Live electronic band Zola Blood has released their new EP Two Hearts. The new EP follows their debut album Infinite Games in 2017 and touring with RÜFÜS DU SOL in UK and Europe, which is an indication of the sound and style that you will get from their music. Vocal-driven, the songs combine dark and chugging synths with percussions and soaring melodies for organic, yet electronic compositions that have a very live feel to them.
We wanted to get more information from Zola Blood about how they made their new EP, so they did a How It Was Made feature, diving into the gear they use. Head into the studio to see what equipment they use from Moogs, to a Prophet 8 and more.
Get your copy of the EP here and listen as you read.
1. The Dave Smith Prophet 08
This has been an integral part of our set up, pretty much since we formed. It was the first decent bid of hardware that we got our hands on and is probably the synth we know best. It is super versatile and easy to use. It has a lovely rich and complex sound and lots of parameters you can mess with.
It features pretty heavily on the EP. In "Two Hearts" we used it for the verse bass, the big chorus chords and also the white noise hi hats. For "Silver Soul," we used it for the big verse bass and also the chorus chords (though we doubled those up with a Sequential Circuits OB-X) and some of the little atmospheric elements. And for "Only You" it plays the big synth melody at the end.
2. Moog Sub-37
We bought this for doing bass stuff we love, but as we’ve gotten under the skin of it, we’ve been using it more and more in the studio. As a mono synth, and with the Moog oscillators/filters, it punches through a bit more than the Prophet and lends itself well to bass lines, and beefy arps, so we used it for stuff like the syncopated bass in the chorus of Two Hearts, the big bass stabs in "Out of Time," or the arp in the outro of "Silver Soul."
3. Strymon Timeline
We got the timeline when we were writing our last album and it really helped to develop our sound into a much larger sonic space. It’s immense how much it can do, we started out using it just on guitars but for this EP we moved onto using it across multiple instruments to help give things a little more character.
The song you can hear it the most on is "Two Hearts." All of the pad synths and swelling chords are put through the timeline with the ice modulating delay effect to give everything the sense that it’s rising into this big hollow space. Then a little more experimentally, we put the hi-hats through it with the mix on full and messed around with the grit and delay patterns to give it a unique distortion and dynamic bounce to the performance.
4. U-He Pro1 and Pro5 plug Ins:
We have a producer friend who has both a Pro-1 and Prophet 5. It’s hard not to get hooked on the sound once you’ve had a play on them, but it’s obviously a bit of a financial commitment on both! So, we downloaded these plug-in emulators from U-He and they sound so good. It’s great to be able to get your ideas down remotely and know that you can record them on the real analogue instrument later on, but to be honest on occasion we ended up keeping the digital versions.
The repro-5 has an 8 note polyphony (rather than Prophet’s 5) and each one of these can be panned individually, which you can hear on "Only You" on the main melody and chorus bass line. Each note sits in a slightly different sonic place, so it feels like it’s bouncing around your head. We’ve also got the same effect on the main synth for "Out Of Time," we tried re-recording this sound on a lot of analogue synths but nothing quite matched the movement of that original take. Sometimes there's nothing wrong with going with what’s on the demo; if it works it works!
For this EP we experimented a lot more with how we approached writing the beats. We've always strived to have a nice mix of organic/electronic, so we started incorporating more analogue synths into the mix which really helps to get rhythms/sounds you wouldn't necessarily think of when sitting behind a kit.
For example, all the drums in "Out Of Time" are various sequences programmed on the Korg SQ-1 triggering a mono synth which we found to be more expressive than if we had just programmed something on a drum machine. You can hear the same method on the hi-hats for "Silver Soul." We really like to then build up an acoustic drum track around these rhythms, which either compliment or mirror them, such as the end of "Silver Soul" where the live drums creeps in on the same rhythm as the HH pattern.
We're big fans of Soundtoys and how easy it can be to realize an idea using their collection of effects, it's all over every song on the EP. Most notably Little Alter Boy is used for all the pitch vocals and Decapitator helped give the bass synth in "Silver Soul" a bit of extra bite.
It can also take you to places you wouldn't have necessarily planned for. A good example of this is the cracked effect drums that play in "Only You," we'd written the basic drum pattern and then put the whole group through the Effects Rack and layered up effects on there until we got this tight almost claustrophobic effect on the beat.