As they release their debut EP Meridian, we catch up with Zola Blood to talk selling out the Shacklewell Arms and dodgy mobile phone recordings
Zola Blood are the Hackney Wick based threesome that have left nothing to chance with their debut EP Meridian. Having been holed up in their studio for 12 months writing and developing their sound, this week they were finally ready to let the world listen. Already gaining critical acclaim from their July release of debut track ‘Grace’, the band have gone from zero to hero since then.
With a sell-out debut show at East London’s Shacklewell Arms, backing from the likes of NME and The Fader, and an impressively large following all under their belts, we definitely had to know more. We caught up with them in the run up to their EP release to talk about how they got started, the importance of sound design, and being desperate to play live.
Firstly, tell us a bit about yourselves and how you got started.
We formed Zola Blood a year or so ago but we’ve all known each other for a while, either through studying or growing up in the same area. We’d all been involved in bands in London and were sharing ideas amongst ourselves, via the odd jam and some dodgy mobile phone recordings. As things started to develop we found ourselves a little studio out in Hackney Wick and have been writing, recording and procrastinating out there ever since.
Your vocal style combined with electronic production is quite an interesting mix. How did you develop your sound?
We spent a year writing and playing together before we considered releasing anything. That was really important because we were figuring out our sound and also just learning how to play together. Our music has probably changed quite a bit, we used to cram in a lot of parts to create a big harmonic sound, but we’ve learnt to be a lot more minimal. Producing our own demos was a big part of that. It’s fun playing stuff live really loud, but you can’t really get into the delicacy of arrangement without having the parts in front of you. Understanding music production has fundamentally changed the way that we write.
Your debut EP is out this month, what was the inspiration behind the tracks?
There isn’t one theme or concept that runs through the EP, each song is about a specific event or person that I’ve known. Musically we wanted to do something that had a focus on sound design. We spent a long time looking for really big synth sounds that really push the air out of the speakers and also built sounds out of loops or vocal samples. We wanted to create songs that were detailed and dense, but still pop music. There’s a Hungarian artist called Gabor Kerekes who presents the complexity of science in a very simple, beautiful aesthetic. We used that as a bit of a mantra for the EP – taking intricate instrumentation and arranging it into something simple.
Who is responsible for most of the songwriting?
It’s a bit of a free-for-all really. Aside from vocals, no one sticks to their prescribed roles and we quite often find we get the best ideas when we’re playing other people’s instruments. I’m pretty sure everyone contributed a different beat to the EP, same goes for guitar lines and synths. We spend a lot of time exchanging ideas and playing stuff live before a song really starts to appear. I’ll take shitty iPhone recordings out of the studio to write melodies and maybe play with arrangement. Then it goes from there. Getting the four of us to agree is not always easy, but once we do it’s usually a pretty good indication that something is worth pursuing.
Which other artists do you admire, and who do you compare yourselves to?
It’s quite difficult to compare ourselves to other acts, but there are obviously loads that we admire and take influence from. We listen to a lot of different types of music, but are probably most aligned with electronic acts like Caribou, Trentemoller, The Knife, Thom Yorke and Portishead – anyone who’s writing electronic music with soul.
How do you feel about playing live? Any gig highlights this year?
We’re excited about it! We’ve been writing and recording for the past 12 months so are pretty desperate to get out and play the songs. We’ve developed quite a complicated setup along the way, so there is a bit of nervousness that our gear could fall apart. Guitars and drums are ok, but midi clocks and samples are a bit less predictable. It’s been a bit of a headfuck getting our brains out of writing and recording every day and into performing. That said, we’ve just about figured it out and can play everything between the 4 of us. We’ve always had quite a clear idea of what we want the live show to be and the kind of atmosphere we want to create. We just did our first London gig last week and it was great, everything went to plan, the crowd were amazing and nothing broke. In terms of highlights this year, Jon Hopkins has to be up there; Ed and I saw him headline the Glade at Glastonbury and he was incredible – he’s got the best visuals I’ve ever seen. Sam saw Goat a few months back and said those guys were amazing musicians and very inspiring.
Other than the EP, what have you got coming up in the near future?
We’re playing our next show at the Lexington on 2nd December and are in the studio finishing some stuff with Oli Bayston from Boxed In, which will hopefully be coming out before the end of the year. We’ve also got quite a few remixes of our EP on the boil from some artists we really admire, so we might put them all out on a record at some point too.
Words: Jordan Porteous