Sunday, 14 December 2014

Seperating Pulp from Fiction - Interview with Mark from ZED

I'm happy to be interviewing and featuring today's guests on Sludgelord as I have been a fan of these guys for a long while now. I should of featured them sooner but better late than never. Today's guests have been creating their great blend of Blues/Stoner/Hard Rock for over 7 years now.

Since that time they have released two critically acclaimed albums with their latest album – Desperation Blues – released in 2013 expanding their fanbase to a greater level. Of course I am talking about the brilliant and hard-rocking – ZED.

I know they have a few fans amongst you. So lets get straight down to business as ZED's bassist Mark, has kindly agreed to talk to us here at Sludgelord HQ.

Q1 – Hi Mark. How are things with you today.

Doing great, thanks, other than the huge storm hitting the Bay Area right now, things are good!

Q2 – Can you give a brief history to our readers of how the band came about and where it is today.

So ZED has been around since 2007, but 3 of us, Singer/guitarist Peter Sattari, drummer Rich Harris and me, bassist Mark Aceves, have been playing together since ’98. Back then we were in a band called Stitch that had an album on Metal Blade/Prosthetic. After that ended in ’02 we all played in other projects for a time knowing we would eventually come back together, and in ’07 Drummer Rich got in a short lived project with guitarist Greg Lopez, while at the same time re-connecting with Pete and throwing around the idea of jamming again. Once that project with Greg and some other guys ended after a few months, Rich thought it would be a good time introduce Pete to Greg and start jamming, then after a few jams, they called me up and it all came together from there.

Q3 – How would you describe your own sound. As I feel it's best coming from the band themselves. Plus you have tons of different vibes going on.

That’s kind of a funny question because I don’t think we have one sound or play one style, but there is a definitive ZED sound. We all have different musical inspirations that converge in some areas or on specific artists, and what comes out is heavy and it grooves, but it’s not necessarily classifiable as metal. Bottom line for us is we aim to make peoples heads and asses move with the power of loud guitars and big drums.

Q4 – You released your 2nd album – Desperation Blues – back in May 2013. It has been acclaimed by fans and critics alike. Did the response to the album surprise you a great deal. Did you know you had something special on your hands.

We began to see that we had something special on our hands while we were in the studio recording it. Just hearing our songs come together and being able to realize all that we had envisioned for them, we knew our hard work and the hours put into writing it were paying off. Additionally the input from our producer, Tim Narducci, who is an amazing engineer and producer in addition to being the vocalist for SpiralArms, was critical to making this record sound awesome. When we put it out finally, and keep in mind we did it all DIY, acting as our own label, we were fully amazed and stoked on its reception. It got reviewed in a ton of zines and websites and got some cool features in the likes of Classic Rock Magazine and Decibel as well. We didn’t expect the reaction that we got, but were stoked on it!

The Invitation cover art

Q5 – What was your original intentions when recording the album as it's very different to your debut album which is still a great record in it's own right.

Our intention was really to take the next step in the writing process, as well as to give the songs the proper production treatment that we didn’t do for the first album. The first album we recorded on our own in Garageband, and it was supposed to be a demo! Once it was recorded we thought “well these sound decent, lets get it mastered and see how it sounds” and after we did that we realized it sounded A LOT better than just a demo, so we put it out. There were some major things we weren’t happy with on it but felt it was still solid. We always agreed that if we did another album, we would re-do the last song “The River” because we felt it just didn’t get the justice it deserved. So with ‘Desperation Blues” we went to the studio that we wanted to record at with the right producer/engineer who understood our vision, and we put the time and resources into making it sound as best as we could. We even re-did ‘The River” and put it on the album cuz it sounds so BIG!

Q6 – It took you over two years to record Desperation Blues. Did you expect it to take that long to record the album. Was there any struggles when recording the album.

So we took about 2 – 3 months to record, mix and master the album, but spent about 2 years writing it. We were in no hurry to rush something out, and we didn’t have any deadlines so we let the songs simmer. Once we got to the studio, we were fully ready cuz we had done some extensive pre-prod work so the recording process itself was smooth comparatively. But no matter how much you prepare, things always happen while recording and it can be exhausting, because you’re pouring your heart and soul into something for long hours at a time.

