////ZERO 7////HENRY BINNS////AUGUST 2009////
If you heard the new Zero 7 single, ‘Medicine Man’, you’d be forgiven for not guessing it was them, as the track takes the band into pastures new with sounds that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with their previous releases. Having parted ways with long time collaborator Sia, and effectively gone back to the drawing board to re-think their writing and production methods, there is evidently a whole new thing going on with the Zero 7 vibe, which Henry Binns (on half of the enigmatic duo) kindly calls to explain…
Firstly, your new album (out later this month) is called ‘Yeah Ghost’, can you tell us the idea behind the title?
I mean, it sounds a little bit obvious, but it was a bit of a ghostly time. We’d put ourselves in a difficult position with completely new people on this record. The process was just quiet haunting (laughs). For me I kinda liked it, Sam actually came up with it. The two words are kind of meaningless, which could kind of mean anything, but together…I liked them.
It’s a big change in direction from what we’re used to hearing from Zero 7, what brought about this change?
It wasn’t a conscious decision really. Myself and Sam were just sitting in my house knocking up some stuff. The only conscious decision we made was not to fall into the same vices. In other words, we wanted to try and slightly move into the un-comfort zone. With Sia we’d gone a lot of places together, so we felt we owed it to ourselves to try and do something different.
Was there a particular genre or specific albums you were listening to which influenced this new sound?
Sam did take me to a concert that James Holden was at (who we are really into). It’s kinda like minimal Techno, which is a bit strange. But I really dug that album he did. Also Animal Collective are our new favourite band (laughs), they are kinda cool. We actually thought at one point, ‘oh bollocks to this, we can’t wait around much longer for the clouds to open and for Mrs. Right to appear. So we decided to do this side project called Ingrid Eto. We rented a van, and got some of the guys from the band to just jam in the studio. We’ve never done anything like that before, I mean we’re producers… we haven’t done forty eight nights at the Mean Fiddler (like most bands). So we got in a van and did that and I think that went a long way into shaping the record.
When we last spoke, just before the release of ‘The Garden’, you had just moved to Glastonbury and Sam was on his way to Barcelona…is that still the same set-up?
Well, he didn’t actually make it to Barcelona, but I’m still in Glastonbury, but with this album it’s been a lot more based in London. I’ve been going up there a lot more, although the premise or ideas came from my studio in Godney. I think it sounds less pastural (than ‘The Garden’)
Right, there’s something I’ve always wondered about…you being a Glastonbury resident…is the festival a real pain in the ass for the locals?
Not at all; I sort of imagine that people think its living in Notting Hill during carnival time, where people are pissing in your garden and stuff, but its really not. Actually the festival is in a place called Pilton, (laughs) they call it the Pilton Fayre around my way. It’s about five miles away from Glastonbury town. As a town, Glastonbury never really changes. I mean it hasn’t really got any proper shops (laughs) it’s a load of hemp and Patula oil shops – it’s the mecca of all alternative…
Can we talk a little about the new lady & guest vocalist Eska (and I’m not even going to attempt her surname) Mtungwazi…
Well we don’t mention her surname…(laughs)
How did you get in contact with her, and at the time what did you feel she could bring to the mix?
We had a bunch of things and a few ideas which were beginning to shape up…but basically we were pissing in the wind. A couple of our guys had played in a band with her. We’d seen her in concert and absolutely loved her. We wondered if she might consider coming in to do some stuff. To our astonishment, she actually said yes. She came to Godney and we found that we listened to hours of music together before we’d even written a note – Seals and Croft, Britney Spears, y’know, everything. It was really vibey, which was a real relief for me. We just kinda really hit it off. It had been frustrating. There were a few times I looked at Sam and said ‘do you know what, I think the game is up bruv’, we need to go to the pub. So it was a wonderful relief when she came down.
Do you think this relationship is likely to continue onto future albums?
It’s never really been the same on any album. There’s always been a new member or a new thing. I mean I suppose we had stuck with Sia for a while…but who knows. I had even considered giving Jose a call, but then I thought, ‘come on Binns, we’ve done that one’.
