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
Let me just start this story off with this fact… “Milk and Honey” was the very first song that Nicolay and I created when we got together in February 2014 at his studio in Wilmington, NC. The FIRST jam. When I say that any and all doubts he and I may have had about working with another producer were thrown outta the window after this one. Trust me… To me, hearing how this song came together was clear and uncut proof that this collaborative production was supposed to happen.
Scheduled studio time was to begin on February 10, 2014, cold as shit outside, but the precipitation held off fairly well for my drive down from Silver Spring, MD to Wilmington, NC. I had never driven that six-hour stretch before as the only cities I had driven to in NC previously were Raleigh, Durham and Charlotte, which is also a six-hour drive, but to the west of I-95 – Taking the drive east off of I-95 South was new… I loaded my car up with a few weapons: The Nord Lead 2, Moog Little Phatty, and my 5-string bass guitar. Although it was only the three studio items, I remember it feeling like I was loading up to play a damn show somewhere. Regardless, once I arrived the set-up process was a quick one. I took a quick look at everything Nic had in the studio and I can remember pretty much getting right to work. The Fender Rhodes piano was powered up and ready to go, so I started messing around on it and came up with a chord progression… JUST from that progression, Nicolay started constructing these Brazilian jazz-influenced drums around what I was playing that had me buggin’ OUT. Once again y’all… This was the FIRST thing we started working on and I was already thinking, “This is about to be something SPECIAL.” This was also the first time I had gotten to see Nic program his drums, which was something short of phenomenal in and of itself, all the way down to the breaks and drum fills. DOPE. From there I can remember coming up with a change and then the melody line that lead back into the main groove and then recording the different parts (seeing Nic program the drums around that line was NUTS). Over the drums, we recorded my chords first via the Rhodes and went all the way through the song, no looping, no flying parts… Played it straight through. Same with the synth bass, which I played on that trusty Moog Little Phatty… straight through. That part was FUUUUUUN to play. An extremely loose and free bassline that I wanted to kind of directly complement the movement of Nic’s drums while also serving as the glue between them and the Rhodes parts that at the time seemed to be floating freely. When the string and flute parts were laid, we had a solid enough foundation to send off to Phonte….
Months later… I remember hearing “Milk And Honey” the first time with Phonte and Shana Tucker’s vocals on it… I damn near lost my mind. This song probably should have been named, “+FE Music Is On The Same Page And Shit” because when I heard what they did, I literally said aloud, “That’s EXACTLY what this song needed!!” From the chants, to the murderous harmonies on the words at the very end of some of the phrases… They knew what to do with this song. And when Shana came in on her solo part, it felt like Natalie Cole coming in on my favorite song of her’s, “La Costa”. I’m actually getting goose bumps while typing this now. SO very refreshing to hear. Then Nic sent me another updated version where he added acoustic guitar over the key change, the sound effect (heard at 1:29), and that quick four-note synth line over the final hook…. NOW the song was REALLY speaking, good gracious.
Let’s go right back to that February 2014 studio session with Nic and I…
So, after about the 20th playback on the “Milk And Honey” instrumental, we were deciding if we should add more to it or leave it for later and simply move on to something new. I happened to notice that there was a kick on all four beats (in each measure) and just to experiment with it, I asked Nic to let the kick keep going as a “four to the floor” pattern. And on the Moog, I messed around with a minor bassline groove that sounded VERY early 80’s. I’m pretty sure this was verbalized…
“Yooooo!! It would be CRAZY for this joint to go from a ‘Brazilian jazz’ feel to ’80’s funk.'”
