The Couch Sessions Interview

INTERVIEW: Zo! creates a SunStorm at CMJ

Written by: sondai

If you see me walking down the street with these bright green and blue earbuds on I am more than likely listening to one of two play lists (not that the others on the iPod are garbage but I am just in this mood…). The first being a recently acquired dedication to moi from a certain BK producer and the second being my tried and true “nothing can touch me when this album is playing” album. That would be the latest from Detroit area native Zo!, SunStorm is on constant rotation. 12 full bodied tracks of nothing but good music with some major voices from Lady Alma, YahZarah, Darien Brockington to Monica Blaire and Phonte. I was fortunate enough to get on this brother’s dance card and ask him a few questions about his musical decisions that have lead him to this space in time.

So how did a Michigan native migrate to the DMV? What was the deciding factor for your move?

Before I moved, I was contemplating either coming to the East Coast or moving out west. I decided to move east because there are so many different markets and cities up and down I-95 that I felt it would be beneficial to advancing my musical career. The fact that I have a ton of  family in Maryland made the move a bit more natural… It was fairly easy to get adjusted out this way.

Coming from such a historic place in the music game do you feel like there are different standards that you must adhere to?

Well, I know that I am my own worst critic… I don’t like too much of anything. I think that the area I’m from has an influence on my standards, yes….But it also has to do with the company I keep in The Foreign Exchange family and the way that I want to have my music presented as well. The standards are sky high, and that’s how I like it. It keeps me not only grounded as an artist but heavily motivated to continue to raise those standards with each piece of work.

What or who have been your musical influences/inspirations?

My first and major influences are my parents, they are the ones who brought me up around great music as well as the ones who pushed me to play piano growing up although I absolutely HATED it. It was their push and support that has gotten me to this point and that’s huge because on too many occasions you hear stories of artists’ loved ones not supporting them in their careers, so I consider myself extremely blessed to have had them in my corner from day one.

On your latest endeavor, SunStorm, you have a host of talent that you have worked with… How hard was it to coordinate schedules to work on this project? What were your biggest challenges?

I think the fact that there were TWO people (Phonte and I) making sure things ran smoothly rather than just me helped a WHOLE lot in regards to coordinating schedules and making sure that deadlines were honored, etc. Schedule conflicts were definitely the biggest challenges, I mean… we were working with some of the best out there, artists who are in high demand. So kats were on the road, in the studio working on other things, or just caught up in general. But the fact that they ALL came through and recorded for my album as if it was a lead single for their own was absolutely flattering to me. Even now, three months later I sit back and kinda shake my head at that because as a producer, I feel like I’ve done my job, which is bringing the best out of the artists you work with… and vice versa of course.

How did your connection to Phonte and Nicolay, Foreign Exchange, develop?

It came directly through Phonte who I met back in 2005. Right after I finished working on the “If She Breaks Your Heart” record for Leave It All Behind, Phonte kept telling me that when FE goes out on the road to tour the album, he wanted to include me. I ended up pulling together my kats from here in DC to complete the full band and about a year and a half later, we were all on stage in NYC playing the first of many FE shows to come.
I must say as a listener I am in love with SunStorm. Which tracks did you enjoy creating the most? Which tracks have the most stories behind them? I really can’t say which ones I enjoyed the most… I have too much of a personal connection with every last track on the album. But the most involved story would DEFINITELY be “All Is Well With Love” with Chantae Cann. We went through so many changes behind that song that it almost didn’t even make the album… As a matter of fact, I wrote about this in my blog.

It is obvious the talent is within you down to the pinkies… with that have talent will travel… is there anyone that you would love to collaborate with musically to see what comes to fruition?

I’ve always wanted to work with The Roots in some form or fashion. Whether in the studio, or performing with them on stage… That would be a dream come true. i would love to work with Faith Evans, Adriana Evans just to name a couple. And another dream of mine would be to sit in the studio and create with Rod Temperton… THAT would be crazy.

