Photo by Andrew Eccles
It's been literally five decades since the original Zombies toured the United States and a lot has happened in the meantime: The internet was invented, the Berlin Wall fell, and the Shamrock Shake was introduced. Although it wasn't a commercial success at the time, over the past half a century their 1968 album Odyssey And Oracle has become a cult classic and the band is currently performing the album for the first time ever live in the United States. They'll also be playing songs from their new, surprisingly solid album Still Got That Hunger, which released today.
We caught up with the band's masterminds Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone to discuss the band's slow redemption, unbelievable rise to fame, and opinion of today's current acts. Don't worry, we also ask if they're familiar with the work of another Zombie whose first name is Rob.
Noisey: What was it like to have your new album Still Got That Hunger funded through PledgeMusic instead of through traditional avenues?
Rod Argent: It was wonderful because it meant that we could record it in an old-fashioned way in the sense that when we made our first album we had no choice, we had to record on FourTracks and that meant that the band plays all at the same time. It was important to have a good producer and Chris Potter—who did a lot of the Verve's stuff like Urban Hymns—got in touch with us and said he'd love to produce us. And we thought this would be a great way to approach things because if we could the crowdfund we would be able to go to a conventional studio and really capture the performances of everyone playing at the same time rather than layering things. When everyone's playing together you're constantly moderating what you're playing in response to what someone else is doing in that instant and it's really making music in the purest form. We could also give the fans a glimpse into the process of putting the songs together and let them see behind the scenes because usually people just hear the final result and have no idea how it came about.
So you approached this album similarly to how you did Odyssey and Oracle?
Colin Blunstone: Yes, we had a small budget for Odyssey and Oracle so we decided to rehearse extensively before we went into the studio so that the basic arrangements were set and all we had to do was get the performance. We thought with these songs we would try to do that again, so just like we did in 1967 we rehearsed extensively before we went into the studio and we played live and I also sang live with the band.
Argent: We thought it was important to play to Colin's guide vocal but a lot of those guide vocals became the master vocals, so it really was like a polished way to get a live performance. We weren't dogmatic about not overdubbing but we wanted to make it a very organic experience. One of my pet peeves at the moment on almost every record I hear is Auto-Tune and it just makes the vocals sound so mechanical to me… even if it's not used too much I can hear it. When you don't use it, it just sounds much more real and captivating to my taste.
This is the first time you'll be playing Odyssey in the States. Did you ever have plans to perform it here before you broke up?
Blunstone: No, absolutely not. When the album was initially released in the U.K. it did pick up some good reviews but commercially it wasn't successful at all and I think that we all felt that we had done the best we could. We thought it was time to move on and try other projects which is in fact what we did. So there no plans to play it live at all actually. I think we hardly played any of these songs live. I think maybe we played "Time Of The Season" once or twice?
Argent: I don't think we did Colin because we broke up before the album came out and we had one single out and I believe it charted at #44 in the U.K. and at that time we didn't even know if this would be released in the States… and when it didn't happen we broke up. I remember a friend telling us, "You're crazy, shouldn't you stay together until the album is out at least?" But we broke up by that time so I don't think we ever played "Time of the Season" live and that of course went on to be a big hit in America and other places in the world.
Blunstone: I do think that this is probably the last time we'll perform this album, though. We've played it in the U.K. and it will be great to play it in the States but then I think that will be it. I don't think it's something that we're going to continually keep doing.
When did you realize it had become such an important album?
Argent: I think it was about 12 years after it came out. I remember Chris Martin phoning me and saying, "You know Odyssey and Oracle is becoming quite a cult album with the whole young generation" and I thought he was deluded. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that it started to build up momentum and it sells more every year now than it did when it came out which is crazy.
Blunstone: It was a huge surprise because no one was promoting it, no one was marketing it. It was mainly through word of mouth that it started to sell and as Rod said we didn't really believe it but obviously we can see that its selling in considerable numbers every year.
Is there any bitterness from you guys now as far as "where were all of you people when we originally put it out?"
Argent: [Laughs.] Not from me, I always think of it as a huge bonus and something that we had never expected. If someone had said to us at the time that in 50 years someone would be buying this album, we wouldn't have believed them.
Blunstone: I agree with Rod.
That's a much better perspective than I would have had. So do you keep up with any newer bands?
Argent: I'm terrible. That's the thing about getting older: When you're 18 you're going out every night and drinking in everything new that's coming out. When I'm in a social situation I feel like I still listen to the music I listened to when I was young. I always have my iPad on shuffle and it's still the same bizarre mix of Ray Charles and Bach and Elvis mixed up with one or two new things. I occasionally hear things that I like. I remember when Kings of Leon came out, I really liked it because the singer reminded me of the R&B vibe that Steve Winwood had, but I'm sure there's great stuff that I miss because I just don't hear it.
Blunstone: I feel the same. I've got a theory that most people remain for the most part interested in the music they were listening to in their formative years and I return time and time again to the music that was important to me in my teens and twenties. But I do hear good young players, it's just that i'm not very informed with who they are. I went to the gym today…
Argent: Good man!
Blunstone: And they were playing some good music but how do I know what it is? I have no idea what it is but I think there are some good young players, especially singer-songwriters. But I never know enough about them to know who they are or their background.
Argent: The fact that you can get things sounding so good so quickly now in the sense you can download a drum loop that sounds like a great groove, slap a bass on it and sample something over the top of it and you've almost got a record. In fact a lot of hit records I hear sound like they were made that way. When we started you had to have a great structure for a song, that's the only way it would work, and I miss the structure of songs in a lot of what I hear now.
It seems almost too easy now sometimes.
Argent: Yeah and in the old days you had to be able to sing in tune to make a harmony sound good; you had to be able to construct something unusual to make a song really good and in the end that has a more honest effect on me. I'm sure there are people that still do that but so much of what goes on just seems so instant and doesn't really last as well to my ears anyway.
Final question: Have either of you ever heard of Rob Zombie?
Argent: Yeah! I can't relate to any of the material off the top of my head but yeah I've certainly heard of Rob Zombie.
Blunstone: I have, too.
Jonah Bayer has also heard of Rob Zombie. He's on Twitter.