Zo! featuring Carmen Rodgers “Studio Campfire Stories: LIVE – ManMade Edition | Live Recording” in Atlanta, GA – September 6, 2014

ZoCarmen ATL

Studio Campfire Stories: LIVE – ManMade Edition | Live Recording

Zo!
featuring Carmen Rodgers

Saturday, September 6, 2014 – Atlanta, GA
(ManMade Tour)

800 East Studios
800 East Avenue NE, Atlanta, GA 30312 | (404) 688-9388
Doors: 8p
BUY TICKETS

Songs from Zo!’s ManMade and SunStorm albums come alive in this very intimate acoustic set at 800 East Studios where the stories behind the music will also be shared. A very special show and a first for me.

***Get your tickets EARLY. Limited seating available***

Studio Campfire Stories: The Foreign Exchange “Listen To The Rain”

foreign-exchange-love-in-flying-colors-lp-lead

Last year, I wrapped up everything ManMade around February/March 2013. During that same time, The Foreign Exchange was working on the music for Love In Flying Colors and I hadn’t yet gotten an expected call to work on anything for their album yet. Why is this important? Here’s a small bit of +FE trivia that most don’t know… I have the only outside production credits on the last three +FE albums – Leave It All Behind (“If She Breaks Your Heart”), Authenticity (“Fight For Love”), and Love in Flyi…Well… Just keep reading. Sometime in April or May, Phonte gave me a call telling me that he had a song idea for the new +FE album… I remember telling him, “I’ve been waiting on this call – I’m down.” Since I was scheduled to be in Raleigh, NC at the end of May for a video shoot, we figured that would be the best time to sit down, put our ideas together and see what we could come up with.

On May 25, 2013, I made my way down I-95S to shoot the first video from ManMade, which had just been released four days prior. We were to gather the crew in Downtown Raleigh and shoot a playful spin on an old school Sesame Street performance for the song “Count To Five” with director and frequent +FE Music collaborator, Kenneth Price. Come to think of it, this was the first time that Gwen Bunn and I actually met in person… at the damn video shoot for the song we had already worked together on! It’s kinda crazy how routinely that happens now…. Anyway, we shot the video in a few hours and afterward everyone got together to grab some food from a burger spot not too far from our filming location. Some folks went home, the rest of us headed over to Phonte’s spot where the movie ‘Campaign’ was running and jokes were on ten. Once everybody cleared out, Phonte and I hit the studio at about 2:30 in the morning and he told me that he had a melody in his head already with a few words here and there and needed the music to follow. This was no thing… We had utilized the same “sit down at the piano” formula when we worked on the title track from ManMade almost a year prior, “Fight For Love”, and “If I Could Tell You Know” from the SunStorm album. Like “ManMade”, it was the hook that we started with. When I go back and listen to the demo recordings we did of the song on my phone, chronologically we did the hook first (looped it twice), then there’s a recording of the verse, which we also looped twice. I distinctively remember wanting to accentuate that ‘break’ toward the beginning of the verse where he sings, “All alone (*break*) agaaaaaain….” …just to add a bit of personality to the music. The usage of breaks and “white space” is something that you don’t hear too often in many slower tempo songs and the more we worked through the verse, the more distinctive I made the break. The same with the chord climb up during the hook when he sings, “…….down out-siiiiiide…” by playing a different chord for each syllable, adding more of accents in the music. The last thing we worked on was the song’s ending. We wanted to close this one a with descending chord progression, which would set it apart from our previous “written at the piano” joints. The final demo recording starts off with my countdown into Phonte snapping his fingers for tempo while humming the melody of the hook then going right into the ending… And to be honest, I have listened to these demos about 5 times a piece while writing this story. To hear this song again with only piano and a reference melody is really kinda crazy.