Chapter 3 verse 5 of which Book?

Ahhhh, you’re getting too deep… ’35′ was my uniform number in high school and college when I played baseball. So it isn’t a particular chapter and verse in the Bible, although it may have looked better if it worked out like that huh?

Who is coming out of the “D” that we need to check for?

Keep your eyes open for Monica Blaire, who appears on SunStorm (“MakeLuv2Me”), Nick Speed, Big Tone, T. Calmese (Illite of Subterraneous), Asylum 7, who I did the Overdue Process album with in 2009, and Finalé.

I was chatting it up with a friend in NY who mentioned you name and GRAMMY in the same sentence. How do you feel about that?

I’ll tell you this, I’ll be playing it cool now and give some answer like, “Well, It’s an honor… a blessing, blah, blah, blah…etc.” Which it IS…. BUT, if this album happens to get nominated for a GRAMMY, I may lose it…. I can’t lie.

If you are in New York on Sat Oct 23, 2010 at 7:00 PM it would BEHOOVE you to make that move to the CMJ Music Marathon ” Authenticity” Release Concert at B.B. King’s Blues Club. Zo! will be with The Foreign Exchange, Darien Brockington, Chantae Cann and special guests!

‘SunStorm’ Earns Two 2010 SoulTracks Nominations

Earlier today, the finalists were announced for the 2010 SoulTracks Readers’ Choice Awards and after narrowing down each category from 20 entries/per, left standing among the finalists for Song of the Year with “Greatest Weapon Of All Time” (feat. Sy Smtih) and Independent Album of the Year with SunStorm!

If you would like to vote for these categories, here are the official rules via

Voting ballots will be sent out by email on Thursday, October 21st. You must be a SoulTracks email subscriber to receive a voting ballot. If you aren’t a subscriber, just sign up at the top left side of this page. It’s FREE! Folks who sign up after October 21st will receive their ballots within 24 hours.

The awards will be broadcast on Tuesday, December 7th at 8:00pm!

I’m pretty excited as I have never been nominated for anything in my musical career. So to even be recognized for the hard work that we all put forth toward this album and its songs is an honor. Hopefully, these nominations are the first of many to come… Thank you for supporting!

Four appearances on the New Foreign Exchange album… ‘Authenticity’

Well, as most of you all know, The Foreign Exchange just released their third album this past Tuesday on October 12th, Authenticity. I am proud to announce the fact that I appear on 4 of the 11 tracks on the album… 

“Fight For Love” was a song that Phonte and I wrote and demoed from scratch down in my spot back in June. I won’t post the original demo as it is extremely rough… it was basically Phonte with a melody and some lyrics and me on the keys creating and locking in a chord progression while charting at the same time so I wouldn’t forget what the hell I just played. The final result left me what the only outside production credit on the album (second FE album in a row), keys credit and also credit for the Moog synth solo. I also played piano on the lead single, “Maybe She’ll Dream Of Me” as well as “Everything Must Go”. I was requested to channel the late, great Roger Troutman by breaking out the talkbox at the end of “Don’t Wait”, which marked the first time that I had even recorded with the talkbox – It was a lot of fun, I will certainly admit that.

The Foreign Exchange’s Authenticity album is available right here. You can also listen to the entire album via that link as well. Enjoy it!


Phonte and I in East Wing Studios after working on the first draft of “Fight For Love” 6.9.10

Playing the Talkbox on The Foreign Exchange’s “Don’t Wait” – 08.09.10

I thought it would be fun to record myself laying down the first layer of talkbox vocals for The Foreign Exchange’s “Don’t Wait” track from their album Authenticity. This didn’t end up being the final take, but it’s very close… Those of you who have played around on the talkbox before can truly understand the musicianship and craft of the late Roger Troutman. He did this for a LIVING. Wow… Huge respect, and enjoy!