ZÜÜL: Street metal

Group_LPWith their own brand of working man’s heavy metal, ZÜÜL caught the eyes, or should we rather say “ears”, of many heavy metal-fans with their debut “Out Of Time”. Now they’re back with more down to earth, straight up and honest heavy metal. Bobby Lungoat, bass player, songwriter, and as he calls himself “no-talent, shit-faced, fuck up”, is the man answering our questions.

In the past you have done cover versions of lesser known NWOBHM-bands like Crucifixion and Badger. I wouldn’t say they are obscure, if you have some knowledge of the movement, but of course they’re not up there with Maiden and Saxon. Did you want to put the spotlight on some of the lesser known acts, or do you simply think the underdogs made the best music during this period?

– ZÜÜL began many years ago when a couple of us heard a mix tape that someone had compiled a bunch of NWOBHM singles to. We flipped out at how many great songs were on this tape and that we had literally never heard of any of these bands. Great singles by Crucifixion, Virtue, Bashful Alley and more. I couldn’t get enough of listening to this tape. Now I have always loved heavy metal, but mostly the bands and songs that lean toward writing catchy songs with, dare I say, “pop” elements to their songs. This NWOBHM stuff grabbed me by the balls! Great songs that are essentially pop formatted with blistering solos and twin guitar attack. So from the very beginning of ZÜÜL, we were covering lots of these old bands that maybe were around long enough to release something more than one 45 record. I also hold bands like Iron Maiden or Judas Priest in very high esteem and I don’t think that I would be part of any band that could cover songs by the greats and do them any justice. And come on, do we really need another cover of “The Trooper” taking up precious space on vinyl?!? So, yes, ZÜÜL used to do many cover songs in our live set. But now we have a lot more original material to pick and choose from for live shows, so we lean towards the songs that won’t be instantly compared to the originals and critiqued.

Continuing the talk about vinyl singles, I was a bit surprised that out of the two songs on your “Howl Of The Wolf”/”Skullsplitter”-single, only the latter made the new album. Was this an easy decision? Don’t get me wrong, “Skullsplitter” is a very good tune, but “Howl Of The Wolf” is one of my fave ZÜÜL-song ever.

– “Skullsplitter” has been given a make-over from its original 7” version. It is basically the same song, but there have been multiple dynamics added to this newer recording giving it a much bigger sound. When we recorded that 7”, “Skullsplitter” was a very new song to us, so we really didn’t develop it much before we recorded it. And maybe I am biased because I wrote most of it, but “Howl Of The Wolf” is one of my top 3 favorite ZÜÜL songs and I think it stands out great on its own on 1 side of that vinyl. That was a really fun song to write in that it was the first time that Brett and I collaborated on lyrics and melodies. Since then, the two of us, or Brett and Mike, have worked great together on lyrics for the upcoming album’s songs.

On your singles you have gone for black and white covers, while your album artwork, especially the new one is really colourful. Is this something that you do deliberately? If so, why?

– I have never even realized this coincidence until now. This certainly was not intentional. Yes, we want colorful vibrant bad ass heavy metal art for our full length albums, you know, something that pops on a vinyl jackets. For our singles…we definitely wanted the “Air Raid” single to just be logo and info, simple presentation of “this is who we are!” Then our friend Christina Casperson does these great pencil art pieces, so we asked her to do the Howl of the Wolf art. The “Warriors” and Bible of the Devil split 7” were thrown together by us really quick. For the art of the Bible split, I looked to all my punk records and realized to just turn up the contrast and photos and it always looks good, then we tied in the shape of Illinois to represent Bible being from the north and ZÜÜL from the south. It looks cool, we dig it. Now that’s it’s been established by your question, maybe ZÜÜL will stick to this pattern of B&W for singles, full color for full lengths. But what if we do a 10”….maybe total absence of art….

I read in the information which comes with the new promo-CD that you feel the production on “To The Frontlines” represents a step forward. Can you be a bit more specific? What aspects of the production have improved? I have the impression that you don’t want your music too sound overproduced. Where do you draw the line between a good production and something that is overproduced?

– With the way that we record and write our albums, it would be impossible for us to overproduce our sound. We record everything ourselves in the houses we live in with good recording equipment, but we are not capable of that big studio sound. Which is cool with us, cause we don’t want that sound anyway. Like I said, we love that old late 70’s, early 80’s sound, stuff that sounds great on vinyl. So we record things just like we practice them, live and with raw intensity. Sure, we layer up the guitars a bit just to make them distinctive, but you won’t hear any 4 part harmony solos, or find much keyboard or synth sound, because that’s not how we write the songs when we practice. The most important “step forward” with “To The Frontlines” is the pace of the album. “Out of Time” was received and reviewed really well…surprisingly great, to be honest…the only consistent negative comment is that the album basically just kept one time signature and there wasn’t much variation in the songs. “To The Frontlines” is all over the place. We play songs that are faster than anything else we have previously released, as well as songs that are slower. There’s an instrumental on the album, and even some acoustic guitars. So we did it, we rose to the challenge presented by the critics, and it turned out great. I have to admit though, that the next batch of songs we write will take us back to that great driving rock n roll beat.

