Zero 7 & sia. Seven Magazine 2001

words: Dan Gennoe

 

Zero 7 are on the cover of a magazine. It’s a momentous occasion, but one that Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker, the duo who went to school together, did an engineering course together, served a studio apprenticeship together and had children, together- well, at the same time- must have seen coming. From the moment they remixed Radiohead’s Climbing Up The Walls back in 1997, having blagged a copy of the then unfinished OK Computer from old college buddy and producer Nigel Godrich, they’ve been destined for greatness. Being asked by Gilles Peterson to lend their orchestral bent to soul legend Terry Callier’s Love Theme From Spartacus should have given them a large clue that they possessed a certain something. Failing that, the unanimous praise heaped on the widescreen grooves of last year’s two sell-out EPs should have made it apparent that they and their debut album, Simple Things would not go unnoticed. Apparently not. 

Swivelling on their chairs, unconsciously in unison, in a far corner of the 7 office, the pair look bemused to be here. Binns, the homely dependable one, has a worried grin on his face. Hardaker, the one with a dry answer to everything, is trying unsuccessfully to sprawl on his chair and look relaxed. “This just feels like a big bluff. ‘How are we going to get on the cover of a magazine?’ is what we used to think” he snorts with a shaky laugh. “We’ve been wondering, how the fuck we were going to pull it off?”

If that sounds like false modesty, it isn’t. That their lush lullabies and cinematic strains are the stuff of Mercury Prizes, Oscar winning soundtracks and endless day-dreams is, to them, a fluke. “We came together over a splif,” laughs Hardaker aiming to dispel any wild and offensive insinuations that their current predicament as critically acclaimed down-tempo gurus was intentional, let alone the fulfilment of childhood dreams or any kind of ambition. “Yeah, somkin’ weed in the park at lunch times at school. And we shared a physics class in the sixth-form that didn’t actually exist.” Binns nods. “It was a difficult time for education.” Hardaker: “All the teachers were on strike, and I think they used to just pull people in off the street to stand in front of  a large group of stoned kids for an hour.”

But before anyone gets any ideas about casting Zero 7 as academically gifted, especially in the field of physics, they didn’t exactly spend their days dreaming of degrees. “We were doing O-level retakes,” Hardaker snaps. Binns: “What do you do when you leave school? Retakes, ha, ha.” But his partner is having non of it. “You did alright. You were always getting it. You at least had a basic understanding of what was going on, I had no fucking idea.”

“After physics lessons we would exchange musical backgrounds round each others houses,” Binns continues undeterred. “We were both into hip hop, but I was much more a soul boy…” Hardaker: “He had a Ray Charles album that his dad gave him, a Rod Stewart album and a Joe Cocker album and that was about all he listened to. What kind of fucking weird kid were you?” 

Given that hip hop was their joint love, and that they both grew up in the less than idyllic surrounds of North London’s Swiss Cottage, socially aware rap would seem a more obvious musical outlet than Simple Things’ soundscapes. “But does it follow like that?” Hardaker challenges after a perplexed silence. “If I listen to a lot of hip hop records does it necessarily mean I’m gonna make a hip hop record? We just started somewhere and have progressed to this point. We’ve just done what comes naturally. It came out the way it came out; it is what it is.” With that cleared up, Hardaker concludes, “Our music might make perfect sense if we lived in a farm house in Cornwall, but then a lot of people who live in Cornwall make dirty techno music. How twisted is that?”

Likewise, Simple Things’ collection of tenderly soulful ballads and seductive low-slung instrumentals, may sway with the grace of a John Barry score and the romanticism of yesteryear French pop, but Zero 7 are buggered if they know where it comes from, and it certainly wasn’t intentional. “There are certain film composers that I like and that music is attractive, but it’s not key,” muses a puzzled Binns. “It’s the soundtrack to our lives,” mocks Hardaker, before retracting his cynicism, “no actually, corny as it is, that’s it.” Henry’s still checking for cinematic references and has found one in the most unlikely of places: Likufanele, a lazy swayer featuring South African mothers chanting the virtues of breast feeding. “When we were doing that track, I did always have images from Zulu in my head. You know where all the warriors are coming over that hill. That’s why we sort of faded that track in, like the sound coming from the distance, over the hill. That’s the only track on the album that you can get me on.”

What of the album’s effortless romance though? Is this not their romantic natures seeping through? Unanimous head shaking suggests not. “I’ve got about as much romance as a fucking fish shop” combats Hardaker. What of the melancholy then that tinges their poignant melodies? Binns takes this one. “Yeah, well that’s because it’s easier to be melancholic.” A sly grin creeps across Hardaker’s face. “Soundtracks? Romance? Melancholy? God what have we done? People are always trying to find out what we’re about, and the answer’s a fucking confusing, erratic compound of lots of things. But I don’t know where it comes from.” Binns nods, offering apologetically, “I just play a couple of chords and see where it goes.”

