EXCLUSIVE ARTIST FEATURE: Inside the world of J. Zunz

 

Last month saw us cover J. Zunz’s rework of Pigs x7’s track Hell’s Teeth in our Track of the Day series, an incredible piece of work. 

This week we caught up with J. (Lorena) and discussed her songwriting process, love for analog gear, the importance of great working relationships in the creation process and more! 

 

Corey: So, I noticed that you currently live in Ensenada, Baja California, México. That seems like a world away from Rocket Recordings and Sonic Cathedral Recordings whom are obviously UK based. Compared to your experience with Captcha, do any issues arise from the distance and time zones, or is it actually quite easy to plan tour dates, flights, album promotion etc. in the digital age?

J. Zunz: There hasn’t been any issue at all from my side, both labels are super well organised, very professional and they have tons of experience. I just try not to disappear from them and to answer every email as soon as I can. I’m also very lucky that I have always had a booking agent in Europe and UK, so everything is easy and smooth. Prior every tour, we just have to sort out some details like the flights, merch printing, van rental etc.

Even with the distance factor and the extra expenses, I think it has been easier for us to tour Europe and the UK than the US. Let’s see how it goes with the new work visa in the UK.

 

Corey: I saw that you said you had been working on the album since last year. I’m wondering if this was whilst writing / touring with Lorelle Meets the Obsolete? If so, was it fairly easy to decide what songs were solo songs and what were band songs? I’m also interested in where you were writing and if that had any significant effect on the shape of the album?

J. Zunz: I wrote part of the song “Overtime” the day after we finished a tour with LMTO, some hours before taking our flight back to México. But apart from that one, I wrote the rest of the album at home in Ensenada in-between tours.

This time it was easy to decide which songs were for my project. Maybe because I was looking for a very particular feeling. I left out some songs that in the end I didn’t feel were dark enough. I was looking for shadow songs if that makes sense. Maybe I can rework the songs I left out with Alberto and transform them into something else for LMTO.

 

 

Corey: Have you been working on any projects / in any other roles since you started to release music, or are you now able to focus solely on being a musician / artist? How does / did this affect your ability to tour and perform live, as well as the writing process?

J. Zunz: When we released the first album of LMTO I had a job in an education project in México City. It was financed by the UN and imparted on high schools. It was nice but as you can imagine it was impossible to even think about going out on tour properly. It was a very absorbing job. I quit and we moved to Ensenada in order to be full time musicians and that’s how it’s been for the last 8 years.

Making a living as a musician has been hard, especially during the first years. At some point we didn’t even have any gear to record, because we had to sell most of it to keep paying the rent. We were living out of record sales and some syncs in short movies but all of that is very uncertain and random. But in the other hand, we were touring, learning and moving on.

We’ve also been lucky as we’ve always had lovely friends lending us their amps or anything we needed to record. We kept going like this until we found some balance. In 2017 we signed a publishing deal and I think that was a game changer. Every couple of years we receive an advance that has helped us to buy some gear back plus some new additions.

It is still hard anyway, we have a lot of debts that keep piling up but we try not to think about them and we keep working.

 

Corey: Hibiscus is a really creative and original collection of music, with lots of atmospheric and spatial effects. As this is such an important part of the music, I assume that you made a lot of these decisions in the production process as opposed to in the mixing stage? I’m interested in what kind of equipment you used, are you mainly laptop based, or did you use a lot of analogue gear to achieve some of these amazing sounds? 

J. Zunz: Most of the sounds were conceived during the recording process. When mixing the album, Alberto (the recording engineer) added some other details like the vocal effects. As for the gear used, everything is analogue. I don’t have anything against digital stuff, it’s only that it is easier for me to work this way. I used a Juno 60, an Acetone combo organ and some effects pedals. I used the Moog Ring Modulator on a lot of tracks and for delays it was mostly the DL4. For beats I used a Boss DR-55 plus a Simmons SDS8. Everything was tracked straight into a Joemeek OneQ or a Golden Age MKIII and then to the Apogee Ensemble. Even the guitars. For vocals we used the Electrovoice PL20.

 

Corey: Where those specific pieces of gear / software crucial to your work, or do you feel that the mindset and being creative with what you have was the most crucial part in producing the record?

J. Zunz: I think it’s a little bit of both. All the ideas were filtered through the gear I had but also sometimes a drum machine beat or a Juno sound would trigger some new ideas and I would modify a track. It helped me to stay open to accidents or mistakes and what they could bring to an idea. But at the same time I tried to keep in mind what got me excited about a song in the first place so I wouldn’t get lost.

 

Corey: I noticed you have a close relationship with your mix / recording engineer Alberto, from your previous project. How did that relationship effect the shape of the album? Was it helpful to have someone to bounce ideas off or was there a strict line with the intention of this being very much a solo piece of work?

J. Zunz: It affected the recording process in a very positive way. Alberto is an amazing engineer. Apart from being half of LMTO and recording our albums, he has a lot of experience working with other bands too. With LMTO there’s no strict line as he’s a member of the band but for this album he stood back a little. He knows very well how to give an opinion respectfully and I trust him completely, so it was a very healthy recording process. He doesn’t have any ego and he really listens. Also, I appreciate that he understands my sound descriptions. I can say to him “I’m looking for a vibrating window sound or a bubble exploding” and he gets me right away. 

