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Zo! Drops The Science Behind His New ManMade LP

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

Zo! drops a bit of insight on the creative process and his forthcoming LP ManMade, dropping tomorrow on Verse 5ive/Foreign Exchange Music. In an interview with Life + Times, he explains his working relationships with Phonte and musical kindred spirit, Sy Smith. He also touches on his personal influences, competitive spirit and the effect his Detroit roots have had on his sound. Zo! talks in depth about his work on the Foreign Exchange albums. His forthcoming LP is lead by the single "The Train" - a track that represents a maturation of his unmistakably infectious soul sound. Take a look at what he had to say about the project ahead of its May 21st release.

Life+Times: Tell me about your upcoming sophomore album, ManMade. How is it different from your first album and what can people expect to hear?

Zo!: It’s my sophomore full-length album with the Epic music imprint, a follow up to SunStorm, which was released in 2010. With this one, you probably hear a lot more musical growth as far as risk-taking, kind of being able to step out of the box a little bit. On the first single, “The Train“, it doesn’t really sound like anything I’ve ever done. A lot more uptempo, more of a dance-oriented feel. More growth, more maturity; I’m also a full-time musician now, so hopefully you’ll be able to feel that in it as well. I think it really came together and I’m definitely proud of the final product.

L+T: Talk about the creative process when you’re putting together an album that you’re not singing on but you have a lot of different artists featured. Do you make the instrumentals, then find the artists?

Zo!: It’s basically that. I usually come up with the instrumentals, the musical concept, and then once I finish with that, I call up Phonte. Me and Phonte talk about it a little bit, who he hears on it, is it a male vocalist or female vocalist? Once we narrow that down, then it’s “what tone of voice do you hear on it? Soprano, baritone?” That type of thing. We match it up and then reach out to who we really want on the track. On this album, Phonte wrote a lot of the album and the lyrics, so he and I shared producer credit because if he’s referencing, he’s also producing the person who’s on it, as well as giving his opinion on what should be added, taken away, etc. That’s pretty much the creative process. It was really the same the entire album. Looking back on it – it’s funny now in 2013 – we’ve [me and Phonte] been working almost eight years. So now that we’ve got into the rhythm and got into the groove, knowing how each other works, the pace and the process, it’s not something we’re trying to break anytime soon.

L+T: How has working with Foreign Exchange helped you grow as an artist and how you might have rubbed off on them?

Zo!: It’s both ways. It’s real dope because I come from a sports background – I played baseball through college – and that competitive spirit doesn’t leave. So even in making music, you want to have folks who are close to you, friends of yours, who can give you that edge as well. For example, if I’m on Twitter and I see Nicolay tweeting about “Just finished up a studio session,” or, “I’m in the studio,” it’s like, “Yo, what am I doing? I need to get down to the studio.” If ‘Te [Phonte] calls me like, “Yeah, I just finished up this verse,” I’m like, “Yo, I need to be working too.” At the same time, they’re also creatively free. They’re not afraid to break rules. On my end, it’s loosened me up a little bit creatively, made me a little less afraid of testing waters outside of my comfort zone. The saying, “iron sharpens iron”. When you’re around cats that are professional and just as hungry and competitive as you are, the last thing you wanna be is the weakest link. You wanna do your part and then some – “and then some” would be also inspiring them as well. You want to come with your A-game 100 percent of the time.

Read the full interview at Life + Times. Purchase Zo!'s ManMade LP via iTunes.