As its such a departure in sound from your previous releases, are you in any way nervous as to how ‘Yeah Ghost’ will be recieved by the Z7 faithful??
Well yeah, I don’t mind telling you, and its just a little bit, but part of you always wants to be liked in the playground, and I’ve got a feeling that Zero 7 fans are really expecting heavenly Ibiza ocean waves, so I think they might have a bit of a shock with this one. Stick with it though – it’s a grower – it’s one of my favourites.
I have to ask this…after such a winning formula that had been established with Sia, why did you part ways?
Well (sighs), I think it’s just a case of us all getting sick of the sight of each other. I love Sia to death (in fact I’ve actually written some stuff on her album) and there’s no hard feelings. We all sat down and talked and found we wanted something different. She’s mainly based in America now. To be honest I was a little astonished that she wanted to do ‘The Garden’. I thought I was going to get the call back then saying ‘Binns I don’t want to do this’, which would have been fair enough.
Is the door open for her to return in the future?
I sort of imagine The Last Waltz….every singer we’ve ever had all up on stage together (laughs). I don’t know, I mean I would love to do stuff with Sia again, because we work really well together…
I’d read that when you were doing the side project ‘Ingrid Eto’, audience members were shouting out for Sia…that must have been a bit of a strange one?
There is a sick part of us which kind of loves the surreal-ness of a situation like that, but yeah it is weird, like when they are shouting for ‘Destiny’ and you’ve got this alternate version, it’s all a bit Spinal Tap (laughs)…you just plough on with it really. The thing is with Ingrid Eto, they had to put bloody Zero 7 on the bill or lese it wouldn’t have sold one ticket. We would have liked for it just to be Ingrid Eto so we could have tried to forge a new path on its own merits, but anyway…
So will Zero 7 still going to perform live the tracks that Sia sang on?
Yeah I think we’ll do some, but I think we’ll do them in a very different way. We will ask each individual brilliant singer we have on stage with us to interpret an old song in a way in which they’d like to, so we’ll go into rehearsals with that in mind. I don’t think we can ignore 10 years and three albums of repertoire…
You mentioned earlier that your were both conscious not to fall into the same production traits as on previous album, so I wondered how you go about changing these and putting that into practice?
It can be described essentially as this. Do something, if it sounds a bit strange, just roll with it, it’s scary and I’m more afraid of change than Sam, so just of kind of hang with it, and eventually you get to know it, and like this new friend and it just develops from there. It is kind of scary, but if you don’t do it, I think you don’t end up loving the stuff you are doing.
There’s a track on the album called ‘Everything Up (Zizou)’ which is a tribute to Zinedine Zidane and his magical turn. How did this end up becoming subject matter?
Zinedine Zidane, arguably the greatest star of the last ten years…a wonderful thoughts man. To be honest, Sam is the footballer, he wrote that song, which is a smuttering of all his favourite things. The song is about turning things around and changing your attitude…there’s lots of different sound bites of Sam’s favourite things and Zinedine Zidane is one of them.
Do you think he’s heard the track?
I don’t know, maybe we should get our management to e-mail it to him. I mean it’s quite flattering to have a song written about you (laughs).
Another guest on the album is folk artist Martha Tilson, how did you hook up with her?
My mate, whose got an organic shop in Cheddar, called Organic, well that’s his favourite artist and he plays her day and night. He said ‘Binns listen to this please cause I really think you could’…so I was like ‘alright, I’ll try anything’, so I called her, and she is quite Glastonbury, she’s known around there, she plays all the local pubs and clubs. So she was familiar with the area and she just came down and we wrote that song. This was before Eska, and I was really happy with it.
When you were recording ‘The Garden’, you did it in your home studio in Glastonbury and i believe you had friends down for weekend long parties…did you get to enjoy this luxury during ‘Yeah Ghost’?
