Your last album Shape Shift was the first time since Surface to Air (2006) that you and Anthony [Paterra] have made together that was actually recorded in the same room, was that the process this time around?
Yeah, we weren’t able to write too much of this stuff together in the same room just because we live pretty far apart – I live in Albany, NY and he lives in Pittsburgh, PA, it’s pretty far to drive – but we actually started coming up with some of the ideas when we were rehearsing for some tours we did a few years ago so there was a little bit of actual back and forth communications. But a lot of this album was generated more by, like, I would come up with a riff and email it to him and he’d write some drums to go with it and just build it back and forth like that.
In terms of the timeline, was that quite a steady process over that period or was there a motivating factor leading up to this year, in terms of getting it together for release?
I mean the whole idea was we missed being just an active band, you know? We had a whole tour lined up for October. Originally the album was gonna come out in October and we were going to do a tour but of course all those plans have been cancelled and we’ve had to try to figure out a different way to approach releasing this record. We wrote this record because we wanted to get back out there. It doesn’t look like that’s going to be happening any time soon, but that is still our goal to take this stuff on the road at some point.
In terms of the overall sound, you mentioned when Shape Shift came out [this is cited in the Relapse artist profile] that “There are no techno jams or symphonic prog fantasies. No solo track interludes. It’s dark and heavy. Live drums on every song and lots of bass guitar. We have officially moved from ‘studio project’ mode back into ‘live band’ mode.” Do you feel like even without that same setup 2020 was moving in this direction?
It was definitely to be a more visceral album, you know, it’s heavier I think than albums we’ve done before. We had big plans for playing live. We were gonna add two more people to the band and perform all of this stuff. It was gonna be great.
There’s a lot going on thematically on this album. One of the main things that stood out to me was the fact that you have a track on that called “XYZT” after the Kristen Alvanson Novel of the same name – I’m curious about the story there because that was quite a striking thing because that’s a very recent publication from Urbanomic.
Yeah, I mean first of all it’s a terrific book, it’s a really very interesting book – I really enjoyed it. But I found out about the book because Kristen had actually reached out to me mentioning that one of the characters is a fan of Zombi and she’s listening to Zombi at different points in the book. She just wanted to clear with me that it was alright for the band to be mentioned in the book. And of course I was like “I think that’s absolutely great – please send me a copy when it’s finished”. And so she sent me a copy and I read it and loved it. So that’s sort of a nod back to Kristen.Plus the book was just really cool, and the whole concept of it just really fits in with the dark sci-fi elements we play with, you know?
Picking up on the sci-fi themes, are there any other specific allusions that were to something that specific? I’m thinking in particular about “Earthscraper”, was that specifically a nod to hypothetical architecture?
Yeah, I think what I liked about it was that you can, if you want to, just Google what and earthscraper is. I think the idea of a reverse skyscraper being a very interesting idea. But also it’s just a very heavy plodding song and the idea was that maybe an earthscraper is just a big backhoe that’s just digging earth, you know? We like to come up with titles that don’t lead you too specifically in any direction – something that’s open ended because we don’t want to impose what we think this music means on you because it might mean a completely totally different thing, so we intentionally go for titles that are a little more conceptual
I think all of this definitely gives the sense of something without pinning down to a particular narrative. The word Ballardian, I guess, was the thing that I drew a lot from this. Like how you’ve got a track called “Fifth Point of the Pentangle” immediately followed by one called “Family Man” – it has that very JG Ballard sense of science fiction of the suburbs.
I mean everything is strange these days really. But yeah, “Fifth Point of the Pentangle”, I can’t even remember the movie that that’s a reference to. Tony came up with that title; some old Canon action film from the 80s – I’m going to have to find out from him what that movie was. With “Family Man”, there are so many bands and artists that have songs called “Family Man” it’s a very common song title, we just thought it would be fun to throw our idea of what “Family Man” might be into the ring
In terms of overall structure of the album you mention it being a number of things coming together, was there any point or track that you came up with where you felt set the overall form that it would eventually take?
