Zig Zags

Interview with Zig Zags By Alxis Ratkevich

Sep 22, 2014

The Zig Zags bring more than the heavy side of the L.A. sound to their songs. They bring complex characters, strong lyrical imagery, tons of great movie references, and lots of teenage-themed laughs. They are; Jed (Guitarist), Patrick (Bassist), Bobby (Drummer), and the singer? Well that depends on what song you are talking about.

One of my best friends from growing up in South Florida, Jeannine, moved to L.A. She introduced me to her nowfiancée, who just happens to be Patrick from the Zig Zags. That was originally how I heard of the band. I can’t remember the first time I saw the Zig Zags play but I remember my favorite time, and it might be one of their least. The Zig Zags were playing the Continental Room with my boyfriend’s band Magic Trash. Despite the Zig Zags ruling as usual, that night a lazy crowd mostly hung back in a side smoking area. At some point Jed could not contain his aggravation. He literally busted out the side stage door and proceeded to play, blasting music, waving his guitar, and antagonizing the crowd. There was something so pure about his reaction. Despite the guys being not so thrilled, I was exuberant after their set. It was something about their determination, that their frustrations instead of being denied, instead of turning violent, came out loud, confrontational, we won’t be ignored—literally “in your face” music.

I’ve gone on to see the Zig Zags numerous times, and they never disappoint. I like a wide range of music, and appreciate many different things about different bands. For me, initially, the attraction to Zig Zags was primal. One of those things I couldn’t put my finger on but felt in my gut. There was something about going to a Zig Zags show—shaking my head and having my ears blown out, that was totally cathartic for me. Their shows have that energy that you want to drink up like a vampire, or try and bottle for later. On one level you might dismiss it as just that: Zig Zags strength is their youthful energy and exuberance. But it’s more than that. There is sophistication in their songs, a conversation almost had through the lyrics with the listener, layered with symbolism and references which takes that energy and transforms it into something deeper.

I met up with the Zig Zags at their practice space to talk music, monkeys, and mayhem or—ahhhh ummm—more like movies. We picked the guys’ brains on process, inspiration, growing up, and what it was like writing a song for a gang of ape bikers.

Alxis' interview with Tom Neely and Keenan Keller about their collaboration with the Zig Zags is right here.

Alxis: Where are you from and how has that influenced your music?

Jed: I was born in Portland, Oregon, and grew up in Clackamas, Oregon. That’s where Dead Moon lives, and where they have their guitar shop. It’s also where the Wipers are from and those just coincidentally happen to be two of my favorite bands. I mean I didn’t know about any of that stuff when I was living there but backtracking I realized—I lived in this trailer park and I fucking hated it. It was horrible—and I hated that town. Then later I realized that Dead Moon was from there and it definitely gave me a different perspective of where I was from.

For me, growing up in the trailer park, I saw a lot of older hesher dudes, and my first babysitter was this long red haired hesher. That’s kinda where the idea for the Randy character came from (the Zig Zag’s mascott, alter-ego skull character). He was always wearing Iron Maiden T-shirts and riding BMX, taking me swimming and stuff in the back of his shitty 1970s Chevy Nova. I think when we were thinking about the band, we were thinking of those kind of experiences growing up, more than what kind of music we were going to play.

Patrick: I’m from a placed called Fernandina Beach Florida. It’s a small beach town. Redneck Riviera—that’s what people call it. In the summer all these rednecks would come down tailgating on the beach. Similar to Jed, my Randy type character is my Uncle Bobby. He was in and out of jail and prison and lived with us. I grew up in a musical family. My parents liked music a lot and just playing in bands. My uncle Sean is a country music singer there. Growing up in a beach town, I feel connected to the water—beach vibes and all that.

Bobby: I grew up in a small town in Maine. The music I grew up listening to was Top 40 from the 1940s. My dad would play a lot of old music. I didn’t even hear any music from the ‘60s till I left my town. Being in a small town, you’re dealing with a lot of blue collar workers, like every father was an alcoholic. There was always insanity around, and my family was like that, too. So I think that made me tend to like the crazier things in life.

