It seems incomprehensible that Zebrahead have been around for almost twenty years: the pop-punk provocateurs haven’t slowed down a minute in the space of those two decades, and their relentless forward thinking means it feels like only yesterday that their debut record Waste of Mind was unleashed upon the unsuspecting public.
And yet here we are, only a few weeks away from the release of Walk The Plank, the band’s twelfth studio album. In many ways, the record will be instantly familiar to fans of the band’s work – its raucous and relentless in a myriad of increasingly interesting ways – but the work also sees Zebrahead pushing their sound in a new direction, throwing in softer, gentler numbers to stunning effect.
Ahead of Walk The Plank’s release we spoke to the band’s bassist Ben Ozz about Save Your Breath, the new album, and a bowel related accident…
Joseph Earp: How are you and where does our interview find you today?
Ben Ozz: Well …hello there! I am currently at home in Orange County, California. We are just starting rehearsals and getting ready to leave on tour. It is hot as hell by the way!
JE: What can you tell us about Walk The Plank, your upcoming album? How would you characterise its sound?
BO: On Walk The Plank we tried to basically go for it. We wanted to be as heavy as possible and then if we decided to be mellow…go as mellow as possible. The 2 extremes? I feel like a mountain dew commercial?
I personally am usually a sucker for the heavy, but for the first time ever I am really liking the few mellow songs we have. So, in a nut-shell, we decided to just do whatever the hell we wanted and not worry about anything.
JE: Walk The Plank is your 12th album. In what ways have you changed since you recorded your first?
BO: We really haven’t changed that much. We still get together and try to have fun and write some songs. I would say this new album is closer to the first album than ever before. But we are still just really lucky guys who can’t believe they get to tour the world and play music for a job.
JE: When you start working on an album like Walk The Plank, do you know pretty much exactly how it will sound from the outset, or is it more of a process of discovery?
BO: It is completely a process of discovery. We never go into it thinking this is the sound we are going for…maybe we should?….we just meet up and jam out some ideas until we all look at each other and like it. It is pretty easy to tell when we are on to something or if something should just be put in the trash.
JE: You have described Save Your Breath as ‘a song for this of us who realize that no one is perfect…..and we are OK with that!’ Was there a direct real life inspiration for the song?
BO: Yeah. To be honest there really was. Everyone has different expectations for you and us in our lives. And to be honest no one will ever live up to the ridiculous ones that are laid out. We just kinda got tired of people always telling us what we should be or how we should act and hence the song came about. No one can force you down the path of life….you allow them to push you that way if you so decide…I just decide to not follow when I disagree…make sense? Probably not. I usually don’t!
[youtube id=”EWmvb8ACbao” width=”650″ height=”360″]
JE: What made you choose that particular track as lead single? Is it a difficult decision to choose just one?
BO: Yeah! It is always difficult to decide what song will be featured. Everyone in the band always has their own favorites. This time was rather easy…since we were making a lyric video we decided a song with a little piss and vinegar would be fun.
JE: In terms of your songwriting, what comes first, the melodies or the lyrics?
BO: It really depends. Every song is written in a different way. Sometimes we have just a chorus or a guitar riff or even a bass line and build a song around it. There really isn’t special pressure on any one guy either as we all come in with ideas to start songs. Even on instruments we don’t play in the band. It is fun to step outside the box sometimes and play something on someone else’s instrument.
JE: Critics have always struggled to categorise your music – you’ve been branded with labels such as punk rock, pop punk, alternative rock, rapcore….Which label do you feel most comfortable with?
BO: Maybe a mishmash of all of them? We do blend a lot of styles and I totally get why it could be difficult to label what we do. I kinda like people to all have their own little take on what we do. Music is up for interpretation by everyone….So yeah I like it.
[youtube id=”3Yb5P2dgcyU” width=”650″ height=”360″]
JE: Looking back, at what point did you realise that music was something you could pursue as a full time career?
BO: I still don’t believe it to this day. I always think I am gonna wake up and it will be a dream that has now disappeared. Really really lucky to have the privilege to travel the world and play music. There are millions of talented people out there and to be honest most just need a little luck to be heard.
JE: If you couldn’t be a musician, what would you want to do career wise?
BO: After college I had a suit and tie job. My life was misery. I hated everything about it. I made a promise to myself to never learn how to tie a tie….that way I wasn’t giving in to having that for life. Now when I go to weddings I kinda regret that decision as I look like a slob?
JE: What is your favourite thing about being on tour? What is your least favourite thing?
BO: First off the shows….then getting to be a tourist. We sometimes carry bikes with us especially in Europe and go for rides in the Alps or down the streets of Prague. It doesn’t get better than that. Worst thing? There really isn’t one…if you don’t like to tour…then don’t be in a band.
JE: What would a perfect audience look like for you?
BO: Soundwave Festival?…yeah I will roll with that. One of my favourite festivals in the world. You travel Australia with tons of other bands and have fun the whole time. Winner!
[youtube id=”zaz6bmHyzNM” width=”650″ height=”360″]
JE: Tell me something you’ve never told an interviewer before.
BO: I once got so drunk that I crapped my pants as I fell to the ground in front of my house. My girlfriend at the time had to carry me into my house and put me to bed…covered in crap. Not sure she knew that happened and thought she was just helping me get to bed, but now she will know I had shit myself.
Zebrahead’s Walk The Plank is out on October 7th.