British production duo Zero 7 have returned with their first musical release in half a decade. Known for their collaborations with artists such as Sia, Jose Gonzalez, Sophie Barker and Tina Dico, Zero 7’s latest EP Shadows is a brilliant collaboration with up-and-coming singer-songwriter Lou Stone. mxdwn spoke with Zero 7 member Henry Binns about their latest collaborator, working on an album while apart and what they have planned for the future.
mxdwn: Shadows is your first new release in over half a decade. Why did now feel like a good time to release new music?
Henry Binns: I’ve been thinking about that for a while, you know, it isn’t for me. God, I wish it was planned. It’s like things are ready when they’re ready. I know it sounds kind of cliche. I just honestly have been working away. Let me just put it like this, after the last album since God-knows-two-thousand-and-whatever, Sam and I had a kind of natural break. We had done five albums, we had done the “Best of,” we had been on tour, we were kind of burnt out. Then I moved rurally, kind of permanently, and so we had to get over the hurdle of working apart, way before COVID actually. And also, definitely, I think I was out of ideas. It happens to people. You never think it’s gonna have to be, but you keep working away and you think you’re doing good stuff. And then you’re not. I don’t know what it takes but if your confidence is down, you’ve had it. So I did some other stuff for a while and then if I’m honest, without being too kind of biblical about it, but all the stars lined up for me again. We’ve just been cracking on ever since.
mxdwn: Shadows features singer-songwriter Lou Stone, how did you get started working with him?
HB: The way that we started working was really boring because it was simply just my publishers putting us together. But actually, we were writing his own album. As it happens with me and Sam so much, it was just like ‘Wait a minute, this is sounding good, and this is sounding like Zero 7.’ And he was happy to go along with that and so it just all happened very naturally.
mxdwn: Most of the EP, but especially the songs “Shadows” and “After the Fall” allude to being alone and separated from others. Do you think that’s something people can resonate with more now?
HB: We started the EP before COVID really. But it just so happened that we were still making it during lockdown. It’s a devastating time and I don’t want to talk liberally about things. People’s lives have been ruined, it’s been terrible. But for me, personally, being locked in a cabinet studio with nothing else to do worked quite well for me. We had a bit more of a freedom to think about things in a bigger way and it just kind of worked for me for a bit. I’ve got a big garden, I’m very lucky. Yes, we’re stressed about money, but the whole experience just for all of us kind of worked well. And we started working well remotely which is important because I think the problem is getting over that hurdle. It’s so important to be in the same room. You get so bummed out with people who aren’t into it on email but when they say it in the room you’re like, ‘Oh yeah okay.’
mxdwn: How did you get over that hurdle of working on the album remotely?
HB: It worked out since me and Lou are basically working all the time. But also I heard you say the word album and I’m kind of scared.
mxdwn: Oh sorry, don’t worry I meant to say EP!
HB: No, you hit a quite good point. We make albums, we do make them. And albums have kind of gone—they’re not out of it all, but it’s a single world now, isn’t it? And so it’s been quite nice just having the freedom to say ‘Oh this is finished let’s put it out and so on and so forth.’ Actually, I think maybe the material is gathering, this EP included, and I’m hoping we could get an album out next year.
mxdwn: That’s exciting! What is it like currently premiering this new music in a pandemic?
HB: It comes from a very quiet place, making music for me. Somehow the feeling that the whole world is kind of not doing anything is inspirational to me a little bit, as painful as it is for everyone, you know, but it definitely has helped me. And people say to me, ‘Do you want to go out there and go on tour?’ Because touring is very important for musicians. I think for me and Sam, we’ve always been into the album, the record. So we were kind of thrown on stage reluctantly so in a way, that isn’t our raison d’etre. It’s still to try and make a record that plays from beginning to end that you enjoy.
mxdwn: How has production changed since you got your start in the early 2000s?
HB: For us, not very much. Technology changes and I think things have kind of gotten a bit brittle sounding, personally. But then again in that brittle world, there’s some cool shit. For me, it hasn’t changed very much. I’m gonna reveal myself as getting a bit older now but I listen to all these very different sub-genres of music and all old people say this, I remember my dad saying this but the subtleties are only in the hi hat pattern. And that’s kind of how I think about things a bit these days.
mxdwn: “Take My Hand” is a really upbeat point on the EP, what inspired it?
HB: I started working to do some stuff with Lou and actually, that was one of the ones I really had in my sights for him. And probably because it is very much a collab EP. I personally think that that one sounds a bit more Lou than it does Zero 7. But I really like it. I think it is a bit more singer-songwriter-y than what we’d normally do but you know when you’re collaborating with someone, everyone’s got to have their input on the table. Lou’s bringing his thing so, I suppose when we were younger and more arrogant we wouldn’t have tolerated it but now we are like ‘Yeah, okay!’
mxdwn: In the past, you’ve done some great work with singers like Jose Gonzalez and Sia, along with Sophie Barker and Tina Dico. Do you have plans to work with any of them soon?
HB: Wow, I mean God I am still one of the people that get an email back from Sia these days if I’m lucky! It really is another level with her now. I think about that, I don’t know whether we’ve passed the point now where our universes could collide again. Never know though. I wonder, I thought about reaching out to her to make some music but she makes movies and stuff now. It’s like ‘Oh, my God, are you going to come and do a little EP with Zero 7?’ Jose, on the other hand, definitely would like to! I mean we actually did some stuff about three or four years ago and I really really enjoyed it. But I heard he was on a break, he might be ready to come back and try and do some stuff. I’m always in conversation but to be honest, we’ve always been kind of more interested in working with somebody like Lou who hasn’t really got a reputation yet and all the baggage that goes with that.
mxdwn: Live stream concerts are becoming very popular as of late, would you ever consider performing for one? Are you excited to return to performing live and touring again once things start back up?
HB: I mean if I’m honest, I don’t really think so. I’m not saying it to be an asshole or anything, but do people really enjoy that? I’m not sure if I would, personally.
mxdwn: I think it might be an acquired taste, it isn’t for everyone, but some artists have gotten really into it. It’s a different experience.
HB: An album and a live performance, and this is gonna sound really grandiose and asshole-ish, but an album and the live performance are kind of like a myth. It’s something you believe in, you know? Everything, like social media and anything that is kind of directly linked to people in such a fast way, dispels the myth and waters down the belief in the mystique in music. I think that a little bit of that is what is gone in musical culture. I don’t want to elevate musicians beyond what they actually are because we’re all just normal people. But I want to believe in something. I want to be transported to that place. So online doesn’t quite do it for me.
mxdwn: You mentioned a potential new album earlier, do you have any ideas for what it might be like yet?
HB: I don’t want to jinx it, but we’ve got some momentum. We’ve got some material now and we’re getting pleased with it. I’m feeling excited about stuff and I’m looking forward to it. We’ve got a vaccine! We got Joe Biden! Come on! Next year could be good!