. You can listen to ‘Light It Up’ from the EP below, and for more TGTF writing on Young Kato, head this way.
For the release of her ‘Hard as Hello’ EP earlier this year, Kimberly Anne held a release party at London’s Social. Such was the demand from the hundreds stuck outside that she had to perform twice on the same night to ensure everyone went home happy. It’s the personal touch that makes Kimberly stand out, not only as a person, but in her music. Following the release of her ‘Liar’ EP last month, Kimberly spoke to TGTF about her latest release and her plans for the future.
It’s no secret that Kimberly had an unconventional way of getting into music, as she explained. “Originally, I wrote poetry and I performed it at poetry nights in South London. I was learning the keyboard at the same time, so I’d take my keyboard along, play some chords and sing a few repetitive lines in the middle. One day, someone sort of tapped me on the shoulder and was like: ‘Do you reckon that you’re just a singer-songwriter?’ I was like: ‘Oh, yeah.’ It wasn’t the most natural thing at the beginning because I thought I was just a poet and an actress, but I got into telling stories through music.”
Throughout her music, Kimberly Anne has had a DIY approach, using items and furniture that she found around the house as instruments: “At first, I didn’t have a drum kit and I couldn’t get my hands on one. In my initial demos, they were actually quite DIY, as I was recording with IKEA tables and stuff. What I found from going through that process was that I couldn’t replicate some of those sounds in the studio. They just didn’t sound the same, so we kept in some of the quirkiness. It got me excited, and it put me in a bit of an experimental sort of journey.”
“On one of my singles called ‘Hard as Hello’, we have a two second sample of a SEGA Megadrive Sonic game. On ‘Liar’, a lot of the drum fills are actually my drummer playing on an empty water cooler bottle. We like to have a bit of fun in the studio. I think that’s the way it should be.”
‘Liar’ is the lead single from the EP of the same name, which was released on the 22nd of August. Kimberly describes the EP as “a musical playground”. “I got the opportunity to work with some really cool producer”, she explains, “It was a good chance for me to explore where I wanted to take my music before putting the album out. It was a chance for me to show people a reflection of what the album’s going to sound like.”
One of the tracks on the EP, ‘Almost on My Feet’, was written and produced within 4 hours using a home demo set-up: “I don’t normally write like that, but it’s actually been really valuable. It taught me to just accept what happens in the moment and to not always try and achieve perfection.”
Speaking about her forthcoming debut album, which is set to be released in the first half of 2015, Kimberly said that she hopes “people feel like they’ve heard a girl’s honest story. I just want it to be a genuine record. I’m an acoustic pop artist with a dash of indie for good measure and I hope I successfully get across an album that is a little bit more adventurous. I want it to be more exciting than just a straight singer/songwriter, girl with her guitar record. That’s definitely not all that I am.”
Prior to the release of her album (apart from “learning how to cook”), Kimberly is releasing a number of collaboration tracks. While she is playing her cards close to her chest, she did reveal that she has teamed up with D/C, fellow South Londoner Dan Caplan who recently joined Kimberly on stage at her London headline show. “The whole point of the collaborations process was that I wanted to go work with people that I’ve just known about for the last couple of years and that I’ve really been feeling. I just want to get in a room with them and just make something. D/C is just brilliant and I think he’s going to do so well. I just had to be in a room with him. I wanted to see what we created.”
“The rest of the collabs are quite different, so they’re not all in that realm. D/C’s quite soul/electronic, but there’s a vast range of genres that are going to be involved.”
Many thanks to Kimberly Anne for chatting with us and to Danny for sorting this interview out for us. Kimberly Anne’s ‘Liar’ EP is out now on Polydor Records. Catch her on the Communion New Faces tour, which commences in November and also stars FYFE, Oxford pop quartet Pixel Fix and Nottingham five-piece Amber Run.
