It was a cold and snowy evening in Detroit but the atmosphere was warm and inviting inside Prive Deux on Friday, February 10th. Urban Organic put together yet another great show featuring indie-soul artist Sy Smith and friend of Distinguished Detroit, Zo! as her accompanying keyboardist/Music Director. The hilarious Heather Jay was the host for the evening and Charity was the opening act. As usual, Charity left the audience speechless with her smash single, “Sounds Like Love”, available on iTunes, amongst other great compositions.
When Sy and Zo! hit the stage everyone was ready to receive the Foreign Exchange singer’s energy and angelic vocals. Sy was dressed in a beautiful grey tunic with black cut-out leggings and black heels that had the ladies in awe of her poise as she performed without kicking them off or standing in an uncomfortable stance. Her makeup was flawless and her signature curly fro was bouncing as, Zo! perched behind his keyboard with his Detroit fitted cap and a smile. Surprisingly, Sy was playing the synth bass keyboard as she was singing!
The first song to get it started, befittingly, was “Fa Sho” off of her latest album, The Syberspace Social. The funky party anthem had heads bopping and fingers snapping as she sang her way to the second verse, but then abruptly stopped the band when she didn’t get the response she asked for in her lyric.
“Last but not least
Give us some energy
Positive is the best”
Once the audience got the hint, Sy counted the band back in and rocked out the rest of “Fa Sho” and it set in for everyone that this was going to be an interactive show filled with awesome vibes from Sy, Zo! and the band. With Detroit’s own Brandon Williams on drums, Kenny Rocket on guitar and LaDarrel “Saxappeal” Johnson on saxophone, how could they go wrong? And Zo- a Detroiter himself- awesome composer and pianist, who has released quite a few records under The Foreign Exchange’s music label, had everyone mesmerized by the chords he played. You could tell he was happy to be home and with every stroke of the keyboard, he beamed a smile to us that was all love!
In the interview I did with Zo! a while back (check it out here), he told me that Sy Smith was his favorite to perform with because of how she flowed effortlessly and just did her thing minus staying on a grid. We got to witness this first hand as they played “Driving” a cut from Zo!’s Just Visiting Three, and “Greatest Weapon of All Time” from Sunstorm. Sy joked that when he sent her the latter track she was excited to write “A million dollar song and make millions of dollars”, but instead their currency was “millions of smiles”, said jokingly. Then finally Sy stepped from behind the synth bass to serve us her and Zo!’s rendition of Prince’s “Crazy You” and then hit us with a soulful rendition of “My Funny Valentine”. She was in her element and we were zoned in to her vocal mastery, body language and overall stage presence!
We were also gifted the live experience of Sy’s solo music with songs like “Aquarius Rising” and “Time” along with a host of others. I am sure there wasn’t one person in the room who wasn’t caught up in the rapture of Syberspace as she wooed and grooved us into a good time, leaving us wanting more when she announced the last song of the evening. Sy Smith and Zo! truly make a phenomenal pairing in chemistry and artistry and it was a delight being in the room with them to share a mutual love of music. The musicianship, stage presence and overall sound of the band didn’t go unnoticed in my book and I’m looking forward to hearing much more from both extraordinary artists!
I had to get an exclusive with a friend of Distinguished Detroit and I am very honored and pleased that he agreed to be the first. Not only is he a highly acclaimed/talented musician and composer, he is also the self-proclaimed King of making macaroni & cheese (smile). As a major part of The Foreign Exchange camp, producing music and touring with indie music’s hottest band on the planet, Zo! is a very humble and down-to-earth cat who willingly gives listeners a glimpse into the workings of his craft. And he is a son of Detroit so it only seemed fitting for me to feature the big homie and share with DDET readers the love from one of our own. Read below! =)
Zo!: Well, that’s kind of the point. We come from getting the CD, we read the linear notes as the music is playing and you wanna know who played what. But then, you want to take it a step further, like, how did this come together? I’m a big documentary head so anything autobiographical, biographical…I’m all into that. So I think that it’s dope that if I’m in a position where I can do that for other people, then I’m going to do it. It also helps with people connecting with your music. They feel a deeper connection with your music because if you feel like you’re apart of the process then you are going to feel connected to the song a little bit more. It’s not just something you’ve downloaded off the ‘net and thrown in your ipod real quick. I’ve had this talk with Phonte before because nowadays people don’t live with the albums. Before, you would take it in, run it, but you would also know about it. So with stuff being downloaded and being real quick, there’s no details behind it. Shoot…a lot of people still don’t know that I don’t sing! People still ask me and say things like “I loved your voice…”, you know, but I don’t sing! They just download it and have all this music and don’t know what the hell to do with it. So, that’s a part of it, as well.
LiLi: That just goes to show that you’re just as much a music fan as you are an artist or a musician because you understand the fan side of it- us wanting more than just the music but the whole experience. That’s what I appreciate about you, most definitely!
Zo!: Thank you!
LiLi: Have you ever thought about doing a video documentary for any of your upcoming projects, or The Foreign Exchange, period?
Zo!: Yeah, I’ve thought about it. But um…I think the documentary would probably be boring. (laughter)
LiLi: Why?! Because y’all are some clowns and I think that would be the best thing ever! Y’all really need some video footage! (chuckles)
Zo!: I do have video footage of us making Return of The Mack.
LiLi: When I heard that song I said ‘they were in the studio clownin’! I need that video footage, man! That junk was hilarious!
