ZOiD is a bit of an exception to the norm in current Irish music circles. Combining jazz and techno, two scenes that the city’s not particularly known for these days, he produces beautiful tracks with a wide mix of guest vocalists, which he then somehow twists into a coherent whole. That in itself is quite an achievement.
He’s also prolific. Daniel Jacobson – his real name – traces his routes back to a specific Dublin scene of years ago, one centred around the label D1 Records. I caught up with him to discuss his latest release, ZONGS, due out shortly, and found a man with plenty to say about his colourful craft…
You seem to have been inspired in part by the Dublin inner city and also jazz influences, which from the outside looks like an unlikely combo. How did that come about?
Well… I got into techno and jazz simultaneously when I was 15 or 16. Me and my friends worked on the forecourt at a petrol station in Deansgrange and we’d spend all the money we earned on techno records. They’d be from Germany, the US, the UK, Japan, Netherlands… and occasionally we’d come across a record from Dublin, on a label called D1 Records.
It was exciting to know there were people not far away who were making this music on a par with other labels around the world! It inspired me to start producing music. I bought a synth and the first tape I made found it’s way to Eamonn Doyle who ran D1. He rang me up and I got to go and make tracks at their studio, play livesets at The Funnel, and later on release an album on D1 (ZOiD Vs Jazz Musicians of Ireland Vol 1).
In terms of getting into jazz, I loved the challenge of trying to play it because it was impossible. Also I thought it would be cool to understand everything going on in the rhythms, harmonies and melodies of jazz so I could use all that in electronic dance music. That was my reason for studying jazz full time for 4 years. It didn’t exactly work out…
Obviously the record is heavy on collaboration. How did that work in practise, and how did you keep it coherent as a whole?
In practice it was a whole bunch of emailing files back and forth over a couple of years. It was cool because nearly everyone has a basic mic they can use to record themselves, and i didn’t mind if the recordings weren’t very high fidelity. If they were a bit noisy or low quality, I thought it would add character.
Liam Grant and Les Keye who helped me with the mixes probably have other opinions… but anyway, there was a really big diversity of tracks and I was worried for a time that it wouldn’t be coherent enough… after a few months of working on the mixes with Liam though, it all started gelling and sounding like an album. I remember the first time I listened to it all the way through, while walking along the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire, I was so relieved – IT SOUNDED LIKE AN ALBUM!! It took ages to get it there.
Was it part of the plan to feature only female vocalists?
I picked vocalists I like and they just happened to all be female. There were a couple of tracks with male vocalists but they didn’t get finished in time (Danny G, if you’re reading this… let’s go haha!).
How does the lyrical side to your music work – how do you come to ideas, and who writes the lyrics when you collaborate?
I keep a notebook and do occasional free writing with a countdown timer for 5 minutes, just writing anything that comes. And pick ideas out from that. Also sometimes when I meditate things pop into my mind like lyrics or ideas for tracks.
Was there a moment when the whole thing kind of fell together in your mind?
In 2018, I released my last album ‘Nebulous Concrete’ and I was looking for a new idea for the next album. I was teaching a weekly songwriting class at the time and one of the exercises we were working on was writing songs with particular singers in mind. The whole ZONGS album grew from that, the songs were shaped by, for, and with the particular singers who sang them.
The album launch will feature a few of the collaborators. How do you plan to perform the record after that?
For me, producing music is a non-real time activity, so you can take as much time as needed to make the best sound possible. If it takes 10 hours to make 30 seconds of great music that’s ok. Performing is the opposite, it’s real-time creation of music, I prefer doing it as improvised as possible for maximum risk-taking and excitement. So I’d love to play some of the songs from the album in a different setting, like with a jazz quartet or something. That would be fun.
I have another album being finished up now called ‘Internal Space Element’, with a String Quartet and four singers, Miriam and Suzanne who were on ZONGS and two other singers, Meljoann and Inni-K (who is touring at the moment). I’d love to perform some of THAT music with a live string quartet… but in a dark nightclub with people dancing around and knocking into the string quartet as they’re playing.
What can you tell me about the tracks that didn’t make the record?
Some of them came out as singles and they are on my bandcamp from last year (https://zoid.bandcamp.com). Then there are a few other tracks with Jenna, and a few with Dorota, and another one with Suzanne, and I started a couple other ones with Lauren, and me and Aoife have other music we’re working on slowly, and Miriam also… I plan to release a few EPs where it’s 3-5 songs all with the same vocalist. Yep, several tonnes of music, I just keep on churning ’em out!
What do you make of the Dublin techno scene?
I’m not really a part of it… before the pandemic I used to go out maybe twice a year to a techno gig. There’s some great producers like Defekt and Automatic Tasty
Is there a problem in the city with the quality and quantity of clubs, in your view?
There used to be a lot of great clubs in the 90s and now it seems like there are very few. I think Sunil Sharpe is doing a great job with the Give Us The Night campaign, things need to change!
What are your hopes for the future?
Oh, mostly modest stuff like collaborate with Bjork, play Coachella, get signed to Warp, write a movie script and get it produced in Hollywood. There’s still time!!!
ZONGS by ZOiD is out on April 8.