Last week, Irish art rockers Bell X1 began part 2 of the touring cycle for ‘Chop Chop’, their fifth studio album that was released back in July 2013. When I caught up with frontman Paul Noonan via e-mail a few days ago, he was surprisingly frank about the album’s reception thus far. “To be honest we hoped it would have gotten to more ears by now. When we made the record we had such fire for it, and were aching to get it out there. We love playing so we’re glad to be out again, but we had hoped we’d get to visit a lot more places in the US this second time around.”
In my interview with him from last spring, Noonan talked about the “mentality shift” that went into the making of ‘Chop Chop’, particularly with regard to technical skill and playing the songs live. “We really wanted to do it quickly and mine a little more instinct and intuition and become better musicians.” He emphasised the live aspect of the band’s music as not just the end result, but an important part of the songwriting process. “Initially, actually, we wanted to make two short albums, and call one ‘Chop’ and the other ‘Chop’ and then have some kind of a way of connecting them that they would become ‘Chop Chop’. The time from making a record to it actually getting out is often frustratingly long, and often you spend 6 months or so sitting on a record you’ve made and are burning to get out and play and to bring to people. And so we wanted to make a record and put it out very quickly and then tour that, and then (repeat the cycle)”.
While events didn’t work out exactly according to that plan, circumstances did conspire to highlight a few other dualities surrounding Bell X1 relative to ‘Chop Chop’. The band spent the remainder of last year on the first part of the album’s tour cycle, including the October 2013 live date reviewed here. They then took a brief hiatus, which saw two of the band members working on side projects. Noonan introduced his treble-oriented duet project Printer Clips, which realised the idea of combining two component parts into a single unit. Meanwhile, multi-instrumentalist David Geraghty continued his understated solo work under the new title Join Me in the Pines. Noonan puts the side projects into perspective, saying that they fit comfortably into Bell X1’s current touring schedule. “Musicians and writers have a lot of time to make stuff, or to avoid making it, or to dream up new ideas for one day making stuff. And sometimes the stuff gets made. I suppose the band has become a hub from which lots of other projects have sprung over the years, and long may it continue. Sometimes there’s a clearing of the head required alright, when it comes time to work on new material as a band.”
After a busy start to 2014 with activity from both side projects, this summer saw Bell X1 reunite for a handful of festival dates in Ireland before they embarked on their first-ever tour of Australia in July. Of the antipodean experience, Noonan says, “It’s a hell of a long way down. We’ve been wanting to go for a while, so it was great to finally get there, and for people to show up to the gigs phew! It was a mad, spacey dash around the country in a week.”
Bell X1 began the North American leg of their autumn tour this past Tuesday in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Noonan hints that the set lists for these shows might be less focused on the recent ‘Chop Chop’. “We’ve added a few songs from other records to the pack this time out, it’s been good to get them together. We’ve been juggling various ideas for the set, trying something new every night so far.” Their opening act for the tour is Los Angeles singer/songwriter Gabriel Kahane. If Bell X1’s past support acts, which have included Lyla Foy and Duke Special, are any indication, Kahane should prove to be another undiscovered musical treasure. A full list of North American tour dates can be found on Bell X1’s official Web site.
Looking beyond the completion of their North American dates, Noonan says, “There’s some moonlighting to be done when we get home with the solo/side projects, some shows in Ireland. We’ve been offered some shows in the Middle East in December, so I’m hoping that will happen.” He is also cryptically optimistic about the potential new Bell X1 music in the near future. “We’ve been working on new songs over the summer. It’s been great to feel that thrill of jumping on that train again, glimpses of where the songs might go and what rags they may wear.”
Thanks to Paul Noonan for taking time to answer my questions, and to Foye for facilitating the e-mail exchange.
Studio-based electronic music duo Zero 7 put out a handful of new tracks over the summer, culminating in the collective release of their new digital only EP ‘Simple Science’ on the 18th of August. We recently featured a review of the EP, but as I discovered last week, the tracks were never really intended as a concentrated work. Rather, they individually represent the creative mindset of musicians who have earned themselves a certain degree of artistic freedom.
