|Zebra and Giraffe
Hometown: Johannesburg, ZA
Web site: http://www.zebraandgiraffe.co.za
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The memories have been collected. It’s time to put them to use.
Zebra and Giraffe have just released The Inside, their second full-length album. Their 2008 debut Collected Memories garnered local and international acclaim and saw them win a 2009 SAMA Award for Best Rock Album, nominated for three SAMAs in the categories Best Newcomer, Best Album Packaging and MTN Record of the Year for “The Knife”. They also won the MTV MAMA Award for Best Alternative.
But complacency is for bands with less ambition and bloody-minded dedication to their craft. They’ve used the momentum built up over the last couple of years to propel them into the studio with tunes and enthusiasm to spare. Greg Carlin (vocals + guitar), Alan Shenton (guitar), Andrew Maskell (bass), Darren Leader (drums) and new member Michael Wright (Keyboards) recorded the majority of the album at RBF Studios in Johannesburg and it was produced by the acclaimed Darryl Torr, who also produced Collected Memories. The album was mixed by the renowned Cenzo Townshend who has worked with U2, Snow Patrol, Kaiser Chiefs, Editors, Graham Coxon, Babyshambles and Florence and the Machine.
They decided to use Torr again because they felt comfortable with him as a producer and as a good friend. “We respect his advice and his vision and we felt like we had more to explore with him than just what we had done with CM. Darryl always pushes to create more interesting parts and melodies. He tries to create music that has texture and movement and keeps the listener interested.”
Carlin entered the production process far more prepared than he did with CM. He knew the way Torr worked and he wrote with that in mind. That helped streamline the process in pre production where unwanted parts were weeded out and allowing them to get even better parts quicker. “During recording, Darryl always works to get a big sound for every song while keeping each one unique.”
Working with Townshend added a new dimension to their sound when it came to mixing. “Cenzo has mixed some of the biggest bands in the world and you just can’t beat that kind of experience. His mixes were almost always spot on and we hardly had any changes during the mixing process.”
The band got Townshend on board to mix after he had heard some tracks off their first album. He remixed 5 tracks for an EP they released on iTunes internationally and approached him with the new material soon after. “He’s an amazing mix engineer and took the songs to another level in terms of production,” says Carlin.
The mandate for the new record was simple yet challenging: Be better than anyone has any reason to expect. Songwriter, lead-singer, guitarist and frontman Greg Carlin and his bandmates wanted to prove that they could produce an even better album than Collected Memories and explode the expectancy inevitably attached to the follow-up of a successful debut. His mission has always been to write the best songs he could.
“The image and the sound and the videos all mean nothing without good songs,” he says. “As a band we wanted to produce a record that sounded played rather than programmed and cut up. We worked hard with producer Darryl to get full takes on everything rather than using the computer to cut up and perfect everything.”
As soon as Collected Memories was finished, Carlin remembers wondering how he was ever going to write another 10 songs and if anything would ever be as good. As the band slowly formed and they began playing live he started to grow in confidence. The songs that they wrote for The Inside are songs that appealed to them, that they thought were good and challenged the parameters of their sound. During the recording process there were many times when they wondered if the songs were actually better or even on par with CM.
“At one point I actually called it quits on a song during vocal recording because I felt like I actually couldn’t sing and everything was shit! But it’s that constant critical approach to the music and creation that I think helps us push our sound to new levels and made us grow. I feel like a much more mature writer now.”
The Inside is a document of the last two years. Relentless touring has solidified Zebra & Giraffe as a band and allowed them to evolve from its roots as Carlin’s solo effort. “All of our gigging and hard work has paid off on the music side however, this combined with some of the success lead to many complications in our personal lives. It was a tough 2 years from that angle but it allowed for a lot of new lyrical material! Where CM explored the emotions met with me leaving my childhood home and an exploration of the past 10 years, The Inside deals specifically with the experiences of the last 2 years. It’s a very personal album, a lot more so than CM, but it really was a cathartic process writing and recording it.”
Carlin talks about some of his favourite tacks on the new album:
“The Inside” was an unlikely first single, or so we thought. I wrote the song in early 2010 and played it to Karl Anderson at Just Music who immediately fell in love with it. After hearing all the tracks he insisted we make it the first single. The whole band was very unsure of the decision, but after the track was mixed by Cenzo it took on a whole different feel and it was very apparent that Karl was indeed correct. It was at this point where we really heard the whole project coming together and making sense again. I remember listening to a first pass of the “The Inside” and having a huge sense of pride mixed with relief wash over me. It’s a very personal song and I decided to name the album after it because I felt it encompassed all the themes covered on the album and it definitely spoke right to the heart of what we all went through in the past 2 years.
“Have I Got No Soul” is probably the most noticeably different songs on the new album and also everyone in the band’s favourite! It’s a song that I wrote really quickly and one that never really changed from the original demo. Lyrically it’s inspired by a scene in Mulholland Drive, my favourite David Lynch film. It’s about feeling outcast and unwanted and awkward. Musically it’s a bit of a change for Z&G – it’s quite dark, heavy and broody. It’s definitely one of the songs we’ll be playing live!
“End of the Road” is another stand out track because it really felt like Z&G as a ‘band’ shone through on this one. It’s got a lot of feel and groove and it was a fun song to record, especially for the rhythm section.
“It’s Not What It Seems” is definitely the most personal and revealing song lyrically. The best lyrics that I’ve written often come out of nowhere – they just appear in my head like magic – and this song was exactly like that. The first verse just happened in one go and immediately I knew I had something good, but most of all, something brutally honest. This song really explores the darker side of my personality, my alter-ego if you will. The music at the same time is dark, driving and dramatic and really helps carry the message of the lyrics across.