Q7 – Looking back now, would you change anything about the album. Or is it perfect the way it is.

You know, there is always something you can do better, and we all feel that way about certain parts, but at the same time, we are extremely proud of the album and feel it is the best thing we have ever done musically.

Desperation Blues cover art

Q8 – Who designed the awesome album cover and how much input did you have into the overall design of the album cover.

First of all, thanks very much for the compliments on our album cover! I’m actually the one does all the artwork and design for the band, and my approach is that I try to build the art around the feeling and the spirit of the album. I spent many hours combing through various photos until I found the one that exemplified the spirit of the record, and I brought it to the band and they all loved it. Once I have the main cover image, the rest of the album design follows, and I did a lot of work around finding the right images that had the feeling of isolation and desperation, and worked to make them look very aged as well as putting small easter egg type things in each image/panel. Like on this album each panel has a crow in it somewhere.
Q9 – What does the album cover actually represent to you as a band.

Overall we think the art represents the sound and feel of the record. It represents the moment in time that we spent writing and recording it and it embodies the spirit of the album. The art has a very earthy, organic feel, with the various muted colors, as well as a sense of mystery and foreboding with the female character, who at the same time has a subtle sensuality to her, which I think can also apply to the music.

Q10 – Which bands and artists influenced you all as musicians. Any particular album that stands out that made you decide to become a musician.

We all have many different influences and like I said previously, we definitely have some crossover. Greg is fully influenced by classic 60’s and 70’s rock and early metal, stuff like Thin Lizzy, Sabbath, AC/DC etc., Pete comes from a Death Metal background but also loves 70’s classic rock stuff as well like Pink Floyd and later Beatles. Rich was heavily influenced by the grunge bands of the 90’s while at the same time growing up on 60’s and 70’s funk, and I come from a metal/hardcore/punk background, but am also deeply into old funk and blues.

We all love a tons of bands but the big influencers and convergence of influences are bands like Led Zeppelin, Clutch, Rage Against The Machine, Black Sabbath, Soundgarden, Pink Floyd and Hendrix. Albums that are important or landmark albums to all of us would be Zeppelin I and II, Clutch’s Blast Tyrant and Elephant Riders, Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire, Sabbaths Volume IV and Paranoid, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Soundgarden’s Superunkown and everything by Hendrix. In fact, whenever we go to Seattle we make a pilgrimage to Jimi’s grave in Renton.

Q11 – Have you toured extensively over the past 18 months or so promoting the album. How have the tours and gigs been recently.

Gigs have been great, with our fanbase really starting to grow since we released Desperation Blues. We have not toured as much as we would like, being an independent band with day jobs etc, but we hope that since we have recently signed to Ripple Music, we can do more substantial touring to support the next album in 2015 and reach a lot more people. As it stands we have toured up and down the west coast and the reception has been really positive.

Q12 – Do you have any plans to do an European Tour in the near future.

Absolutely! We love Europe as many of our fans are European, and they love to go out and see live rock! We are hoping to be able to hit Europe in late 2015 once the album is completed. We get a lot of people asking if we will be coming over any time soon!

Q13 – How important is a physical product to yourselves as a band. Are you more a fan of DD, CD or Vinyl.

We think physical product is very important because at the end of the day most people want to own a piece of something and take it home. I’m a huge vinyl collector while Rich our drummer is mostly a digital guy, so we pretty much cover the gamut. In the end we want to provide the fans with all options available. Except for cassette that’s a niche we just don’t do.

Q14 – What is your musical setup when playing live or recording new material. Do you have an advanced setup or basic setup.

It’s pretty basic, nothing fancy, just guitars, amps, pedal boards and drums. We’re a pretty organic band. We play tube heads that are loud and our sound is thick! We all play Gibson guitars for the most part too.

Q15 – What is the song-writing dynamic in the band. Is it down to one individual or a group collective.

