Zaine Griff and Chris Payne first met when they worked on the Gary Numan song ‘The Secret’ in 1984.
Releasing his first solo album ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ in 1980, Zaine Griff’s portfolio includes working with David Bowie, Kate Bush, Tony Visconti, Yukihiro Takahashi, Midge Ure, Warren Cann and Hans Zimmer.
Meanwhile, Chris Payne made his mark as a member of the Gary Numan band during his imperial phase and co-writing an instrumental ‘Toot City’ with Billy Currie which became the huge international hit ‘Fade To Grey’ for VISAGE after Midge Ure added lyrics and a melody line.
36 years later, Griff and Payne were brought together by Rusty Egan for what was then billed as VISAGE 1980-2020 to celebrate the legacy of the project fronted by the late Steve Strange with live shows and new material. The worldwide pandemic put paid to the original concept but the pair kept working together, resulting in a new Zaine Griff album ‘A Double Life’.
A joint collaborative effort between Griff, Payne and veteran American producer Hilary Bercovici, ‘A Double Life’ is now out there for those who appreciate songcraft and the mannered vocal style of Griff which while reminiscent of David Bowie, actually originates from the pair studying dance and mime under the late theatrical legend Lindsay Kemp.
How did your creative union begin?
Zaine: I had a phone call from the VISAGE team in 2020 inviting me to perform with them at W-Fest in Belgium later that year. With the event of Covid that festival never happened. However learning the entire set, I built up an understanding of VISAGE’s song structures. When it was announced the show cancelled, it was suggested that we should put forward compositions that could be part of a new album for VISAGE. Chris sent me his musical ideas, beats and melodies and I took it from there. I took them into a studio and proceeded to lay down the vocal ideas I got from his beautiful music. Melodies just flowed, backings and counter point. It seemed to work beautifully and so easily. I had never composed with anyone else in my past, so this was different and inspiring. It is incredible that I had sung on ‘The Secret’ for Gary Numan in 1984 at Rock City Studios in Shepperton, was when I first met Chris.
Chris: Zaine and I were asked to write demos for the new VISAGE project overseen by Rusty Egan. Zaine had been chosen as the vocalist so it was an exciting positive time to get involved. Unfortunately, the songs didn’t work for Rusty and he made drastic changes to them. Zaine and I continued to work on our songs and before we knew it we were already creating a project for ourselves
Out of necessity, this was a remote writing experience so how was the creative dynamic between with you both and how did you overcome the various challenges that came along the way?
Zaine: It was amazing. There was not one hitch. If Chris didn’t like something he would tell me, and I would do likewise. Everything flowed, even tracks that were awkward at first, rediscovering them in a different light helped construct the songs. The tracks became more theatrical. They just needed more time. ‘Masquerade’, ‘It Never Stopped’ and ‘Trip Stumble & Fall’ all certainly trend toward the theatrical.
Chris: For me it was easy. Because I live in France I am used to remote working. Zaine and I just clicked from day one. I was giving him backing tracks and he would find a melody within days, sometimes hours. He would then record the ideas in a studio near his home in Auckland and we carried on from there.
How far down the line had these songs got to becoming “VISAGE” songs before it was decided that they were more suited to a Zaine Griff album?
Zaine: The songs were basically rejected by VISAGE but Chris and I continued and become a writing team. It has and always will be a Zaine Griff / Chris Payne album. Hilary Bercovici input took things to another level. It was Chris and Hilary that out voted me on the artist title of our album.
Chris: As soon as Rusty had issues with the demos… actually, Rusty to me didn’t seem happy with Zaine’s voice as this was a constant criticism when he critiqued the demos. I disagreed with Rusty but he had the ultimate say which was fair enough. So he went in his direction with the two songs he rearranged for his album and we went in our direction with them.
Hilary Bercovici is the album’s producer, what impressed you most about his track record and what ideas did he contribute which perhaps neither of you would have initially considered?
Chris: I’ve known Hil for a few years. Apart from coming from a dynasty of screenplay writers he is a brilliant musician and engineer having worked at countless studios in LA with so many different artists from Stevie Wonder to Prince, Madonna to Chaka Khan.
Zaine: It wasn’t until we were well into ‘A Double Life’ that Chris introduced me to his collaborator Hilary Bercovici. Then when I heard his contribution to what Chris and I recorded, suddenly we shifted up so many gears. So now there were three of us Chris, Hilary and me. Hilary sent me his adaption of ‘Flowers’ and I was reduced to tears, it was absolutely beautiful.
‘Flowers’ was on the ‘Figvres’ album and featured Kate Bush. It’s a song about Lindsay Kemp, so what was it like was returning to it?
Zaine: When Hilary sent me his adaption, I really was turned sideways. I mean his arrangement in the bridge section sent shivers down my spine. The feel sits in such a groove and I think this comes from Hilary’s incredible experience.
‘Trip Stumble & Fall’ has undergone a transformation since the video premiere in 2021, where did you see you could make improvements?
Chris: Even if I say so myself, it is a very interesting song about how relationships break down as you get older, becoming even more painful due to insecurity, lack of trust and a kind of realisation that you could be spending the rest of your days alone. The initial mix I did for the video had the vocals up far too loud. Hils version tempered that and made the whole production tie in with the rest of the album and Martyn Ware’s remix gave a totally different musical account of the song but equally emotionally powerful. I especially like the instrumental version as he’s managed to create a synch-friendly interpretation.
Martyn Ware’s remixes of ‘Trip, Stumble & Fall’ are very cinematic, how did he become involved?
Chris: I think it was through an interview he did for his Electronically Yours show with Zaine?
