This Saturday, music lovers will be in for a treat as Zo! and Carmen Rogers of the Foreign Exchange join Indy’s own Bashiri Asad at the Hi-Fi in Fountain Square as a part of the IndySoul Music Series.
Zo! and Rogers have undoubtedly been making waves as the Foreign Exchange has received favorable reviews for their latest output, Tales from the Land of Milk and Honey.
Timmhotep Aku of NPR put it this way:
“Tales is an R&B album for grown-ups. That is to say, there is no faux-Aaliyah whisper-singing, no trap percussion or EDM synths, and definitely no songs dedicated to strippers. Instead, there are moments of tender love, celebratory tunes, and sultry duets on a record that effortlessly toggles between past and present, referencing the danceable R&B of the ’80, and the neo-soul of the ’90s and 2000s, yet comes off as fresh as any of today’s contemporary soul music.”
Zo!, who will be making his sixth trip to the Circle City this weekend, spoke with me about the future of music, his favorite things to do in Naptown and more.
Ebony: What are some of the things that you enjoy about coming to Indianapolis?
Zo!: I love your downtown area. I’m a fan, its city but it’s still small town. I love just walking around that area and getting to be fat. High Velocity is one of my favorite spots.
Ebony: You’re coming here to Indianapolis with Carmen Rogers doing a show with Bashiri Asad. How did that connection come about?
Zo!: That’s just always been my dude. That’s another way that the internet really connects folks. He’s an artist that I really respect and an artist whose material I love. When we talk, there is a mutual respect there for each other’s work ethic. Music and the internet basically brought us together. He’s an artist and I’m an artist and there’s almost a fraternity there automatically. It’s funny because he put up a post on Facebook randomly and it said “I’m getting ready to start this monthly series up. If I did, who would come?” I replied and to the thread and we just got on the phone. I think it was meant to happen.
Ebony: Tales from the Land of Milk and Honey is doing really well. What was the creative process like and how did it differ from previous projects you’ve done?
Zo!: I think the way that it differs is that stuff that I work on by myself, solo projects like Man Made, SunStorm, stuff like that where I’m pretty much the sole person putting together the music – music wise, this time it was me and Nicolay. Nicolay is one half of the Foreign Exchange between him and Phonte. So me and Nic got together and the thing is, we didn’t even get together with the purpose of creating the Foreign Exchange album. We just got together for the purpose of “We’re going to create some music and we’ll see what happens after the fact.” One or two things led to another and the music started sounding real good. The stuff that Phonte, Carmen Rogers, Tamisha Waden, and Shana Tucker were writing to it was sounding great and as the collective that music started sounding really cohesive and they decided to make it the next Foreign Exchange project. I was like, “Word up!” Because now, I got co-production on all this stuff. So yea… go ahead and release that!
Ebony: What you do solo and the things that you do with Foreign Exchange, it stands out among anything else that’s happening musically. There are others too – Robert Glasper and people like that, that are doing things that are different. The internet has really assisted in exposing people to things that they won’t hear on mainstream radio. Outside of technology, what do you think has attributed to this growth in originality in music?
Zo!: One major thing, as far as indie artists or artists who I guess kinda go against the grain of what they’re shoving down our throats is concerned, is our live performance. Live performance is huge. Not only are you able to connect with your audience musically but you’re able to reach out and touch them. We make sure we take pictures with [fans] and have conversations and let them know we’re real people. We do the same thing on social media too. Of course that acts as a double edged sword at times but as an indie artist it’s what you have to do. I know and understand as a fan of music that when you find something you like and you connect to it you will hold on a little tighter and you’re more apt to talk to people about it. The connectivity is a lot stronger than something you can hear on the radio 15 times in an hour.
Ebony: You mentioned that you’re a fan of music. Who are you listening to right now? What’s in your rotation?
Zo!: I’m in heavy creation mode right now so what I do when I am creating is listen to older stuff from the 70s and 80s that kind of pushes my creative envelope – mainly , jazz fusion stuff, The Blackbyrds, etc. Currently I am listening to a lot of George Duke, his stuff from the mid to late 70s when he was with Epic Records. There were maybe like 6 or 7 albums that he put out and I was like, man let me pull this out and see if I can hear something that will naturally influence me. As far as artists right now, I’m a huge fan of Thundercat. I’m running the new Internet album Ego Death, an artist from the UK named Dornik, the new Hiatus Kaiyote and God Emoji by Silicon – I’ve been running that to death. A lot of this stuff, it’s kind of people in our lane but it’s like these are also people that push the envelope musically. I don’t want to come out with cookie cutter music so to avoid doing that and to avoid plateauing as an artist you have to listen to folks that are going to take it there.
Ebony: I think it’s interesting that you bring that up. Is there even a need for a lane right now? I’m curious to know how you see that panning out in regards to the future of music. Do you see more genre bending and blending happening?
Zo!: I think so, absolutely. Just because a lot of us as artists we don’t really place a genre on ourselves, we kind of let the listeners do it. It used to be the record stores. Now, it’s the iTunes, Spotifys and Pandoras of the world shaping and molding it for the listeners. I think there are a lot more artists that are thinking, “We’re just gonna make music today and either you rock with us or you don’t,” and I’m definitely one of those. I’ve always lived by the philosophy that there are just two genres of music, good music and bad music. I strive to make good music – whether it’s a house record, rock, reggae or whatever.
Ebony: What do you personally consider to be bad music?
Zo!: I think it’s subjective. It’s on a personal level, whatever you connect with. I’m not here to call names. It’s basically whatever you don’t connect with. The thing is, it could be bad music when you’re sitting there listening with your kids but it may be good if you’re going to work out or something.
Ebony: You also shared that you are in creation mode. What new projects are on the horizon?
Zo!: I’m working on another solo album which will be out in 2016. Here in the immediate future, I will be out touring with the Foreign Exchange promoting the Tales from the Land of Milk and Honey album. I’m the musical director for the group and play keys for them so we’ll be out heavy starting in the spring of 2016. I have something else connected with television that I’m working on also but I can’t speak to much on it. 2016 will be a very monumental year, I hope it to be very busy and very productive.
Ebony: That sounds fantastic! If you could give folks three reasons to come to a Zo! show what would those reasons be? You can definitely name more if you would like to!
Zo!: Ok, let me see if i can knock out ten. 1. Great music 2. Hella energy 3. You’re gonna be in a room with like minded people so you’re automatically gonna connect 4. Carmen Rogers will be there 5. I will have my band, Collective Peace from Detroit in the spot. We don’t hit the road to play no games!
It’s just an overall fun time. im one of those artists where if it feels good on stage then that’s what we’re going to do. If we feel like playing the theme from Peanuts and the crowd is responding then thats what its gonna be. Just come through and have a blast with us.