Interview: Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent of the Zombies

By on Monday, 23rd May 2011 at 12:00 pm
 

“You’ve just got to live in that moment in time. Everything we’ve ever done has led us to this point here talking to you,” explains Rod Argent. It’s not a bad point to have come to. TGTF is joined by Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone of iconic St. Albans rock band the Zombies in the top floor restaurant and bar of a central London hotel.

Sat, relaxedly sipping from their porcelain tea cups, it’s only Rod’s ever flamboyant hairdo and leather jacket that really notes the duo as rock stars, past and present. It’s their undeniable graces and passion for their art that demonstrates their credentials far better than an image might. The pair spend most of their time both reflecting and talking about their current plans, all in a really rather cheerful manner. Of course, they have plenty reason to be in good spirits. “It took us really by surprise,” recalls Colin, “it suddenly dawned on me that our first rehearsal was in 1961, which was 50 years ago”.
“And we’d been talking about making a new album anyway, and this was too good an opportunity to miss doing,” adds Rod.

This happy coincidence will see the Zombies play to thousands of people across the world, starting in May and going on through the year. With a UK tour planned for May, the band are ready to get jet-setting. “We finish off our UK tour at Shepherds Bush Empire so I’m sure that will be a special party, especially as two of the original band will be joining us on stage for some of that.” Colin seems genuinely excited about the prospect this, as does Rod. “We start in Greece at the beginning of May, then there’s the UK tour. Over to Japan, America, Europe and back to the UK for November.” Plenty of air miles for the travelling six-piece.

Now, TGTF doesn’t mean to poke at age restraint, but when you look at a recent Bob Dylan tour, you see something not too short of monotony and the downfall of one of music’s great minds. Many are, possibly rightfully so, suggesting that the man should retire into his wealth and leave a legacy that won’t trail off. The Zombies, however, show no signs of slowing of late. Having all but split in 1968, followed by a series smaller shows in the Nineties, they got back together in late 2000 for “what was originally only meant to be six concerts. We both enjoyed it so much, and had such an incredible response from the crowd that we simply thought ‘Why not keep going?’ and so we did. It’s turned into 11 years of being a touring band. It’s been a huge surprise!”

Their split in the ’60s, they both explain, was “nothing to do with acrimony, but simply a combination of circumstances. We all retained respect and friendship for each other”. Today’s incarnation of the band appears to be a group formed through mutual musical respect as both Colin and Rod have worked on and even produced each other’s solo works through the years – something maybe today’s bands can learn. It must be hoped that upon Kele Okereke and company’s return from solo projects that Bloc Party will retain their personal harmonies as well as the Zombies appear to be doing.

On stage, the Zombies remain the melody makers, and it seems that as long as they keep their energy, the crowds will too, especially as the new generation of Zombies fans has come through.  “We played a show in France last year in a rammed club to an average age of about 25,” Rod tells me. “I came off stage and turned to Colin and said ‘Do you realise we’ve played a very similar set to one we played 40 years ago, to the same aged audience?’ I can’t differentiate the difference on stage from when I was 18. It’s such a privilege and huge amount of energy coming from the audience.”

Revitalised by this new found live energy not present since many of the new crowds’ parents were coming to Zombies shows, you’d be forgiven for thinking they could be a set of mad, partying, fighting, boozing rock stars. “Don’t believe the rumours,” Rod jokes, “before a show, Colin might have one or two drinks and become quite chatty. I always just want to fall asleep! It must be my nervous reaction”.

“In America recently, about half an hour before we went on stage, the promoter burst in to the backstage with about ten of his friends,” laughs Colin, “and I think he was expecting some sort of party or orgy or something. Three of us were reading, and the other three were asleep!”

Off stage then, it’s the quiet life for the band, but why the sudden change in audiences for the band? “I think one of the reasons so many young people are coming down to our shows is due to many contemporary artists saying kind things about us,” Rod suggests, “not that we don’t get older people at our shows, of course we do.”

Amongst those citing the Zombies as an influence are Foo Fighter Dave Grohl, who once told the BBC that ‘Odyssey and Oracle’, the Zombies most critically acclaimed album from 1968, is his favourite record of all time. He’s not the only one either.  Belle and Sebastian, OK Go and Dinosaur Jr. have all referenced and covered Zombies tracks over the years, keeping a fresh sound on their hits. Even the Vaccines’ Justin Young was recently quoted on saying that his favourite track of all time is a Zombies track (‘This Will Be Our Year’, to be precise).

On the Zombies’ playlists though, there’s not much in the way of new music though. “Personally, I don’t listen to nearly as many artists as I did when I was 18, because when you’re that age, it’s all around you. The young bands I’ve come across lately…” Rod pauses for thought: “The Killers and Kings of Leon. They’re the two that immediately come to mind.”

“I usually just revert to my old favourites actually. There’s a guy called Christian Phillips who’s the writer for a band called The Sonic Executive who’ve written a sublime album. But I mostly listen to the likes of Joni Mitchell and James Taylor,” adds Colin.

“My classics are usually just people like Ray Charles and the old blues singers. I’ve always thought the Beatles have wonderfully structured songs,” Rod mentions. “Oh, and I bought a Cream retrospective the other day too.” It’s hardly surprising really. Ask most people over the age of fifty to name some new artists they like and you probably wouldn’t get much further than Adele and Coldplay, not that TGTF isn’t fond of a bit of either.

So having come so far in the last 50 years, has all of this meant that the Zombies’ new album will sound different? “Lyrically, it’s about where we are now. ‘Breathe Out, Breathe In’, the lead single, is about a magical evening when my wife and I went out to this gorgeous pub near a lake and saw a band. The song’s about how it’s generally great to be alive in the moment. The trigger points are usually recent events,” Rod explains. “And ‘A Moment in Time’ (live video below) is based around a Laurie Lee book called As I Walked Out, which is one of my favourite books. We were travelling through many of the places he’d written about in the book, so that’s what that’s about”.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aevHjdxNuLE[/youtube]

The similar format of going about recordings suits the band just fine but Rod and Colin had a strict regime when deciding how to go about the ten tracks on ‘Breathe Out, Breathe In’. “I had in my head a set brief. I wanted the songs to have a strong rhythmic feel and to be organic to the point of reflecting how we all play on stage. I think we can play almost everything on the album live. I also wanted to explore harmonies like we used to.

“Radio play is so important to bands, so I just wanted everything to be concise. If it had potential to be on radio, it had to be concise,” Colin cautiously mentions. “The structure was the most important, as it always has been,” Rod finishes.

Our time has been brief, yet the Zombies’ 50 years in music have made sure they’ve said everything and more. We exchange our goodbyes and TGTF’s time with the Sixties icons is over.

‘Breathe Out, Breathe In’, the new album from the Zombies, is available now.

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2 Responses

7:57 pm
23rd May 2011

brilliant album,bought the night you played frome,i thought you were absolutly great and i really enjoyed the show..

[…] before their set. I was just too nervous to approach any of them; I doubted they remembered the interview two of them had with Braden in London a couple years ago. Sadly, this excitement was misplaced, I was entirely underwhelmed by the Zombies’ set. […]

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

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