Zoot Woman Interview

With the release of their third album †Things Are What They Used To Be’ we caught up with Adam Blake of electro-pop trio Zoot Woman and talked about the nerves of playing in front of people you know, knicker throwing fans and unashamed optimism in a future driven world.

P: Just a quick run down for people who may not know, how did Zoot Woman actually form?

ZW: We all went to the same school. Stuart and I started doing music together, like music production, and we always wanted to write songs but didn’t have a singer – making it difficult. We then did a few songs but didn’t get very far and then my brother,developed what he was doing and eventually joined and everything naturally fell into place. We did a few songs that got picked up by a UK record company and yeah, that’s how it started really.

P: Were you all growing up in Reading at the time?

ZW: Yes we were. We’ve had spells where we’ve moved up to London and stuff but since the international things have become a bit bigger for Zoot Woman we’ve sort of settled in Reading and traveled abroad to do everything from there. It’s quite an interesting time at the moment. One minute you’re doing something like we are now for Australia and the next minute its in Europe or America. So yeah it’s quite a nice progression from where we started.

P: Was playing at Reading Festival like playing a homecoming gig but on much larger stage with 60,000 strangers?

ZW: Yeah its great but, also unnerving because you’re playing with people who have always known who you are and there is something quite nice when you play somewhere new in front of people who don’t know your history and you’re doing something for the first time. Because you’ve got so much to prove to them.

P: At least you get to sleep in your own bed at the end of the gig…

ZW: That’s something I didn’t appreciate at the time but you’re right! (laughs)

P: What’s the working relationship like with your brother…that band relationship on top of the sibling relationship…

ZW: Whenever it gets tough or a bit heated, you can really fall out over the smallest thing and there’s no reasoning that can get you out of it. When we’ve caused that sort of friction and we’ve gone our separate ways, we both think separately, alright, we’re both on the same team let’s try and make this work. The next day you both come in and you forget about what happened the previous day. But then it all happens again… (laughs) It’s just one of those things. You can’t control it. It’s interesting, let’s put it that way.

P: Have you seen the Soulwax documentary by any chance?

ZW: No, I’d love to though, I didn’t know it had been completed.

P: Its great, the Dewaele brothers who make up 2manyDJs and Soulwax, they describe their relationship like ying and yang. They fill each others gaps. Is it kind of the same with you and your brother?

ZW: Yeah I guess it is like that. I went up to their studio in Belgian I noticed they were a couple of parallels. If anything I’m the techy one. I’m the one that’s all about the equipment and I think with Jonny, you can bog him down with too much equipment and it doesn’t help. He’s more the relaxed, quite spiritual. I have to have things under control but he kind of follows whatever his mood is. So I guess we are quite similar to that yeah.

P: How does the songwriting process go, obviously Stuart comes into play there. You mentioned music moving towards a more eclectic sound in general and obviously Zoot Woman definitely have an eclectic sound. How do you guys piece it all together when you’re writing music?

ZW: The process is pretty simple. Usually, I’ll come up with some kind of idea, I’ll give it to Johnny and he’ll try something on it and then we’ll all get together in the studio. Stuart because he’ll be fresh to it, he’s in control of the direction and how it ends up. it’s taking songs and he’ll make something just work really well, very quickly. That’s what he’s always done with us, we’ve probably just never realised we were doing it. Yeah I start it, Johnny works on it and Stuart finishes it off.

P: Like weaving in all your different influences and takes on the music into one cohesive thing.

ZW: Yeah and the reason this record has taken so long, there is a big gap of 5 half years, I think we got bogged down with how much we could do. You think with all the ease of laptops and technology it would make everything easier but it can give you too many options. You end up throwing everything in because you can and we spent a lot of time not being happy with what we came up with and it’s only really this year where we stripped everything back took what we thought were the best songs in the most simplest form and then just put them together again. That’s what this album was for us so I think that although we are very influenced, and we like to throw a lot of different ideas in, it can be confusing for people. We did form a sound on our first record, which we want to honor and we think we did that with this one in the end.

