IN THE STUDIO with Zo! & Tall Black Guy – Abstractions (Episode 03)

Just as the pandemic was beginning to shut everything down back in March of 2020, Donnie Seals of Digife captured Tall Black Guy and I creating and recording in the studio for three consecutive days. We were working through sessions and material that would result in our album, Abstractions.

In this third and FINAL episode, take a glance behind the scenes and observe how we joined creative forces to put together what would become our opening track (and first single), “Talkin’ To Myself” featuring BeMyFiasco.

Film by Digife

Abstractions is out NOW via +FE Music

BeMyFiasco – “Caramel” (Prod. by Zo! & Tigallo)

BeMyFiasco – “Caramel”
(L. Ferguson, B. Rodriguez)
Produced by Zo! & Tigallo
All Vocals by BeMyFiasco
All Instruments by Zo!
Add’l Handclaps by Leslie Ferguson
Mixed by Phonte Coleman
Mastered by Chris Boerner
Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music (BMI)/BeMyPublishing (ASCAP)

‘SkyBreak’ Documentary OFFICIAL Trailer

I’m so very proud to be able to present this to y’all. After talking about and posting some of the teasers over the last month or so, here is the official trailer for my upcoming SkyBreak Documentary.

Film by Digital Café
Documentary Website

NEW MUSIC: Zo! – “Lifelines” featuring Dornik

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Zo! – “Lifelines” featuring Dornik
(L. Ferguson, P. Coleman, D. Leigh)
Vocals: Dornik
Rap: Phonte
All instruments: Zo!
Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music (BMI)/Daddy’s New Bowtie (ASCAP)/Universal/PMR Publishing (PRS)

The first single taken from the third +FE Music release from producer, multi-instrumentalist, and musical director of The Foreign Exchange, Zo!.
Album in stores May 20.

Pre-Order SkyBreak
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Zo! – ‘SkyBreak’ (2016)

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The third +FE Music release from producer, multi-instrumentalist, and musical director of The Foreign Exchange, Zo!.

The 10 song collection features guest appearances from Eric Roberson, Phonte, Muhsinah, innovative UK soul wonder Dornik, and longtime Dungeon Family affiliate and funk/rock veteran Joi.

01. Lake Erie feat. Sy Smith
02. Starlight feat. Phonte
03. Packing For Chicago feat. Muhsinah
04. I Don’t Mind feat. Shana Tucker
05. Wishing You Well feat. Carmen Rodgers
06. A Season feat. Eric Roberson
07. Just Whatcha Like feat. Joi
08. Lifelines feat. Dornik
09. For Pops
10. Steal My Joy feat. Tamisha Waden

Purchase SkyBreak
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Listen to SkyBreak
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Studio Campfire Stories: ‘Tales From the Land Of Milk and Honey’ Edition – “Face In The Reflection”

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When I posted the story for “Until the Dawn (Milk and Honey, Pt. 2)”, a few people happened to notice that I was writing out of order of the album’s tracklisting – that was very intentional. While “Until…” closed the album, “Face In the Reflection” is going to serve as the grand finalé for these stories… Why? Well, not necessarily because of its self-examining subject matter and the mood it creates, but because honestly… this track almost wasn’t even created in the first place.

Day three in the studio (April 2, 2015) Nicolay and I were still on a high from creating the music that ended up becoming that Tales From the Land Of Milk and Honey album closer. Once again, we were feeling excellent about our newest batch of instrumentals and even started to talk about the fact that we should make these marathon sessions an annual, semi-annual, or just more of a regular thing to see what else the two of us can come up with together …or even if the purpose is to stay razor sharp in the studio. At this point, we had pretty much called it a day and went into complete shutdown and disconnect mode. We wanted to wrap the shit up so that we could go and do what had become somewhat of a cornerstone of these studio sessions …EAT. And eat WELL.

