Ever since the release of Simple Things in 2001,
Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns, the core of English electronic duo
Zero 7, have been struggling to find their sound. That record is
regarded by some as one of the best electronic records of the decade,
but since its release, Hardaker and Binns have been entertaining some
of their poppier inclinations. Their sophomore album, 2004’s When It Falls, marked
the first time the two actually sat down to write the album (the debut
happened more organically, apparently). The album won them much praise,
and their appearance on the Garden State soundtrack
(theirs was an offering called “Waiting Line”) won them a larger fan
base. But Hardaker and Binns still hadn’t felt fully confident in their
music. Which brings us to their third album, The Garden. The band’s poppiest record to date is also evidence of a group that’s found comfort in its music.
the midst of World Cup madness and a scorching hot summer day, Hardaker
spoke to us about the band’s progression and the making of The Garden.
Prefixmag.com: Zero 7’s albums seem to have become increasingly polished. Is that just a natural progression?
Hardaker: I never really think about it that way. We just try to do
what appeals to us at the time. Fuck, I don’t know about polished, but
I think I like the sound of this one better than the last one. I wasn’t
too happy with the sound of [When It Falls]; there are
some things that I like and some things that didn’t really work out.
This one was made in a small space with limited studio equipment and
instruments. This was the first time we got a real engineer to mix the
record, because we were doubting our engineering skills heavily at the
time, so we got a guy who’s done tons of records to come and mix it.
That was a real pleasure because it took a lot of pressure off us.
How is The Garden different from what you have released before?
don’t know, you know? It’s kind of a constant evolution, and each album
is just a different point in our lives. I don’t know how they differ,
other than what was going on at the time. This one was a real pleasure
to do; we had a good time. In a way it felt like it was the first time
we had any degree of confidence in what we were doing. Neither of us
has ever been completely confident doing it, but this time we are just
a little bit more comfortable with the fact that what we do is make
albums — or we try, at least. This is the first time we’ve really been
comfortable with that. [Simple Things] was
kind of an accident. It all just sort of came together. It was never
really made as an album. The second one was the first time we ever sat
down to make an album, and we found it hard. There was all kinds of
shit going on because of the success of the first one and shit going on
personally. So this is the first time that there weren’t any pressures:
just go off and enjoy it, and we did.
What were some of the factors that influenced the making of The Garden?
Everything seems to be a bit more upbeat, and at times, such as in
“Left Behind,” I can even hear what seems to be the influence of early
are both kind of into folk music, but not too deeply — stuff such as
Nick Drake, John Martin, or if you call Joni Mitchell folk music or
David Crosby and people like that. There is always a real jumbled-up
mixture of stuff in terms of influences. Some of it might be kind of
electronic stuff or hip-hop production. The most inspiring thing for us
this time was that Henry moved out of London; we just went down to his
place and sort of hung out and it just all seemed to flow. It had a
momentum and we didn’t really have to push it. That felt really good
and created a good atmosphere. That was kind of the influence behind
the record — maybe that’s what made it more upbeat. The last time we
made a record we were struggling and we weren’t too happy. I guess [as When It Falls was being made] it became more inwardly focused and a little bit harder for people to access.
Why did you shift to more of a band format? Was it for touring or was it because you felt limited?
a weird thing that we’ve got going, and I don’t know what form it
really exists in. I know that me and Henry hang out for a while getting
ideas together, and we have a bunch of people involved that come along
and help us out with things. Even though the first record has a bunch
of programmed drums and such, there were still a bunch of musicians
playing on there. There have always been musicians involved; we’re just
not really a band. Maybe we should be, I don’t know. Not quite a band,
not quite an electronic duo, we’re just kind of a mess.
can’t exactly clarify what it is, this thing we’ve got going, but we
are very reliant on and appreciative of the core people that have been
involved with all three records. They take and breach the ideas that we
give them, and within that the record gets produced, so they are a
massive part. What we are doing live is more of the band setup, but it
has an electronic core to it. There have always been samples and synths
and such, but this time we have a laptop, we’re making loops and
sampling things. Creatively we can use more sequenced stuff live, which
has been really fun and feels different than what we have done before.
Why did you choose to only use Sia and Jose Gonzalez as guests on this album? On previous albums, there have been many more guests.
the last record and touring that record, it felt like a conclusion of
the form it was in — like it has ran its course. It just naturally
felt like it needed some change. We wanted to approach it a bit
differently, but it was difficult because it wasn’t like, “This person
can stay and this person can’t,” because they are all good friends of
ours. But we did writing sessions with each of the people that was
involved, and the stuff that naturally came from that and what we were
excited about is what we pursued. So it sort of dictated itself, in a
songs we were writing with Sia are what we felt like we should be
doing. Then we were writing songs together, Henry and I, and he was
singing them, just so we could write melodies and such, and we were
talking about Jose and we said, “Fuck it, should we just get in touch
of him?” So we got in touch with him and he was so responsive. When we
sat down and talked with him, he was such a cool guy. We just all had a
good feeling that we were going to get along with each other.
Did Jose have any part in the writing process of the tracks he’s featured on?
kind of. It varied a bit. He was really busy the whole time because his
whole thing was blowing up at the time, so he was constantly on tour,
and it seems like he’s been on tour constantly for a few years. When we
spoke about it initially, he made it pretty clear [that he wasn’t going
to have a lot of time]. It was pretty much two or three days here and
there. We did two days and then he went off, then he came back a few
months later for a few days and we had to finish what we had done. So
we were never gonna sit down and write a bunch of songs. We just wrote
down a bunch of ideas, not necessarily thinking he would go for all of
it. The stuff that you hear on the record are the things that appealed
to him most. Once we got involved, he would add ideas, guitar parts and
vocal harmonies and such. Henry had this little piece of music, and
Jose wrote that little song called “Left Behind” on the album.
Are Jose and Sia going to take part in the upcoming tour?
just finished a tour in the U.K. and he was doing that. It was a real
pleasure having him there. Sia was doing it as well. We were so pleased
with it, and it really turned out how we hoped it would. Because they
are so different, yet somehow as a whole thing I think it had a nice
vibe to it. We’re coming to the States at the end of August, and both
of them are coming with us.