Zero 7 is comprised of the production/engineering duo of Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker, along with a collection of hired vocalists and other musicians. They have combined lush electronic samples, guitars, horns, and vocals in developing their musical style. Part folk, part soul, part funk, and most closely identified with the genre of electronic music, Zero 7 unexpectedly (to its creators) moved to the top of the British charts after its debut album, Simple Things, hit the shelves in 2001. A successful world tour followed, along with extensive play as part of the soundtracks of numerous TV shows. After this first unexpected success, the duo was a bit better prepared for the public's enthusiastic reaction to their sophomore effort, When It Falls, released in 2004.
Binns and Hardarker met while still teenagers in London. Both developed an early interest in music, studying studio engineering and then becoming tape operators at the same London recording studio, RAK. At the studio they rubbed shoulders with recording stars like Robert Plant and the Pet Shop Boys, learning the engineering and producing skills that would later serve them well on their own recordings.
As Hardaker described it to Gerald Poindexter in the San Diego Union-Tribune, they soon grew tired of the "boring pop music" they produced for others and decided to take a stab at creating their own music. Working at the studio through much of the 1990s, they began their own experiments after hours, starting with remixes of others' music. Their first public effort was a remix of "Climbing the Walls" by the band Radiohead.
That group liked Binns and Hardaker's remix enough to release it. For an encore, Binns and Hardaker remixed "Love Theme from Spartacus" by Terry Callier, which was also well received. The success of these first two forays into making music encouraged them to put out a limited edition EP. Appropriately titled EP1, it was released in 1999.
The limited number of copies of EP1 sold out in only a few days, as did the duo's next effort, EP2. It was enough to build anticipation in the local music press for Simple Things, the group's first full-length album. Simple Things was created inexpensively, with a multilayered violin instead of a full orchestra creating the lavish orchestral sounds Binns and Hardaker wanted. Released in 2001, the album more than met the expectations of music critics and proved to be a crowd pleaser as well.
In addition to the violins, the album featured soulful, jazzy, funky sounds overlaid with smoky vocals, which became the group's signature style. Simple Things went gold, and earned the group a spot on the shortlist for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize for outstanding British music. In addition to its strong CD sales, the album benefited from widespread licensing to boutiques, hotels, restaurants, and other locales that wanted to create a groovy but laid-back atmosphere. Samples from the album also found their way onto television shows like Sex and the City and Six Feet Under.
The album's wildly enthusiastic reception came as a surprise to Binns and Hardaker, who assumed that the audience for their brand of music would be limited to a niche market. Hardaker described the commercial success of Simple Things to Avril Cadden of the Glasgow, Scotland, Sunday Mail as "exciting but a little terrifying," especially since the pair had not intended to become pop stars and just wanted to create music they liked to listen to.
The release of their first album launched the group on a world tour that lasted well into 2002—another surprise, since Binns and Hardaker had initially been dead set against performing live. But that feeling changed, and they soon found that live performances were an exciting change from working in the studio.
Zero 7's concerts were especially well-received in the United States, where the group was praised by music critics like Robert K. Elder, who wrote in the Chicago Tribune of the group's "attention to harmonic detail, paired with sincere appreciation of fans and unbridled showmanship." The group eventually completed a total of three tours in the United States. Their touring schedule had prevented Binns and Hardaker from writing new music, and so it was with some anxiety that they finally left the road, returning to London to compose music for their next album. Expectations for the band were high among fans and music critics, and the pressure to produce new work initially gave Binn, in particular, a case of writer's block.
Binns admitted to Christ Mugan of the London Independent that "for ages it was hard to play even the first chord." However, helped by frequent trips by Binns and Hardaker to the Spanish countryside for inspiration, the second album proved to be every bit as fresh as the first. Binns and Hardaker even turned their writer's block into inspiration for a track called "In Time." Hardaker explained to Cadden that the song "is about not being able to write," but it is also about "not panicking," and about letting things take their course.
The album When It Falls was released in March of 2004. Still a bit flummoxed by the success of their first album, the pair was determined not to let success go to their heads. Hardaker told Mugan, "When you first appear, you get a load of people telling you how great you are. And that's such a transient state, it's just not cool after awhile…. You want people to buy the records, but not take too much notice."
When It Falls continued the duo's collaboration with vocalists and other musicians that had begun with their first album. "We weren't trying to make the same record again," explained Hardaker to Mugan, "but we'd built good relationships with those people and it felt comfortable." Australian singer Sia Furler, folk singer Sophie Barker, male singer Mozez, and Danish singer and newcomer Tina Dico all contributed significantly to the album. Vocals became more prominent on the second album, and the tone was set immediately on the opening track, "Warm Sound," with soulful vocals by Mozez backed by keyboards, guitars, and flute. Strings, while still in the mix, stayed in the background. This combination made for a winning sound that was described by Poindexter as "70's soul and folk-meets-David Axelrod jazz." The second album proved to be as popular as the first, with critics and fans alike.
Simple Things, Palm Pictures, 2001.
Another Late Night (remixes), Treacle/Azuli, 2002.
Simple Things Remixes, Palm Pictures, 2003.
For the Record …
Members include Henry Binns , songwriter, engineer; Sam Hardaker , songwriter, engineer.
Group formed in London, England, 1990s; released full-length debut, Simple Things, which went gold, 2001; nominated for Mercury Music Prize for outstanding contribution to British music, 2001; toured Europe and United States, 2001-02; released critically acclaimed When It Falls, 2004.
Addresses: Record company—Elektra Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, 17th Flr., New York, NY 10019. Website—Zero 7 Official Website: http://www.zero7.co.uk.
When It Falls, Electra, 2004.
Birmingham Post (Birmingham, England), November 9, 2001, p. 15.
Chicago Tribune, April 26, 2002, p. 2.
Independent (London, England), March 12, 2004, p. 17.
Observer (London, England), November 25, 2001, p. 14.
San Diego Union-Tribune, April 26, 2002, p. E8; March 11, 2004.
Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland), February 29, 2004, p. 30.
"Zero 7," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 20, 2004).
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