Last Thursday morning Mountain Standard Time, or Thursday afternoon for those on British Summer Time, I had the pleasure of chatting with Zero 7’s Henry Binns over my first cup of coffee. Our editor and resident electro expert Mary Chang was originally slated to do the interview herself, but due to a last-minute schedule change, she asked me to fill in. Despite my unfamiliarity with electronic music in general and specifically with Zero 7, I was intrigued by the band’s latest single ‘Simple Science’, having heard it on BBC 6music earlier in the week. Armed with Mary’s carefully curated list of questions, I fired up Skype on my laptop and placed the scheduled transatlantic call.
My very superficial introduction to Zero 7 had been through coverage of another English artist, Bo Bruce, who talked about having worked with Binns on her 2013 album ‘Before I Sleep’. (You can read that interview, which was also conducted over an early morning cup of coffee here.) Even just hearing Bruce discuss her work with Binns, I quickly understood that Zero 7 were well-respected and influential studio musicians. What I didn’t know until Binns patiently talked me through an abridged version of the band’s history was that Zero 7 had some important early career influences of their own.
Binns and Sam Hardaker started Zero 7 in the late 1990s, after having met at school and beginning together as sound engineers at London’s famed RAK Studios. They eventually teamed up with another friend and schoolmate, Nigel Godrich, to start their own electro dance studio, Shabang. Godrich had begun doing some engineering work with Radiohead and was tapped to co-produce their 1997 album ‘OK Computer’. In what Binns calls “the mother of all lucky breaks”, he and Hardaker were given the chance to remix a track from that album, ‘Climbing Up the Walls’, which propelled their careers into the public spotlight. Binns would also receive a rhythm sampling credit on Radiohead’s next album ‘Kid A.’
Zero 7 released two EPs on Ultimate Dilemma Records before dropping their debut studio album ‘Simple Things’ in 2001. Featuring vocals by Sia of recent ‘Chandelier’ fame, as well as Mozez and Sophie Barker, the album went gold and was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. Zero 7 would release another album, 2004’s ‘When It Falls’, before signing to Atlantic Records for 2006 LP ‘The Garden’ and 2009 LP ‘Yeah Ghost’. These last two albums saw Zero 7 begin to experiment with their sound, enlisting new vocalists and taking a more upbeat tack to their normally downtempo sound.
In 2010, Atlantic issued a Zero 7 compilation album called ‘Record’, which Binns described to me as “a bit weird, given that we’ve never had a hit record, really.” After touring that album, Binns and Hardaker found themselves at a natural pause. “Basically, we’d sort of finished a chapter and I think we sort of needed to stop, having done it solidly for 10, 15 years. We were writing LPs, you know, because that’s what you do, and it’s nice to do that. But it’s lovely right now just be able to not think about it and just go in the studio and say ‘What shall we do today? Ok, cool, we’re going with this, let’s go for it’”.
The pair’s new tracks do pick up where they left off in that experimental, pop-leaning thought process. While he acknowledges Godrich as a important mentor to Zero 7, Binns says that at this point in their careers, he and Hardaker are drawing from a “big cauldron of influences”, including r&b, disco and house. “My history in music is more r&b-based–rhythm and blues, not Chris Brown, know what I mean? Whereas Thom and Nige started listening to The Smiths. Now, you know, we’re all coming back, we all hate where we started and want to be the other guy! That’s the impression I get anyway of our music now.”