The first song that we started putting together for the album is the first song, “Breakthrough and Conquer”, which we put together in a way that song is a lot like a song that would have been on Shape Shift. In a way that’s the song that kind of ties back to the last album, with us playing along to pre-sequenced synthesisers, stuff like that. Shape Shift was all about us trying to maximise what we can create with just the two of us. So we have synthesisers sequenced in the background that we play bass and drums over the top of. But for this record we wanted it to be just more of a manual thing where nothing is pre-recorded, nothing is sequenced, everything is being performed and it’s all a little bit more riff-based
I would say “Earthscraper” was that track. When we started writing that one it just felt really good to be doing something a little slower, a little heavier, and so once that one started coming together the rest of the songs kind of fell into place because that spong generated a lot of ideas for me just for other ways that we could make music as Zombi, because we don’t want to make the same record twice. We like every album to be a little bit different than what we’ve done before so it’s just a natural thing for us.
And do you feel there is any particular thing that you felt changed between Shape Shift and this album, aside from obviously the practicalities of composition? I’m just thinking in terms of other projects you’ve worked with whether anything that’s developed in that has carried through to this.
Actually that has totally happened. Last year I scored a couple movies, both by the director Joe Beegis – one’s called Bliss and the other one’s called VFW. When we were putting those scores together there’s a lot of really heavy metal music in the movie, so we were talking about how to make my score heavier to match the theme of the soundtrack, so [they would] mesh well together, and I ended up using a lot of guitar on those scores and I hadn’t played much guitar for a while and I really enjoyed it, had a lot of fun. So a lot of the stuff on the new Zombi record was written on guitar, which is a new thing for us.
As a general point of curiosity, even in the last five years, we’ve seen a very interesting development in the blurring or fading distinction between the soundtrack and the album. And this isn’t a totally new idea, but we’ve seen a proliferation of interesting stuff done ads hypothetical soundtracks to things. Do you feel that’s something that’s opened up ideas about where your own music might go?
If anything I would say that if you’d have told me twenty years ago when Tony and I started playing that horror movie soundtracks would be fashionable some day, I would have not believed you at all. So in a way I’d say that the music Zombi makes is almost like a reaction against what we perceive to be the trend of the day but, you know, in 2001 there weren’t really too many bands out there playing hypothetical horror movie scores so it was something that we thought would be different and fun however now that there is a proliferation of hypothetical horror film score composers I find that I want to do something totally different – it’s like the game has gotten a little crowded. For me it’s something I’ve been into for so long that I just don’t have the same fire – the fiery love that I had for horror movies when I was twenty. And I see young people doing it today and I think that’s absolutely great but I’m in a different place now.
The artwork for 2020 is quite distinctive – was that picked by the band or done in collaboration with anyone?
Yeah, it’s a great photo. It’s actually a good friend of ours is a photographer and he posted that photo a couple of years ago on Instagram and I just fell in love with it and messaged him immediately and just said, like “hey man, I need to use this as an album cover at some point for something” and he was like “Oh, absolutely, sure” and I felt like, I don’t know, when we were putting the music together I just kept thinking about that photo and I just thought that it’s really very provocative but without demanding that you feel a certain way about the album. It’s very open-ended, like we like to be with our song titles. But yeah that’s our friend Curt Gettman, he lives in Austin, he’s a photographer. And Jacob from Relapse did the actual layout.
Who actually came up with the title 2020, or was it just a mutual feeling, like, this was apt?
We actually came up with the title, we had the title and everything set before the outbreak – we just thought 2020’s just such an iconic sounding year, and the whole idea; 2020 was supposed to be the future, you know? And it is kind of the future, so we thought that it has both that sci-fi, scientific element but also now it’s just, the year 2020 is gonna be an infamous year so it kind of changes it in a way. I had someone comment on I think Instagram or something, someone mentioned 2020’s probably the most post-apocalyptic album title you could come up with. 2020 has become very dystopian so it all fits, I think.
2020 is available here
Photo credit: Matt Dayak