Boston garage/surf/psych rockers Z*L have just released their debut album and the critical acclaim has begun pouring in. Powered by relentlessly catchy and driving tunes such as lead single “Steev Millar”, the self-titled full length is an effort that’s bound to please Allston basements and boozy stages alike. Singer/Guitarist Ian Adams took a few minutes to sit down with The Longfellow Bridge to discuss the album, the band, and where music fits in the bigger picture.
The Longfellow Bridge: It’s an annoying cliche for musicians to be asked to describe the genre of music they play. Generally, it’s frustrating when musicians feel that they need to pigeonhole their undoubtedly brilliant blend of eighteen genres, while the nonmusicians who ask tend to be annoyed by the lack of an answer like “alternative”. You guys actually are a bit tougher to pigeonhole. I do want to get there eventually, but first: describe your music using the following:
Ian Adams: taste? I’m gonna say spicy. Like Sriracha. Silver is our color. Not saying that to be a smart ass. It’s about catching light and playing with it, letting it bounce around. Having luster. Our number is 1111. It’s just had a magical significance for us from the beginning. Going with the flow of coincidence and luck has been a big part of Z*L.
TLFB: Now you know I’m curious about 1111. Care to elaborate?
IA: Isabel pointed out that she seems to always looks at the clock when it’s 11:11 and then coincidently all these things started happening to us at 11:11. It’s not superstition, like something was happening TO us, but rather like we were programming reality, willing things to occur. Think about a quarter on the sidewalk for 15 minutes every morning when you wake up, you will find lots more quarters on you way to work. You’re “tuning” your reality.
TLFB: Lingering on the genre thing for a second, I’m hearing some influences ranging from straight up pop to Albiniesque punk bands, with a touch of 90s guitar bands like Hum and Failure on songs like “Bat Child” and “Steev Millar”. What do you guys tend to listen to/what inspires you to grab your instruments and make some noise?
IA: I approached Jack, our drummer, saying I wanted to do a band that was a cross between “Melvins and Stereolab, but sounding like neither”, I don’t know if that happened. My main musical identity stems from the VU and the Stooges, and the bands of the late 80’s that were influenced by them: NOISEY. Also surf music is big influence for it’s atmosphere; Jack and I bonded on Pixies when we first met, for their combo of pop, surf, and violent noise. Isabel and I started talking about playing music together after I had been playing acoustic for two years and she had been out of music for at least 10, and we just wanted to be LOUD. LOUD and NOISEY. At same time there is a shared love of pretty country, and dreamy pop like late era Jesus And May Chain and Galaxy 500. Spicy and sweet, dig?
TLFB: How does your writing process generally work?
IA: Very loose. Sometimes Isabel or I will show up with a song written from beginning to end, other times I’ll show up with chord or riff, like in the case of Steev Millar, and Isabel will say ” Hey lemme put some lyrics to that” Isabel and I both write and share back and forth. Jack is just awesome and works to make it all flow. Isabel never played bass before Z*L but is a classically trained pianist and if you threw an accordion at her she’d write you a hit. She’s a natural intuitive musician.
TLFB: A great, well-rounded musician is always a solid thing to have in a band. Any plans for Isabel to venture out into playing other instruments within the context of the band?
IA: One thing we have in the works is doing a “UK Surf” EP, where we deconstruct some of our songs into quiet spacey dream-pop versions. Isabel will definitely be playing piano on that.
TLFB: How long have you been working on your debut album?
IA: We’ve been working on it since our first practice. We gelled very naturally as a band so I was like ” OK, remember that one, it’s gonna be on the album”. Everyone agreed.
TLFB: Was there any sort of evolution with the songs from initial writing and/or demos and the finished recorded version? Any songs in particular that evolved greatly?
IA: On a few occasions Isabel and I did acoustic demos but we’ve always to keep it pretty loose, leaving lots of room for inspiration, improvisation, and accidents. Chaos and neat pop song song structure thrown up against each other can be a lot of fun.
TLFB: When catastrophic events like those of last week occur, things such as writing or playing songs can seem to become trivial. Do you feel that music continues to be as important or more important in times of crisis? Why?
IA: Music is about connection. When cavemen sat around a fire and started grunting together it was the same. Whether you are connecting with the people in your band through the music you are making or with the Roy Orbison song on the radio that’s always touched your heart and made you feel centered,it relieves the sadness and isolation of being a human. The same reason they sing Danny Boy at a funeral, it connects you with the living and the dead, everyone who’s sung it before and will sing it at your funeral.
When all that shit went down it was so important to know that we weren’t alone. We are still connected in some way.
TLFB: Well put. You’ve got a great new record out. What’s up next for Z*L?
IA: Another record! We are of course gonna play the songs of this album out as much as we can but we already have another album’s worth of material ready to be recorded. It just keeps flowing out. What are you gonna do?
TLFB: Make another album!