Zaine: Martyn Ware interviewed me and at the end of the show said he would love to do an adaptation of ‘Trip Stumble & Fall’. The song was theatrical enough as it was, what Martyn did created a different theatrical spin on it. Whilst talking to Martyn in the interview, I suddenly realized this was a direction in which Chris Hilary and I should pursue.
Who is ‘The Night Watchman’, what were the lyrical and musical catalysts?
Zaine: The idea lyrically for ‘The Night Watchman’ came from the Louise Erdich book and other articles written about how young Red Indian Native women were and still are abused by white trash. ‘The Night Watchmen’ are those men who looking out for them and dedicate their time to protecting them. Too many young women go missing from the Reservations.
Chris: I was using a lot of Arturia software. These guys create excellent analogue sounds from instruments like Minimoogs, ARP Odyssey, Prophet 5 (especially Numan’s famous preset 36 with the mod wheel up) and the OBXa . Using these instruments plus the piano were the basis for creating the backing tracks.
Was ‘A Double Life’ about anyone or anything in particular?
Zaine: ‘A Double Life’ is purely a personal documentary of one’s life and understanding the different personalities in others. It is also a mirror of what was once and what is now. A reflection of who we were and who we are. There is more to one person than meets the eye.
Recording YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA’s ‘You’ve Got To Help Yourself’ is an inspired choice… last year we sadly lost Yukihiro Takahashi and Ryuichi Sakamoto, what are your own personal memories of this pioneering Japanese band?
Chris: I know that Zaine had worked with them over the years. My recollection of Ryuichi Sakamoto was that when Gary Numan performed in Tokyo, he was introduced to us after one of the shows. I found him charming and somewhat reserved. I only wish I had engaged in conversation with him
Zaine: My personal memories of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA are backstage after they played Hammersmith Odeon and discussing music ideas with them. I was immersed in conversation with Peter Baraken who translated for them. Yukihiro said yes to playing drums on my ‘Figvres’ album and he asked me to write a song on his album ‘What Me Worry’ album. It was great timing, arranging everything and recording with Yuki whilst they were in London. Time was tight, but we pulled it off around our schedules.
‘This Strange Obsession’ was a duet with Ronny on ‘What Me Worry’, what was your vision for the 2024 version?
Zaine: Purely a tribute to Yukihiro Takahashi and to bring a more up-to -date sonic sound. Jol Mulholland’s E-bow was a one take wonder flowing Bill Nelson’s lines.
A cover of ‘Blue Jean’ is included on the album, how did the decision to do one of David Bowie’s hits rather than say, a cult favourite like ‘Fantastic Voyage’ from ‘Lodger’ or ‘Teenage Wildlife’ from ‘Scary Monsters’ come about?
Zaine: This idea came from Hilary. The way Hilary constructed the song was nailing the original feel so it became fun to sing. I have to say I feel ‘Blue Jean’ is a track that David came close to where he wanted to be rhythmically. It has that slouchy kind of hi-hat thing moving you.
Chris: ‘Blue Jean’ was Hil’s idea. He had arranged a version of it previously and thought that it would work well with Zaine’s voice.
Talking of hits, Gary Numan’s ‘Cars’ is also covered, had any thought been given to revisiting ‘The Secret’ from ‘Berserker’ which you both featured on back in 1984?
Chris: Interesting question and in retrospect we should have done another song. I think it was just laziness on my part. ‘Cars’ is a relatively easy song to knock up in a few hours and this is what happened. I guess in my dotage, I’m looking for the songs I can remember during my time with Gary!
Zaine: I was looking at ’The Secret’. Chris sent me ‘Cars’ and I had a go at it and in the end it has such a great feel. I can’t wait to do this live. Chris’s keyboards are such driving power house.
What are your own favourite tracks on the album?
Zaine: Has to be ‘Walking In The Rain’, ’Masquerade’ and ‘It Never Stopped’. ‘Walking In The Rain’ fell into place so easy. I love the chorus and Dominque Payne voice gives the track a great flavour. ‘Masquerade’ is on this list because I really had to think twice as to what Chris was expressing in music when I first started. Again, Dominque’s voice helped create the mood. Her voice is so haunting. ‘It Never Stopped’ sums up the whole album to me and thank you RRussell Bell taking my head off. What I mean is that music, art, performing has “Never Stopped” for all of us. ’Trip Stumble & Fall’ is perhaps the best song I have ever been involved in. The passion, the expression from images. And thank you again Martyn Ware for such a fine adaptation and Kate Hauxwell for the beautiful video.
Chris: I love the crazy guitar Hil put on ‘Walking In The Rain’. I also love the more eclectic pieces such as ‘Masquerade’. I can’t say I have a standout favourite. It changes each time I hear the album.
There is a real mix of styles and instrumentation on the album so who do you hope the album might appeal to?
Zaine: All age groups and nationalities. The mix of styles just fell out of the sky. This album has been a fabulous experience and fun to make. I am privileged to have been able to collaborate with such fine musicians as Chris and Hilary. Let me emphasise that from day one this was a collaboration between us all not just a Zaine Griff album.
Chris: Because it has such a diversity that’s a tough one to answer. I can’t imagine it appealing to Under 18s… but you just never know!
What is next, will you do more work together or play together live?
Zaine: Yes, Chris Hilary and I have started writing more music for another album. To me ‘A Double Life’ is the beginning, we are looking forward to bring this music to an audience live in the future.
Chris: Apparently Sony Japan are more than happy for us to record another album, so that’s the plan between the three of us. Some live shows anywhere would be welcome. The only issue is getting us together between Normandy, New Zealand and LA!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Zaine Griff and Chris Payne
‘A Double Life’ is released by Sony Japan as a Blu-spec CD, available from https://www.cdjapan.co.jp/product/SICX-30190
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
10 January 2024, updated 1 March 2024