Photo credit: Rick Rodney
When Zig Zags vocalist/guitarist Jed Maheu hands us a copy of this band’s new purposely-misspelled single, “Brainded Warrior” b/w “So Stoned,” we feel like we’re holding a piece of trailer park Americana circa 1985. The cover, drawn by Keenan Marshall Keller, is the kind of dirtbag sci-fi tableau you’d see carved into a desk in Social Studies class or scrawled in red Sharpie on a beat-up Trapper Keeper: A shirtless Heavy Metal-style goon with long hair, a skeleton face and Kerry King shades, grinning and holding a bloody mace while leaky nuclear reactors pump poisonous red smoke across the background. The image sums up Zig Zags’ aesthetic nicely: Part metal, part punk, part high-school acid flashback. “It’s like the Spinal Tap thing about the fine line between smart and stupid,” Maheu explains. “We want our shit to be fucking retarded, but we want it to be retarded on purpose. There’s a thought process behind how stupid it is.”
After cranking out six seven-inch singles (including one with Iggy Pop on vocals) since forming 2010, the L.A. trio—rounded out by drummer Bobby Martin and bassist Patrick McCarthy—are releasing their self-titled debut full-length on In The Red, the same label that brought you Jay Reatard and Ty Segall’s Fuzz. In fact, Segall produced Zig Zags for your listening pleasure. Noisey recently invited Maheu and Martin over for beers and chitchat. McCarthy was out of town, so we talked shit on him. We also have the premiere of the new video for "So Stoned" below.
Why did you name yourselves after rolling papers?
Jed Maheu: [Laughs] We didn’t actually name ourselves after rolling papers. We named ourselves after those canvas shoes, they call them “winos,” that you can buy at the Army-Navy store for like fifteen bucks. They’re these cheap Chinese shoes, kinda like a knockoff of Vans slip-ons, and they’re called Zig Zags. They also call them “winos” because they’re cheapest shoes you can buy, so winos wear them. They last for about three months and then you just buy new ones. Bobby and I were both rocking those for a long time, so that’s how we decided on the name. But we quickly realized that we were the only people who associated the band name with something other than rolling papers. So now we’re a stoner band. And we wear Converse.
What was the runner-up name?
Bobby Martin: I can’t remember what it was. I know we each wrote down a list, though.
Jed: Was it Rat Milk? That might’ve just been a song that never got made. I remember Liquid Stone was a possibility at one point. [Laughs]
That’s some Blues Hammer shit.
Jed: Exactly. At first we wanted to call the band Stone, after this biker movie from Australia. It’s a great fuckin’ movie. But of course Stone was taken by some band from the 70s or something. So then it became Liquid Stone, but that was way too bluesy sounding.
You’ve said that seeing a photo of Cliff Burton wearing a Misfits shirt was a big moment for you, musically-speaking, when you were a kid.
Jed: Totally—that was how I learned about the Misfits. But more so than specific music, it’s imagery that influences us. We both grew up in non-urban places—Bobby in Maine, me in a fucked up cow town in Eastern Washington. To me, what was way more influential than seeing a rad band was the weird dude who lived in a trailer down the street, you know? The local shirtless dude who would be hanging out jamming Def Leppard in his car. Like, what was that guy’s story? To me, that was way more relevant than, like, Johnny Thunders or someone like that, because I didn’t know who Johnny Thunders was. I wanted to grow up and be like Randy, the dude who lives down the street. That stuff is way more important than any band we can point to.
Bobby: Those people are always the more authentic characters. My stepfather was kinda like that. He was a Hells Angel, and he brought all the Hells Angels to our house when he married my mom. I got to see a lot of shit being around him.
What’s going on in the video for “So Stoned”?
Jed: My girlfriend made our last video for “Scavenger” with found footage from old VHS tapes and random YouTube clips of, like, kids air-guitaring at high school talent shows. For the “So Stoned” video, we wanted to do something similar because it’s kind of a joke song. The lyrics are retarded—we’re saying super-foul, fucked up shit. They’re really awful, horrible lyrics are far as subject matter. So we wanted to put together a video that goes with the lyrics. It’s basically the kind of video you’ll watch when you’re bored at work. Some of the footage is from famous bad YouTube videos. Even if you don’t like the music, it’s the type of thing that people will send to their friends, like “Check out this fucked up video.”