One of the most apparent influences on Zero 7’s more upbeat recent music is the pervasively sunny “Los Angeles sound” brought to ‘Simple Science’ by producer and singer/songwriter Tommy Leonard. That warm, bright sound is an interesting contradiction to the lyrical message of ‘Simple Science’, explains Binns. “I think it’s a dark song, ‘Simple Science’, it’s about a relationship that just isn’t working. I think people miss that because it’s very bright and the chorus is all quite happy and up. And I suppose maybe it’s quite a male thing, to think that, you know, this should all be so simple, and we love each other, but it just isn’t working. That’s basically what it’s saying. In a very, very upbeat way, but I think it’s bittersweet, it’s always got to be bittersweet.”
The vocals on ‘Simple Science’ were provided by vibe singer Danny Pratt, who also worked with Zero 7 on 2013 track ‘On My Own’ (audio below). Like many of Zero 7’s vocalists, Pratt was introduced to the pair through mutual friends. Binns says that he connected instantly with an intangible but “profoundly moving” emotional quality in Pratt’s demo. Those vocals, along with the arpeggiated synth theme described as “Frankie Knuckles-esque” in the ‘Simple Science’ press release, comprise the large scale brushstrokes of the song. “That was just an interesting twist for us to put that sort of thing against this very happy song. We’re always looking for something to twist it. That seems to be the pain that me and Sam go through in order to get stuff that we’re happy with.”
Binns explains the process of finding just the right sounds as quite painstaking, right down to the fine details. “I want to be able to say that no, we wrote ‘Moondance’ on the fag packet before the session and cut it in three days, but no, it is very difficult.” In that context, he talks about cutting the radio version of ‘Simple Science’, which truncates the song from around 8 minutes down nearer to 4. “We’ve spent so much time talking about why do we have to do this. We like the 12-inch, the journey, the whole (process) of going through it. ‘Simple Science’ potentially is quite a normal pop song, you know, and I think it sort of needs that to sort of give it some metal. Once you truncate it down, as you say, into a palatable FM radio format, suddenly you’re like, ‘Oh…bummer’. But listen, you know what, I quite like that radio edit, if I’m honest. And hopefully people like it and they are sort of slightly salivating over it, and they’ll be happy to get the full, blissful journey.”
‘Simple Science’ was released in July on 12″ vinyl with a track called ‘Red, Blue and Green’ as its B-side. ‘Red, Blue and Green’ is a dub version of an as-yet unreleased song with vocals by Resa, another vocalist Zero 7 has been working with, “who’s a fantastic singer and you will get to hear more of her voice, I promise.” Binns describes the evolution of ‘Red, Blue and Green’ as quite spontaneous. “We didn’t really have a sort of visual trajectory, you know, that doesn’t seem to ever be our driving force. It’s just, getting the thing to work, you know. We put a beat on it. It never had a beat. And then we put a bass line on it, and we were just building it up, this whole song got ripped down to just that little vocal thing that you can hear. We just went off on a journey and followed that journey. And I love it. It took probably the longest to mix that one, from a sonic point of view, we spent a long time trying to get it just right.”
Only 2 weeks after the ‘Simple Science’ vinyl release, Zero 7 dropped another 12″, this one featuring ‘Take Me Away’, which Binns thinks of as “a straight-up disco” track with vocals by Only Girl. Despite its placement as the A-side track on the disc, Binns talks about its hidden treasure quality. “You know, I love disco music, and I promise you I wasn’t jumping on the bandwagon, we have always been into it. But I like that one, people haven’t picked up on it in the same way, and I think it’s a shame. It’s almost got that sort of B-side thing about it, which I absolutely love.”
The actual B-side to that disc is a techno-dance track called ‘U Know’. Initially conceived after a night at Block9, the after-hours portion of the Glastonbury Festival, the music reflects its anxious energy and constantly shifting focus of attention. Binns relates that experience from 2013: “I think Julio Bashmore was playing that particular night, and we just really got into the spirit of it and had a brilliant night. One of those nights to remember, and it was inspiring to us. I think it was the memory that kind of kept on coming back to me and Sam.”
