October , 2011
By Vinny Cecolini
Decades Later, The Zombies Come Alive
JAM Magazine Interviews Founder Rod Argent
Promo Photo Courtesy of The Zombies Facebook
Do you want to feel old? The Zombies, who recorded such ‘60s classics as "She's Not There," "Tell Her No" and "Time of the Season," are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their first rehearsal. To mark this momentous occasion, the band, which features founding members Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone, are touring in support of a new album, Breathe Out, Breathe In.
Reaching such a milestone is quite a feat for the legendary band that actually split two years before achieving their biggest success. Soon after recording what would be considered The Zombies' masterpiece, 1967's Odyssey and Oracle, the band's members, overwhelmed with financial strife, went their separate ways. In '69, after Blunstone began a solo career and Argent moved on to the hard rock band that bore his name, The Zombies' "She's Not There" reached the top of the U.S. singles charts.
It wasn't until more than 30 years later, in 2000, however, that Argent, who'd become disillusioned with touring, reluctantly agreed to play a handful of gigs with Blunstone. The duo began using The Zombies moniker in 2004 and even toured with original members Hugh Grundy and Chris White to celebrate Odyssey and Oracle's 40th anniversary.
Recorded in Argent's own Red House Studios, Breathe Out, Breathe In was recorded by the current Zombie line-up, which also features guitarist Tom Toomey, long-time Kinks bassist Jim Rodford and his son, drummer Steve Rodford.
The phone rings at the exact second the interview with Rod Argent is scheduled to begin. The phone's caller id reads "Rod Zombie," an irony not lost on The Zombies and Argent legend.
"It's the name on my Skype account," the legend laughs.
* Photo Courtesy The Zombie Facebook: Colin Blunstone & Rod Argent Press Shots 2011
JAM: Fifty years! Seriously Rod, we are talking about a band celebrating their Golden Anniversary.
Rod Argent - If anyone would have said during The Zombies' first rehearsal in 1961 that I would be having this conversation now, it would have seemed crazy talk at the time. In some ways it feels like a lifetime ago we started this adventure. In other ways, it doesn't feel like a long time at all.
JAM: Ironically, The Zombies split in ‘67, before having the chance to experience their biggest U.S. hit, "Time of the Season."
The Zombies had a couple of big single hits before we split: "She's Not There" and "Tell Her No." We actually recorded "Time of the Season" in 1967, but it was two years before it topped the U.S. charts. I've always been a glass half full person rather than a glass half empty. I look forward and not backwards. It never bothered me that we didn't stay together. Colin is a little bit the other way. Our split still bugs him. The reasons why we split were financial and not personal. Bassist Chris White and I were comfortable because we were writers. The other guys were not making enough money, so we split.
JAM: By 1969, when "Time of the Season" reached the top of the U.S. singles chart, you had already moved on to Argent.
I was in New York City with Chris working on a production deal for Argent when "Time of the Season" went to number one. Scoring a big hit felt like a bonus. Chris and I were given the opportunity to produce Colin's first solo album, One Year, which was a big hit in Europe. He had a huge single with the Denny Laine penned song, "Say You Don't Mind." Speaking of Argent, the band's biggest hit was obviously, "Hold Your Head Up." Did you know it has a connection to The Zombies? Most people think I wrote that song, but it was actually written by Chris.
JAM: Wasn't Chris White also a member of Argent?
He didn't play in Argent, but he was a sort-of sign up member. He used to co-write and co-produce many of the band's songs. We put both of our names on everything. I had a hand in the song's arrangement, but otherwise "Hold Your Head Up" was completely a Chris White song.
JAM: So, if you had the chance to go back to 1967 and speak with your younger self, you wouldn't change a thing?
If someone had told us while recording our last record that we would have a hard 18 months before we had a hit single, we would have stayed together. I understood why Colin wanted to leave. Our guitarist, Paul Atkinson, had just gotten married to an American choreographer, so he had to move on as well.
JAM: It's now been the better part of a decade since you reunited The Zombies with Colin Blunstone.
Colin and I got back together in 2000 by accident. We did six gigs and found it to be a blast. We were having so much fun, and there was such energy on stage, that those few gigs turned into 11 years of recording and touring around the world.
JAM: Why didn't you and Colin wait until 2004 to call your group The Zombies?
