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Zomby Unmasked: The Enigmatic Producer Opens Up About His New Album

Zomby / Photo by Shawn Brackbill

Masked British electronic producer Zomby appears to live a curious dichotomy — at once intensely candid in interviews and on Twitter and also remarkably private (see: that mask). But he’s used to blending disparate ideas. Dedication, Zomby’s 2011 effort and his first for the storied U.K. indie 4AD, largely ditched the rave and jungle homage of his nostalgic 2008 debut, Where Were U in ’92? in favor of a melancholic mysticism. For the new With Love, out on June 18, the producer has found a middle ground between his two previous records. At once stylishly European (in the manner of his favored Givenchy sweaters) and impeccably mysterious, With Love is one of the year’s most distinctive electronic music albums.

Through the decidedly, and appropriately, impersonal medium of email exchanges, Zomby came unmasked for SPIN, speaking about his public perception and the “blood, sweat, and tears” that spawned With Love.

Take me back to the beginning of your 4AD run. Rumor has it that you walked into their offices, slammed down four CDs of material on somebody’s desk and said, “Sign me.”
Yeah, they’re only harmless rumors. I found it funny. I’m not insecure enough to be so arrogant. I also have a lot more respect for 4AD than to try to pull off a magic trick like that, but [that rumor] was a good one, yeah. The truth is 4AD and a few labels approached me and I met them all, as you do. I liked 4AD and it’s a suitable home for me so voila. I’d narrowed all my offers down to 4AD or XL recordings. Major labels are too much for an artist like me. I don’t perform. I just compose my music.

If Dedication, your first release with 4AD, was in tribute to your father, was there any intentional narrative arc for With Love?
Well, Dedication was just that, [a dedication] to my late father, who passed while I was writing the record. With Love is less personal, but also intimate for me in that it’s a dedication to my influences and inspirations from my life in music — from the palettes, sonics, and compositional structures, to the theoretical framework of a song suggestion. I began writing the record during the summer last year and finished with the last song I wrote for it, “With Love,” in February or March of this year. I’d say the work forms it’s own story over time, just as I carry on with my work and live my life. Depending on the song and palette and the mood I’m in, [the songs] just flow accordingly. I think I have a distinct taste in music, but I’m not really one to have a few distinct influences. I mean, I don’t even think about that. I just write my work. I’m never reliant on research. This is in my DNA.

So you see the album more as a product of a whole life’s experiences, rather than as a product of specific influences?
Well that’s my entire life, you know? I don’t pick one thing and say, “OK, that’s what I’ll base my album on.” All my work is just a product of what I do. I don’t have routines to create, or a set format or pattern of movement — I just do what I want. It’s the only way to get a true representation of your work out, for me anyway. Imagine me sitting in a meeting discussing my image and approach. It’s just not going to happen. I need ultimate freedom because that’s what Zomby sounds like.

Were there any life circumstances that informed this record?
It’s all blood, sweat, and tears in reality, isn’t it? It’s nice to have a romantic idea that you sit in a glass bubble composing your work, but life is a lot more real than that, for me and for the rest of us.

But despite the blood, sweat, and tears, it seems like you’re living a pretty lavish lifestyle. Don’t you think that makes its way into the music?
People say this to me, but I’m not living like a Bond villain. I’ve always bought clothes like this and whatever else. I think I live pretty normally. The worlds can never be separate because it’s my experience so everything is added into the work. How could it not be?

By that same token, all of With Love was composed after you moved to New York City. Are you finding it different working there than in London?
I love it here, but I will write anywhere I can. It’s more a state of mental Zen that allows you to do that than [it is] being reliant on your surroundings or a certain image. I can take or leave all that, but my work still exists and I’ll still be making it. I’ve been submerged in music since I was a child so I think my surroundings affect me to a limited degree because I have a backlog of ideas to get down.

How does one go about reaching Zomby’s state of mental Zen?
Just say ‘Fuck it.’