Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Interview with Mozez

If Mozez’ butter-smooth vocals sound heaven sent, it’s with good reason. The singer-songwriter spent the first half of his life singing exclusively in churches. Born Osmond Wright in Jamaica, the singer looked towards American greats for inspiration - Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Curtis Mayfield, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra were his idols. When Mozez was in his late teens he was invited to England for a short tour, and despite his reservations with the English weather he decided to stay, studying theology in West Hampstead.

His first break came with the duo Spirits - they reached the Top 20 with the single “Don’t Bring Me Down” and he found himself in a whole new world. A follow-up, “Spirit Inside” also charted, but he was not entirely satisfied with the project and left to concentrate on his own compositions. It was at this time that Mozez developed his own laid back, heartfelt, and deeply soulful style.

It turned out to be a style that blended perfectly with that of Zero 7’s Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker. Mozez co-wrote and sang the title track as well as “This World” on Zero 7’s debut album “Simple Things”, released in 2001. The album was a smash hit, capturing the zeitgeist of the post-millennial, post-clubbing era. Another Zero 7 album, ”When It Falls” followed in 2004 and featured three additional vocalists, Sia, Sophie Barker and Tina Dico who all joined Mozez, Binns/Hardaker and a full band on an extensive tour – they played numerous US shows to great acclaim and “When It Falls” has since gone platinum.

In the meantime, Mozez worked in his studio, writing and recording. Having scored a publishing deal with Universal Publishing, Mozez recruited friends including Alex Morris, Tom Quick, Ben Chapman, Guy Sigsworth, Nightmares On Wax and Binns/Hardaker to assist with his 14-track debut solo album “So Still” which was released in 2005. In the US the album received heavy air play on influential Los Angeles radio station KCRW and the track “Feel Free” was placed in both TV (“CSI”) and film (“Running for Time”).

The much anticipated follow-up album “The Absolute” features Melanie Blatt (All Saints) and production from George Evelyn (Nightmares on Wax), Tony White plus other writers and producers. Mozez has imparted more of his production ability on this album, giving us a slightly harder edge to this soft-spoken man. He describes “The Absolute” as “a journey into a multi floral expanse of colored sounds”. It will be released in the US in the early part of 2010. The first single “Signs of Happiness” has already been released in the UK and will be released in the US in January. A number of US shows are also in the works.


Q & A with Mozez

The Nightfly: When did you take the name Mozez and why?
Mozez: It was in 1996. I concluded that Osmond Wright was not a strong enough name for an artist and that a change would be necessary. I came upon the name Mozez by playing around with some words that came to my head at the time – I decided it was a cool name and have been using it ever since.

The Nightfly: Jamaica is primarily known for giving the world reggae and ska music – how large a role have gospel music and soul music played?
Mozez: Soul and gospel music have not been given their place in the ever evolving styles of music from Jamaica, but they have both been instrumental in the creation of almost every artist from the island.

The Nightfly: Can you recall the moment when you decided to pursue a music career?
Mozez: Not specifically. I was singing in churches from the age of twelve, moved on to set up a gospel band before becoming fully involved in music, so for me it has been a rather smooth process.

The Nightfly: Was your family supportive of your musical ambitions?
Mozez: I cannot wholly say yes as it was not my father’s first choice for me. However, I think my family is pleased that I have made a success of my chosen path.

The Nightfly: Was there a distinct soul music scene in London at the time of your arrival?
Mozez: There was, but it took me a while to gravitate to it as it was very different from what I was used to. When I left Jamaica I was heavily into music like the Commodores, the Manhattans, the Chi-Lites, Air Supply, the Carpenters, etc. When I arrived in the UK soul was much more about Jazzy B, Omar, Sade, etc. The sounds, instrumentation, melodies were not the same.

The Nightfly: Was there ever a time when you felt like giving up on your music career?
Mozez: There have been many times like that over the last ten years, but I am happy that I have persevered.

