It’s been a long time coming, but Walrus-favourites Zola Blood‘s debut album Infinite Games is out today on Pond Life.
It was all the way back in in those simpler days of 2014 when I first had the pleasure of hearing Grace, the lead track from the band’s debut Meridian EP, and was instantly hooked on the “carefully crafted and menacing piece of down-tempo electronica”.
Since then, then the quartet have been building a reputation for their cinematic blend of dream-pop, techno, and electronica, all of which has culminated in Infinite Games. Recorded over the course of a year, mostly in the band’s windowless studio in Hackney Wick studio, the album was produced by the band with the help of Oli Bayston (Boxed In) and Duncan Toothill (Little Cub).
In celebration of the new record, we asked the band for a track-by-track breakdown and they were kind enough to share some background and context.
The title track came from a book of the same name by a scholar called James P. Carse. It’s about not necessarily doing the things we’re all supposed to do and trying to live a more open life. It’s the first time I’ve taken a theme so directly from a book and tried to write a song about it. Musically the song went on a bit of a journey and we re-wrote it a couple of times – it’s also the only song with brass on, courtesy of Duncan Toothill (Little Cub) and Hudson Scott.
This song came out of a picked guitar part that Sam wrote and was one of the first tracks we finished for the album. We used a hang drum combined with straighter techno rhythms for the drum track. I’d been listening to a lot of Matthew Dear and wanted to experiment with harmonies on the vocal. In the chorus we put in a low 4th harmony under the lead line which gives it the slightly weird feel.
The Only Thing
We’re not speedy writers, but this song came together really quickly. Ed had written the synth line and beat at the studio one morning, I took it home and finished the lyrics in a couple of days which is unusually fast for us. It’s about the place between consciousness and unconsciousness – crossing the river and making it back from the other side.
We wanted to write a song that was really repetitive and stayed on the same chords throughout – to keep you in the same place, but also to see if we could make the other instrumentation keep it interesting. Paul wrote the chords and beat over christmas and we shared ideas over the holiday. The little synth flourishes at the start and throughout were accidents from when Ed tracked the synth, but they ended up in the final mix and I love them.
I wrote the main riff for Islands when we were recording with Oli Bayston (Boxed In) ages ago. Oli had an old Prophet 5 that I was messing around with and I recorded a little sketch on my phone. We try and record everything we do just in case there’s an idea there – I took the riff home and wrote the bones of Islands in my flat. Ed put the big chords at the end in and the four of us finished it in our studio.
Miles and Miles
This is the oldest track on the album and it was probably the problem child of the record. We spent a long time recording the vocals to get the feeling right and also had to re-record the guitars in a bunch of different spaces (including Ed’s bedroom) because we kept getting interference or issues with equipment. We’re not really producers, but wanted to do it ourselves and learnt a lot about recording as we went along.
We recorded Play Out with Richard Formby in London and finished it up in Leeds. Richard has so much gear to mess around with – he brought a massive custom modular synth with him that we processed pretty much everything through. The whole song is based on a quite complicated sequencer that only works in mono. We never have enough cables to play things in stereo so it was a happy accident.
This one nearly didn’t make it on the album. We wrote it a while ago and put it on the shelf for about 6 months as we couldn’t agree on it. It came back to life when we were deciding on tracks for the record. We worked on it with our friend Duncan Toothill (Little Cub) down in Peckham and he helped transform it from a slightly muffled demo into one of the biggest tracks on the album. Lyrically it’s based on the film Double Indemnity and one of the original femme fatales, Phyllis Dietrichson.
I wrote this on acoustic guitar which I don’t often do. The lyrics are my favourite on the album and are about the feeling you get when you first meet someone who can shake your foundations without you even knowing them. We ended up using the original guitar part that I’d recorded through my crappy laptop speakers because we couldn’t recreate it – there’s a lot of DIY moments like that on the album that are probably technically terrible but have a certain feeling to them.
Another book I was reading when we were writing thie album was The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I got interested in the idea of lightness and heaviness and how a relationship between two people can change over time. Towards the end of recording, I was searching for the final track through our old sessions and found a demo Sam and Ed had recorded with the beautiful piano chords that underpin the song. We were lucky enough to work with a great artist on a video for this track that I think really brings it to life.
Zola Blood – Infinite Games is out now [Spotify] [iTunes] [Amazon] [Google Play]
[…] Zola Blood – Infinite Games (track-by-track) […]
Thanks for this. I am so obsessed with this album. It’s so extraordinary.