Zed: Second Thoughts
Author: Rick Hobbs
It's three years since Daisy, Glorafilia and Renegade Fighter sent their debut album 'Silencer' multi-platinum and teenage girls screaming. Having proven they could fill Christchurch's Westpac stadium at will, Zed left town and country to try their luck in the States. And with gigs at the Viper Room and support slots for both Coldplay and Robbie Williams under their belts, they were directly signed to US label Interscope Records.
The resulting album 'This Little Empire' will come out in NZ on October 24th, and should be released in Australia and the US early next year. Despite impressions, it's been far from plain sailing. Starlight, the music video for which won the Coke People's Choice at the Juice TV Awards last month, was the States' first taste of the Zed express. But the movie didn't live up to expectations, and as a result the song didn't do as well as hoped.
"It was released out the back door because the movie bombed. Like really badly," says bass player Ben Campbell. "It was supposed to do US$70 or $80 million at the box office and it did seven," further explains guitarist Andy Lynch.
You win some you lose some. Fame almost preceded Zed when Ray Columbus got them a Warner/Chappell publishing deal back in '96, before the teenagers had even played a gig. The local music industry collectively gasped at the audacity.
Four years later the band were riding the crest of a wave after a string of successful singles and a local profile second to none. 'Silencer' has sold nearly 60,000 copies here, though that didn't impress in Australia.
It all became a little bleak in mid 2001 when they went into Sing Sing Studios in Melbourne to cut the follow up to 'Silencer' with producer David Nicholas who had recorded the first album. Realising they weren't happy with the songs they had written, a mutual decision was made to abandon recording.
"We started recording an album straight off the bat after 'Silencer' pretty much wound up. And we got half way through and realised we weren't really into it", explains vocalist/guitarist Nathan King. "They (Universal) pretty much sent us into the studio without even really listening to any of the new material before we recorded," points out fourth Zed member, drummer Adrian Palmer.
"They sort of, just trusted us," returns Nathan. "I think we needed time, just to figure out where we wanted to go with this album and not just do the logical next step."
"We had been touring and touring, and just that age old problem of being constantly on the road, it just wasn't the right time to go and record. We're just lucky to have the opportunity not to be stuck with that," finishes Andy.
Having backed out of Sing Sing the band then holed up on Auckland's North Shore in Bruce Lynch's (Andy's famous musician/producer father), 'boatshed' home studio to write brand new songs and define the direction for the 'real' second album. It took 18 months on and off, and they say, a conscious effort was made to 'take it up a notch', to make what Andy calls a "Shore album". The new album has seen the emergence of the young Mr Lynch, who joined Zed only six weeks before they began recording 'Silencer', as one of the band's principal songwriters.
With 16 songs under their belt, and a firm idea of how they wanted them to sound, the band were ready to record. Reluctant to have a huge budget advance hanging over their heads, their newly appointed American management lined up Sylvia Massy of RadioStar Studios in Weed, California. Her credits include Powerman 5000, Babes In Toyland and the impressive 'Undertow' album for Tool. It's not surprising given Massy's credits that this album is a lot heavier than anything Zed has recorded before.
The album was initially mixed in Weed as well, but after problems were discovered with the vocal tracks it had to be re-mixed. "She (Massy) stuffed the vocals up, so we had to redo a whole lot of things. When they were recorded they were over-compressed. So they sounded really muffled, and the sibilance was terrible." The whole process came full circle again when Andy recorded the new vocals back at his father's studio. As Nathan had already spent three weeks doing the vocals he wasn't keen to start again. "It was really hard for me to re-sing the whole album," says Nathan. "You hear the performance and the performance is great, like you're really happy with how it sounded. And I've got to reproduce that. We call it demo-itis, where you can never get it to sound as good because it's got a certain thing about it."
According to Adrian, Nathan had his best performances in this tiny confined space. "Maybe next time we should record the album when we demo it," he deadpans.
They say that Interscope is extremely happy with the album after its remix. It's been mastered by the legendary George Marino whose credits run from Queen and Acca Dacca, through to Coldplay. Glorafilia and Renegade Fighter will be on the US album, but the rest of the songs Kiwis came to love, won't appear in the northern hemisphere.
"The thing with America is that the label is so big, the trick is to get everyone on fire at the right time so you're ready to go. There's no point in peaking too early. We've got our champions there..." Adrian explains.
"The other thing is that we don't have to play the same songs for the next six years," points out Ben.
Despite the apparent emphasis on the States, America is not their only focus.
"It's a little bit of a misconception actually", says Ben. "People think we've been over there touring and releasing the record, but we haven't done any of that. We've been recording, building up the contacts, shooting videos, getting the company on board, building the infrastructure around the band, managers and agents and just sort of getting it all ready. But it's New Zealand that we're concentrating on now."
One significant change reflecting the potential importance of the US has been the acquisition of American management and the release of the band's mentor and backer Ray Columbus.
"If we wanted to really give it a good shot in the States, we'd need American management," explains Nathan. "They can be into the record company every day and that's what we need. And we wouldn't expect Ray to relocate and he wouldn't want to either."
It remains to be seen if their Kiwi fanbase will be there screaming their hearts out again given the change in the band's direction, especially since heart throb Nathan's recent marriage.
"You can get hung up on the fact that we're two guitars, bass and drums, and every song's got that in it, but at the end of the day, they actually sound quite good. Hopefully people will get it," Adrian says.
Nathan doesn't share his concerns. "
Nah, because they've grown up too" he says. "I think a lot of the naivety has gone. And that comes out in the music. The tone of the album's a bit more serious, but still has an up vibe. We didn't want to lose that. People who liked the 'Silencer' album will appreciate our music's grown up and matured with us."