Now, I can’t remember if Nic was putting a quick mix on the “Until The Dawn…” instrumental so he could bounce it down and send the files over to Phonte or what was happening exactly …but since I had a little bit of idle time on my hands and just so happened to be sitting at the (Yamaha) Motif keyboard I started playing around on it a little bit. Allow me explain something, most artists or musicians will tell you that some of their best music has come from simply “playing around” on an instrument. Songs that come to mind from my own catalog that are direct results of this include: “Greater Than The Sun” and “Body Rock”. A couple of things I was playing around with started sounding pretty good to me until the next thing I knew, I had a decent sounding descending chord progression on my hands. It was another one of those situations where Nic and I kinda looked at each other on the same page like, “We may have to stop everything we’re doing right now and record that.” Nic opened up a new Pro Tools session and started to construct some drums around the same tempo as I was playing on the piano. The drum pattern he programmed was simple, yet it still managed to encompass his “sound.” He laid the pattern out first so that I had a foundation to play over once it came time to record my parts. First, I recorded the piano track which was actually kind of “captured” by Nic – what I mean by this is, listen to the very beginning of the song and the way that it comes in. My piano part doesn’t fall completely on tempo until my second chord. I THINK this is because I was playing around with the progression and then realized that we were actually recording. Either way, I LOVE the fact that it was kept exactly the way it was… Even as a perfectionist in the studio, I live for “human” elements in music. Those are moments that add authentic touches to what is being created and could never be duplicated by a computer or plug-in. Even most of what was played after the drums fade at the end was improvised. Second, I picked up the bass guitar and Nic recorded my bass parts, which I kept very minimal. A song like this does not scream for a “bass guitar show,” so I felt that simplicity was key there. Lastly, I found a synth patch on the Moog Voyager that I was messing around with and Nic hit the record button on that as well… And I WANT to say (Nicolay, fact-check me on this) that all three parts were each done in one take. …Or maybe just the piano and bass parts. Anyway, we also layered a synth pad in there for some additional warmth on the track and some strings to make that ending bigger.

And just like that, we had another one… The end result was a pretty sounding track that was also very haunting at the same time. We didn’t go crazy over it like we did the others because we were already unplugged. I think our heads were more into what restaurant we were about to eat in ….or at least, that’s where MY greedy ass head was. The instrumental was then quickly bounced down and the file was sent to Phonte and our final joint was out of our hands. The night got even more interesting when in the middle of us toasting some drinks up to all of this new and completed music, we got to witness a couple get arrested a few tables over from us in the restaurant we decided to go to. Wilmington, NC was great to us in the entertainment department that day.

When I drove back to Maryland the next morning, what would become the “Face In The Reflection” instrumental was the only one that Nic didn’t email me, so as a couple of weeks had gone by I had completely forgotten how the song even sounded. That is, until I got a text from Phonte one morning that said……

“GMAIL”

I’ve said this before in stories and at shows… Whenever I get that “GMAIL” text…. That means there’s some fucking FIRE in my inbox.

When I first pressed ‘play’ on it, I was hyped up just to hear the song again. I  reacquainted myself with the music during the first few bars of the intro, but I FULLY understood it when Phonte came in and basically verbalized its tone. That simplistic, pretty, yet almost uneasy music came to life. Hell, when the hook came in?!

“Do you ever wonder why
You can never unify
The person that you are with ever person that you think you should be?
When you look into the mirror try
To keep it strong and not to cry
When you don’t feel the connection to the face in the reflection you see”

Tales From the Land Of Milk and Honey had  just gotten REAL. Even if you’re perfectly happy with your life, that hook will have you looking to find some shit to reevaluate. If this one catches you on the wrong day, it’s a wrap.

Hearing “Face In The Reflection” for the first time made the album feel complete to me. It served as the “ballad”, but it also touched upon a subject matter that is very relatable – this shit can hit home HARD for some of our listeners. The final touches were added by Nic who layered some organ in the hooks (which actually added to the “haunting” aspect of the song) and made the drums thicker by adding some crashes, accents and just beefing them up sonically, overall. And Tamisha Waden and Carmen Rodgers teaming up on them background vocals will have you calling around to talk your problems out with a professional while a single tear rolls down your cheek. The raw emotion captured and depicted in this song is undeniably the star of the show. When I talked to Phonte about it after hearing it, we couldn’t wait to hear the public response once the album was released. This is definitely one of those joints where you may have to hit that “pause” button on your player before advancing to the next selection in order to gather yourself a bit. Listen man, “Until The Dawn…” HAD to close this album… We didn’t want to leave folks staring into mirrors at themselves looking all sad and shit after all of this fun, uptempo music!!