The Nightfly: What advice would you give to an aspiring singer/musician?
Mozez: Believe in yourself, follow your dream, develop an entrepreneurial spirit. The era of depending on contracts from companies is slowly coming to and end. To make it today you need to be able to create your own space, and develop a unique style.

The Nightfly: How did Sam Hardaker and Harry Binns come to hear your work with the duo Spirits?
Mozez: Working with Zero 7 came about purely by chance. At the time I was working with another company and was introduced to the guys as they were asked to produce a song for that company. We worked together on a number of songs. “This World” was one of them.

The Nightfly: Has it been a challenge to get record buyers to separate your work with Zero 7 from your solo output?
Mozez: Not really. The sound I have created is a bit more up-tempo and electronic than Zero 7 and I think we occupy a different space within the market.

The Nightfly: Your first solo album “So Still” from 2005 is a seamless, flawless album – how long did it take to make the record, from conception to release?
Mozez: I tend to take a while to create my albums as I am a bit fussy regarding production and the whole feel of what I put out. I started working on “So Still” probably before I met Zero 7, but I can’t give a definitive date as the tracks on the album were chosen from a number of songs I wrote over the years.

The Nightfly: How large a role has the worldwide web played in your career since the release of “So Still” in terms of digital distribution and promotion?
Mozez: It has been instrumental in the promotion of Mozez and has been a very effective tool I believe. Over seventy percent of sold copies of “So Still” were purchased primarily directly or indirectly via the web.

The Nightfly: Was the songwriting process and recording process different the second time around?
Mozez: “So Still” was less about creating an album and more about relating my experiences, “The Absolute” is primarily about trying to create an effective piece of work and hoping that people will buy into what I have created. With “The Absolute” I have for the most part created everything in my studio. “So Still” on the other hand was recorded with a number of friends in various studios.

The Nightfly: Why did you choose the title “The Absolute”?
Mozez: I am trying to relate through my songs a sense of freedom from everything that limits us to the self. The title was chosen as I could not find another term or word to describe the sense of triumph knowing that we are instilled with a sovereign nature.

The Nightfly: The stunning first single from the new album “Signs of Happiness” is a welcome upbeat tonic in our troubled day and age – was the positive vibe of the title and the song deliberate or a coincidence?
Mozez: I stumble on a lot of things while I go along - I’m not sure I wrote it as a deliberate medicine for the time.

The Nightfly: Do you have favorite tracks on either your first solo album “So Still” or on the new solo album “The Absolute” and if so, why are they your favorites?
Mozez: On “So Still” my favorite song is the title track because of the picture it paints in my mind. “Philia”, a song about friendship or the lack thereof, is my favorite track on “The Absolute” because it was a pleasure creating it.

The Nightfly: When you write does the music or do the lyrics come first and where do you usually find the inspiration?
Mozez: Sixty percent of the time the lyrics are written before the music is created. I am easily inspired I guess, just being and feeling the sense of love, hate, peace, war, justice, injustice, life, death, knowing and not knowing, God, darkness, light, beauty, intellect.

The Nightfly: Do you enjoy songwriting, recording, and performing equally?
Mozez: Performing is my greatest joy as it is less solitary - I enjoy the reaction, the feel and the power while relating a song to an audience, but I enjoy the creative process of writing and recording as well.

The Nightfly: Would you prefer to be known as a singer, period, or do you welcome the label “soul singer”?
Mozez: I am not truly worried one way or the other as over the years I’ve been called worse things. However, given the choice I would prefer just being a singer.

The Nightfly: Which songs in music history have had the most profound effect on you and why?
Mozez: “Inner City Blues” by Marvin Gaye because the song is lyrically profound and is sung by the best singer who ever walked the planet. “War” by Bob Marley because of its power, truth and simplicity. “Careless Whisper” by George Michael because it has an undying melody and a seamless quality.

The Nightfly: Which established and newer artists/bands are you currently listening to?
Mozez: Coldplay, Kanye West, Black Eyed Peas, System of a Down. I’m also a fan of a new UK trio of three brothers who go by the name of Nicole Jane – I think they could be huge if given the opportunity.