 

Corey: Are there any tracks on the new record that felt particularly difficult to finish, if so which ones and what made them a challenge in particular?

J. Zunz: For the first time I didn’t deal with that situation at all. All the songs unrolled easily, from start to finish. But of course, the songs are very simple. Maybe the only one that took me a while to figure out was the song “White Labels”. I only had the first part, but once I realised that I wanted a sonic hole in the middle everything started flowing. 

 

Corey: Are there any conditions / locations that must be met for you to feel creative and write music, I know a lot of studios have mood lighting to make singers comfortable for example, are there any similar items for yourself?

J. Zunz: Now that you mentioned it, I prefer to be alone in the studio when I’m recording vocals. Apart from that I adapt to any room or conditions. 

 

Corey: Do you have a set structure and process when writing songs? For example, do you always start with lyrics or do you lay down bass / rhythm first? Also, do you designate slots of time solely to writing, or do you get inspired wherever you may happen to be?

J. Zunz: I’ve been writing music in the same way since I can remember. For this album I wrote some songs in the Juno 60, but that was new. Usually, I just run my guitar and my voice through my DL4 so I can use the looper. I play my guitar but not necessarily chords. Sometimes it’s just a bass line or an abstract sound if I’m using more pedals. If I find something that I like, I play it over and over until a vocal melody comes which usually gives structure to the song.

I used to play every day before. But as I started touring and everything got busier, my rehearsals started to space out more. I always keep a guitar close to me anyway, so I can play whenever I feel like. Right after touring I think is a good moment to write new music. Somehow you’re done with the old songs and ready to move on.

 

Corey: I noticed with both albums there is a lot of effects and modulation within the tracks, do you create these elements as you write the song, or are these added in the recording stage once you have the track clean recordings of the instruments laid down?

J. Zunz: I start working on the effects on the demos. But most of the sounds aren’t added until the recording stage.

 

Corey: What was the concept around the artwork for the album and how did you decide on that piece? Do you know the photographer who captured the image, and were you involved in the final design directly?

J. Zunz: During all the process of the album, I was constantly thinking in Helena Almeida’s work. Especially her black & white photographs with the blue painting on them. When Johnny and Chris from Rocket asked me about the artwork I sent them some of her art and they liked the same ideas. Alberto (my partner from LMTO) took the photographs. Chris Reeder from the label designed several versions of the same concept but using different photographs and I honestly loved them all. I don’t remember how we decided for that one, maybe we all just agreed it was the best one. 

 

Corey: Obviously with the pandemic everyone’s world has been turned upside down in the space of a few months, what implications has it had for your plans for the year? I noticed you toured the UK and Europe recently with LMTO, do you have plans to tour this album similarly?

J. Zunz: Yeah I was supposed to have some shows in the UK in July and then a European tour in September promoting the album. It was a bummer what happened but I know it’s a global emergency, and there’s nothing I can do. Now the tour was pushed to March / April 2021. We’ll see how it goes.

 

Corey: Have you been able to find any new or revitalised revenue streams to keep afloat, until live shows are feasible at full capacity again?

J. Zunz: By the end of 2018 we took over most of our (LMTO) digital royalties so that’s a steady monthly income that has been saving us.

 

Corey: I’m guessing the lockdown was an opportunity to focus on writing music, did you do any work on the album in this period? Or were things pretty much finished anyway?

J. Zunz: I finished the album last year on September, but what I can say is that the lockdown gave me time to focus on the preparations for the release, like the videos for example. I don’t think I would’ve had time for this if it wasn’t for the lockdown, as this year I was supposed to be mostly touring. 

 

Corey: Did you have your usual gear available to you when writing new material? If not, did this affect your creativity, speed of writing and the sound of the tracks? How did you adapt?

J. Zunz: During the lockdown I did a remix of Pigs (x7) and I didn’t have all my gear available at the studio. I adapted. Sometimes limitations can push your creativity, so it wasn’t so bad. 

 

Corey: Generally speaking, what are some of the aspects of the job an artist has when recording and releasing an album that readers would be surprised to hear. For example, do you spend more of your time focusing on interviews like this one than you do writing. Is there a lot of organisational stuff you are all quite involved in? Maybe take us through a typical day as when writing an album and compare this to a typical day a week prior to album launch.

J. Zunz: During the writing stages, my days are more laid back. I learned that every second I spend rehearsing counts, even the days when nothing comes up, but I don’t push it. I don’t spend more than 2 or 3 hours playing. Everything starts to get busier as soon as I (or we, with LMTO) start to record properly an album.  Then I spend most of the day in the studio.

Prior to the release of an album things get more intense. Also because it usually involves the preparation for a tour: getting quotes for printing merch, flights, vans, gear, etc. Basically sorting out stuff and answering a bunch of emails every day plus doing interviews, writing pieces for some websites and rehearsing. So yeah, it’s hard to find time to do some writing during these stages. 

 

Check out ‘Hibiscus’ via Spotify link here.

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