Let’s get one thing straight before we start. Zero 7 do not sound like Air. Okay, so they sound a bit like Air at certain points, but that’s it. The comparison certainly doesn’t justify the extensive media hype it’s earned them. If you’re going to make lazy comparisons, you could as likely use the strings and suave vocal of ‘I Have Seen’, the opening track of their excellent debut album 'Simple Things', to compare them to the Divine Comedy. Perhaps that’s just me, but it’s no more absurd than the Air comparisons at certain points. Despite all this, it was still a nice irony when I called the band’s management’s offices for the interview and was put on hold with the familiar sound of Air to listen to while I waited. The irony increased further when I realised that I was actually listening to a track from 'Simple Things'.
Ok, so perhaps Zero 7 do sound like Air. But is that really such a bad thing? Especially when, on the evidence of their forthcoming single, ‘Radio #1’, Air don’t sound like Air any more. For all of the publicity it has brought the band, though, the comparison, any comparison, is something they would rather live without, just like the inevitable pigeon-holing that goes on in today’s spoon fed society: “That’s the problem. Everyone fights over what is what, how to present new music to the public. Associataion is one of the media’s main tools, but it means that there’s so much talking goes on. Ideally people should just talk less and listen more. We were quite chuffed with the Air comparison at first, but it soon became a little tiring. We’re from very different places, really. We’re aware that some tracks are in a similar vein, but we suffer for it, for being predominantly instrumental. If we were both guitar bands, nobody would bat an eyelid. But ultimately, we really don’t give a monkey’s. I mean, we spent long enough making the album, we don’t want to get involved in arguments about where in the shop it goes.”
One comparison worth making, however, is with the Australian samplefreaks the Avalanches. Although not, perhaps, so much for their sound: Rather than relying on a plethora of samples, Zero 7 operate more as a conventional band, employing their own strings, drums and vocalists. Indeed, the album itself offers not a single credited sample. That’s not to say, however, there aren’t any there: “They’re more atmospheric than musical, really. If there’s an element of something we like, we’re not afraid to put it in. There’s nothing squeaky clean or anything- we like the dirt that samples bring. Plus those have the advantage of being not too blatant, so we can get away with it”. Strategy-wise, however, the two acts seem to be following a similar path. Both made their name through high profile remixes and limited edition releases before recording a critically acclaimed album based on them. It’s a suggestion the band balk at: “If only we were fortunate enough to have a career plan! If we have a record, we’ll put it out. If we are presented a good track, we’ll remix it. We lack any foresight like that, but that’s an advantage really. It allows us to focus on the music.”
And as long as they do keep focusing on the music, it can only be a good thing. The album, they feel, is the best they could have done at this stage, summarising the last couple of years of getting a musical identity. But what next? “We’ve already had ideas for new tracks. Just the last couple of days have been really exciting, rehearsing for live stuff. It’s like a new life, jamming with a band, getting a vibe off other people. It’s difficult really, because we’re not you’re average set-up. Either we have more stuff running off tape and lose the impact, or we go full on. We’re just trying to get the balance right, and it’s fun. Last week we we’re shitting ourselves about it, but now we realise what all the people in bands were on about when we were 13. But we’ve always been late starters.” Given the quality of the output of their fledgling years, the future could not be brighter.