Patrick: It’s kinda funny how we are all from rural small town, similar experiences and met in a big city like this. It’s probably not uncommon, but the older you get, you gravitate towards people who you would have been friends with growing up.

Alxis: How does living in L.A. affect your music and influence the Zig Zags?

Jed: When we started the band, we were definitely trying to go against what we saw was popular in L.A. at the time: a lot of folky hippie music. Even though we have a respect for anyone doing whatever they want to do, we were wanting to get outside our circle of friends, as far as what was going on musically, and do something different and that’s what evolved into the heavier sound and playing faster and louder.

Bobby: I lived in New York before here, and it just felt like a place of survival. I was always worrying about money and paying rent. I hardly had time to play music. Coming out here just felt like home, also it just feels like a small town to me. You leave your house and you go into town. You see people you know and can be supportive of everyone’s projects. It makes it a lot easier to feel like you can create good stuff in that zone.

Patrick: There is such a community here. You meet someone and you have mutual friends, and the stores are really supportive of local bands doing in-stores, carrying your records and stuff. You have friends who are doing cool shit. They have their own little world and then they bring you into it, and you bring them into your world. You collaborate to do stuff.

Bobby: When we decided to go with In The Red, what it came down to is, they are friends of friends and they live right down the street. That’s definitely been our mentality. It’s very community-based stuff, and that goes a long way when the trust is there.

Alxis: How was Randy born? How did you decide to have this character associated with the band?

Jed: He was born like most things, out of jokes or stories we’ve told each other about our teenage experiences. We were thinking about how Iron Maiden has Eddie and Motörhead has that weird pig guy with the fucking horns (Warpig), and Megadeth has Vic Rattlehead. Just the idea of having this character, a mascot that shows up in all of your artwork, or lyrics imagery-wise, and just continuing that theme and using it over and over again so that you have this cohesive style.

Bobby: Randy is like your everyman. He embodies every single character we ever discussed. He’s just the guy.

Patrick: We’ll be writing new songs, and say, “Can this be another Randy song?” I think a lot of times when we are writing lyrics we think about a situation Randy would be in or things that he would say.

Bobby: On some levels Randy is an alter ego of ours. It’s really easy to put yourself in another person’s shoes and then write from their perspective, so it’s kind of like three Randys when we’re playing.

Alxis: Talk more about your visual aesthetic and how you collaborate with the visual artists you work with.

Patrick: Jed’s girlfriend Jess (Jessica Hundley) directs a lot of our videos. Our first video was the Scavenger video. That was just footage that she found on YouTube—homemade video—pretty much pre-jackass boneheads. I feel like that set the tone for the aesthetic because it’s funny, and it’s entertaining.

Jed: Before there was YouTube, the thing that I really loved was going to someone’s house and they would have a mixtape VHS of all these funny clips of public access shows and all these classic videos that are now available to everyone but at the time it was a word of mouth thing. When you’d go on tour and you’d stay with somebody, you would go to someone’s house and drink beer and smoke weed and sit in a room and just watch fucked up videos of stuff. That was the idea behind the first video we did was to replicate that whole idea.

Then we really liked it and people dug it. We kept it going as far as we did—a few videos that were more found footage stuff—and now we’re trying to do something else, basically. We have a video for the “Brainded Warrior” song that we have coming out. The video is very much based on the lyrics of the song. This RoboCop human experiment gone wrong that creates this cyborg monster.

Alxis: Do you have a motto or philosophy as a band?

Jed: Basically the idea was, what would our first high school band sound like? I feel like the things that I was into when I was thirteen are the same things I’m into now, and the idea was, “Let’s write about what we know and what we like,” as opposed to try and do some sort of profound statement or something like that. Let’s write about us. Some people have these very personal lyrics about breakups and that’s just not who we are when we talk to each other. We talk about goofy shit, or funny shit, or horror movies, or things we are into.

