Tuesday, August 14, 2012

An Interview with New Brunswick's Holy City Zoo

Holy City Zoo is a four piece juggernaut hailing from  New Brunswick, New Jersey.
The band mixes elements of Punk, Alternative and Hard Rock to form a sound that is both addictive and contagious. (Think, The Foo Fighters meet At the Drive In at a sweaty
New Jersey basement show.) Since first witnessing the Zoo's apocalyptic live set during 2011's Brick City Riot Music Festival. I've followed the bands progress closely.
With their new record, "Nobody Sells For Less" still fresh in my ears, I decided to reach out and ask some over due questions about the past, present and future. Here's what they had to say. James Damion

Holy City Zoo; 
AJ Russo- Bass/Vocals Joe Lanza- Guitar/Vocals Frank DeFranco- Guitar/Vocals 
Brian DePhillis- Drums

James: I first saw you guys live last year at the Brick City Riot Fest in Newark. However, I had heard the name and legend of Holy City Zoo long before.
Can you tell me a little background on the band and how you got your wings?

HCZ: We started out in some form back in 2007 and went through a few incarnations that ultimately led us to the line-up we have now. This line-up is about two years old. Our main goals were to be raw and straight-forward, as well as being as "DIY" as possible. We've been around NJ playing music for a while, so at this point in our lives it was easier to make connections and have the knowledge to set things in motion. This lead to forming the Tiny Giant Artist Collective with
The Nico Blues, which definitely had an impact on our band and is probably how you heard of us. It was a good mechanism to break out of where we came from, and ultimately helped others as well (which is/was the real main goal).

James: Your one of a handful of current bands that are somewhat defying the whole genre classification. You're not Hardcore. You're not really Punk and you certainly aren't a lot of things. On top of that you can't dance for shit. Where do you see yourselves as a band?

HCZ: Our band is basically a massaged collage of everything we ever wanted to hear and haven't heard. We are huge fans of 80's and 90's underground alternative acts, as well as today's underground movement of forward thinking music. Holy City Zoo, at this point, tries to meld together the musical sensibilities of both. A crude way of putting it is we want to mash together the Foo Fighters with At The Drive-In, or The Smashing Pumpkins with
The Fall of Troy, or Jawbox and RX-Bandits etc. We do our research in modern times as well as the past times. "Rock" or "Punk" has been so many things to us and others, so we try to reflect that. Short answer, we don't believe in guilty pleasures: we play what sounds cool to us. So we really see ourselves as a giant music masher/rearranger of things we love, then fuck it up even more.

James: Your live shows are quite animalistic. I think it's pretty safe to say you're one of the most animated bands I've seen over the last year.
However, you seem quite subdued and laid back otherwise. What is it about the music, performing live and interacting with the crowd that helps flip that switch?

HCZ: Our live shows are all about our own cathartic release of energy. We feel personal and global injustices all over the place and our music is simply a way to let it all out. We aren't exactly political or "emo", it's kind of a weird mix of both. So on the stage we are maniacally trying to make sense of our lives and what is around us by bashing out these tunes. It's our expression during our quarter life. When we aren't playing music, we are just regular people that are pretty subdued and laid back. The shows and music in general are the means of
(rather overt) expression. Otherwise we'd probably be running around the streets screaming our heads off. It's great performing in front of a crowd because we are being completely honest and emoting our true feelings, and if someone can relate to that, then that is beautiful.

James: You've got a new record with "Nobody Sells for Less". It feels like it was a long time coming. Maybe even long overdue. Tell me a little about the process and finally getting to see the fruits of your labor. The record also shows off a lot of the raw energy that fuels your live sets. Was that intentional? Was there a game plan going into the studio?

HCZ: The main goal of NSFL was to experiment with more major keys. The first EP was really dark, this one is bright. It diversified our assets and could mix things up a bit more. That's the goal of every subsequent release, to paint a better image of how we feel.
With this EP we went in trying to make a high fidelity version of what we sound like.
The studio that we went in to has top notch gear with someone who knows how to work magic with it. It's the same person who recorded our first EP, Jeremy Cimino. The goal for both EPs was to show off our raw band in the best sounding way, sonically at least.
We took our time and tried to make the songs sound well and honest, but not polished.
Plus, we were a better band than the first time around, so this EP was also a way to show our progress.

