While anxiously awaiting Philadelphia’s Dysrhythmia to bless the stage (floor) of Gorham Brothers Music a few weeks back, I had the pleasure of catching NYC instrumental group Zevious. It makes good sense that the bands would tour together, as their aggressive, vocal-free leanings provided an excellent complement to each other (and since both bands share drummer Jeff Eber, it undoubtedly cuts down on load time.)
It’d be almost as difficult to pigeon-hole Zevious into a specific genre as it was to find the “1” while they performed. The group’s avant-garde fusion of Jazz, Rock, and Metal could easily go over well in many different settings, or terribly wrong if you’re looking for the straight up 4/4 style. They don’t seem to know what THAT stuff is.
Anywho, I was captivated enough by their set to reach out to the band, so I sent guitarist Mike Eber a set of questions to get better acquainted with the guys, their tunes and writing, and what they’ll be doing for the rest of 2013 moving forward.
G- Hi there and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five! Introduce the members in the group… Who is everyone, what do they play, and where does everyone come from?
M- Hi and thank you for sending these questions! I am Mike – I play guitar in Zevious and live in Brooklyn. Johnny DeBlase plays bass and Jeff Eber plays drums. Both of them live in Astoria, Queens. All of us grew up in various parts of NJ, but moved away for college. Johnny and I met at Muhlenberg College, and since Jeff is my cousin (we both grew up in Teaneck), I have known him my whole life.
G- How long has Zevious been around and when did you first get started? What prompted the aggressive jazz/rock/metal blend?
M- Zevious has been around since 2006. We started as a relatively straight ahead jazz trio. It wasn’t long before we started writing our own music, exploring odd times and unconventional song forms, although still leaning towards jazz (ie – archtop guitar, upright bass, minimal to no effects). Soon after that, we got a gig in Philly at a place called Inciting that sort of required us to play a little heavier. The response was really great and it made us realize pretty quickly that instead of fading to the background, we preferred to have people react to our music.
Over the next few years, we found that we all enjoyed playing heavier music and composing in a way that led to more rehearsals and therefore more room for complexity. As we continued in this direction, the music just felt like it belonged to us and that it was coming from an honest place. We never really talked about what direction to go in; We really just followed our guts.
G- Do you currently have, or are you working on, any releases right now? When will you be heading back to the studio or on the road? Anything currently in the works?
M- Our latest album, Passing Through the Wall, was just released a couple of months ago on Cuneiform Records. The tour we just completed was in support of the release. Since this is still so new, we don’t have definite plans to head back into the studio, but we have begun discussing some ideas for how we want to approach our new material (top secret for now!).
Our plan for the immediate future is to play some local shows in NYC (December 8th at Union Pool in Brooklyn, January 10th at Radio Bushwick in BK!) and surrounding areas. Then, we may slow down while we go into our next writing and rehearsing phase.
G- What is your writing process like, and who in the band typically comes up new music? Do you have a primary songwriter, or do you write music more organically through jamming during rehearsals?
M- Johnny and I have written all of the music for Zevious. We write separately but both of us write all of the parts, including the drums, and bring in a nearly finished product to rehearsal. The last phase is rehearsing and internalizing the music. During that step, we all make suggestions in order for the finished product to be as musical as possible. Once the music is internalized, we embellish our parts to some extent but the majority of the music is composed.
G- What should your fans, both old and new, expect of the performances when you guys hit the road? What should some of the first time listeners expect to see when you take the stage?
M- Anyone seeing us should approach the show with an open mind. Our music is pretty uncompromising, so we have a tendency to alienate as many people as we draw in. The hope is that people are able to visualize an image or a story while listening. Most of the music we are performing right now can be found on Passing Through the Wall and our goal for the album was to create music that is entrancing and hypnotic. I think that comes through in a live setting because you can really be surrounded by the sound, allowing the listener to get lost.
G- Do you have a favorite song you have ever written? If you could only give 1 song to someone who’d never heard of you before, to try and make a new fan, what song would you give them and why?
M- I think it would be pretty difficult to pin point one song as my “all time favorite” because most of them reflect something that may have been significant at the time they were written. At the moment, my favorite song to perform is “Plying the Cold Trade” from the recent release. Strangely, it is the only real slow song on the album (and also the longest one) but it maintains the layered rhythm approach of our faster material.
G- 4 albums every fan of you should know about and why. Go!
M- Melvins: Houdini – They have a ton of great albums, but this one had a huge impact on me in my teens and I love it as much today as I did then.
Steve Reich: Violin Phase – Steve Reich also has a lot of incredible music, including phasing compositions for other instruments. There was one tour Zevious did where we listened to these pieces on loop… while driving. It was a testament to our wills since this music is incredibly hypnotic and probably not the best for driving. We survived though and that experience really influenced how we wanted to approach the compositions on our latest album. Although our music doesn’t really sound like Steve Reich’s, we really appreciate the “test how deep an audience is willing to go into oblivion” approach.
Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring – This piece has been a major influence on me since I was a kid. It is an extremely visual experience (even without the weird choreography that originally accompanied the music,) but I think the most exciting thing is that Stravinsky and the choreographer, Nijinsky, were able to incite a riot during its premier in France in 1913. If I could ever create something that evoked that much of a visceral reaction, I would consider myself successful.
Ali Akbar Khan: Morning and Evening Ragas – Ali Akbar Khan is probably my favorite classical Indian musician (he plays the Sarod.) I always love the recording quality of his albums, but on this one he is also in perfect form (not that he isn’t on other recordings) and I never get tired of this album. The rhythmic and melodic depth is amazing, and I highly recommend this and many other Ali Akbar Khan recordings.
G- As a band that could both open for Tool and keep the late night Blue Note crowd on their toes, are there any bands or artists that you hope to share a bill with in the future? Give us your 3-band dream tour to be a part of.
M- Honestly, I feel super lucky to be friends with some great bands and people who we have been able to play shows with. Touring with Dysrhythmia was really amazing because they are a lot of fun to hang out with and I loved listening to their music everyday. It has also been great to play shows with Brandon Seabrook (and his various projects), Stats, and this band from Switzerland who we were recently introduced to called Sonar.
One band that we keep trying to line up with and somehow just missing is Yowie from St. Louis. Their music is totally weird and awesome. We have become friends with them from touring through there, but for one reason or another the timing hasn’t worked out so it would be great to finally play some shows with them someday. Is that a 3-band tour? Whoops.
Lastly, what advice can you give some of the young, up and coming bands everywhere who want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?
M- I think “making it” in music is always going to be the wrong approach. If you make music because you love it and you make music that is honest, then you are probably on the right path. You get to be the judge of how successful you are, but for me, the measure of success is “am I making the music I want to make?” I think good things come if you work hard (practice!) and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.
As far as being on the road – my best advice would be to stay responsible. You can have a lot of fun without needing your band mates to take care of you. If everyone holds up their end of the bargain, then everyone has fun!