While speaking on the phone with the Martlet, the Zolas vocalist Zachary Gray was frequently interrupted by all the excitement of the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.
Between location changes and talk of free booze before noon, he managed to eloquently answer questions in advance of the Zolas show in Victoria on April 8. The show will be the final stop of the band’s tour and the Vancouver natives are excited to be performing close to home.
Gray, who writes the lyrics for the band, explained the new direction of their freshly released album Swooner. “In the past I wrote a lot about lost love and nostalgia because that was what felt the rawest . . . but I didn’t want to do that with this album,” he says. “So we started looking around for other things that feel just as raw.”
“Broadly, [the album represents] the duality [of] trying to balance having as much [negative and alarming] information as we do [now] . . . with living a normal life: being happy and existing. That’s a balance I don’t think anybody has figured out,” says Gray.
“I think a lot of people, especially millennials, are coming to a realization that there’s a few issues that we really believe in, and that [are] black and white, and we can say that we get behind. Then the question is, what now?”
While the album’s focus seems daunting, the music excels in emphasizing the positive side of life’s balancing act. Gray credits some of Swooners’s newfound approach to not-so-new bandmembers Dwight Abell and Cody Hiles who appear for the first time on record, but joined founding members Gray and Tom Dobrzanski around 2012 following their last album.
“Everyone’s calling them the new guys and I don’t know if they like [it] that much,” laughs Gray.
Dobrzanski and Gray jokingly began playing music together around age thirteen. They lived in the same neighbourhood, carpooled, and utilized the A-track tape recorder Gray’s father kept in his basement. “Tom played piano and I didn’t play anything, but we just sort of . . . started recording stupid tapes,” says Gray. “If you add natural teen angst at around grade nine to there being instruments around, then usually you’re going to make a musician.”
Years later, Gary and Dobrzanski started the Zolas and eventually met Abell and Hiles, who shared a similar musical duo type friendship.
The Zolas began recording at Dobrzanski’s DIY basement studio. Now, Dobrzanski runs Monarch Studios in Vancouver, where the band currently records. According to Gray, it’s “one of the sexiest studios in Vancouver”.
The Zolas always record as a band because, Gray insists, “You can’t fake that feeling of being in a room together.” They record digitally, which Gray described as “way more creative” and more aesthetically interesting than tape.
Gray explained that the Zolas’ success was gradual. “We’re a band that make[s] catchy songs with emotionally intelligent lyrics . . . We’ve just been doing that for long enough [and] that’s what people know us for.”
“[As a band], you don’t have to appeal to everybody,” he says, “You can be as weird and as niche and as uncommercial as you want to be, but just be the best at the thing that you’re doing.”
Gray advises bands to forget about networking and focus on perfecting their art. He adds, “Always sell out [a venue]. Even if you have to play a place with a capacity of 15 people . . . even if it’s not a great venue [because] there’s something about . . . being in a concentration of other human beings helps justify our choices,” says Gray.
Ultimately, Gray’s goal for the Zolas is to be “a weird literate pop rock band that has something to say.” So far, it seems the band is succeeding.
Don’t miss the Zolas show at Sugar Nightclub on Friday, April 8, and be sure to check out their new album Swooners at thezolasmusic.com