Unaware of where it comes from or where it goes, Binns and Hardaker know one thing, their sublime melodies are destined to languish next to shapeless wallpaper music in mega store ‘Chill-out’ racks nation-wide. Hardaker: “It’s bound to happen. What is ‘chill-out’ any way? We should give it our own name. Slow Stuff. You can imagine the conversation in record company offices.” He dons a mockney accent. “We need to get some of that Slow Stuff. That duannn the basement music. We could do a compilation: ‘Duannn To The Chillout In Da Basement’, no ‘Late At Night Down Tempo Chillin’ In The Basement’. Nice.” 

The other tag already haunting them- and they hold their breath as it’s uttered- is the British Air. But they kind of like the sound of it. “At first I used to think ‘Oh shit. Stale Air. Is that it? Is that all we’re gonna be remembered as?’” Hardaker quips after a quick blast of the French national anthem. “Now I couldn’t give a shit. I like a lot of what they do, so I’m quite flattered someone thinks we’re making records of a similar quality. We were definitely into their instrumental stuff…Into..int…infl…influ…infuenced by it. Oh come on, we were, let’s face it. Without a doubt. I loved their early EPs. Alright! I took them home and fuckin’ copied them! Okay? Happy now?”

Fact is, Binns & Hardaker are happy to be seen as a couple of chancers. Even their name they assure was accidental, being the first thing that came to mind for the credit on the Radiohead remix. If pushed, they’ll give a more glamorous explanation, but they have to be pushed. “It was the name of a club that we were getting drunk and dancing in in Honduras,” sighs Binns. “A really funky place on stilts. It was probably called 007 but the sign had got smashed, or it could have been because they only had 7 tunes. This geezer used to DJ with 2 cassette machines, playing 7 tunes back to back. Then again, maybe I’m talking bollocks.”

Sublime as Simple Things’ languid scores are, it’s the Burt Bacharach stylings of their songs that should inflate their joint ego. Particularly Destiny and Detractions featuring this year’s other heavily touted find, the Aussi temptress with a voice that’s pure seduction, Sia. “She’s amazing” enthuses Binns unprompted. Hardaker: “Yeah. I was playing football with her then manager and he gave me a tape saying that they needed someone to do some production on her album. There were some good tunes on there, so we got her down, disregarded her thing and got her on our record. She’s so energetic, contagiously so. And she’ll do one take and it’s fucking worth something. It might not always be perfect, but it is a performance, a whole amazing thing.”

With ears no doubt burning, Sia makes a well timed and, with a shout of “Good’ay spunks”, loud entrance. She’s here to relieve her coy colleagues so they may be immortalised for 7’s front cover. As soon as they’ve gone, she heaps on praise in quantities that would make them blush. “They’re great aren’t they? And the album, it’s so romantic. It’s real soundtrack material, wouldn’t it be great in films?” Err, not according to them. “Really? They’re so modest. Especially Sam. He’s got lovely calf muscles by the way; he was wearing shorts at Henry’s birthday party and his soccer muscles are beautiful. But they just can’t quite workout what all the fuss is about, and are really unsure about taking credit for it.”

Like Sam’s legs, their work ethic also appealed to the inexhaustible five foot blonde who can talk without breathing. “The first time I ever met them I told them, ‘I’m tired of working with people who smoke loads of weed and take two weeks to record a drum sound’. And they were just like ‘well you’re in the perfect environment. We like a swift pint now and again, but that’s it. We don’t drink or smoke while we work.’ It was a match made in heaven.”

Still there was some trouble in paradise. “They sent me the music for this gorgeous ballad Distractions, and I had these lyrics that fitted perfectly. I’d already tried them on a thrashy big beat electric guitar number for my album, but my record company didn’t go for it, although I thought it was rad.” She’s momentarily lost in a bout of hysterics. “Anyway they fitted Distractions perfectly so we used them for that, but Zero 7 made me remove the lyric ‘I love you/I love you/I think that I care/So come baby come/but not in my hair’, because they didn’t think it was suitable. Shame.” 

Photographs done, Binns & Hardaker return to check they’ve covered everything before leaving for the car that’s been waiting the best part of an hour. Aware that he might have shattered one illusion too many, Sam Hardaker, concedes: “All this self promotion lark’s a bit unnerving. I just think I’m completely ill equipped to do it, and I’m doing the music a dis-service. I’m not going to give it the full humble thing, but we don’t live those big artist lifestyles. Everything’s just kind of simple really.”

Simple Things is out now on Ultimate Dilema

 

sia sidebar interview. seven magazine cover feature, april 2001.

