Even though he lives in Silver Springs, Md., Lorenzo Ferguson never stays away from the Triangle for very long.
The Detroit-born, indie-R&B musician and producer certainly didn’t stay away when he was composing his latest album, “ManMade,” which he will be playing (with Raleigh experimental jazz trio The Hot at Nights backing him up) at Casbah in Durham on Thursday night. While Zo! – that’s his performing name – worked on music for the album, he usually hollered at friend and collaborator Phonte Coleman in Raleigh about lyrics and about which vocalists would be perfect for which songs. Of course, the acclaimed rapper/singer provides vocals of his own on the album, doing lead and/or background vocals on many tracks, as well as the odd rap verse.
“He (Coleman) had a huge hand in ‘ManMade,’ ” Ferguson, 34, said on the phone from Silver Springs.
For nearly a decade, Ferguson and Coleman have had a continually fruitful working relationship. It started when they worked on an EP of ’80s covers, “Zo! and Tigallo Love the ’80s.” Ferguson also did production on “Leave It All Behind,” the second album from the Foreign Exchange, the R&B group Coleman fronts with producer Nicolay Rook. Ferguson would also go on the road with the Exchange whenever they toured.
Ferguson certainly enjoys the time he spends with his Tar Heel compadre, which is one of the main reasons that he continues to work with him.
“I think one of the biggest factors is just our personal relationship,” Ferguson said. “I don’t ever hesitate to say that is my brother. When he’s in town, he comes through and normally stays here. We break bread all the time. I mean, we constantly have conversations about whatever, and we’re in constant communication.”
Ferguson has become a full-fledged member of the Foreign Exchange family, releasing many albums on the that music label, including his latest. For “ManMade,” Ferguson collaborated not only with Coleman, but also with Foreign Exchange backup singers Jeanne Jolly and Sy Smith. Ferguson snagged guest vocals from such indie-soul heavy hitters as Eric Roberson, Anthony David, Choklate and Durham’s own Carlitta Durand.
“It’s a combination of, of course, wanting to work with them combined with their vocal tools – what we know that this vocalist can bring to a song,” Ferguson said. “I think there’s also kind of a camaraderie factor as well, to where you definitely want to work with people who you know are gonna work for you, I should say. I know that I can call (Roberson) at any time of the day, text him at any time of the day, and get a response back. … I know that he’ll hit me back, and I know that when he returns with his vocals and sends it back to me, I know he’s gonna come with his A-game.”
With Ferguson coming back to the Triangle this week, the man people refer to simply as Zo! wants to show how proud he is of his latest effort. After all, he got together with a lot of his friends, as well as people he admires in the biz, and made an album that spotlights the dedication and determination an artist needs in order to succeed on his own terms.
“A lot of the motivation behind this album was simply the fact that this has been the first album that I’ve done where I was a full-time musician,” he said. “It’s not for everybody. It’s definitely a 24/7 job, you know. It’s even depicted on the cover art, to where it looks like I’m taking a walk to work in the morning and into this kind of broken-down, dilapidated building. And I guess the building will kind of represent the music industry and, here I am – the independent musician/artist who books his own shows and does everything pretty much solo, playing the instruments on the records and that type of thing. And I’m kind of bringing my life into this industry that’s kind of worn-down.”