Since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, indie music retailer Bandcamp has waived their share of revenue for indie artists and labels using their platform to give “the little guys” a leg up in the absence of touring and other moneymaking activities for musicians. The result was more music bought by more fans than any day on the site, a record broken on the first Friday of May. The Second Disc has proudly covered Bandcamp Fridays in June, July, August, September, Octoberand November – plus the first of an annual occurrence when the service will donate its share to the NAACP Legal Fund on Juneteenth – and will continue to share our new favorites that discerning listeners might enjoy, as well as select catalogue favorites on the service!
Tenant from Zero: As one ages – at least, as I age – two things are clear: it’s hard (despite your best efforts) to find new-to-you music that really speaks volumes, or music that captures the essence of favorite music in a different way. I’m here to tell you Tenant from Zero does both.
The brainchild of singer/songwriter Paul Darrah, Tenant from Zero is a terrific, modern invocation of the sound of mid-to-late ’80s sophistipop, recalling works by The Blue Nile, Bryan Ferry, Prefab Sprout and Danny Wilson. But TFZ doesn’t exist solely to lock you in a pleasant bubble of the past: like the best pop, its lyrics and melodies are timeless and captivating. When Tenant from Zero’s new album Flight, released in January, was recommended to me, I was pleased to find a new favorite – and gleefully tracked down Darrah to answer some questions about his work, so it wasn’t just me telling you why you should listen up.
Darrah, who took the name from a late ’80s thriller – a move he insists was uninentional – has described his work in the tradition of something he calls “poof pop”: the music of a cosmopolitan England and Europe, shifting between the arty ambitions of Duran Duran into the dreamlike vibes of sensitive songsmiths, unconcerned with traditional masculine roles and striving for honesty throughout. “What appeals to me overall is the vibe,” he said. “I know that’s somewhat vague but I can’t put it down to just the lyrics or just the voices or chord progressions or arrangements. That all matters, but I guess it’s what they aspire to. These artists all made music that had conveyed a sense of melancholy, smarts, nostalgia, intimacy and romance. Romance is such a throwback term but I think it’s apt.”
Romance and urgency rear their heads on standout tracks like singles “The End Away” and “This Can’t Wait ‘Til Later,” whose instrumentation evokes quietly urbane scenarios, stolen moments and lovers’ passion. Darrah’s husky voice sells the drama even further, and he says he usually leads with what he sings in writing. “This is one of those great divides,” he admits. “In interviews with musicians theres always that one moment when they proudly state ‘The music always comes first’. Not for me…In my head at least, I’ve literally gone from lyric to arrangement ideas before I’ve even worked out the chords for the verses and chorus. That’s not to say I haven’t worked on the music first and fit the lyrics in later, but it’s not a hard and fast rule.”
Like all musicians, Darrah has bobbed and weaved through the pandemic as best he can. Flight was in fact years in the making, recorded throughout 2018 and 2019 in sessions in Oslo (with producer Ole Johannes Aleskjaer) and Brooklyn. Darrah found the latter sessions challenging, “in separate rooms and studios” as opposed to the fuller studio experience in Oslo. “I’m a better personal communicator,” he admitted, “so I definitely felt the deficit of not being in the same room when they were recording their parts on the songs. Having to respond after the fact always sucked.”
Ultimately, the COVID era dictated when he’d let go and put the music out. “I guess we all felt that the day after the election was going to be the moment when we would all begin to getting back to normal,” he said, “whether it was the new normal of lockdown and masks and a commitment to beating the virus or the dismal reality of living in a country under quasi-Nazi rule that continues to minimize the virus and brutalize people of color.”
Pointed (though true) statements aside, Darrah insists Tenant from Zero is apolitical. “I tried writing about politics but the results were so dismal,” he said. “I’m not big on messages per se. I hope that people who listen to the music connect with the lyrics and the vibe and in some weird way feel seen by it.” Rest assured, fans will have their chance of feeling seen by Flight, available digitally or on CD at Bandcamp with a vinyl version in the works.
Bonus beats: We asked Paul to send us a list of musical recommendations and he did not disappoint!
- Jorge Elbrecht
- The Catherines
- Kristof Hajos
- The Fisherman and His Soul
- Joan As Police Woman
- China Crisis (especially the first three albums)
- Sophie and Peter Johnston
- Scritti Politti
- The SOS Band
Robert Cotter: On his own, the name might not mean much – but Robert Cotter’s bona fides are incredible. His grandfather, James Reese Europe, founded the Clef Club in Harlem, a legendary Black music collective that played ragtime on the stage of Carnegie Hall in 1912, decades before Benny Goodman’s legendary jazz set there. His son Jason parlayed a strong run on American Idol‘s sixth season into a career as a songwriter, with a co-writing credit on the 2009 chart-topper “Down” by Jay Sean and Lil Wayne. As for Cotter himself? He was a New York bandleader gigging through various club gigs as disco took hold of Manhattan. His 1976 album Missing You was a great slice of that sound that sadly never made it past the private press stage.
As a result, only a lucky few heard one of his greatest collaborations: two of the album’s tracks, “Love Rite” and “Saturday,” were cut with a local ensemble named The Big Apple Band. While its members were unknown at the time, guitarist Nile Rodgers, bassist Bernard Edwards, drummer Tony Thompson and keyboardist Rob Sabino would become extremely well-known around the world as the core of CHIC. And the magic’s not only there in the playing: Rodgers and Edwards later brought “Saturday” to their first producing session for another artist: early CHIC vocalist Norma Jean Wright. Her version hit No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Now, the French label We Want Sounds (who’ve also put out obscurities by free jazz trumpeter Don Cherry and game show/variety show personality Jaye P. Morgan) is working with Cotter to release the album digitally, on CD and vinyl, with copies expected to ship around April 9. It’s an album worth rediscovering – whether it’s Saturday or any day that ends in “y”!
J Dilla: the late, legendary hip-hop producer spent most of the ’90s producing and remixing under the names Jay Dee and The Ummah, a collective between himself and A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. But after splitting off from his group Slum Village, he took on the moniker that fans of all stripes know him by the most. (Busta Rhymes apparently gave him the name!) The BBE label, which kicked off a series of producer-focused “Beat Generation” albums with Dilla’s Welcome 2 Detroit, revisits the record for its 20th anniversary: a sublime distillation of the Motor City’s hip-hop scene at the turn of the century. The expanded album, available digitally or in a sprawling 12-disc box of 7″ singles, includes a staggering 50 bonus tracks, including an instrumental version of the album, demos, alternates and some new mixes to boot.
For a good cause… Los Angeles booking collective Precious Bitch has unveiled Eat the Rich: A Gossip Girl Soundtrack Cover Compilation featuring some acts we’ve covered here before like Sad13 and Long Neck. As the name suggests, it features quirky covers of pop and indie songs featured on the cult classic (and soon-to-be-reimagined) CW series – tracks you know and love by Lady Gaga, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, St. Vincent, OK Go, Foster the People, MGMT and more. Best of all, the entirety of proceeds go directly to Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, an urban women-led land trust working to facilitate the return of traditionally Chochenyo and Karkin lands in the San Francisco Bay area to its Indigenous people.
And from old friends… Singer-songwriter Nick Miller has a moving new EP called Love Letters, while indie-rock heroes Miracle Legion have unearthed another show from their vault: a 1992 gig at the Prince-owned Glam Slam in Minneapolis.