Studio Campfire Stories: “Marzipan” (feat. Eric Roberson & Phonte)

There are two key characteristics that are common when Phonte and I get into very involved music conversations… 1. They are never planned. It’s never formally announced, “Ayo man, we’ve gotta get up and talk about some music.” …Nope. It just happens. 2. The conversation usually lasts for a few hours. Kats are usually sitting at our computers going through iTunes like, “Hol’lup… Have you heard THIS shit though?! …. NAH but WAIT!! Remember that Timbaland remix joint from so and so that was on the such and such soundtrack?!?” Yeah… 2-4 hours of this – Sending music back and forth and putting each other on to new joints. Well, about three years ago during one of these conversations Phonte put me up on this song called “Marzipan” by a kat named Eric Tagg who I looked up immediately and found out that he was most known for his work with guitarist Lee Ritenhour (“Is It You”). I can specifically remember how hyped Phonte was about the joint… and this was looong before we even talked about possibly covering it. I’m actually glad it happened that way, because it gave me a chance to just enjoy the song and let it sink into my memory for a couple of years before I began to really study it. I even ended up picking up Eric Tagg’s entire Dreamwalkin’ album just because of the one song… I had to hear more of his work. 

Fast-forward to January 2011… Phonte threw the song out there as an idea for …just visiting three – this was no surprise to me at all. Funny enough, the FIRST thing that came to mind was the famous Cosby Show “CHALLLLLOOOONNGE!!” scene because knowing how the song went, I understood that the chords and the off-count of the verses were NOT straightforward at all… I knew from the jump that I would definitely have my work cut out for me. The good thing is, I enjoy challenges. So I figured that if I sat with the song long enough in “study mode” everything would fall into place. Well…. that’s KINDA what happened. It took me getting frustrated with the verse chord progression, shutting the song down…. coming back to it, and cussing out Eric Tagg and his engineer because the keys were tucked so well in the mix in that there were spots in the song where I couldn’t even hear specific chords. BUT… I FINALLY figured it out. That was by far the toughest part of the song to cover. Once those chords were figured out, I damn near felt in the clear. So finally, late January during a day that school was canceled because of heavy snow and ice, I turned the studio on in the morning and ended up recording the full instrumental by lunch time. I was hyped up because I had just purchased a new snare drum a week or two prior and wanted to utilize it for this particular recording session. To be honest, it was the new snare’s sound that helped shape and mold the direction and recreation of this song… I’m not really sure how I can explain that, but I’ll try my best. If you understand the abilities and the full working potential of a NEW instrument, not only will your ideas be enhanced, but production doors will fly open for you. Picking up that new piece of equipment and demoing it during the recording process allowed me to take another risk or two with my drum playing that I probably wouldn’t have been pleased with otherwise. This is why I usually have NO problem with investing in studio equipment. More sounds = more ideas = more risks being taken in the studio.

Another interesting part about recording a cover is finding the correct vocalist for the song. We were looking for a male vocalist  who could match the feel and the tone of the original joint. With Eric Tagg singing in a naturally higher register with a warm tone, there was only ONE kat who was even mentioned or thought about for this piece… Eric Roberson. Phonte who at the time had just finished recording a joint for Erro’s upcoming album Mr. Nice Guy, reached back out to him for my album. From what I remember, it didn’t take him long at ALL to turn the vocals around. But in the meantime, Phonte took the time to the hooks down, which gave the song new life in itself so when I finally heard Erro’s vocals on it, my instrumental sounded like a totally different joint. I hit Phonte up like, “Ayo… This is IT.” Just for good measure, instead of duplicating the guitar/synth solos in the original song, we decided to change it up just a bit and run guitar/trumpet solos back-to-back. Frequent +FE collaborator and live band guitarist Chris Boerner was called on once again to perform the guitar solo, which he took full advantage of by showing no mercy in the eight bars of space he was allotted. Mr. Johnny-On-the-Spot himself, trumpeter Stan Graham who can also be found on “Take Off the Blues,” “If I Could Tell You No,” and “Flight of the Blackbyrd” competed the solo package by adding his own melodic stamp, which opened up the feeling of the song even further. It’s amazing just how much appreciation you gain for certain pieces of music once you try to recreate it… “Marzipan” was a perfect example. I can’t listen to this song without completely reliving its creative process…

Videos & Pics from 1st Hit Listening Lounge Featuring Zo! (in Atlanta)

Zo! and Jodine During the Meet & Greet

By: Kimberly Kennedy Charles

Zo! was in the building at Moods Music on August 7 for the Music Addikts and Harmony In Life’s 1st Hit Listening Lounge. Host Jodine Dorce of Jodine’s Corner and Zo! chop it up in an intimate, “Inside the Actors Studio” fashion about his background and passion before music, how some of his hottest collaboration tracks came to fruition, who his musical inspirations are and even why he gives away some of his music for free! It was a great time as in-store fans and fans via Twitter alike got the chance to interact and vibe with Zo!