We thought it would have felt liking looking back and doing nothing else, so that's why initially, we resisted using the name. Once we started to write again and develop different things with our stage act, it felt fantastic to explore The Zombies' catalogue. There were a number of songs we had never played in concert before, so it felt like an unfolding.
JAM: Too many reunited bands fail to recapture their old sounds. Breathe Out, Breath In's ten songs fit comfortably within The Zombie's back catalogue.
We were not trying to recreate anything. We were just being natural. I am very pleased that there are so many old resonances of The Zombies' sound on the new record. Many of our past characteristics, though this album was made today, are on there. After playing Odyssey and Oracle on tour, it struck me that the way we used to explore harmonies was something we needed to get into again. I also thought that we should record new material with the same approach we used while recording the old stuff. When I wrote "She's Not There," I wrote the drums and bass parts at the same time as the rest of the song. We did not work those parts out during rehearsals. I decided to do the same thing for the songs on the new album. We were just trying to get excited about new musical ideas and following them through to their conclusions to make the new material work
JAM: From the many positive reviews Breath Out, Breathe In has received, The Zombies achieved what they set out to do.
Not everyone will get it, but I am gratified by the number of positive reviews in the U.K. and especially in the States.
JAM: Now all you have to do is get the word out that The Zombies have released a great new record.
That process can be quite frustrating. When I was a part of Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band in 2006, Ringo would say, "It is driving me mad. I had so many solo hits after The Beatles finished, but now, it doesn't matter how good the new albums are, the oldies stations will only play my old stuff. The new music stations won't play me because they consider me an oldies act. I'm really falling in-between the cracks."
JAM: Billy Joel, who considers The Zombies an influence, is one of the classic rock artists who no longer records new music.
That's sad. But it is a nightmare trying to get people to hear the new stuff. It's not the public who are ageists, but the radio programmers. The first time I toured the States with Argent, FM radio was just happening. Radio could not have been more vital to an artist, yet play lists hardly existed. Disc jockeys were making their own choices. If they got excited about something, they'd play an entire album. Did that result in falling listener figures? No, it didn't. Now, everything is so strictly controlled and categorized by a few people that radio has gone into this downward spiral.
JAM: Why did you decide to rerecord a few songs for the new album?
Technically there are three remakes on the record - "Any Other Way", "Shine on Sunshine" and "Christmas for the Free." Colin wrote and recorded "Any Other Way" for his last solo record, (2009's The Ghost of You and Me), but he did his version with strings. We introduced the song to our stage act more than two years ago. We had always intended to record the tune because it was always a band song first. I always felt that "Shine on Sunshine" was half-written and I wanted to revisit it. I completely rewrote the middle section, rewrote half of the lyrics and changed some of chord sequences. I believe that I've finally brought the song to where it should be. "Christmas for the Free" is very similar to the Argent version, but I always wanted to revisit it with Colin singing.
JAM: "Christmas of the Free" needs to be released for the holiday season.
The Argent version was released as a single, but after Christmas!
JAM: How has touring changed throughout your career?
After Argent split in '75, I didn't tour again until 2000. I remained heavily involved in music - producing artists and writing scores for television - but I didn't get back out on the road for 25 years. During Argent's last U.S. tour, there was such bad organization that we ended up losing money. It was such an enormous hassle to get on stage in those days. For instance, we had to carry our own P.A. system with us. It was a massive operation. The music seemed secondary to everything. When Colin suggested we get together for a few gigs, I told him, "I don't think I can do that again." Jim Rodford, who was Argent's original bassist and also played bass in The Kinks for 20 years, said to me, "It's not like that now. Technically, it's much easier." He was right. I could not believe how much it had changed.
JAM: Didn't Argent vocalist Russ Ballard also have an issue with the lighting?
No. The reason Russ always wore dark glasses was because he's blind in one eye. He had an accident when he was 13 years old. A stick put his eye out.
JAM: What did you think of Nick Cave and Neko Case's version of "She's Not There," which was featured on the season four premieres of HBO's True Blood?
I love it. It was different. It was very much their take on it. And I just loved the mood of it. And the episode was entitled "She's Not There."
JAM: The music of The Zombies and Argent has been featured in a number of movies and television shows. I hope you've been properly paid.
I've always had a very good music publisher, which has been the saving grace throughout my entire career.