Studio Campfire Stories: ‘Tales From the Land Of Milk and Honey’ Edition – “Until The Dawn (Milk and Honey Pt. 2)”

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“Until The Dawn…” not only closed the album, but it was the song that (we THOUGHT) was going to close out our second marathon studio session down in Wilmington, NC. By day three of the session, we definitely felt as though we were on a pretty good winning streak, especially since Nicolay and I had cranked out the music for what would end up becoming “Asking For A Friend” on day one, and “As Fast As You Can” the following day. By April 2, 2015 (day three), we were looking to keep those tempos up and continue to have some more fun during the creation process. We had been snapping pics of the studio session and posting them up via social media to let folks know that we were putting together something amazing…. we just didn’t know what the hell FOR specifically (possibly the +FE “crew” album that I’ve mentioned before) either way, we knew we were sitting on a strong set of new music.

The music for “Until The Dawn” began with an agreed upon tempo and some drums Nic programmed that the two of us decided to just jam on for a little while. I think at that point, we really wanted to take our time with this one to ensure that it didn’t have the same feel as everything else we had already made that week or during the previous session. We even posted a 15-second video I took of us doing just that… I was on the Rhodes and Nic on the Moog Voyager messing around with some ideas. Check the full version…

When it comes to recalling these stories, “my right hand man” a/k/a my voice memo is GOLDEN. Because of it, I’m able to remember that before this particular video was shot, what we had for the main groove was a simple two-chord piano progression. I have audio of me sitting on the Moog Little Phatty playing around with a bassline while the track was running in the background. Once again, I recorded it so that I wouldn’t forget what the hell I was playing at the time. You’d be surprised at how often you forget how you’ve played something, especially after that “record” button has been hit. So to avoid having to go through the whole, “Ayo!! What did I play on that part again?!” I’ll hit the record button on my phone and capture it just to be safe …voice memo is undefeated. From those original two chords that we had, Nic got on the Yamaha Motif and expanded the main groove progression from two to four chords. Once he did that, the song felt like it was getting somewhere now that it had some legitimate movement in it. I hopped on the Rhodes and wanted to see what it would sound like if I decorated the music with some arpeggiated chords on top (that’s exactly what you see me doing in the video above while holding the camera). From there, I got back on the Little Phatty board to record the bassline I had figured out earlier. The problem was, the original bassline I had was for a two-chord progression and not the four chords that we were now working with. Therefore, I needed to come up with something different… Once I locked in on a new bassline, I recorded it and played it all the way through accompanied by the already recorded piano parts …that is until the very end when the pianos stopped. At that part, I went straight to C and on instinct started playing and riffing in C minor – just like that, we had a second part to our song. We were jokingly referring to that change as the “Marvin” change because it reminded us of how Marvin Gaye songs (“What’s Going On”, for example) would go from an uplifting tone to all of a sudden stopping on a dime and nosediving directly into a darker almost thought provoking and emotionally thick minor progression. THAT was the part we couldn’t wait to hear vocals on because we knew it was gonna be crazy…. And when we got that email back from Phonte that read:

“NO GAMES.”

We KNEW what the deal was. I loved what happened on this track vocally because it allowed Tamisha Waden to GO IN. On “Truce” she was somewhat subdued, which of course worked for the track. She got to do some hollering on “Work It To The Top” but still in more of a background vocal capacity. This was the song where she was literally vocally unleashed. We had all heard her on stage, we all know her capabilities and that her roots are in that chuuuuuch – this was the song that took her over the top. Tamisha was able to step out there, flex her muscles vocally and let loose. I can remember hearing the song for the first time and literally yelling out loud, “Yeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaah!!!!!!!!!!” Once finished, it served as a PERFECT “part two” to “Milk and Honey” – still very uptempo, lively and lacking verses in order to keep the energy going as more of a vamp. Hearing all of the new percussion and accents Nic added to the song also added plenty of movement and bounce to it. We were getting closer to completing this project and I was feeling more proud and anxious by the DAY.

