The long-term Zero 7 and Nightmares On Wax collaborator, talks about releasing his second solo album after a nine-year hiatus
Long before Sam Smith and Jess Glynne got their start as collaborators with the likes of Disclosure and Rudimental, Jamaican soul singer Osmond Wright – better known as Mozez – was helping chill-out duo Zero 7 achieve widespread success. Across two albums at the turn of the ‘00s, it was Mozez’s graceful voice that shone alongside the then-unknown Sia and Sophie Barker in the band’s popular brand of comedown music. Some would have expected Mozez to become as successful as Sia, especially when his debut solo album, 2006’s So Still, garnered critical acclaim. But, since then, other than touring as the singer for long-time friend Nightmares On Wax, Mozez has been silent.
Nine years on, and the perfectionist singer, songwriter and producer reemerges with his second solo album Wings. The title track and first single has already garnered praise from Dermot O’Leary on Radio 2 and 6 Music’s Tom Robinson, with the music video clocking up over one million plays on YouTube.
We found Mozez ready to return to the spotlight, vowing that he’s already begun writing songs for another record, “which shouldn’t take nine years”…
Tell us about your musical background in Jamaica.
“My elder brother was the singer in the family before me and my father was a minister in the church, so every Sunday we would go to church and sing. I was between 12 and 14 years old when I started taking an interest in being like him. I started doing the harmonies with him and I picked it up as we went along. We formed a gospel group called Channel Of Praise and began to sing in the churches for quite a while.”
Then you came to the UK?
“I grew up in Jamaica until I was 20-something. We were in the churches singing when a pastor saw us and invited us up in 1985, I think, for the first time. We came and went back a few times, then it was 1990 when we finally came for the last time and stayed.”
Were you aware of pop, soul, blues or any other mainstream music?
“Gospel for us, in Jamaica, was primarily music from America, in the South. We weren’t allowed to listen to reggae and stuff, initially, but as time went on you gravitated towards the light – as kids you become rebels. Reggae took hold of us initially, but I’ve always listened to people like Marvin Gaye, Commodores, The Beatles, Karen Carpenter… I picked up a lot from the various things I heard.”
That’s a pretty eclectic mix and, listening to Wings, we can hear a lot of different influences. Were you conscious of that or does it came naturally?
“Indeed, I just love different styles of music. I primarily listen to the message of the music, so whatever carries it is not important. So I don’t stick to one type of music, I listen to whatever has a good message, has a good beat and has good energy to it.”
“I think it was in 1992 or ’93, I worked with a band called Spirits and we did a couple of songs – one called Don’t Bring Me Down and another one called Spirit Inside – that went into the charts and did reasonably well. That was my first intro into pop music, but the big break came with Zero 7 in ’99. Henry [Binns, one half of the electronic duo with Sam Hardaker] and I became friends and I was invited to do the album.”
How did you meet?
“I was working with a company called Gale Records and the owner of it knew Henry and Sam. He sent me to work with them to write a few songs and we just gelled and became friends over a period of time. I think that was 1995 or ’96, something like that. When they started Zero 7, the initial idea was to sell a couple of thousand albums! But it just went to a different level.”
Can you recall your involvement on that first album, Simple Things?
“Yeah, primarily it was about writing. The guys were the producers and we sat in the studio in St John’s Wood [RAK Studios] and came up with different ideas. We’d sit on the piano, find a beat, then I’d go away and think it through and come back with something. That’s how it worked. After a period of time the songs just gelled. Some of the songs came quite easily, but songs like This World was a bit of a job putting it together.”
Is that a process you continued to follow with your solo stuff?
“I still follow the same principle, but it works in different ways. I’ll get up in the morning, get an idea, come into the studio and put it down, then come back to it after a time when I get another feel for it. There’s no tabular way of writing, I would say, it’s different depending on what the emotion is. Sometimes a song comes, just like that, everything is there and you do it in a couple of days. Other times it can take months to come through!”
So do you have your own studio?
“I share a studio with a guy called Tony White who’s been my friend for 15 or 20 years now. We were put together and we have a studio in Dalston.”
Is your production style influenced by the Zero 7 sound and do they get involved?
“No, unfortunately because the guys are so busy, we’re not in contact that much anymore. For me, over the years, I’ve learned the process of production. I hear what I want in my head and I spend time putting it together. My problem was that I couldn’t do the sound engineering, so I always had to hire someone to do that for me. Sometimes when you try to relay something to a sound engineer, they don’t understand what you’re saying, and no matter what you say, he or she doesn’t get it. So then, I think it was in 2009, I decided to work at that side of it and put it all together, and I think I’m pretty good at it now… hopefully!”
Is that why it took so long between putting out So Still and Wings, or were there other factors?
“Yeah there were definitely other factors. I thought I had it, but then listening back to the album I wasn’t satisfied with it, so I had to go back and recreate some of the songs, re-do it, re-master it and everything like that. Then I had the family, so I had to concentrate on that, as well as learning the process of engineering. All these contributing factors were elements of what made it take so long.”
So do you try to keep your family life and life as a musician separate?
“Everything I do involves me as a person, as an entity, so I can’t see the separation from myself. My music is me, it’s my life. The trouble I have is finding time not to be in the studio and to concentrate on my family as well, so it’s having to decide, ‘Okay I need to stop!’”
Did you work with any collaborators on Wings?
“Tony White was very instrumental in helping me to get the album together and produce a number of the tracks – I think Mirror Mirror, Philia and Signs Of Happiness. With Wings [the title track], I couldn’t get it to sit right, so I sent it to a friend of mine in Italy, Filippo Clary who was in the band Gabin, to help with the production and he did some brilliant work on it. Then there’s Tom Quick who also helped me.”
Is there a theme to the album or does each song have its own story?
“Well, because it was made during a time of recession, I wanted to instill a sense of optimism. Initially, some of the songs were quite dark, so I changed it to what it is now.”
When you’re writing, do you play any instruments?
“I work on the piano. I’m not excellent at it, but I play a little bit then create the beats. As I said, there’s no tabulated format. Depending on how I feel, it could be just a beat, it could be the piano, it could be the voice or it could be that I get the full verse, chorus and song without the music.”
Sia was one of the other vocalists with you in Zero 7. Did you spend much time together?
“Ah yes indeed! We toured together and did the first two albums together. Sia is a great girl and I’m very happy for her, because she persevered. There were times when it was really difficult and she wanted to give up. When I left Zero 7, she continued with it and things went from good to great!”
She writes a lot with other acts. Is that something you’d like to do?
“Yeah, well Sia’s a great writer and she’s always been great. Sophie Barker is a great writer as well. For my songs, I tend to concentrate on my own work but I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t write with another person. I write for the people on my label, Numen Records, because I have a few young artists, so I write for them. But in terms of big artists I’ve never got into that.”
Have you got plans to tour this new album?
“Absolutely. I enjoy getting on the road and singing, so the whole idea of the album was to tour it. So hopefully, if things goes well, we should be touring with my own band. But I’m writing with Nightmares On Wax right now, so I’ll be touring for that album next year as well.”
Sounds like you’re going to be busy in 2016!
“Yeah well I hope so, after having nine years off!”
Interview: Aaron Slater
Mozez’s new solo album Wings is out 27 Nov on Numen Records, with second single Run River out now. To find out more, visit: mozez.co.uk