“There is a lot in the lyrics about escapism, having a good time or trying to figure what relationships mean.” says Matt West, frontman of London four-piece ZOLA BLOOD. “For a while it’s felt like a lot of people I know are really focused having a career or getting married or getting a dog or whatever, and that’s cool, but I also think there is a lot of pressure on people to do that stuff just because you’re supposed to. I guess I was interested in thinking about alternatives to those things and not necessarily following a binary path where you’re considered either a winner or a loser at the end of it.”
In many ways, this is a pivotal point for Zola Blood. It has been three years since the band emerged from the blogs shrouded in buzzwords back in 2014, and since then they have been steadily drip-feeding tracks into cyberspace. First was the Meridian EP of the same year, the title track giving the world a glimpse of what the band had to offer in its murkily understated synths, before it was followed the following year by the bolder tones of AA-side ‘Play Out’/’Pieces Of The Day’.
By the time 2016 rolled around, there was a sense of expectation, one that only intensified with the release of ‘Heartbeat’, an impressively expansive piece that journeys seamlessly from softly plucked guitar strings to deeply pulsing synths and beats. People were hungry for an album. “It was important to us that it felt like it was a cohesive album and not something that we’d stuck together with older songs from a different time,” states West. “So we hope it feels like it makes sense. We’ve been quite obsessive over detail and it’s pretty much all new material – there’s only one song on the record that people might know.”
The album itself –entitled Infinite Games, after a book by religious scholar James P. Carse – was funded predominantly via Pledge, with the band achieving an impressive 174% of their initial goal. “We weren’t entirely sure about doing the Pledge campaign, but it’s worked out,” reflects West on the campaign that began in 2015. “It’s not really the traditional route for making a record, but I think the music industry is changing and it’s definitely a direct way of connecting with fans. The support we’ve had has definitely surprised us and has been cool. We wouldn’t have been able to make an album without it.”
Whilst ‘Heartbeats’ gave a glimpse of what was to come, their most recent offering ‘Islands’ only exemplified what is set to be a striking debut album. Brooding and dark, the track begins with subtle keys and ripples before being enveloped by throbbing bass and dynamic synths. “’Islands’ is about a friend who spent a night with their boyfriend getting rained on – she described it as “feeling like an island”’ states West. “Lyrically, it’s pretty straightforward – it’s about wanting to stay with someone and get lost in them – it’s kind of flippant. There are a lot of songs on the album where I’m trying to express something about myself, but there are also some where I’m just playing back what I’ve seen or heard that are much less abstract.”
It is a bold comeback, one that saw the band experimenting freely in the search for new sounds (“A lot of the time it’s by accident – just messing around until you find something that works.”) though ‘Islands’ didn’t blossom fully until Zola Blood were reunited in the studio. “I built the bones of the track on Ableton and made a drum loop out of hand claps. Paul had just bought a new guitar pedal, which is all over the album, and he put in the staccato line after the first chorus. Sam re-programmed the drums and Ed put the big chords in at the end. Duncan Toothill did some synth voodoo at his studio in Peckham. I think there are maybe four or five overlapping synth arpeggios that somehow work together.”
The band went to every length to be involved in all aspects of Infinite Games, opting to produce the album, for the most part, by themselves. It was definitely a learning curve. “The biggest challenge was finishing it – the last 20% of the album was difficult. It’s really easy to come up with ideas and half songs, but finishing them and knowing when to leave them alone is the hard bit.” Either way, they’re really proud of it, and can’t wait to take it to a live setting.
“We’ve just started working with some amazing lighting guys who are designing this mad setup for us that we want to take out on the road,” says West. “Caribou or Jon Hopkins always create such emotional shows by using imagery and lights and that’s something we’re definitely interested in. We’ve got a clear idea of what we want from the live show and the vibe we want to create.” And what may that be? “It’s a lot bigger than on record… with more dry ice.”
Zola Blood’s latest single ‘Islands’ is available now. Infinite Games is due for release in April 2017.