Interview: The Zolas

The Zolas & Company. From left: James Younger, Cody Hiles, Tom Dobrzanski, Zachary Gray
The Zolas & Company.
From left: James Younger, Cody Hiles, Tom Dobrzanski, Zachary Gray

We reached Zachary Gray, one half of Vancouver duo the Zolas, during a brief break in a hectic touring schedule to talk about their new single, “Invisible.”

LotusLand: Hey there, polar bear! First off, can you introduce yourself?

Zach Gray: Did you just say I’m a polar bear?

LL: Sorry, that seemed like a natural greeting at the time.

ZG: [Laughter] Hi, I’m a polar bear. I’m white… well, I’m not white. Apparently I have translucent fur and dark skin. I’m a misunderstood beast… I’m one of the only animals that will actually hunt humans.

LL: Alright then, polar bear. The Zolas are from Vancouver, but where are you calling from?

ZG: Toronto.

LL: What are you doing all the way out there?

ZG: We had some shows, now we have a little break, and then we have more shows.

LL: Solid. It’s been about a week since the release of your new single “Invisible,” can you tell us a bit of the background behind the song?

ZG: It’s a very short background. We wrote the chorus in a rehearsal a few months ago and then decided we wanted to record it. We didn’t even have a song written when we went to the studio and wrote it there. Honestly, it was one of those moments when you realize: “Hey, we’ve got a studio, we’ve got a band we release music with, why don’t we just have a good time and make a song.” We wrote it, recorded it, and released it within two weeks.

LL: Nice! You’ve said before that the idea of heydays played a part in your last album, Ancient Mars. Is there a similar theme you’re working with now?

ZG: No, I’m finding out about other things these days. I’ve written a lot about time, and that’s probably what I’ll always write about in one way or another. But this song, it’s not about either of these things, really. It’s sort of about the conversations that I’ll have with my friends sometimes. Have you ever asked your friends if they could have one super power, what would it be?

LL: Yeah, definitely.

ZG: I do too, and a lot of people say flying or time travelling. Actually, time travel would be my number one. Invisibility would be interesting though, because you could use it for vigilante justice. All the things you find totally unacceptable in the world, you could actually sneak in and find out exactly why it’s happening. You could sneak into board meetings at Monsanto…

LL: Take me with you! Spying on Monsanto would be sweet.

ZG: Yeah, exactly! You could see what’s going on in there, how regular human beings are acting so evil.

LL: Yeah, for sure.

ZG: I just want to do that. It would probably lead to poisoning people or something like that… Maybe some sort of statement, like the Ghost of Christmas Future, visiting them in their room and just whispering in their ear “What you’re doing isn’t going to work out… change it right now, or else you’ll be very sorry.” And then they’ll think they’re going crazy, and they won’t tell their wives… who knows. We live in a world where people aren’t afraid of Heaven and Hell anymore, and I’m not one to romanticize any positive impact of religion, but one thing it did do was make people in power a little less likely to exploit that power. There was a moral code that was handed down by a God that they believed in, and we don’t have that anymore so people can just do whatever they want. It would be cool if you could put the fear of God back in people.

LL: Well, I’m mildly terrified now.

ZG: Have you seen that anime, “Death Note?”

LL: Oh, yeah.

ZG: Sort of like that.

LL: Alright, that’s a good reason to be invisible. A while back you said that Ancient Mars was “headphone music.” So how should we be listening to “Invisible?”

ZG: Oh, it’s really headphone music. It’s also radio music. For that song, we got in Steve Bays, who’s in Hot Hot Heat and a new band called…

LL: Fur Trade?

ZG: Yeah, Fur Trade. He’s just the most talented mixer and producer. It’s really hard to make something sound really good on the radio and really good in headphones, but he’s good. “Invisible” is just a pop song, it’s not some sort of ambient soundscape, it’s not Boards of Canada or anything. It’s a less-than-3-minute pop song. I think it sounds pretty funky…

LL: Cool, cool. Is the song a one-off, or is there something more in the works?

ZG: We’re really into the whole writing, recording, releasing thing. I mean, some of them will be songs that I’ve thought about for a lot longer than a few days. As soon as we get back from tour, we’ll be trying to get together and write a few more songs and record them as soon as we can. I’d hate for people to think that I’m not thinking about it anymore or something, it’s all material that [I’ve put thought into]… some of the material in “Invisible” I wrote a year ago.

LL: We’ll be listening to “Invisible” on repeat until more songs come our way, then.

ZG: Yeah, exactly, there will be more coming out.

LL: While we’re listening to that, what music are you into these days?

ZG: Oh, good question. What am I… Have you ever been asked that, then realized you actually need to look through your phone to remember what you were listening to?

LL: Always.

ZG: I’m doing that right now. Hold on!

LL: Alright, scroll away.

ZG: Oh! The new Nine Inch Nails is pretty cool. There’s also this English guy, from London I think, Jai Paul? He released a deliberately leaked album that’s full of… I don’t know what you’d call it. Underwater, vaguely Indian hip-hop. It’s so much more interesting than that though, it’s got funk hip-hop beats… actually, that sounds terrible. I don’t know if that makes it sound good or not, but it’s really, really good.

LL: That sounds totally crazy, in a cool way.

ZG: They have a song called “Jasmine,” which you need to listen to on big speakers because it has a sub-register that floors you. It takes control of your bodily functions.

LL: Well, we’re sold on that one. Are there any Vancouver bands in particular that you’d like to whisper sweet nothing into their collective ears?

ZG: [Laughter]

LL: Or just jam with.

ZG: The Belle Game are doing well these days, they just got a review on Pitchfork that was really glowing.

LL: “River” was the track of the day a while ago, I remember that.

ZG: Yeah, they also got an album review. I love the Belle Game, and I love hanging out with them, they’re really sweet people. Actually, I just like anyone who I’m friends with.

LL: Awesome. Final question: most groups struggle to come up with a band name, and in the process come up with thousands of awful ideas. What’s the worst band name the Zolas thought of?

ZG: Well, I think the worst one we came up with was the band name that we had before the Zolas. Tom and I used to play in another band…

LL: Lotus Child?

ZG: Yeah. It’s a good magazine name, but man, it’s a terrible band name.

LL: Twinsies.

ZG: [Laughter] Yeah, I know. That’s the worst band name I can think of.

LL: Alright. It’s been great talking to you again! Thanks for the interview, Zach.

ZG: No problem.

LL: Peace out, boy scout.

ZG: Wait! Peace out, boy scout?

LL: Yeah.

ZG: [Laughter]

LL: Okay. Peace out, lake trout? I’m running out of things to rhyme.

ZG: That one’s good.

The Zolas play a sold out show with Hollerado at the Commodore Ballroom, November 14th.

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