Interview: The Zolas navigate through the 21st century on new album, Swooner
It’s an interesting time to be alive as a millennial. We’ve witnessed, first hand, the warp-speed rise of the Internet. We’ve experienced life before it was entirely intertwined with technology, when you rented movies at Rogers and cellphones were bulky things used only when you had enough minutes. Now, as twenty- and early thirty-somethings, we live, work, and play in a world where you can read about disease and climate change on your smartphone. Where significant progresses are being made in regards to racial, sexual, and gender equality; where the prospect of Donald Trump becoming the President of the United States is a frightening reality.
How millennials steer through this atmosphere is exactly what Vancouver band The Zolas discuss on their newly released album, Swooner. “I just feel like it’s a pretty proportional cross-section of the kind of late night talks that people our age are having in 2016,” says lead vocalist and guitarist Zach Gray.
Gender politics and environmentalism are just a handful of the topics they address on their third studio record, but let’s be clear — Swooner is not a political commentary.
“It’s just an album about feelings, it’s an album about the way we live our lives in a political time,” Gray explains. “It’s way more about emotions, about situations… Also, trying to be optimistic when there’s so much to be pessimistic about. We’re the first generation to have a legitimate belief that we might live to see the sort of breakdown of civilization. It’s fucked up — it’s a very science-fictiony time to live in. And at the same time, we can have the most fun and [it’s] the most freeing time to live where we are. We can fly anywhere we want, we have limitless contact with friends and with information, the world has never been more open for people living in free countries, for people living in rich countries, like us. But at the same time, there’s the other side of the coin — ‘oh yeah, but it could all completely collapse.’”
This position is reflected sonically in Swooner, with The Zolas moving away from both the cabaret rock of 2009’s Tic Toc Tic and the spacey minimalism of 2012’s Ancient Mars and into a more experimental, electronic pop territory that blends (appropriately) their past with their present.
“A lot of the songs, we wanted to see if we could combine sort of heavier guitars of ’90s alt-rock with the other thing that was happening at the exact same time in the ’90s, which was electro-pop explosion,” Gray maintains, laughing as he adds, “There’s one song, when we were making it, we were like, ‘lets try to make this sound somewhere between Smashing Pumpkins and C&C Music Factory.’” Kanye West’s Yeezus, with its acid house-production, served as a large source of inspiration, as well.
Gray also calls Swooner the band’s best lyrically, to date. “A lot of the time when people hear that you’re making a poppier album, they also think that it’s going to be emptier,” he says. “This album is exactly in contrast to that.”
Much of this musical shift, perhaps, has to do with the change within the band’s inner workings. Swooner is the first release that Gray and other original member, keyboardist Tom Dobrzanski, have made with new and permanent lineup additions Dwight Abell (bass) and Cody Hiles (drums). Like Gray and Dobrzanski, Abell and Hiles have played music together since they were kids. The dynamic between the four, consequently, is a natural one. “There’s a lot of collective music between us in total,” Gray says, “and sort of combining those two units has been really easy, ‘cuz they have their own language and we have our own language and together — we got lucky.”
Art often reflects our interpretation of the world around us and, so it seems, the older we get, the more in tune we become with the things that comprise our realities. Swooner, Gray admits, is the first album from The Zolas that isn’t largely about lost love — this time, with this reality, at this age, there was a lot more than heartbreak that they wanted to talk about.
“There’s more to get behind right now,” he says. “I think there was a time where it was hard to know what we want and what we didn’t want and I think, even for younger people, it’s becoming pretty obvious what we need in the 21st century and what we need to drop from the 20th century. And that’s what’s so fun about living in the beginning of a century is you get to analyze that. It becomes a little clearer.”
When: March 30, 2016
Where: Marquee Beer Market and Stage – 4630 MacLeod Trail S, Calgary
Tickets: Available online