The Zombies Rod Argent, keyboardist and writer of classic 60s hit singles Time of the Season and She’s Not There, chats to After Nyne’s George White about the recording process of the new album, Still Got That Hunger and how it compares with the making of their 1967 pop/psychedelia masterpiece Odessey and Oracle.
When we started in the mid-sixties albums took no time to record as the emphasis then was on singles. The Beatles first album was done in a day and our first album was done in two days, including recording and mixing. It was only in 67 with the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band when album’s started to become important.
We still had limited time and budget to record Odessey and Oracle so we had to go into the studio well prepared. We used to record on four track which meant we all had to record together at the same time. You get such an interaction with the band that way.
The new album was Crowdfunded by PledgeMusic, which allowed us to record in the studio and with the producer we wanted, but with similar time and budgetary constraints as with Odessey and Oracle. With this in mind we decided to make the new album in a similar way to how we used to record.
We recorded together and limited the studio time to a week, which still left room for spontaneity. We wanted to create an organic album that captured the freshness of playing together. Instead of synths I used a Steinway piano and Hammond organ with an occasional Melatron. A lot of Colin’s guide vocals turned out to be lead vocals and producer Chris Potter (The Verve’s Urban Hymns) tied it all together.
It was recorded at State of the Ark Richmond where Terry Britten recorded Tina Turner’s What’s Love Got to Do with It. They have a lot of vintage gear which is highly prized now. Some of it is the same gear as we used when we started out, such as the old compressors and I used an old valve mic which costs a lot of money now.
The idea behind the first track ‘Moving On’ came when Elvis died in 77. It hit me like a sledgehammer as he was such an important figure and turned me onto rock n roll. Even now I only listen to the first three years of his output but that sounds like magic and when he died it felt like part of my life being ripped away.
When he died I wrote the couplet, ‘Moving on like a ship sailing windblown. August moon can you tell me where I’m bound?’, as he died in August. I never took it any further and it was only with this album that I decided to develop and complete it and then it wasn’t about Elvis anymore.
The song means a lot but I won’t go into what it is about because I believe that if a song works then people can take something of their own from it. There are two quotes about the meanings behind songs that I love. Once when Bob Dylan was asked what a song was about, he said it was about 2 and half minutes. Bernie Taupin wrote a song for Colin and he said it’s about whatever people want to take from it.
The only old material on the album is the re-make of our 1965 single ‘I Want You Back Again’. When Colin and I started immersing ourselves in the Zombies material we found stuff we have never played live. Recently we saw that Tom Petty recorded it on a live album and we realise that it is such a good track. With the new recording the solos are extended and it’s a bit jazzier but there is still the spirit of the old days and we had such a ball playing it.
We worked with Terry Quirk again on the cover who did the artwork for Odessey and Oracle and there are a lot of little subtle references which I would love people to work out for themselves. It does have a couple of references back to Odyssey and Oracle and it’s based on graffiti that Jeremy is very much into.
I like every track equally and for different reasons, but I do like Chasing the Past in the way that it naturally combines elements of different types of music like we used to. There is a darkness combined with sweet vocals from Colin, a concentration on harmony as well as room for improvisation. All of these elements come together and that was a little bit of a characteristic of ours.
Still Got That Hunger is a development for us and the first real album of our new incarnation. We have toured so much so we are incredibly tight and that’s what we wanted to capture when recording. Everyone is different in the band and the idea was to construct the songs like we used to in the old days.
We all approach things the same way and when I write a song I never think can I do this in a certain style. I take an idea and get excited about it and work on it and then we take it to the band. If it works in that context then we try and follow it through and then when it works for ourselves there is a chance that it will touch other people.
We have always been honest in the way we have worked and sounded and not tried to look at what is commercial. The sound is not heavily manufactured so that we can reproduce it on stage and we believe that this works and has a better chance of communicating with people.
We missed out on commercial single success in the 60s but in the long run it worked out because we weren’t slaves to fashion which meant that the honesty in the record came through and people can relate to it today.
Odessey and Oracle
A lot of people including young groups mention Odessey and Oracle and the Vaccines have said it’s their favourite album. I’ve never been able to hear that as all I can hear is us. Lots of people say they are influenced and that is very flattering.
Jeff Emery wrote an interesting book and I was extremely flattered as he said we were one of the few bands alongside the Beatles that were original. That has worked for us in the long run as that honesty has meant people are still interested now.
When we go on stage we always play about half of Odessey and Oracle and we will be doing some tracks from the new album because we love doing that and they are going down great. We still do Time of the Season and She’s Not There and there is some old, not so known material, that we can drag up as well as some of the hits associated with us in our solo careers.
Still Got That Hunger comes out on Cherry Red Records on October 9th 2015 and there are a series of UK tour dates to catch in November and December – www.thezombies.net.