Patrick: Keeping things kinda primitive. Not making anything too complicated or overwrought. Just what feels good your first time doing it. Not over thinking anything.

Alxis: Did you have any funny or bad band names from your high school bands?

Bobby: I have a really bad one, The Super Kids.

Patrick: My first band was called The Plastics. The next band I was in was Drastic Measures. We took ourselves very seriously as a punk band—social commentary-type things—like when you’re thirteen years old and you think you know what’s up with the world.

Jed:I think I’m going to win here. My first real band was called the Ninja Boners.

Alxis: How do you write and collaborate as a band?

Patrick: When I came in, it just added a different element. I think that what works so well for the band—Jed will have the bones of a riff and the structure of a song and we all get together and just jam on it. Then I’ll add this part. Then Bobby will say, “What about this?” And once we get to the part where the song is basically there, that’s when we go, “Who’s going to sing it?” How we do that is Bobby will sing it, and then Jed will sing a part, and I’ll be like, “That would actually sound better if I sang it,” and it just comes very organically. We rarely have anyone coming in saying, “This is the whole song and this is how it’s going to be sung.” I just think we write better songs as a trio than if just one person is doing it. It just sounds more like Zig Zags.

Jed: It’s really long because there are three people writing the songs as opposed to one person.

Alxis: If you had to describe the Zig Zags using only a movie, what would it be?

Jed:Mad Max cause it’s my favorite movie, and I think a lot about post apocalyptic stuff all the time: cars, living off the land, mutants, and shit like that.

Bobby: If you poured Goonies through the filter of Poltergeist, one would have to filter through the other.

Patrick: Phantom of the Paradise. It’s got humor but it’s also dealing with a lot of insane shit that happens in the world.

Alxis: What was it like writing a song for a comic? Collaborating with The HUMANS creators, what was that process like?

(listen to the song by clicking on the image or right here)

Patrick: It was fun, like getting an assignment at school where you read a book and then they’d say, “Write an essay like you were a character from that book.”

Jed: I wanted to do something where the intro was very long and drawn out in this descending, dark feeling and have it get heavy from that point on. That was all that was going through my head at the time. In my mind, the idea of the song—the first part is telling the story of the gang, and the second part when it speeds up, takes you on a ride with the motorcycle gang.

Patrick: They gave us images and told us the story. It’s probably our most theatrical song. When I was editing, I made it sound like there was a gang cranking their motorcycles and pealing fucking out. It was fun to do that. We wouldn’t usually do that in a Zig Zags songs.

Bobby: A lot of the motorcycle ‘70s stuff was a little tongue-in-cheek and really low cinema. There was certainly that aspect of it.

Jed: I love ‘70s biker movies. It was easy to riff off of that lyrically and take some of that lingo or slang that they would use, like we say, “1%ers till I die,” which is a classic sort of biker gang thing that means that they are outlaws and not part of society. That is a very strong image to write off of.

Alxis: Finally, list these primates, starting with the best: Bubbles (Michael Jackson’s chimp), Ham (the first chimp in space), Clyde (the orangutan from Any Which Way but Loose), Koko (the sign langue speaking gorilla), and Bonzo (the chimp from the Ronald Reagan movies).

Jed and Patrick: Number one is Clyde.

Jed: In general, I like orangutans the most. They seem mellow. Every Which Way but Loose—I loved Clint Eastwood when I was a kid and I loved that movie. When you are a kid, the idea of having a monkey as your best friend is such a cool thing.

Patrick: I dunno. Ham, the one that went to space. I mean, come on, first chimp in space.

Alxis: What would Randy’s favorite be?

Jed: The thing about Randy is he is a skull character and a total badass or whatever, but he is also a good entity and he is on the side of right. He’s definitely like a defender of the less fortunate. Something that Randy would probably do is break into the zoo where the sign language monkey is and rescue that monkey.