P: So judging from that are you one of those gear nerds that can craft a bass kick for 6 hours?

ZW: Yep! (laughs) But like you say 6 hours and where are you at? That’s exactly what you can do, its good fun. But you’ve got to ask yourself, whose going to get anything out of it.

P: Totally, Do you guys kind of honor the analogue synth school of thought, or do you use a lot of soft synths and software when you write your music?

ZW: I had a conversation about this recently. We use everything that’s available but really looking back we kind of started out using analogue synths and nothing really. Soft synths are nice and easy to use, personally I don’t think anything has really improved on the sound, it’s improved on the flexibility. I was on the tour bus, we just got back from a European tour, using a load of soft synths, that I’d programmed in the van and I got back and just thought yeah I’m glad I got the chance to do it, but it just doesn’t sound as good as the real thing. But you balance it up. The ease of use and sound quality and then you go from there.

P: Yeah, that’s a really good point. Has shit ever just gone wrong live, relying on technology-things can break and things can go out of wack. Has that ever happened to you guys live?

ZW: Yeah it has and it’s really important when that happens because you realize how much you rely on it and you realize what a fool you can look, if you don’t have some kind of backup in place or you can’t recover from it.

P: What’s your most memorable live experience? You guys are really known for your live shows. What’s the most surreal or craziest thing that’s happened at a live show?

ZW: There’s been a few different things. I’ve was amazed, playing shows on a Monday night in Germany and they were full and I just thought, God, who comes out on a Monday night to see a band, that’s something you can’t buy. That kind of devotion. I think when you do a lot of gigs, the weird things just kind of all blend into one. Nothing phases you after a while you kind of feel that a screw up wasn’t the end of the world, it makes you less neurotic the more you do.

P: There’s nothing strange you could offer us?

ZW: (Laughs) Well something very strange did happen, which I’d never seen before. We did have a pair of knickers thrown on stage. It was like a Tom Jones gig and there were reports of the person throwing the knickers, and I couldn’t believe it. I felt like The Beatles or something.

P: Tell us about Paperfaces, the production team you have with Stuart. Did that just form organically working together as Zoot Woman.

ZW: We probably hit our going out times when we were 17/18, at the time of acid house music. We were working on a few Zoot Woman songs, did a few club mixes. We were kind of influenced by acid house which wasn’t really around at the time and we just use to add a bit of what use to turn us on, its kind of what’s stuck really. Clubby remixes that have quite simple structure, straight beats nothing swingy in there. That does come quite naturally to us. We just did a Felix Da Housecat remix and they really are quite fun to do, remixes – you’re kind of faced with a beat and a bass line and that’s kind of it and you’ve got a framework.

P: And finally the new album ‘Things are what they used to be’. That title carries a sense of nostalgia as well as looking forward. What’s the most treasured time and place of your life?

ZW: I think nothing beats being a teenager and discovering music for the first time. Obviously music’s around before then but you really form your own identity, well I did, using music. If you’re into music that’s kind of how it kind of works. It’s a bit like a religion, you sort of get to a certain age and you see kids who are into rock music and kids that are into dance music and you decide which one you want to be part of. It’s only as you get older, that you learn to be influenced by all types of music. Music really had a big impact on me when I was about 13. Saw Kraftwerk on TV and never heard anything like that before and those things don’t go away. You don’t have that experience again. You don’t discover things like that ever again. You hear good music but the impact it has on you, I don’t think exists after the first time. It’s a real ear opening experience when you’re that age.

P: Is the album’s title a reference to the cyclical nature of music – an action that is condensed by the internet?

ZW: It kind of is. It obviously a play on things aren’t what they used to be. And people moaning, reflecting how things were better in the old days and it is a kind of a more optimistic view saying, no things aren’t like that, things are always good, its just what you choose to see and what you choose to like. But it can mean so many different things, people have their own interpretation and I think that’s why it works as a title.