Studio Campfire Stories: “Driving” (feat. Sy Smith)

It seems as though all of the stories for …just visiting three begin with a phone conversation between Phonte and I. Welp, I guess with that being said……….. 

I was having a conversation with Phonte one day…… and he was telling me about a recent connection he made with a certain well-known female vocalist who essentially made it known that she was down to be on the album. Now knowing how things can change on a dime in music without much warning, I decided very early that I wasn’t gonna get too excited until I was listening to a final version of a song with her vocals on it. A few days later, Phonte sent me a folder of four joints, which included the song “Driving” by Everything But the Girl. I’ll admit, I remembered the song VERY vaguely… BUT out of the four that he sent, this is the one that both of us gravitated toward. Technically speaking, when I listened to the song and heard it bounce back and forth basically between two or three chords, I thought to myself, this is gonna be a pretty easy song to redo… This shouldn’t be a problem at all – That is, until I listened closer and heard about 593 layers of synth in the joint. It seemed like every time I listened, a brand new synth patch would mysteriously appear – the track was VERY deceiving. Even when I sent what I thought was the final music to Phonte… he hit me back right back, “Ayo… There’s a synth line that you missed. Go to (insert minute mark value here) and check it out…” DAMN!! I thought I GOT all of um!!! *Angrily opens Pro Tools file back up*

I actually finished a “to be recorded to” draft of the song pretty early… and THAT’S when the real fun began. Once Phonte got back in touch with the originally chosen vocalist, we discovered that her schedule, our album deadline, combined with our touring schedule probably wouldn’t work out – So we ended up having to look elsewhere. But I’m sure we will get to work with her in the near future on some original material… So we turned our attention to Paris, Amber, and Anita… otherwise known collectively as KING to handle the vocals. They were completely down AND were already familiar with the song, ok… dope! Well…… That is, until they were called on to do a small gig opening up at the LA Forum for uhhh….. none other than….. well, this kat outta Minneapolis, MN named…… Prince Rogers Nelson. We were REALLY happy for them landing that show and with the rehearsal schedule they were gonna have to keep, there was no way that they would have been able to record this song and we understood that completely. Meanwhile, during the creation of the JV3, I already knew that it was a must that I had to have a joint with my sister Sy Smith a/k/a “See Smeet”… I always tell people, Sy is one of the sweetest, most down-to-earth people you’ll ever come across…. AND she’s probably also “more real” than a lot of dudes you know – love her to death. And while I was racking my brain trying to think of a song to redo that would be tailor-made to fit her vocally, the answer was sitting right in front of my face the entire time. “Driving” was for Sy Smith… Period. Phonte and I were already plotting on her to record the joint before she even knew about it or heard it! I finally ended up playing the instrumental for her in the van while we were on the road with The Foreign Exchange traveling from Chicago to Indianapolis back in May and she loved it. After we went home from that Midwest run, she got together with Phonte and recorded her vocals. Once I heard the vocal draft, I thought to myself, “She sounds a little different than normal… But it sounds dope as HELL.” I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the difference was or why she sounded the way she did… I just knew that I loved it. When I got Phonte on the phone, he told me that Sy didn’t feel too well while recording it… Ahhhhhhhhh, NOW it makes sense. To me, her not feeling 100% ADDED to the emotion and the sincerity of what she was singing about and it also helped to make it her song. To drive that point home even further, I wanted to change the song at the end into one of my all-time favorite slow joints, “Inside My Love” by Minnie Riperton. When arranging in my head what I wanted to do to re-create “Driving”, the first song I thought about was “Inside My Love”… the drums had a similar feel to me. So I allowed that particular drum pattern from the intro and the verses of Minnie’s song be the influence for the entire cover… I love Sy’s interpolation with the lyrics during that piece. She took Minnie’s opening “Two people….” line and played with it just enough to let the listener know what song we were changing into, but still subtle enough to where it may not hit you until the change is almost over……. Pretty sneaky there, See Smeet. 


Download …just visiting three for free HERE

Village Voice Shows Love to ‘…just visiting three’

This Wham! Cover By Zo! And Phonte is Pretty Fantastic!
Source: The Village Voice 

By: Maura Johnston

Right off the bat I should tell you that “Everything She Wants” by Wham! has been one of my favorite songs since I first heard it as an impressionable nine-year-old, even though its themes of love being washed away by consumerism and economic pressures were far beyond my years; its gentle shimmy and dollop of funk on already-existing synthpop tropes—and, of course, the bravura vocal by the pre-Faith George Michael (particularly on the breakdown)—made me drop the needle on it again and again. This morning I was alerted to a cover of the track by the musician-producer Zo! and Phonte (late of Little Brother, now of The Foreign Exchange), and oh is it good; it slows the track down just enough to wring the longing out of it in a completely different way, with sputtering synths and a nice, juicy bassline. And there’s even a shout-out to Michael Jackson near the end, although I won’t spoil its exact nature… Read the Full Article