Even while discussing the inspiration behind ‘U Know’, Binns is careful not to ascribe too much context to the new songs. He points out here that while the tracks have been released as a digital set, they weren’t necessarily conceived as part of a larger release. “It’s important to note with this whole EP thing, Sam and I, at the moment, are very, very happy doing some songs, finishing them, not really knowing exactly where they’re going and enjoying just putting music out to people who listen. We were feeling quite summery, and that kind of music seemed to suit this summer. And I think we’ve now got an EP that is much more autumnal. I won’t put too many more words on it than that. Is there an LP at the end of it, can we marry up ‘Simple Science’ with a more sort of, for want of a better word, introspective sound? Possibly, yes. I mean looking at our history we probably will, but I don’t know. The fact of the matter is we’re just getting on with it.”
The discussion of context naturally leads to the question of Zero 7’s music being used in film and television. Probably the most well-known example of that is the drug scene in the Zach Braff film ‘Garden State’, which uses Zero 7 track ‘In the Waiting Line’ as its background music. Binns talks about ‘Garden State’ as a “game changer, particularly in the US, because I think that album soundtrack was pretty big. I guess you could call it a cult classic, right? I mean, it actually ended up being that.”
When I ask Binns about their songs being taken out of context in that way, he is decisive in his response. “I mean, look, by definition they have, but I think where they’ve worked it’s been really good. I mean, there’s been a lot of crap, but I can’t sniff at that because that is really my main source of income. We’ve been very, very lucky, and it’s not something you brag about, but it does bring in the money to let you do what you want to do. And you know, it’s not that easy in the music business these days. But the really successful examples of where we’ve been synced in movies have been really good. It’s helped the music, you know. It’s given it a whole new audience.”
Zero 7’s digital EP ‘Simple Science’ is out now on Make Records. The limited edition 12″ vinyl singles for ‘Simple Science’ and ‘Take Me Away’ are available at Zero 7’s official merchandise Web site.
Many thanks to Henry for taking the time to talk with me, and to Jeff for arranging the interview.
Alec and Becca King are better known as This Boy That Girl, a brother and sister pop/hip-hop duo from Los Angeles. The siblings are currently supporting Aaron Carter on his American dates and are a part of the Anti-Bullying Tour. They took some time out from their busy schedule to talk to There Goes The Fear.
This Boy That Girl was formed three years ago when Becca would play acoustic guitar and Alec would freestyle over it. Inspired by the likes of Gwen Stefani, Avril Lavigne, Eminem and Ed Sheeran, the duo have recently released their first EP, ‘Breaking Bad’ (no relation to the crime drama television series of the same name).
‘Sweet Life’ is the lead single from the EP which, according to Becca, is about “hanging out with your friends and just having a good time”. She continued: “It’s not about having everything you could ever want, it’s about appreciating what you have and making your life a ‘Sweet Life’”. The music video for ‘Sweet Life’, which was directed by Sequoia B, shows This Boy That Girl dancing and partying in colourful environments. “It was so much fun,” said Becca, “It was our first legit video shoot so we were so excited. All our friends came out and it was fun.”
The duo are currently supporting Aaron Carter on his American tour. Becca described the experience as “really awesome! The fans are amazing and Aaron is super cool”. As well as the Aaron Carter tour, This Boy That Girl are also a part of the Anti-Bullying Tour – a 20 city tour spearheaded by Champions Against Bullying. “We’ve been sharing our story through our music with our audience,” the pair said, “Most of the fans are from high schools and middle schools. It’s been amazing.”
Siblings are well known for not getting on with each other, but this doesn’t seem to be the case with This Boy That Girl. “We’ve had small sibling rivalry things but nothing huge,” said Becca, “It’s all fun and we have each other’s back at the end of the day.” As for the future, This Boy That Girl are going to “keep writing and performing”. Becca added: “If you haven’t heard of us yet… you will.”
This Boy That Girl’s debut EP ‘Breaking Bad’ is out now on Big Dream Productions.
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