Presenting demo versions of songs that later end up on full length releases, is something you have done a few times on your singles. Does this document how you work on a song? Do you usually record demo versions which you evaluate and/or change until you get the version you want for the full length-release?

– Since we have all this recording equipment, we pretty much record demos of everything we do. Mike or I will write a couple of riffs….we record it. We listen to it for a week between practices, then we all get together and feel out the parts, maybe we record that too. Or we will play around with riffs for a couple of weeks before we attempt a demo. Once we have a good idea what the “back-bone” of the song will be, we will demo it and give it to Brett to work on lyrics. After a couple months of changing parts around, working on melodies and solos and whatever, we’ll have a song completed, maybe even 2 or 3. That’s how ZÜÜL works. The “demo” stuff that has been released in the past all are significant in their own way, and were never released with the intention of re-releasing the same song over and over again. Band that do that suck. The “Warriors” (demo) was really a last resort for a bonus 7” with the deluxe vinyl edition of “Out of Time.” We all think that recording blows, but I suppose it’s still cool for fans to have. But the album versions of “Warriors”, and “Air Raid” are very different than the singles. Same goes for “Skull Splitter”.

I believe that Chris Black (Pharaoh, Dawnbringer, High Spirits…) helped you a bit with the recording this time. What was his role, and what is he good at that you can’t do yourselves? Did you record everything in a real studio this time, or did you do bits and pieces on home equipment here and there?

– Chris helped us out a bit on this record. He really did much more for “Out of Time.” This time around, he was really just an outside ear telling us what he thought sounded good, bad or what might be lacking in parts of songs. Some of his suggestions were extremely helpful! The man simply just knows what makes a good song! This time around, all of our communication was from phone or emails. On “Out of Time,” we put him on a train from Chicago to where we live and he sat in on the final weekend of recording. Chris is really important to have on our side, because ZÜÜL is really good at starting albums…not so good at finishing them.

“We can’t do it any other way”, you said in an interview when asked about the ZÜÜL-sound. Does this mean that you put most effort in on improving yourselves as musicians and songwriters? Having already found “your sound”, how do you work, trying to avoid repeating yourselves?

– We are very conscious about repeating ourselves. There are a couple of riffs that are used so often in heavy music, that I have been known to throw a red flag on a riff even if it sounds good. Of course it sounds good, that’s why everyone uses it….let’s do something better. That’s our attitude. I wouldn’t say that we strive to be better and better at songwriting and musician talent, we like what we have made, the sound, the vibe, and I am confident that there is still a lot more songs to be written within the ZÜÜL attitude that we have created. We certainly do not sit around saying, “we should do a more Maiden-type songs,” or, “wasn’t cool how Motorhead did this, let’s do that.” Nope! We would just fuck it up.

You are a very active live band. As you tend to go for a natural, live sound on your albums, do you use concerts to get feedback on new material?

– I’ll say no, we do not use concert feedback for serious critique of new material. Mostly because until the song is recorded, we are not that serious about it anyway. We also won’t play anything live that is questionably a good song. We know if it’s a good song within the first two times we practice it. If by chance we do play a rally new one at a concert, it’s just for fun, to mix up the set list a bit. Brett probably won’t even have final lyrics to the song yet, he will just make something up on the spot sometimes. We are a pretty loose outfit, not too uptight about being the tightest band or the most serious. Maybe that’s why we have lasted going on 6 years together. It’s still the original core 5 members and that impresses the hell out of me.

Talking about concerts, you have done a few with bands like High Spirits and Bible of the Devil. Apart from the fact that some of you are involved in the lineup the former use for concerts, do you feel that these are acts that you have something in common with, both musically and mentally?

– Yes, we have a kinship with bands like Bible of the Devil, or High Spirits, or any other underground metal band that makes things happen for ourselves. Although these three specific bands are only acknowledged in the heavy metal world, all three of our bands are very rock n roll based with minimal emphasis on being a “heavy metal” band. Especially ZÜÜL and Bible…take us back to the late 70s when rock was ROCK! We have a great time with those dudes.

There was talk of some dates in Europe with Bible Of The Devil this autumn, why didn’t this happen? Is it possible at all for a relatively small band like ZÜÜL to do small tours over here, or do you have to hope for offers from festivals like Keep It True, Headbangers Open Air and Metal Assault?

– The tour failed for a couple of reasons. Number 1 being that ZÜÜL did not complete “To The Frontlines” early enough to receive proper promotion and garner up interest. Besides that, we had a few promoters say they would help us out and then left us hanging; our plan for a 9 seat van fell through a month before the tour was to begin; and we had a couple too many off dates that we could not get shows booked. There were a bunch of great people that did help us out and went way out of their way to bring our bands to places like Athens, Hamburg, Rome, etc. It would have been a great tour, hopefully we can do it early summer next year. Any festival offers would be great! But a small club tour would be just as exciting.

I read somewhere that you said that you already “feel way bigger than we deserve”… To me this sounds a bit defensive, does it tell something about the ambitions of ZÜÜL?

– Yeah, I don’t know why I said that. We should be way bigger. And we deserve it. Haha just kidding….rock out!

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