The writing process is absolutely a collective process. All of us contribute to the riff writing and song structure. We are a true democracy in that sense. If one of us doesn’t like something we work on it until it feels right. One thing we let Pete the singer focus on mostly by himself though are the lyrics. Sometimes we collaborate with him on them but not regularly. Often times one of us will bring in a riff or a basic chord structure for a song, and we’ll play it repeatedly until a moment of inspiration hits and we find another riff or part that goes with it. Sometimes a song will come in almost complete and we’ll just add embellishments and kind of piece it together structurally. It’s definitely a group effort and it think that’s what makes it work.

Q16 – You have a great reputation within the Stoner/Hard Rock community. Do you pay much attention to this scene or do you just focus on your own thing and not worry about things like that.

Wow thanks! We didn’t really know we had any reputation at all outside of our small hometown circle! I think we do pay attention to the scene to a degree. I’m the kind of guy who seeks out new music and am always learning about new bands and watching the underground scene so I keep the others updated but as far as following scenes and trying to be “in” a particular scene, we don’t really put a lot of effort into doing that and here’s why. From the beginning of ZED and even from the days when 3 of us were in another band together, what we did musically was not what everyone else was doing, so we always kind of stuck out, and we had to work very hard for every fan, and we continue to do that to this day.

Our crowd is a mix of old school rock fans, metal fans, stoner rock fans, and just people who like music. We’ve never been the “cool, hip” band so we always had the attitude of “fuck it, we’re here to rock and if you don’t like it, at least we’ll make your ears bleed for a few days”, and that’s how we approach every show, with the intention to blowing the walls down and demanding people’s attention by sheer force. We’re not assholes about it, but we mean business. We’re gonna rock and make you shake your ass, or at the very least make you pay attention.

Q17 - Do you find it hard being in a band in today's current climate. If you could change anything about the Stoner/Doom/Sludge Metal scene. What would it be and why.

I think it’s hard for anyone to be in any kind of band these days, but then it’s always kind of been tough for musicians, period. That’s why we’re all drunks and junkies hahaha. It’s the life of the artist. As far as today’s climate goes, it’s a great time for small bands to do things themselves. Never before have bands had the kind of tools available to them, as well as the reach. And as I look around I see that the underground rock scene is alive and well, despite what major labels or Gene Simmons says. Rock is going to have a revival soon because Rock never dies… it always comes back in some form or another. In Europe it’s already there pretty much.

The only thing musicians need to figure out is what the new model is going to be, cuz the old major label model is dead. Additionally it’s so great to see all these small, indie stoner/doom/psych/hard rock labels working together as opposed to being competitive or trying to rip off the artists like the majors and the larger indies sometimes do. That’s a big part of why we signed to Ripple Music in October, because they are first and foremost fans and lovers of music.

Q18 – What plans do you have over the next 12 months or so. Anything exciting you would like to share with us.

Absolutely, like I mentioned before we just signed to Ripple Music, home to great bands like Mothership, Mos Generator, Ape Machine and more! We are currently writing the followup to Desperation Blues and hope to see a late 2015 street date, but that’s still up in the air. We are super excited about the new songs, as they are coming along nicely and will be a killer followup to Desperation Blues! Looking forward to hitting the road and supporting it when it comes out as well! We’ve scaled back on the shows for now to focus on the writing process but at the end of January we are doing a special after party show down in LA for the NAMM conference with Sasquatch, -(16)-, Swillerz and Whores of Tijuana. That’ll be fun.

Q19 – With 2014 drawing to a close, what have been your favourite records this year.

Oh man, there have been some GREAT records to come out this year! I haven’t formulated a list yet but easily my top ten would include Pallbearer, Nothing, Mothership, Lo-Pan, Floor, White Dynomite, Royal Blood, Mastodon, Cavalera Conspiracy and Stubb.

Q20 – Before you go do you have anything to say to your fans.

Just a huge thank you for all your support and for the good rock and roll karma you have given us!! We love getting out and playing for you, partying and drinking with you! Looking forward to doing it a lot more in the future!!

Well Mark thanks for doing this. Been wanting to feature you for ages. Apologies for my lateness to the ZED Party. But I got there in the end.

Words by Steve Howe and Mark Aceves

Check the brilliant ZED from the links below.