For me it was mainly coming up to London. I’ve got this tiny little bachelor pad away from the family, so actually it had a very different vibe about it, than The Garden. I was sitting in this room thinking ‘what am I doing here’, as day and day went by. It wasn’t quite as joie de vivre, but we still had a laugh.
Everything you read on the internet is like, Grammy Nominated Zero 7 this…and award winning Zero 7 that, so does life change when you win awards?
(Laughs) D’ya know what, I don’t give a monkeys about things like that, I should do, I mean it was good, and I was obviously flattered, but on the other hand it means nothing to me. It doesn’t make the path any easier to making tunes and records.
So is the pressure on with the new release in sight?
There is more from my point of view and I don’t mind telling you that. But Sam is a bit more Neil Young about the whole thing. He’s like bollocks to this, it’s my new CD. But I’m curious to see how it’s going to be. I mean I really love it, but it is new and it is different and it’s not what people are expecting. I think ‘Medicine Man’ is quite a poppy tune that you can suddenly go what is this, but as with all of our albums, if taken out of context it doesn’t make to much sense. I’m struggling to work out how we are going to release the singles… so I’ve got a little bit of reservation, but you just get on with it.
You’ve done a lot of re-mixing in the past – I wondered what’s been the most stressful one?
Maaaaan there was one for Neill Finn from Crowded House. I remember I could just not get that one right. In fact the Lenny Kravitz one was starting to pain me after a while and I don’ think that was one of our best ones either. Actually if I’m honest, they are all a bit like sweat and blood. The N.E.R.D one was a bit of a struggle, but it has ended up being one of my favourites. That one was absurd, we had a twenty four piece string section and spent every penny of the budget that we’d been given to do it. We thought by the end of it, it sounded like America or someone, but they loved it.
It’s been quite a task for me to hear the album before this interview…is there a fear from you about your music leaking?
Yeah, I mean you’ve got to be careful where you put it. I’m unsure, in fact I think everyone is unsure about the way its going. Sometimes it’s a shame if it’s leaked because a certain thunder is lost, but come on lets face it, music’s for free nowadays. I think Spotify is the way it’s going – the cyber record collection. I used to be like ‘vinyl yeah…and nowadays I’m more like ‘ah let’s just put Spotify on’ (laughs)…
Your press shots are pretty cool…whose idea were they?
Well the photographer was our mate. We went down to somewhere in East London and found that cool street and lamppost. I think it looks like New York. It was somewhere around Spitalfields, but anyway it was Sam’s idea. I had to try and keep a straight face, because he was literally inches away from kicking me in the face…
So he actually jumped, I thought it was produced with the wonders of Photoshop…
Oh he jumped (laughs), I had to stay unflinchingly still while he nearly kicked me in the face…in fact he has kicked me in the face before (laughs)
With this new more upbeat direction, is it a case of having to be a little more prepared for the tour?
Yeah the fusion of Electonica and a real band is always our internal struggle, but we are getting better about it. We’ve got Eska coming with us, and another girl called Olivia Chaney, who is a fantastic singer. I think with that ensemble, it’s going to be a great show; I’m really looking forward to it. They used to have to drag me out on to that stage kicking and screaming, but now I think it’s really important to play it live. I mean we don’t make any fucking money, but it’s important for people to make sense of it all.
Your music has appeared on a lot of TV shows and Ad campaigns. I wondered in your opinion what would be the best thing you could hear it being played on?
The dream has almost come through, because I think Six Feet Under is fantastic. But although it’s gone now, could you imagine it being on at the pub in Only Fools and Horses?
Do you have any idea what the future has planned for Zero 7?
We have always talked about this, and it sounds like a cliché but I think possibly some film work. If we could get together with a director with a kindred spirit I think it would be really nice to get to do something like that. Who knows we’ve got Ingrid Eto as well…
Finally Norwich, you’ve played here a few time’s before, so you must have some memories of being here?
Well its funny, because we went back stage at the Uni, and after a few rums and a good show you are high on life, we decided to play cricket with an orange, which is not a good idea, it was ridiculous!!!