Zolas Feel the Music

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Photos by Steve Bays

Moving forward with their sound, the Zolas really shook things up when their latest album Swooner shifted to more pop and dance frontiers. The Vancouver duo became a four-piece, allowing them to dive back into real rhythm-infused music and evolved deeply in the process, on more than just a simple aesthetic level. Talking to member Zachary Gray before their set at the Tim Hortons Dragon Boat Festival on June 23 he discussed the shift in pop music, having a personal studio and why Tame Impala guided them forward.

Ottawa Life: How do you find your time writing pop with people like Carly Rae Jepsen has fed back into your writing with the band?

Zachary Gray: It's really cool that people think that this record sounds poppier than previous ones. We've always been trying to be pop-y and just never got it right before. The collaborations with people like Carly are almost more of a bi-product of that, finally getting better at writing pop songs. You don't really have control over what comes to you. Sometimes you'll get an idea that really suits what you want to sound like and sometimes it's totally unlike anything you'd want to put out. But you don't want those ideas to go to waste. They all go into folders. Carly is a friend from way back, and she's got one of the best voices of anyone I know so she was the perfect person to sing my song.

What was the inspiration and concept behind the more dance, synth and arpeggiator sound of the latest record?

A little while ago we went to see Tame Impala as a band. That album for a lot of people was sort of like the Kid A of this decade, where no one had really heard sonically what he was doing with Currents. It got a lot of people going towards a blend of raw music played with a corona of pop instruments. It gave us all license to go even harder on that. That idea has been floating around for a long time, and we have our own voice unlike anyone else's so when we go for it, it sounds like us.

Why did you decide to record your latest record at Tom's studio and what did it offer you guys that other studios wouldn't?

I don't know where I'd want to record in Vancouver other than Tom's. Pound for pound it's the best studio in the city. For what you pay it's such a great deal, and we paid less than that because he's in our band. It's our home base. One day we'll do a destination recording project, rent a big house and write it there. But for now in Vancouver it's our headquarters. It's just a really sexy space, you can put long hours in there without feeling like a sewer rat.

What was it like to get to be the christening band for Vancouver's Railway Club's reopening?

We played the Railway years ago and this gig just felt exactly the same. It used to be a relic of a bygone unionist era. It still feels like that but it's the idealistic, Disney version of the Railway Club, much cleaner, more space, all the logical inconsistencies that it had are gone but it feels the same. The green room is the one thing they didn't touch which sounds about right.

What did Dwight and Cody bring to the recording process?

This was the first time we got to write with other band members who were in the band. It was usually just us as a duo and we'd hire whichever of our friends we wanted. This was the beginning of the band as we know it because we're now a four-piece band. It came at just the right time. I feel like music is shifting into a new era where it moved away from chord progressions. The switch is to rhythm, percussion and feel, you see that in bands like Radiohead who made the switch, and their music seems written off of a beat. We were never able to do that. We wrote songs backwards for us thanks to having a drummer and putting melody on that. It's nice to know what your band sounds like, they came with a sound of their own, playing together since 14. They've influenced the band so much, we're writing new stuff now and their influence is so clear.

Why did you decide to limit yourselves to five elements at a time on this record?

It's not an esoteric, creativity drill. It's just all the best songs that I've ever loved, essentially only have five components. If you add more, you lose texture in what you already have. When we started writing music, if a guitar doesn't sound good we'd just add another one. If you do that enough it does the opposite of what you want and makes them sound smaller. When we write we perceive space and size through texture. Any catchy song is highly textured, and left alone, without much else sharing that frequency range. If you can't make a song sound good with five elements then it's not a good song yet.

With you on the road and an album a ways behind you, what can we expect next?

Right after we get back from this gig in Ottawa, we're recording. Because of Tom's studio we have the luxury of dipping in and out when we have songs. We're starting to record already, we have two already and this will be another two. I'm curious as to how it will turn out as it doesn't follow the same trajectory that our last album took from the one before it.