By the time I returned home to Maryland the following evening, Phonte had completely finished writing to the song and sent me a text saying, “The title of that jam we did is called, “Listen To The Rain.” Lemme know when you lay THAT…” …No thing at all. The next day, I sat in the studio and recorded a main piano part, layered with a rhodes, and also played the bass live on it …all to a finger snap (that same finger snap can be heard throughout the majority of the first two minutes of the song). I sent the music on through to Phonte along with the, “Check that Gmail” text…… He then hit me the next day with the SAME text. When I checked, he had laid his vocals down and Chris Boerner had recorded a third chord layering by recording his acoustic guitar, which added some nice texture with the subtle fret noises and string plucking. So here we are with the main portion of the song completed just a couple days away from when we started……. But here’s where it gets good. Phonte told me that they had hit up my dude, Detroit’s own Pirahnahead to do string arrangement on it…

*drops phone*

Now, I’ve known Pirahnahead for a good 10-11 years and he was a monster back THEN so I couldn’t have even imagined what some damn strings would sound like over that music. So, when I received the song back a month later……. WITH STRINGS?!?! LOOK man…. I had all TYPES of goosebumps running up my arms. The shit was just beautiful…. I can remember listening to it about 5 or 6 times in a row and THEN listening to the isolated strings track a few times in a row afterward. Maaaaaaan, make you wanna shed that good single “Denzel in ‘Glory‘” thug tear!! Then, I received the final version with Nicolay’s drums on the song that put the song into another gear by taking it from an acoustic singer/songwriter mode to something you could break your neck to… All the way through an extended hook where Phonte calls out “…and my backgrounds sing, and my backgrounds siiiiing…” (that’s Jeanne Jolly assisting him on the background vocals too, by the way) right into that ending that we worked on at the piano. An excellent climax to a dope song.

Zo! “Count To Five” Performance featuring Carmen Rodgers – LIVE in Memphis, TN (07.26.14)

Shouts to Ascension Report for the video footage on this one. Taken from our performance in Memphis, TN on July 26, 2014. The Memphis crew had the music sounding good up there… “Count To Five” from my most recent album, ManMade

Personnel:
Zo! – Keys
Carmen Rodgers – Lead Vocal
D’Monet – Background Vocal
T.O. – Guitar
Doc – Bass
Pee Wee – Drums

Visuals from Zo! featuring Carmen Rodgers in Memphis • Photos by Nikki at Infinite Ink (07.26.14)

Visuals from…

Zo!
featuring Carmen Rodgers
at Neil’s Music Room in Memphis, TN
July 27, 2014

Photos by Nikki at Infinite Ink

Personnel:
Zo! – Keys & “Lock Um In Da Trunk” tee
Carmen Rodgers – Lead Saingin’
D’Monet – Background Saingin’
T.O. – Gee-tar
Doc – The 5-string Low End Theory
Pee Wee – Skins

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With The Foreign Exchange on FOX 5 Vegas

I walked back into the Gibson Showroom at FOX 5 Vegas almost a year to the day that I performed on there solo and for my documentary. This time around, I was on keys for the crew… The Foreign Exchange performing “Right After Midnight” from their Love In Flying Colors album. Y’all enjoy this one… And shouts to Phonte for rockin’ the Zo! shirt…

Click the picture below to watch the performance….

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Personnel:
Phonte (of The Foreign Exchange) – Lead Vocal
Nicolay (of The Foreign Exchange) – Keyboards
Zo! – Keyboards
Darion Alexander – Moog Bass
Chris Boerner – Guitar
Nick Baglio – Drums
Carmen Rodgers – Vocals
Tamisha Waden – Vocals

On Keys For The Foreign Exchange’s Tiny Desk Concert via NPR

May 2, 2014, prior to  hitting the stage and playing to a sold out Howard Theatre in Washington D.C., The Foreign Exchange and I stopped off at the NPR building at performed a Tiny Desk Concert for some of the good folks at NPR Music… I really like how this joint came out and I’m glad that it’s finally up for you all to enjoy… Click the photo to watch.

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Personnel:

Phonte – Vocals
Nicolay – Acoustic Guitar
Zo! – Keys
Boogie – Percussion

Welcome Home!! …Sincerely, The Michigan State Police.