Once that was established, I remember messing around with the bassline some more while Nic went IN once again on the drum pattern. To hear him construct these 80’s sounding drums was a damn work of art. He switched the kick to sound more like something from a drum machine and combined a live drum kit with some Roland TR-808 sounds, it was NUTS. When he added that damn double 808 clap at the end of the phrases?!?!?!??? Sheeeeeeeiiiit. We were THERE. I recorded the bassline and Rhodes parts along with the couple of blips and beeps on the synth… and Nic finished it off with more synth work to fill the song out even more. We had successfully gone from one genre of music to another in the matter of seconds and loved every minute of it. A studio party was already happening with just the instrumental, so imagine what happened upon hearing Phonte channel Steve Arrington on the damn joint. I heard that shit and hit him up like, “YOOOO… We perform this joint live ….IT’S OVER!! We ALL gotta have mics!!”Tamisha Waden came in on the hook with the big, hollerin’ ass vocals, which were VERY “80’s uptempo” and it worked so well with what was happening. To top everything off…. a jive ass “HUH!!!” right in the middle of the hook. I think it was literally at that moment that I felt like we were making the music we grew up on – FUN music. This is stuff that we’ll enjoy performing just as much as we enjoyed making it. Everyone asks when there will be another Zo! & Tigallo Love The 80’s album…. Well here you go: Zo!, Nic & Tigallo Love the Originals.
This song right here? “Asking For A Friend”??! As some of you may know by now, this was the first single released from the upcoming The Foreign Exchange album Tales From The Land Of Milk And Honey this past Monday night.
Let me explain to y’all how there almost wasn’t even an album to begin with………
No, for real.
Making music is unpredictable. SO unpredictable that this entire project began with a very brief conversation Nicolay and I had during soundcheck before The Foreign Exchange’s New Year’s Eve show in Durham, NC on December 31, 2012 about possibly getting up to do some studio work. Up to that point, Phonte and I had worked closely on music dating back to the end of 2005 and I had worked with Sy Smith and Jeanne Jolly (who both toured with us at the time), but I still hadn’t stepped into the studio with Nic yet. I mean, he and I had played numerous shows together and we have done work on the same songs before by trading files, but never had we been in the same studio, at the same time, creating while trading ideas. Now, on paper it made sense… Two producers/multi-instrumentalists who both compose from scratch without aiming their final product at any genre in particular…. But what folks don’t understand is that the idea of a “perfect” collaboration can be tough when it comes down to its actual execution. For example, when I create music, I do it solo. Nobody just hanging around, no 20 people in the studio while I’m working, no “yes” men or hype men there to gas up every single note, chord, or new sound I play…. Absolutely, alone. Same with Nic. So, the idea of simply working together with another producer who creates in almost the same fashion presented itself to be somewhat of a challenge in our minds – I think because, creatively we didn’t want to step on toes. But with the May 2013 release of my solo album, ManMade and the September release of +FE’s Love In Flying Colors under our belts, we finally decided to give it a try and locked in a time to get to work. By the time we finally got up in February 2014, it was waaaay overdue. I loaded my car with some equipment, grabbed my small carry-on suitcase and hopped on 95 South for the six-hour drive from Silver Spring, MD to Wilmington, NC. I was anxious to get some new music done and to be honest, neither of us knew what to expect. On the drive down, several thoughts ran through my head…..
The hell will this music sound like?!
How will our sounds mesh together? Will they compliment or clash?
Will it sound more like a Nicolay track? ….Or will it sound more like something I did?
Let me explain one thing about art….. If you overthink it, you kill it. He and I knew not to discuss these things beforehand and I’m glad we didn’t because once I arrived at Nic’s studio, instincts took over and we just let the music happen. Three to four days later, we walked outta there with seven brand new instrumentals. Upon leaving, the only question I had while driving back home was, “Why didn’t we do this shit SOONER?!?!?!!” To me, the craziest part was the fact that the music sounded like Nicolay …AND it sounded like me – the two styles merged and the sound was literally split down the middle. With these seven new ones in the chamber, we then talked about working toward completing a “Nicolay & Zo! EP” containing some music with vocals and maybe a couple of instrumentals in there. I spoke publicly about the EP throughout 2014, we even discussed touring options once it was released and everything….
Fast forward to the top of 2015 when Phonte started recording to some of the music along with Carmen Rodgers, Tamisha Waden, Shana Tucker and Carlitta Durand… Once the music started to take shape around the new vocals that were recorded, we decided to focus on creating a “crew” album rather than just a Nic & Zo! EP… An +FE Music “compilation” project, basically. Sounded like an excellent idea to me… But, It also sounded like Nic and I needed to get back to work on some more music so that we could have a full album’s worth of material to pull from. After coordinating schedules again, on March 31, 2015, that’s exactly what we began to do. I drove back down to NC for round TWO of marathon studio sessions in Wilmington.