Studio Campfire Stories: ‘Tales From the Land Of Milk and Honey’ Edition – “As Fast As You Can”

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April 1, 2015… Was day TWO of our second studio marathon in Wilmington, NC. Having knocked out what would become the instrumental for The Foreign Exchange’s lead single, “Asking For A Friend” the night before and a second instrumental earlier that day, to say that Nicolay and I were in a groove in the studio would be a complete understatement. Out of the ten Tales From the Land Of Milk and Honey joints, this may very well me my favorite story to tell. I almost feel like I need to introduce this one as if I’m narrating a damn ESPN 30 For 30 trailer…

“What if I told you…”

…that the music for “As Fast As You Can” happened… well…. kinda by accident?

Nic opened a new Pro Tools session, as usual… We agreed upon a tempo and then he started searching through some drum kits until he landed on something that had some sounds that caught our ears. He laid a four-to-the-floor kick as the foundation and started to build around that. I was sitting at the Rhodes, kinda nodding and kinda texting or tweeting… Probably about 50/50. Nic was on the drum machine going IN, layering each element piece-by-piece until the drums were pretty much complete. THEN… Ok, so you know when you’re in the studio how you just tap on a couple of notes back and forth to test if a keyboard’s sound is coming through the mixing board? Well, Nic did just that… He reached over to the Moog Voyager keyboard and just hit a couple notes to get a quick sound check – it was successful, the board was coming through the speakers. Meanwhile, I put my phone down and quickly figured out that the two notes he hit during the quick sound test were C# and D.  I figured, hey… Let me see what happens if I mess around with those two notes and build some chords around them. The very first things that came to me were: Dmaj7 and C#min7, but hit in a rhythm that went with Nic’s drum pattern. I kept playing the chords until we realized… Ayooooooo, we’ve got something here!!!

Now when I started playing the rhythm initially, my bass note and chord matched… Meaning that my left and right hands were playing the chords stabs together …at the same time. When Nic laid the bassline out in the song, the D and first C# notes were the same rhythm as what I played, but the remaining C#’s all hit on the “and” through the remaining measure and a half. I thought that slight change gave the drums a little more “bounce”. Come to think of it, I have audio of Nic playing the synth chords over the drums and bassline while I sat on the Moog Little Phatty trying out different synth line variations. I have listened to it a good 20+ times since the release of the album because it’s dope to be able to hear our initial reactions to what was being created. Hell, if you can’t get excited off of the music you’re making, you certainly can’t expect anyone else to. And we were hyped up… At one point in the recording, I played a line (that we ultimately ended up recording on the song) and said, “Yeah, that’s the one I like!” …Then I started sing/humming the beginning of the line as I played it and Nic sang the second part in approval. The very next line variation I played, you can hear Nic in the background react, “OH!!!!!” And the clip concludes with him saying, “That is it! …..I think we may have to record that…” It’s REALLY dope to listen to now in hindsight… Our initial reactions to that music captured in audio form, all because I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget the line I was practicing. It may have taken us a grand total of about 30-40 minutes to finish the entire instrumental and once it was done, I think we ran the joint for ANOTHER 30-40 minutes. We knew we had a helluva song on our hands with this one, it just felt way too good for it not to become a standout. We sent the finished product over to Phonte who was also in the studio with Carmen Rodgers just a couple of hours northwest of us in Raleigh, NC. His response to the music contained in that email?

“FISHGREASE”

Just three days later on the morning of April 4th, Nic and I received an email back from Phonte with a completed song attached…

Subject: As Fast As You Can
Message: Bruh…

Look man… When I opened that attachment and heard Carmen singing over that music, it sounded like we made it specifically for her. Her tone + the instrumental?!?! She fit PERFECTLY. I remember Phonte telling me about the writing style that he and Carmen collaborated on for it where they utilized the same melody and cadence for the verses as he did in the hook… Well, the shit worked. I honestly had to STOP myself from listening to this song too much once I got the recorded vocals back. Out of everything we made, it was the one that I kept going back to. I never claim favorites when it comes to music I’m involved in, but I RAN this shit, bruh… A ton. It was always crazy to me how this song went from being sort of an “accident” to me burning a hole in it later by playing it so much. Further confirmation that this music was supposed to happen.