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Breathe Out, Breathe In
The Zombies, helmed by founding members Rod Argent and singer Colin Blunstone, are marking the group’s half century with a new album – Breathe Out, Breathe In.
A magisterial work, it is everything you could possibly hope for from the group who back in the ’60s provided such signature works as the singles She’s Not There, Tell Her No and Time Of The Season and the album Odessey And Oracle, their 1968 Brit psych masterpiece.
The 10 songs, which make up Breathe Out, Breathe In, are impeccably crafted pieces, the harmonies are rich, the melodies full, the arrangements exquisite, the organ and piano fresh, the production intuitive.
“There was a clear brief,” says Rod Argent today. “We wanted to use as many two and three part harmonies as possible and lots of Hammond organ, Mellotron and Memotron. We didn’t want to recreate the past, but we wanted to capture The Zombies’ essence and meaning. Our energy and enthusiasm for making music is the same as it was when we first started and the magic and mystery of the whole music making process, we are still thrilled by it all. So we thought it would be great to celebrate when that all began. I first met Colin outside the Pioneer Club in St Albans for The Zombies’ first rehearsal. We didn’t know each other but Colin turned up with a broken nose and two black eyes. I thought, oh no, what have we got here? But he was a keen rugby player and had got injured during a game.”
“That first rehearsal went really well because we got to borrow The Bluetones, a local St Albans band’s equipment. Jim Rodford who now plays bass in The Zombies was in them funnily enough,” says Colin Blunstone. “Our own equipment was dreadful though so when we played on that it brought us down to earth. I would judge how well our gigs went by the amount of blood Rod would lose from his thumb when he played his Jerry Lee Lewis runs on the piano. He’d have to press down really hard. These days he still bleeds for The Zombies of course… spiritually though not literally.”
Breathe Out, Breathe In was recorded over a year in Argent’s own Red House Studios, the band line-
“We often just know what the other person wants and needs and means without speaking,” says Colin. “There is so much history there, we understand each other and The Zombies are like a cottage industry. We have complete artistic control. We run our own label, we book our own gigs, we provide our own transport and hotels. Rod writes most of the songs, we record in his studio and he produces the record. It keeps it very exciting being at the centre always of everything.”
In his role as producer, Rod wanted to “capture the energy of the performance, that’s what recording is all about, whether you are laying down a lead vocal or a guitar solo, you’ve got to gee yourself up and think this is the only chance you’ve got to do it. It was important to try and get the joy we feel of playing together on the record too. We wanted it to feel very organic, so when you are listening you can imagine us standing there playing and hitting things.”
Musically, the benchmark for Breathe Out, Breathe In is their aforementioned 1968 album Odessey And Oracle, which the original Zombies – Colin and Rod with drummer Hugh Grundy and bassist Chris White – played from beginning to end in 2008 to celebrate its 40th year.
“Chris and Hugh hadn’t been on a stage playing music for a very long time and for a moment I thought how on earth are they going to cope with this,” says Rod. “I thought they were incredibly brave to do it and just a few bars in I knew it was going to work out fine. Returning to the album, it’s funny, it did subconsciously influence Breathe Out, Breathe In, just in the album’s genesis, we wrote the songs upfront like we used to, and did some of the songs live on the road first. We also used the same ingredients – bass lines being central to the song, lots of harmonies.”
A Moment In Time is one of the album’s many highpoints. Written by Rod with Tom Toomey in the last week of recording, it is quintessential Zombies with delicious melodies and harmonies and the perfect balance of emotion and restraint in Colin’s heavenly vocal artistry.
Inspired by Laurie Lee’s book on the Spanish civil war, A Moment Of War, says Rod, “Lee was writing down from the very start everything that happened to him leading up to the Civil War and how all the things that happen from when we are born to this very instance, they take us somewhere but they are all also individual moments in time, that thought just struck me as extraordinary.”
Of the other nine songs, six are penned by Rod solely including the peerless harmony title piece and Let It Go, which first aired on the road as a voice and piano piece, but in the studio became a full band work out. “It’s based on an idea I had of weaving the middle movement of Bach’s F minor keyboard concerto in and out of a song, such a ravishing piece of music,” says Rod.
Other influences include The Beatles and Elvis. The former’s Hey Bulldog impacts on the psychedelic rocker Play It For Real – “there’s no denying what an extraordinary effect The Beatles had, every band has a debt to them really, their music was so fresh and vital, it was like we were winning the world cup every week when they came about,” says Rod.
The latter’s version of Blue Moon inspired the Rod Argent sung Show Me The Way. “In the falsetto singing, and I wanted that lovely slap back single repeat tape delay on his voice and I went to the drummer and asked him if he had some coconuts as I wanted some on the record, sadly though we had to make do with bongos instead!”
Three songs are revisits – two were penned by Rod with Zombies’ original bassist Chris White for their post Zombies outfit Argent back in the ’70s. Shine On Sunshine here gets a total reworking and in The Zombies’ hands is expansive, transcendental. Christmas For The Free, meanwhile, remains faithful to the Argent version, an intelligent plea for peace and love with a majestic guitar solo.
The third, Any Other Way, already a live favourite, was written by Colin and turned up first on his 2009 solo record, The Ghost Of You & Me. Colin and Rod are both enthused by their new record, as they should be. It is a remarkable work. “I think it’s one of the best things we’d done,” says Rod. “Listening to the finished record, it reflects the good time we had making it.”
Says Colin, “We are still learning, and new discoveries energise us, it’s all part of being an artist, we are very proud of our achievement here. We hope it moves and touches people like it has us. The Zombies have been a fantastic journey, we’ve gone from playing in the back of pubs to headlining festivals and it still feels like it is just the beginning.”
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