May 9, 2014 was no different than any other day that I get prepared to go back home to Detroit to play a show…. While I normally start to feel pumped up for a show soon after soundcheck …when I know i’m going home to play?!?! I’m hyped up ALL DAY. It’s the “big game” for me… HOME. A melting pot of family, folks who I used to play baseball with, grew up with, those who have been in my corner from day one ……….and a few folks who may have no idea who the hell I am, but they scream loud as shit just because I’m rocking an olde English “D” on my hat. But since I moved to Maryland in 2006, every single time I go back home to play, it’s an outpouring of LOVE. And everyone who knows me is well aware of why I get so amped up when Detroit is on the schedule.

We were coming off of a hyped up crowd in Cleveland the night before and a 10-hour drive from Boston just two nights prior, so the actual 2 1/2 hour drive to Detroit was kind of an afterthought. Turnpike, to 280, 75N… We’re there. Simple, right? ….Well, the Turnpike was simple, as was I-280… We merged onto 75 North and coasted into Michigan. As many times as I have driven into MI via I-75, I can usually calculate pretty accurately how much time I have left to drive and at this point, I was getting even more hyped up because we were making great time. Word up… Get to the hotel, check in real quick, iron my clothes, hit the shower and be ready to roll out to soundcheck…………………

Until I looked in my rear view mirror

Normally, I’m pretty good at spotting the cops while on the freeway…. But this state trooper literally came from nowhere. I was in the far left lane and he was following behind me. I glanced down at my speedometer for a quick second and saw that I wasn’t speeding, thankfully… So I did what 98% of folks do when a cop gets behind them on the freeway…….. I changed lanes to the right so that he can pass by me and leave me the hell alone – and he did that. The state trooper rolled by me at a fairly high rate of speed, but kept it moving, no problem………… But I’m no idiot. I kept an eye on his patrol car just as a precaution. Plus, I didn’t know why he sped past me like he did – something didn’t feel right. I even told everyone in the van that I was gonna have to watch dude simply because I know that cops need zero excuse – they’ll pull you over and formulate a reason while they walk up to your car. As I continued driving, in the distance I could see the state trooper pull off of the right side of the freeway and set his car up as if to catch people speeding. Once again, no problem…. I wasn’t breaking the speed limit or any other law for that matter. But what folks fail to understand is that sometimes all you have to do is pass a cop in your car and it’s over for you ……and your record.

So, you know when you pass through a neighborhood you haven’t been in before and the older brothers sitting on the porch follow your car down the street with their eyes trying to figure out who you are and why you’re there? Well, when we passed the state trooper, I could see that his eyes were LOCKED in on our van exactly like that…. and then he merged back into traffic. As soon as I saw this, I announced to the van…..

“Maaaan, he’s gonna pull us over.”

Here’s the scene…. I was driving, Phonte was in the front passenger seat, Carmen Rodgers and bass player, Darion Alexander were sitting in the back. Four Black folks in a van with out of state plates (the plates on the rental van were Illinois)………. traveling. That’s it, that’s all. But sometimes, that’s all you need. Because when I looked up in my rear view mirror again, who do you think was there?…… AGAIN. So, again….. I changed lanes to the right and happened to pull behind a big rig. The trooper remained in my blind spot for about a half mile or so, in which I imagined he was running the plates. Then he also changed lanes to the right to follow me. By this time I was doing about 65 in a 70 and I told the crew, “If I change lanes again and he follows me, he’s gonna pull us over.”

I changed lanes to the right again…. He followed, again……
Lights went on.

Maaaaaaan FUCK!!!

I pulled off the road immediately.

The trooper walked up to Phonte’s window and while asking for license and registration proceeded to tell me that the reason he pulled me over was because I was “following too closely behind that truck.” Remember the big rig I pulled behind the second time he was in my rear view mirror? ….Yeah. THAT one. I was quickly reassured how bullshit this claim was when he said…

“Get out of the car and sit in the patrol car, please”

Hold up, go sit in the cop car for following too closely behind a damn truck? So, I got out, went up to the rear passenger side of the patrol car and went to open the door and the officer said, “No! The FRONT seat!” Go sit in the front seat, huh? I was thinking to myself, ‘NOTHING good can come out of this scenario.’  The trooper also got in the car and while running my ID and Phonte’s ID proceeded to ask me question after question…..after question…. after fucking question. Some questions he repeated to see if I would give him a different answer. Man, I had nothing to hide… We were just trying to get to our hotel and if the interrogation lasted any longer………… soundcheck… hell….. the SHOW.

