Zero 7 Biography
Having spent the best part of a year touring their last album, When It Falls, which, along the way, saw them transformed into a vast, super slick, group-like behemoth, Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker felt the need to create a new reality for their third album of beatific tales, THE GARDEN.
It wasn't that the WHEN IT FALLS experience was a particularly negative one – far from it, as Sam is at pains to point out, 'neither of us wants to cast a shadow over that record,' – but having done the extensive group thing, they both felt it was time to draw a line under that stage of their evolution and get back to basics.
What this meant in essence was returning to the days of just Henry and Sam in a studio, 'bodging things a bit, and those things sticking on the record rather than being replaced by somebody else' (Sam).
This simpler, more relaxed and less pressured environment was also informed by Henry's move out of London's sprawling metropolis. Having got 'twitchy' in the capital, Henry upped sticks to the relative calm of Glastonbury – 'the town, not the festival,' he quickly states.
There he built a studio ('It was good not to think about music for a while') and kept in contact with Sam back in London.
'He'd call me every now and again,' Sam recollects, 'and say, ‘We haven't got room for a vocal booth so we'll shut this door and there'll be a curtain and whatever.'
And then last spring, with the pair of them cleansed and refreshed, work began in earnest on their third album when the last nail was hammered into the wall.
'Or was there no nails?' asks Sam, mindful of the fact that it was chiefly Henry's DIY skills that pre-empted the venture.
'No, there were plenty of nails,' Henry deadpans.
Having mapped out rough ideas on the piano and guitar ('I thought we'd f**k about and get some demos,' explains Sam, 'but we just did it. Once you start, you start.'), the music soon flowed.
Unlike on WHEN IT FALLS where they could call on the services of everything and anything, only having a limited amount of material at their disposal seemed to fire Zero 7's imagination.
'You get what you can out of it,' they both agree. It was a mood which would begin to shape the record's bountiful flavours. And whereas the last record was perhaps a slight shift towards introspection – lest we forget they were reacting to the inordinate success of their glorious, era-defining debut set, SIMPLE THINGS – planted firmly in THE GARDEN was lots of vibrant light.
The result is an unqualified success: instantly recognisable, and yet, beguilingly fresh, THE GARDEN is a freewheeling and evocative piece of music. Benefiting from a more focused approach – there's only two collaborators, long-time cohort Sia, and future folk sensation Jose Gonzales – it clearly serves notice of Zero 7's talent for eking out sunshine-soaked ambient soul.
From the gentle British folk tones of 'Left Behind' to the mesmeric sonic tonic of 'This Fine Social Scene', there are thrills and spills aplenty at every turn. 'Your Place' betrays a sly nod to the symphonic grandeur of David Axelrod and the jazz stylings of Roy Budd; the instrumental 'Seeing Things' is all woozy, cinematic French electronica and the exotically titled 'The Pageant Of The Bizarre' is nostalgic chamber pop.
These are headed off by the opening assault of 'Futures' (featuring Gonzales) – all shimmering acoustics – and 'Throw It All Away' (featuring Sia) – exuberant bluesy psychedelia – which set the mood perfectly.
'It was just good being out of London,' explains Sam. 'It was done during the summer; Sia and Jose would come and stay for a few days and there was no music biz bulls**t. I was back on forth on the train every couple of days; it was expensive, although not as expensive as lunch in Notting Hill.
' I loved it. It all sounds like a nice hippy set up, and it was really. There'd always be a few people showing up, having BBQs...'
'... two cats in the yard,' laughs Henry.
THE GARDEN is also notable in that it marks the vocal debut of one Henry Binns. And while he doesn't want the record to be defined by such a fact – 'I don't want to be talking about that for the next year' – it does add another personality to the mix. That's him duetting on 'Throw It All Away', 'This Fine Social Scene' and 'Waiting To Die', while he sings solo on 'Your Place'.
However, if there's one thing Henry and Sam don't want people to be confused by, it's the album's title. Taken from the album artwork, which is a series of collages designed by a friend of theirs, entitled, spookily enough, The Garden, the duo are keen for the album's meaning not to get lost in translation.
'The collage is made up of old bits of wallpaper and other stuff that's been left behind or thrown away, its an overgrown and kind of mysterious garden I think'
'maybe it's about experience,' Henry suggests. 'I think it makes something beautiful as well'
'nothing to do with gardening though'
Beautiful; informed; an infectious mix of the synthetic and authentic. Welcome, then, to Zero 7's garden: we think you'll like it there.