Attention is one thing Sia Kate Isobelle Fuller, to use the name that her musician parents gave her, doesn’t have a problem with. Even when the tiny Australian chanteuse is cornered in the pub where we have adjourned after her photo shoot with shy & retiring soul mates Zero 7, by a worse for ware afternoon drinker, who is singing to her and informing that he too does a good Australian accent when trying to pick-up girls on chatlines, she looks pleased to have been noticed.

And it’s just as well; with a laugh that could stop traffic and tendency to break into song every two minutes, she gets noticed a lot. Understandably then, this time last year, with her Prokofiev sampling debut single Taken For Granted (an apt lament about not being paid enough attention) at No. 10 in the charts, Trevor Nelson telling the world that her hip hop/jazz/soul/funk was incredible and Jo Whiley inviting her to play live on Radio 1, she was very, very happy. Since then, though, things haven’t gone quite according to plan. “I got a bit depressed actually. ‘Cos it all went really well and I was really excited and got treated really special by a load of strangers,” she sniggers and pauses for one of the only audible breaths she’s taken all day, “which I really loved, and then it all went a bit stagnant. I felt that I was going a bit backwards, which has been really hard. I’ve been through lots of ‘God what am I doing?’.”

With the sly beats, sexually charged grooves and sumptuous vocals of her debut album, Healing Is Difficult, finally ready and slated for a June release her excitement is infectious. Happy days, filled with more comparisons to Lauryn Hill, Eryka Badu and Sting, are on their way. “Lauryn Hill is my favourite one because I think she sounds hot, but I’ve always been really into Sting too, but most people think he’s a poser, but really they’re threatened by his ability to screw for hours and his large donger.” 

When she’s regained her composure, having nearly parted company with her seat through yet another bout of uncontrollable laughter, she contemplates the suggestion that being touted as the next Lauryn Hill, and having her forthcoming album branded a classic by R&B, pop, soul and hip hop fraternities alike, might be too much pressure for her diminutive 25 year old shoulders. “Not really. I love the attention. As long as it’s positive. I read the other day that I had a coarse tone and crude lyrics, and I even quite liked that.”

Even the thought of working with musical legends isn’t enough to daunt the girl whose guitarist father was booted out of Men At Work for being too ‘in yer face’. “William Orbit wants me to meet him to see whether I can be on his next album,” she casually informs, “and Massive Attack want me to go down to the studio after they’ve finished working with Horace Andy. There’s lots of cool people who want work with me, which makes me feel good.”

They way Sia tells it, her career has been on hold since Taken For Granted heralded her as a major new talent. Granted her album has been along time coming, as is the nature of record labels, but over the last twelve months her star has most definitely been rising. Collaborations with Zero 7 aside, Wookie’s Exemen remix of album track Little Man has sold in excess of 10,000 copies on white label, while Different Gear’s rework of Healing Is Difficult’s defining track Drink To Get Drunk has already made a huge dent in the 7 Club Chart and put Sia firmly back in the forefront of people’s minds.

“I’m really chuffed that the remixes are going down well, but I find it hard to relate to their success as I didn’t have to do anything for either of those tracks.” She sniggers at the thought of being praised for doing nothing. “I am trying to get into the studio with Wookie though to redo the vocal on Little Man so that we can do some P.A.s in Ayia Napa. I’m not really a club person, I like the sound of my voice too much, so I don’t get to see the effect those tracks on people. I like instant gratification. I was in a jazz funk band in Australia called Crisp, and although I knew it wasn’t really going anywhere, playing live I always felt I had authentic power. I love to sing, performing to an audience, and that’s what I’ve missed, getting that reaction.” 

Even so, she’ll happily take accept any praise on offer for the Different Gear mix. “I’ll take responsibility for any joy, ever. So if anyone’s feeling happy, and they want to blame it on anything I’ve done, I’m more than willing to take the glory.” But, joking aside, there is a deeper, personal significance to Drink To Get Drunk’s mutation into a club tune. After an uncharacteristically laugh free pause, she lets slip a glimpse of the real Sia. “Drink To Get Drunk, as a song, stems from something really quite sad for me, a tragic time in my life,” she says referring to the death of a friend she calls her ‘first love’, in a hit and run accident the week before she arrived in London. “That that song is now making people get drunk and dance around and jump about in clubs is great. It’s like a real turnaround, that something so dark is now the source of such joy. It’s almost poet isn’t it?”

Sia’s album Healing Is Difficult is released on Long Lost Brother on June 11

Different Gear Vs Sia: Drink To Get Drunk is released on INCredible on May 14


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Dan Gennoe

Dan Gennoe is a London based freelance journalist & author. He's written features, interviews and reviews for the likes of Esquire, GQ, Arena, FHM, Q Magazine, Mojo, Red, Time Out, The Independent and The Mail On Sunday. Dan also writes books, both fiction and non-fiction, and has ghost written the odd celebrity biography.

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