Is this your van? No, it’s a rental.
Where are you going? To our hotel, we’re part of a band.
You have a show? Yes.
Where at? The Magic Stick.
Is that in Detroit? Yes.
What’s the name of your band? The Foreign Exchange.
You ever been to Michigan before? Yes, I’m from here.
First time playing here? No. (why would it be my first time playing in my HOME STATE?)
Where are you playing? (for the second time) The Magic Stick
In Detroit? (again) Yes.
**Looks at my license** How long have you lived in Maryland? Since 2006.
Is everybody in the van from North Carolina? No.
What does everybody do in the band? There’s two vocalists and a bassist in the van with me.
How long have you been in Maryland? (for the second time) Since 2006.

At this point I was thinking… He is just REALLY fucking terrible at asking questions. Notice how none of these questions have anything to do with what he claimed he pulled me over for.

Then the tone shifted as he began asking what he really wanted to ask me from the jump…..

You have any weapons in the van? No.
Guns? Knives? No.
Any contraband? No.
Do you have any crack in the van? *record scratch* No.

Wait…..
Did he just ask me if I had CRACK in the van??!?!?!
CRACK?!!?!

Do you have any cocaine in the van? No.
Morphine?
No.
Pills?
No.
Marijuana?
No.
What all do you have in the van? Luggage, a keyboard, a bass, and food.
Do you have an arrest record? No.
You ever gotten a ticket before? Yes, for speeding in January of last year.

Real quick… And may be I’m wrong simply because I’ve never transported drugs before, but uhhh… What trafficker transports drugs while driving four deep in a rental van with out-of-state plates on it?! Then again, four Black folks in a van with out-of-state plates on it traveling through Monroe, MI is usually four too many, so… But anyway, he then says….

“Ok, well I’m gonna let you go… Just wait here.”

I didn’t believe dude. He got out of the car, walked over to our passenger side and instructed Phonte to get out of the van. He then cross-referenced all of my answers by asking him similar questions while standing on the side of the freeway. Even after ALL of our answers matched up he asked Phonte if he could search the van. He then went to go get Darion and Carmen’s IDs. When I saw that shit, that’s when I thought to myself…. We may now miss this show because of this dude. He’s trying to find ANYTHING HE CAN right now. All I pictured was us sitting on the side of I-75N for hours with all of our shit out on the road being run through. He came back in to the patrol car, handed me everybody’s IDs and just like that….. he let us go, finally. The entire ordeal lasted about 30-45 minutes. To anyone who has ever had a cop harass you before, there’s always a few minutes of silence in the aftermath where you’re just kinda sitting there like, “What the fuck just happened?! …And WHY?” Never in the history of anything has being questioned by the police for absolutely nothing made anyone’s day better. Needless to say, I was PISSED and could not get into the right frame of mind to perform until we were actually announced on stage… It helped that the show was sold out and crazy as hell, particularly since my family and friends were all in attendance, but MAN. This has become our reality though – traveling between cities in a van, usually with an out-of-state license plate… I guess this qualifies us as suspects. We were followed behind and had a cop ride up on the side of us for about 2 or 3 miles when we drove to Memphis a couple weeks ago. I also thought we were gonna get pulled over during the final TEN minutes of our 12-hour drive from Denver to damn Brownwood, TX. The cop hit a U-turn and followed us loosely for about a mile before turning off. That would NOT have been a good situation at 12:30a.

So, officers…. If you happen to spot our van riding through your town four deep en route to the next city, there’s no need for alarm…

We’re just touring.

Encore at the +FE show • Magic Stick in Detroit, MI (05.09.14)

Encore at the +FE show • Magic Stick in Detroit, MI (05.09.14)