Zo!: But the thing is, normally we’re not in the studio together…
LiLi: Oh! Okay…
Zo!: So, we’re sending files back-and-forth, taking advantage of this technology. But if we were in the studio together, we would have had to do a documentary together a long time ago. But I think it would be boring because they would say ‘okay, they’re doing the same thing for this song. That’s all he does? Okay…’ Even the damn camera man would be bored like, ‘man you did this shit yesterday’!
LiLi: (Laughing) You gotta switch it up man, come on…
Zo!: Yeah, it’s the same formula but, it works!
LiLi: Right! Well, I hope so because we need to see that, most definitely! When I read your studio campfires I envision it all but then I’m thinking ‘man, this needs to be on video!’ Just keep that in mind for the future and make sure I get it first! I’m just playin’! (chuckles)
LiLi: So out of all of your albums- and I know it’s hard to pick a favorite- but when it comes to the process of putting an album together, which one did you have the best experience with?
Zo!: Mmm…I don’t know…
LiLi: Gotcha! No, I’m just playin’ (laughter)
Zo!: I know right! Um, I would probably have to say Sunstorm, process wise just because I worked with so many different people. I guess result wise, there were eleven vocalist on that album. To be able to get eleven people moving in the same direction, to me, was an accomplishment. So I would probably say that one. (laughing)
LiLi: That makes sense! Okay! Who are some of you favorite vocalists to work with that you have worked with in the past?
Zo!: Well, Phonte obviously. With me and him at this point it is unspoken. I send him something and he’ll send it right back.
LiLi: That is ignorant chemistry right there!
Zo!: It’s like me and him having a conversation…it’s nothing! Sy Smith very much so because with her it’s very effortless to come up with stuff. The same when performing with her. When we performed a couple months ago here in D.C., just the two of us with a percussionist, we didn’t rehearse! We had a set list and agreed on some songs and said we may play all of them or we may not. We may play some shit that’s not on here and we did five or six songs that weren’t even on the joint! She’s like me in a way where she likes to have fun with the music. She’s very flexible as far as where the music can go. Very easy-going to work with. No one show is the same. And on top of that she is super professional! We get asked all the time, ‘why don’t you work with so-and-so’ but we work with everybody for a reason. We work with people who not only have talent but they are folks who got their shit together. This is the company you want to keep when dealing with music because it’s not that common! You get a lot of cases where somebody is just super talented but if I can’t get a call-back from somebody then we can’t work off the break! I can’t trust you to call me back or not do some shady shit with the music, so it’s got to be a lot of things that line up. But I would say those are my top two.
LiLi: Okay! That’s what’s up! Besides Black Thought- which I read on your latest campfire story about working with him but it didn’t work out although eventually that will happen- who is an artists that you want to work with in the future?
Zo!: I would love to work with Faith.
Zo!: Yeah, I’m a big Faith Evans fan! I’m a huge Faith fan!
LiLi: Same here!
Zo!: We always have the arguments of who’s better between Faith and Mary J and…
LiLi: Oh…come on! (laughter). I love Mary, don’t get it twisted! But Faith…vocally!
Zo!: To me, it’s no contest! You know, someone else may say differently but that’s my opinion. I love Faith! Her vocal arrangements…and I don’t even pay that much attention to the lyrics but even her writing…she’s just dope, man!
LiLi: She sings so effortlessly!
Zo!: She is probably top on my list, vocally. Probably her and Lala Hathaway.
LiLi: Well I most definitely appreciate you taking the time out to chat with a sista, via Skype and I look forward to you and the FE camp coming back to Tha D. We need your music, man!
- Zo3hree5ive’s “Just Visiting Three”….Finally! (distinguisheddetroit.com)
There was a fresh sneaker smell in the air and a warm, homecoming presence that enveloped everyone who walked into Burn Rubber to greet Detroit native Zo! and celebrate the release of Just Visiting Three. The multi-talented musician/ producer was all smiles surrounded by family, friends and supporters and we enjoyed listening to the current album and browsing the store.
Then pops in my girl Brandi who brought by chocolate covered strawberries on behalf of Yum Delish (click here for the feature post on the company) since Monike was out of town.
And after he drooled over the treats and cracked hilarious jokes about having an intimate time with them, I got my picture with the big homie!
Download Just Visiting Three here (for FREE) and support! I can’t wait for The Foreign Exchange to come back and give us another breathtaking live music experience!
I happened to be present the night this photo was taken. It was a magical night at the Magic Stick (pun intended), in Midtown, when the wonderfully organic collective called The Foreign Exchange rocked the stage. I was scared we were going to collapse to the first level because you could feel the floor boards jumping. I was also anticipating an ugly cry from Zo! when Phonte told us to show him some love- and we did it Detroit-style. There was non-stop clapping, whistles, applause and smiles for the Detroit homie and I just knew I was going to see one tear drop. Not. one. came. But he was smiling from ear-to-ear as you see on this album cover above, and the love is much deserved!
I have been doing a mean chair dance to every tune on Just Visiting Three since it’s been in my possession Tuesday morning. My Twitter timeline was buzzing about the album and Then Zo! graced us with a “Studio Campfire Story” on his Tumblr blog, giving us the complete rundown of how he made the magic happen on Steely Dan’s “Black Cow” remake. The intricately written account of his passion and effort made me feel like I was an actual fly on the wall during the process. Its enthusiasm, hard work and commitment like this that reassures me Zo! is crafting music my future grand children will appreciate.
With this being said, I am headed to his album release party in a few. It will be at Burn Rubber, a very jazzy sneaker store in Royal Oak. Come on out, the party starts at 6 and ends at 8pm. I will have updates on the site tomorrow for the folks who couldn’t make it- I’m gracious like that!
How could I forget to tell you? The album is free-ninety-nine! Click here and GET IT NOW!