James: You released the record on vinyl at a time when a lot of your contemporaries are going the digital route. Why did you choose this ancient method?

HCZ: We won a competition held by the Institute of Audio Research, where Joe attended school. We played Kid PK at Arlene's Grocery and the crowd thought we were the best artist and choose us to win. Weird. So the school offered to pay for something. We picked vinyl. Why? We wanted to hear ourselves on vinyl because we are dorks. Nobody Sells For Less is also available digitally also. Gotta do both these days.

James: I immediately got a Crazy Eddie (Not sure you guys know the legend of Crazy Eddie and the department store commercials in the 80's.) vibe from the record title. Why the name "Nobody Sells For Less"?

HCZ: It was on the window of an Unclaimed Freight store in New Brunswick. We were going up to practice one day and decided that would be a funny cover for the EP. It was a joke that stuck. The images on the front and back are the actual front and back of the store, just caricatured by the wonderful Rob Gnarly. It's a little homage to the Hub City and thought it would be a cool conceptual art piece for the vinyl.

James: The vinyl also comes with a download card that features an
impressive assortment of older tracks. It really puts things over the top
and delivers on the records title "Nobody Sells for Less".
What led to the decision to include so many extras?

HCZ: Well, we love the ideas of "B-sides". A small part of it was to pay homage to the weird stuff bands we love released on the flip side of their singles. Mainly, it was a way for people to really hear us develop. It has the demos, live and studio recordings. It shows the progression of how we evolved. Not many local bands do that, so we decided to take the plunge.

James: We've talked about the New Brunswick roots in the past. The town has produced many bands that changed people's lives musically. It's also regenerated itself over the years as college towns often do. With Holy City Zoo being a part of that present energy.
I can't help but ask, What makes the area so special? Is it something in the water?
the basements? the bricks? or the classrooms? that makes New Brunswick produce on a higher level?

HCZ: The real answer is that it's a relevant college town in the middle of miles of suburban towns. It's the only cool meeting place in central NJ. Students live off campus and throw shows in houses. New Brunswick does have a history, which does make it a marking point for touring bands. They usually love it here cause we really do treat bands with respect
and I guess that gets carried on to wherever they come from. Holy City Zoo and all the other hometown bands are to thank for that. We really try and keep it real here. We think it seems special because this doesn't occur anywhere else in NJ really. It is a perfect storm of all the things explained that happened to turn out well.

James: In the time since the Court Tavern closed it's doors. There was a hot spring of
Basement Shows popping up in the immediate area. Are you playing a part and do you think they can maintain the energy and dedication they've given the scene and touring bands?

HCZ: Funny thing about the Court Tavern is that it never effected nor crossed paths with basement shows. That crowd kind of stay there and vice versa. That place was 21+,
which is a big turn off. Younger people want to see bands too. Basements thrived for that very reason. Plus the intimacy of a basement is also a bit more primal, which attracted people who liked that. The Court Tavern was a cool place, but the basement scene is where the breeding grounds of bands are (nowadays at least). They were two different places with different functions.

James: You've begun sharing rehearsal space with Man on Fire recently.
Frank also recently played a double shift with Holy City Zoo and Man On Fire at
The Clash Bar. Can we expect further collaborations and Kahootsing in the near future?

HCZ: We share a practice space with Man On Fire and France. So that collaboration came pretty naturally. Since we now have a 24/7 space, more collaborations are likely to occur. Keep the ears peeled for that.

James: How has Frank's playing topless effected the band?
Has his chest hair received any endorsement deals?
Have you noticed a spike in attendance since he's begun this ritual?

HCZ: We may start a raffle for the shavings of one peck of franks immaculate chest mane.

James: I saw you mention that the upcoming Maxwell's show will be one of your last for a while. Did I read that wrong? What are the bands plans for the near future?

HCZ: We want to get our lives in order, as well as a full length album. Our goal is to really come up with something special and cohesive, as well as thinking of a cool way of releasing it. We are getting pretty philosophical here at the HCZ camp.

James: If you could define Holy City Zoo's sound, approach or goals in one word.
What would it be?

HCZ: Truth.

James: Excellent. Mission complete.

Interview and Photos; James Damion

Holy City Zoo  Facebook
Holy City Zoo  Bandcamp

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