Noah Stoneman (keys), Laurence Wilkins (trumpet/effects) and Zoe Pascal (drums) from the group Zeñel were interviewed by Charlie Anderson ahead of their appearance at The Verdict as part of New Generation Jazz.
How did you first get into music?
Laurence: My mum is a piano teacher and my dad wrote music for adverts and corporate events and things. They got me playing quite a few instruments at a young age. Because of my dad’s music software I starting learning about production around the time I started secondary school. After my Eminem phase in about year 2, my dad introduced me to many of my earliest music loves, including Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix and dubstep.
Noah: My mum is a music teacher so I began having piano and violin lessons from the age of about 5. Luckily she was very relaxed about whatever kind of music I played, so the more I developed my passion for jazz and improvised music, the more she encouraged it, as well as my other teachers.
Zoe: My family are world music musicians, so I was always surrounded by rehearsals, soundchecks, gigs for as long as I’ve lived on the planet – my household encouraged it and I was surrounded by artistic freedom. I started to play drums when I was 5, I jammed along to my dad’s DVD collection, which varied genres. I was predominantly self-taught, until I started having grade lessons and was enrolled into a jazz programme called Tomorrow’s Warriors at the age of 11.
How did Zeñel come about?
Laurence: Initially I’d met Zoe as we’d both been at Tomorrow’s Warriors together. Then we all met in the Jazz department of the Junior Royal Academy of Music. It was a Saturday music class and we were all placed in the same group. After a few months Zoe and Noah sent me a message saying they’d be interested in starting some sort of organ trio band, but of course once we started playing together it went in a very different direction!
How would you describe the music that you make with the band?
Laurence: The quickest way to describe it is probably as a mixture of jazz improvisation and electronic dance music grooves and sounds. I’d say that some tunes lean more to one of those influences than the other, but it almost always contains those two elements. I think our music is pretty varied, a lot of our tunes on the upcoming EP are very different to each other.
Tell us about your interest in adding electronic elements to your music.
Laurence: I’ve always had a fantasy of electronic dance music being performed by a very fluid improvising live band. When we started playing with each other, it was pretty much just a natural instinct to get the laptop involved using Ableton Live and use all the same kinds of software synths which I’d use for producing (Massive, FM8 etc). I was manning the laptop, but I had about 1% of the experience needed to pull it off in a live gig setting, as any one who was at our first gig three years ago would know.
In terms of how we wrote the tunes, I was interested in jazz artists who used aspects of hip hop, electronic dance music or grime. Shabaka Hutchings, Chris Dave, Pomrad, Hudson Mohawke, Soweto Kinch, Mister Lies are great examples of this.
Noah was also into making hip hop beats, so it made a lot of sense to go in this electronic direction. Some of his hip hop influences at the time included Kendrick Lamar, Nas, Madlib, J Dilla and more.
What future plans do you have for Zeñel?
Laurence: We released our first single Bubbleleaves last December. Our second single Treehouse People is out as of 21st January, and then our first 7-track EP will be out about a month after that. We’re very excited to put this out because we worked on it for ages and are very proud of it. We’ve recorded some more stuff since then but how that will be released is unclear. We’re working with a cool label for a potential release, but we’d better keep our mouths shut about that.
New Generation Jazz
The Verdict, Brighton
Friday 28th February, 2020
Interview by Charlie Anderson
Photos by Oscar Wilkins