The second time was a bit different mainly because we knew what to expect from each other from the jump…. At this point, all we needed to do was open up a “New Session” on Pro Tools and go in. Once I arrived, we set up quickly and jumped right into something brand new. I can’t remember why we specifically decided to knock out a House track that night for that very first song, but I DO remember being hyped up about it being as though I had never worked on one before…. Hell, I had never even PLAYED on one.
Maaaaaan…. @nicolaymusic got me in here working on my very first house record. Waaaaay overdue. Wheeeeeeeew!!!!!
Nicolay sat down and began to program the drum track. In the final version, listen to the way the intro for “Asking For A Friend” comes in piece by piece. It’s perfect because that’s damn near how I heard him make the drums. First, was the four-to-the-floor kick with the open hi-hats, then, the toms…. percussion pieces, the snare ….and finally the claps to round it all out. As he was getting everything together drum-wise, I sat down on the Rhodes just to see what would happen and the very first thing that came out was the melody line you hear (right as Phonte’s vocals begin in the final version)… I then hopped on one of my favorite weapons in the studio, the Moog Little Phatty keyboard to work the bassline out until finding something that we both agreed with and from there it was back to the Rhodes to knock out the chord progression for what was to become the hook. Once the hook progression came THAT’S when things seemed to tie together, musically. By this time, Nic had the drums KNOCKING along with all of the intricacies placed and polished. Once we layered that hook up nicely with synths and strings, we added a fully extended vamp out and called it a night. While sipping coffee at damn near midnight we ran the song on repeat, satisfied with the new ‘nod’ to old school house music we had just created – Shit felt like a party in there. Meanwhile, two hours west in Raleigh, NC… Phonte and Carmen were getting ready to set up shop in the studio as well. With two spots running simultaneously for three to four days, we KNEW there was gonna be something special to coming out of this. So we sent the music to them to hear and write to if that’s what they felt, etc. Honestly, I really just wanted to hear their initial responses…
The next day, when Nic and I got back in the studio… Phonte had already called excited about this new record…… BUT, with the music that we already had for the album, he was thinking that it may have been too “hard” of a house record to include in the album batch. No problem… Hell, I knew we would use it somewhere down the line, the joint jammed too hard. We then moved on to start creating the next piece, which we would also send to Phonte and Carmen along with a third joint later on at the end of that day. In total, we ended up creating and sending 5 or 6 new ones to Raleigh, NC that week. ….But they kept going back to listen to that first one.
Once we wrapped, I drove back to Maryland on that Friday, April 3rd …and I’ll be damned if on APRIL 6TH, Nic and I didn’t receive an email from Phonte with the subject title “Asking For A Friend” that read……
“This shit went from “maybe it’s too hard” to “this could be the first single” REAL QUICK.”
I KNEW he couldn’t turn away from that joint!! I clicked the attachment and listened to the long introduction while nodding hard as hell….
Heeeeell yeah… I was completely locked in wondering what would happen next once the verse started. Then the vocals came in …..and when them vocals came in??!?! ….WHEN THE VOCALS CAME IN?!?!?
My response: “Yoooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!”
The last time I responded like that to some vocals Phonte sent over to me, it was our “Africa” remake. I got him on the phone immediately and said, “You were on your Rockwell ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’ shit with this one…” He explained that it was more of a Talking Heads “Once In A Lifetime” feel, which works completely because this is meant to be a FUN joint, so be fearless and go ALL the way in. We went from talking about the song itself, to this brand new collection of music we were now sitting on. He told me that after talking with Nic, the project went from an +FE Music compilation….. to an +FE ALBUM, to which I responded, “Hell yeah… RUNNIT!” I got hyped up not only because I felt the collection of music was CRAZY, but also because I knew I had production credit on all of it right along with Nicolay and Phonte – a first for an +FE project. …..To make it even better, y’all get to hear the stories behind it all.