State of Mind is Zion Train’s first original album since the 2007 award winning Live as One. Reggaemani got a chat with Neil Perch – Zion Train’s front man and producer – on the making of the new album.
Zion Train has been around for over 20 years and earlier this year they were honored with a “best of” album, the ultimate award for long and faithful services.
Over the years Zion Train has explored and tried a diverse set of music genres, but the music has almost always been rooted in reggae and dub.
“The new album is going back to the roots of Zion Train,” explains Neil Perch over the phone from his home in the German city of Cologne where he lives with his wife, two cats and a big dog.
He is multi-tasking during the interview. I hear clatter and it turns out he is making a vegetarian version of Gnocchi alla Sorrentina with tomatoes from their garden.
“We’re vegetarians,” explains Neil.
But cooking and vegetarian recipes aren’t the reason for this interview.
State of Mind steps in two directions
State of Mind – Zion Train’s tenth studio album – is released on Monday October 3rd. It has taken four years to make – two years for the concept and two years for recording and mixing.
“It has grown organically and reflects a creative period. It’s the sound of places we’ve visited,” explains Neil, and continues:
“I like to think it’s a step forward. A drive to do something new. It’s a step in two directions. It’s a step towards roots with less voice and we’ve introduced violin and viola. It’s also a bit more electronica compared to Live as One. It’s back to the roots of Zion Train. Dub electronica and natural ambient.”
Zion is a misused word
The title track of the album is a version of Winston Francis’ Let’s Go to Zion, and according to Neil the term “Zion” is a misused word.
“It’s a romanticized word. We like to think of it as a heavenly state that mankind can achieve. We’ve taken the original concept and made it more global by expanding the word Zion. It’s a global concept available to everybody that reflects the spirit of humanity,” he says.
On State of Mind Zion Train has also invited dub poetess Jazz’min Tutum, who Neil met when he did a show in Freiburg where she hosts a radio show. He also ended up producing her debut album Share the Flame, set for release in 2012.
“She has a particular perspective. A Jamaican woman living in Europe. She has a third-world perspective. It’s revealing and powerful. She’s a politicized female voice,” explains Neil.
Working with Brinsley Forde
The first single from State of Mind was released about a year ago. Rainbow Children is a version of Aswad’s Rainbow Culture taken from their Showcase album released in the early 80’s.
“It’s a powerful roots album from the UK. Rainbow Culture was originally based on the 12 tribes of Israel. We’ve updated it. It’s a worldly message for those who would like to see a positive change in the world,” he explains, and adds:
“The lyrics are very strong, especially in the first verse. We made it more holistic.”
Zion Train invited Aswad’s singer Brinsley Forde to record their version. Neil met him five years ago at a show at the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan, and says that it was an honor to work with one of his great inspirations.
Stand the test of time
Neil hopes that State of Mind offers something that the listeners can relate to and that it will appeal to fans of Zion Train. He also hopes that he can still listen to it in six months.
“I usually don’t like to listen to music that I’ve produced,” he states.
So, how long could you listen to Live as One?
“I could listen to the Live as One album for eight to nine months.”