After their self-titled 2016 debut, Jody Stephens did not assume that he and Luther Russell had a second Those Pretty Wrongs album in them. But that turned out to be the case as the Memphis-Los Angeles duo will release Zed For Zulu — whose “Ain’t Nobody But Me” is premiering exclusively below — on Sept. 6.
“When we started I thought we might get an EP’s worth of songs out of it, and we just kept going and got 12 the first time around and I thought, ‘Well, that’s probably that,'” Stephens, the former Big Star drummer and CEO of Ardent Studios in Memphis, tells Billboard. “But I love staying engaged and playing music with people.” It was actually a friend of Stephens’ named Robert who inspired both the jangly “Ain’t Nobody But Me” and, in its wake, the rest of Zed For Zulu‘s diverse 10 tracks.
“He calls from time to time and says, ‘Hey, ain’t nobody but me, Robert,'” Stephens explains. “It breaks my heart a little bit because he’s had struggles in his life, so the song has more to do with a relationship. That was the first one. That got us started again on that path for writing songs for this record, and here we are with another one.” Russell — who collaborated with Weezer and Robyn Hitchcock during the interim — recalls that he and Stephens “sharpened” the song during a U.K. tour and “nailed it in one take” at Ardent. “It felt like the new tunes started flowing from there,” Russell says. “It felt real good and lent the session a forward momentum.”
Stephens says he and Russell maintain “pretty much a cyber relationship” when it comes to songwriting. “For the most part I get an idea and attach it to an email and send it to Luther, and he takes it and sends it back to me and we work that way,” Stephens explains. There are exceptions, though; the two wrote “A Day in the Park” while Those Pretty Wrongs was performing at a festival in England and was staying in James Bond creator Ian Fleming’s Braziers Park House.
Zed For Zulu does, however, retain the acoustic flavor and feels of Those Pretty Wrongs three years ago. “Part of our aim is to keep things sparing — certainly produced to a point but just do what it takes to get whatever it is we’re trying to relate across,” Stephens says. “Budget dictates a lot, too. We don’t have a lot of money to do this. Ardent was nice enough to allow us to use the studio; There were expenses, but they were less than they would’ve been if we’d had to go somewhere else. It’s hard to beat what Ardent has to offer, so we’re lucky guys that way.”
Stephens says he and Russell are “hoping to latch onto some opening things” in order to get Those Pretty Wrongs on the road. The duo will play an autism awareness benefit in Memphis on Aug. 18 and a Sept. 21 show at the Crosstown Arts’ Green Room, also in Memphis, the latter possibly with some musicians from the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. Those Pretty Wrongs also have a nine-date run in England set for November. “We’re certainly looking to do more,” says Stephens, who’s also helmed a reissue of Big Star’s fourth and final album, In Space. “We’re looking to go back to Spain, too, and we’d love to go back to Australia. We’ll just take what comes, so hopefully there’ll be opportunities.”