In 2012 you recorded a Betty Davis cover with Iggy Pop on vocals. How does a band that doesn’t even a have an album out end up doing something like that?
Jed: Patrick could probably tell it better than we could, because he works at Light In The Attic Records, who put out that single. Matt, who owns Light In The Attic, was one of the first Zig Zags fans. I think he was even at our first show, when it was just Bobby and I playing as a two-piece. I’m pretty sure he came with Patrick, actually, who ended up in the band. At some point, Matt told us about this singles series he was doing and asked us to do a Betty Davis cover.
Bobby: It was crazy, because at the time Devendra Banhart was gonna do one, Ariel Pink was gonna do one, Mark Lanegan was gonna do one. We were like, “Are you sure you want us?” I’d actually never heard Betty Davis before, but Jed and Patrick had.
Jed: Originally we were gonna sing it ourselves, but we were kinda freaked out about doing that. We didn’t really wanna fuck it up. Then I think they were talking to Keith Morris about singing it.
Bobby: But then Patrick came to practice one day and said that Iggy Pop was gonna do it because he’s a huge Betty Davis fan and he owed Light In The Attic a favor.
Jed: I guess Iggy was supposed to record something else for the label, but it didn’t work out. But they’d paid him already. So when they asked him to do this, he was totally into it. We recorded the music in a studio here in L.A. and then Patrick flew to Miami and sat there while Iggy did the vocals. The funny thing is that he doubled his vocal, and the double was way off. Patrick had to fix it while he was mixing. We were trying so hard to make the music perfect, but Iggy went total freestyle. It came out awesome, though.
Bobby: What’s crazy is that I’d only been playing drums for two years and here we were doing a song with Iggy Pop.
Jed: Yeah. I mean, people can say, “Oh, they got to do that because they knew somebody.” But from our point of view, we weren’t even ready to do that, you know? We were freaked out about it.
Ty Segall recorded your album. Did In The Red hook you up with him, or did you know him beforehand?
Jed: No, I had met Ty years ago at a show. Then he came to one of our shows randomly and talked to us after we played. He said he had just started recording bands at his house and asked if we’d wanna record sometime. So we figured we’d go and record a couple of songs—we didn’t know it would become an album. That all happened way before In The Red came into the picture. Ty was just looking to record bands that he liked. We didn’t even really talk to In The Red until the record was done.
So many bands in L.A. get lost in the shuffle because there’s so much competition. But it seems like being out here has been good for you guys.
Jed: Absolutely. We’ve had so many cool opportunities being out here that we wouldn’t have had in other places. Just the other day we were on a sitcom playing ourselves.
Really? What’s the story there?
Jed: Yeah, there’s a new show coming out on FX in July called You’re The Worst. They needed a band, and the music supervisor was a friend of ours. They were thinking of a few different people—Ty was one, No Age, Best Coast, and us. Basically, they needed a band to get shot at a veteran’s memorial dedication downtown. For whatever reason, they chose us. So this actor playing a city councilman gives a speech and then this other actor playing a crazy war veteran guy gets up there and decides he’s gonna mow down a bunch of people. So we’re up there playing “Brainded Warrior” and he shoots us. So we get killed on the show, which is awesome. That would only happen because we’re an L.A. band.
That must’ve been so much fun.
Jed: Oh, it was great. We had the [fake blood] squibs on us, and we’d never done that before, obviously. They’re getting ready to start the shot, and the director comes over and goes, “It’s gonna take half an hour to rig these up again, so you guys gotta get it right on the first try.” And we’re like, “Dude, we’re not stuntmen! We play in a band.” But we did it and everyone loved it. The funny thing is, if I was a kid and saw a band that I liked on a TV sitcom, I’d be like, “Those guys fucking suck. Who’d they screw to get on that show?” I think that’s a totally fine assumption, and partly true. But at the same time, we just got an email, you know?
J. Bennet is also not named after rolling papers.