I think every Sophistipop lover would be over the moon to hear a combination of Prefab Sprout and The Aluminum Group with the vocals of David Sylvian, produced by neo Sophisti maestro Kurt Feldman. Well this is it!! I am honoured to introduce the brand-new Sophistipop project Tenant from Zero, brainchild of Paul Darrah: singer, composer Brooklyn, NY. Enjoy the single “Grant Mclennan“!
I chatted to Paul about the birth of Tenant from Zero, the making of the EP “The Nape of your Neck”, his influences and the phenomenon Kurt Feldman:
TFZ: I had been searching for the right name for eons and actually landed on the name AFTER I recorded the record. Everything I wanted was taken or not the right fit. The name for the band (me really) is based on a film from the late 80s called Apartment Zero about a serial killer who charms everyone in his apartment building into falling for him. In one scene, he’s asked by neighbors in passing if he was “the new tenant from zero” and I was like, that’s it! I just like the sound of it, the way it looks in writing, that it could be the title of a Twilight Zone episode.
The project is something I had wanted to do for a long time but I either didn’t have the money or the time to complete it. I was working on a product launch in 2015 and the last 4 months of that year were very grueling and I said out lout one late night to my coworkers “when this launch is over, I’m recording my fucking record.” And from that point on, I devoted myself to it.
You are obviously influenced by 80’s sophistipop. When did it occur to you that there was a new Sophistipop Wave going on? What do you think of those current band like Ice Choir, Ablebody, Germans, Roman a Clef etc.
TFZ: My general answer about “sophisti pop” is that I hadn’t really been following it as a genre or movement per se; I had heard the term Yacht Rock. But most of the 80s artists I’ve been devoted to seemed to fall under this banner (Everything But the Girl, The Blue Nile, Prefab Sprout, etc) as well as Destroyer‘s “Kaputt” which dominated my headphones for several years. I’m not crazy about the term itself because it seems a bit too value based; it seems to suggest that music that doesn’t use strings, or brass, or lives on the lighter side is somehow less sophisticated. But semantics aside, I absolutely adore most of the bands that fall under this banner. I really love Ice Choir and Roman a Clef. I don’t really know the other bands you mentioned. It’s funny how I came to Roman a Clef – I had done a google search for “Prefab Sprout and Brooklyn” because I had heard that there was an actual Prefab Sprout tribute band opening for a Smiths cover band. (I know – ridiculous LOL). I never found the cover band but I did find a review of “Abandonware” from Roman a Clef on Brooklyn Vegan, listened to some songs and fell in love. “Abandonware” was my favorite record of 2015. It was a bit like a reawakening for me because here was this band taking an older sound and doing something new and beautiful with it but remaining faithful to the idiosyncrasies of that sound. And I thought – fuck it – who needs to sound “relevant”, just make the record you want to make. Some folks will dig it and some won’t.
The burning question obviously is : how did the collaboration with Kurt Feldman come about? What was it like?
TFZ: It actually comes back to Roman a Clef. I had been following their twitter feed in the hopes that they would announce some gigs and one day in December of 2015 I think, there was a retweet of a Kurt tweet that he was looking for production work. I was like “should I?” and I sent him my soundcloud page and said I love the Roman a Clef record and that I was looking to properly record my demos. He got back to me, we met up in Greenpoint, talked production style, money, influences and started work a few weeks later. We had a lot of shared influences which is definitely a plus. It was really important for me that the producer got my references and the period.
Kurt is very focused, articulate, patient, a complete perfectionist, really unassuming, modest, and just a great guy. And he has great hair. I have total hair envy for Kurt’s hair. More than just being a great producer, he was a great guide and song doctor. You could come to him with a song that had a broken leg – I had one song that was 2/3s of the way done but a part that was just sounding like shit – and he literally could diagnose the issue in 10min and come up with 2-3 suggestions that were all excellent that could make the song work. In short, he was a dream to work with.
What are your main influences?
TFZ: My biggest influence is probably David Sylvian. I modeled my voice whether consciously or unconsciously on David Sylvian and Tracey Thorn from Everything but the Girl. There is a particular melancholic quality in their voices that’s always moved me. After decades of listening, their voices are in mine now. Beyond them, there are so many but Blue Nile, Japan, Prefab Sprout, Joni Mitchell, Suede, The Aluminum Group, Scott Walker, Bryan Ferry, The Go Betweens, John Cale, June Tabor, Sparks, The Smiths, Bowie. I’m drawn to artists with a sense of melancholy, romance, smarts, and style.
Where do you see this project going?
TFZ: Damned if I know. LOL. I have a bunch of other songs I’d like to record, so ideally a couple of albums. I wanted to do more songs but with budget and timing, I could only nail down 6 with Kurt. I would like to perform more than anything. I’d like to assemble a band who really vibes with the material and perform around NY and in the States. And if there was interest, play around Europe. This may sound corny, but I just want people to enjoy my music.