Neo soul collective 30/70 keep the faith when collaborating: “It’s a musical family – we trust each other”

The Melbourne-based neo-soul outfit talk all things fourth album, complex drum breaks, new processes, trust, equality, and “art making love”

Image: Kristen Augeard

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It’s a bright, busy, and brisk London morning for MusicTech. But, in Melbourne, the scene is starkly different. Dance-influenced neo soul and jazz quintet, 30/70, dialling in from their studio space, are shuffling about in a darkening room, grabbing chairs and lighting candles.

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“Do you usually make music in such little light?” we ask with a chuckle.

“Yes!” confirms lead vocalist Allysha Joy.

A burgeoning, loving ‘family’, 30/70 is a crew that often fluctuates from its five core members to a whopping eleven players when playing live.

Since emerging in 2014, they have been prolific, with notable highlights being an incredible 2017 LP, Elevate, on Bradley Zero’s Rhythm Section label. More recently, they returned with a house-infused skittish single, Tastes Like Freedom, buddying up with fellow Melbourne talent Tornado Wallace and more for a remix EP.

Now, 30/70 have released their fourth album, ART MAKE LOVE. The concept aims to celebrate music as a “means of bringing love into the world”, explains drummer and percussionist Ziggy Zeitgeist, whose drum break complexity is a focal point on the LP.

Although the group flourishes during in-person jams, they’re also well-accustomed to remote working. During the album’s production, they’d record individual elements and bounce stems back and forth across continents (Ziggy was in Berlin). This practice unveiled an unexplored, evolutionary level of trust between the group.

“We’ve gotten to this beautiful stage,” Allysha says, “where we can be open about receiving each other’s vision and trusting each other with what we want to hear. We all have control over our own sound but we also have input on each other’s sound.

Image: Nat Jurjens

“Ziggy was sending us over the drum stems and we were processing them in the studio. Even though he was on the other side of the world, it allowed us all to explore different ways [of doing things] and stay connected.”

Ziggy adds that having that alone time to adapt and arrange stems separately provided a sense of space: “you don’t have that immediate feedback when you’re sending tracks to each other. You leave space for the next thing, and you just trust it. They [other members] know how to fill that space.”

Trusting others with unfinished golden nuggets of your music can be hard, but, in a unique move for the band, they extended this faith to external forces. LA-based Benjamin Tierney, engineer for the likes of Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington and Thundercat, was drafted in to mix the album.

“It was refreshing to let go of that process,” Ziggy says, “and be able to trust somebody enough to bring it up to that level, you know?”

“It might be a leap of faith but, ultimately, you’ve got to continue to try new things,” adds Allysha.

The creative process wasn’t the only thing to change with this album. The group’s sound recently took a gradual shift towards dance music – and that accelertated on this release. 30/70 aren’t afraid to “translate dance music into live textures,” and tracks like PLEASURE and YOU BETTA RUN wouldn’t sound out of place on a cosy, intimate dancefloor.

30/70’s electronic instruments on ART MAKE LOVE reflects these influences: iconic synths such as tSequential’s Prophet-6 and Roland’s Juno 60 are scattered throughout. In terms of drum patterns, some were laid out on hardware sequencers before combining them with Ziggy’s acoustic drums later.

“Or on an iPhone,” keyboardist Finn Rees interjects.

Allysha laughs. “Yeah! Making drum loops on my iPhone! There’s no limit out there.”

Other drum breaks, like on ALL 4 U and ART, swing freer with a more broken, frantic approach, thanks to Ziggy’s expert hand. Finn and bassist Matthew Hayes say how on the first track, WITHOUT YOU, WITHIN ME, they toyed around with these loose drum breaks, sending the snare and kick channels through an 80s TAMA TECHSTAR TAM500 analogue drum trigger module with double drum triggering to give a dubby effect – followed by echoes and space reverbs.

The band’s wind musician, Joshua Kelly, sits firmly on the organic end of the band’s instrumentation. He now has what the band deems to be an impressive collection of horns and recording equipment. This is evident on the album, with bass clarinet being used for the first time and a tenor solo, again, on ALL 4 U, along with the luscious layering of saxophone throughout the album.

Image: Jack Fenby

So, who’s the leader of this melting pot of jazzy talent? Well, no one. The ethos of the band is for there to be a level-playing field across the board, with each member’s input being respected equally. But, surely that flat structure poses logistical issues?

“It’s like socialism versus communism versus capitalism.” Ziggy, now a flickering silhouette, takes an unexpectedly serious turn from the back of the room. “Like, what’s the perfect way to run a socialist society? We don’t have the answers. Some of them work. Some of them don’t work.

“Sometimes, sharing the responsibility can be challenging,” he admits, “but I feel like, musically, the upside is having this trust in each other’s choices and not releasing this sense of controlling the music. It’s just about letting it flow.

“Somebody else playing in a session might not play the part that I was hearing, but I’m going to roll with that. I know it’ll make sense because it’s a musical family. And we trust each other.”

Image: Jack Fenby

Finn pitches in: “I keep coming back to this idea: ‘the drums need the bass, [which] needs the keys, [which] need the… y’know?’. Everyone leans on each other and needs each other in different ways, which is really beautiful.

“It’s just a big ecosystem. When it’s working right, every part is leaning on another part, or supporting another part.

“What we’ve learned in this project is to equally be able to lead and listen. I heard someone ask a great musician the other day, ‘is jazz music for the musician or the listener?’ They said: ‘It’s for the listener because the musician – the player – is the first listener.’”

30/70, a calm collective, sit in candle-lit tranquillity, taking in the wise words. This is a band that cares for and listens to one another so deeply in every aspect of life and that’s celebrated in their heartwarming music.

You can listen to 30/70’s typically heady, rousing new album, ART MAKE LOVE, via bandcamp.com


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