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Zero 7

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Ken Weinstein
Big Hassle
weinstein@bighassle.com

Michael Eisele
michael@bighassle.com

Biography

In a noisy world overrun with Kim Kardashians and Kanye Wests, we should be grateful there’s still a space for acts likes Zero 7, the Greta Garbosof the music industry. It’s not that they are reclusive, merely that they prefer to do things their way; at a glacial pace that somehow also evokes the warmth of their music, too. Given that Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns first met as teenagers, it’s a testament to their durability and friendship that more than 30 years later they are still here, still working and producing music of the highest stripe.

The pair first met in North West London. Having attended an audio engineering college, they both served apprenticeships as tape ops at Mickie Most’s legendary RAK Studios. “We all learnt a hell of alot there,” says Sam. “Incredible sessions in the big live room in Studio One. We’d do orchestras, bands, string sections, horns. A priceless, amazing education.” The growing need to fiddle about with AKAI samplers, however, led to them leaving RAK and taking a vow of poverty while they tried to hone their sound.

Their first break came via school mate Nigel Godrich who offered them a Radiohead remix. The leap from the pair’s ‘Climbing Up The Walls’ mix to debut album Simple Things was not huge, even if the success was completely unexpected.

“It didn’t feel that cohesive to me at the time,” says Sam, with typical understatement. Nonetheless, Simple Things was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize, was certified Platinum in the UK and sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide. It was an amazing achievement for a debut album, but it came with its own pressures. “We had no ambition when we made Simple Things,” confesses Henry. “So we were suddenly landed in this weird place.”

Over the ensuing eight years, Zero 7 recorded a further three albums, including Grammy Nominated The Garden, arguably their finest of the quartet, yielding the killer single ‘You’re My Flame’ featuring regular collaborator Sia. Inevitably, without a regular chart presence, they were quietly released into the wilds after the release of Yeah Ghost. They haven’t recorded another album since 2009. While none of the subsequent albums matched the sales of their debut, the quality has never faltered (check ‘The Road’ on Yeah Ghost for abundant evidence).

Among fans eager to see another long-player, the phrase “criminally-underrated” is often summoned and with good reason. Over the course of the last decade, they have concentrated on releasing a series of brilliant singles and EPs on their own Make Records imprint, among them the divine Balearic-house of ‘Don’t Call It Love’, José Gonzáles ‘Aurora’ and ‘Last Light’ or last year’s bewitching ‘Swimmers’, featuring Jem Cooke.

Which brings us to the current EP, picked up by BMG for release, with the fuzzy Norman Whitfield-style psychedelia of ’Shadows’ the lead track. The EP is a collaboration with singer/songwriter Lou Stone, “I was doing a writing session with him,” says Henry of their initial meeting. “But it didn’t take long for me to say, ‘Hey why don’t you try something on this?’ Immediately there was a relationship there.”

The accompanying video, directed by Julian House whose artwork adorned Simple Things, delivers a suitably Burroughsian lockdown atmosphere.

Aside from the brilliance of ‘Shadows’, on both ‘After The Fall’ and ‘Outline’ the boys’ arrangements perfectly bring out the appropriate melancholic weight in Lou’s vocals, while the country-sou l atmosphere of ‘Take My Hand’ completes the package.

Working in an industry that thrives on cheap thrills and expensive habits, sometimes it’s hard to cut through to the things that truly matter. But more than 20 years down the line, Zero 7 are still delivering the goods.

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Ben Ingham

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Ben Ingham