zebrahead hysteria

ZEBRAHEAD // Keeping Punk-Rap Alive

Coming through from California, Ali Tabatabaee fills us in on his writing process for the new Zebrahead album Brain Invaders.

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On their thirteenth studio album, five-piece USA punks are preparing to head downunder for their first Australian headline tour this April. Discussion on the album’s writing processes, guest appearances from Reel Big Fish and chats about music festivals were carried out. With a touch of Ska, a little more rap, and a more free creative environment, Brain Invaders was born.

In anticipation for the Zebrahead Australian tour in April/May, how do you feel about the Australian music scene in general? What are some of your favourite artists from down here?

Last time we were down there was I think about three years ago when we did the Soundwave festival, and so it’s been a minute since we’ve had the opportunity to come back and play there. I think I speak for all of the guys when I say we’re really looking forward to it and we miss being in Australia, so we’re really excited to come there in April.

Growing up for me, obviously, there’s very well known acts that you grow up with like AC/DC. I was a big fan of Silverchair when I was kind of in college, and you know a little bit after. For us, unfortunately, we don’t get to hear as much of like the cooler independent artists as we would like in the states.

Since you haven’t visited Australia for a while, will you be doing any sightseeing?

Yeah, so on this trip, we’re coming with our friends in a band called Death By Stereo … I think every time we’ve come there has been for Soundwave Festival … those shows you don’t get much time to go sightseeing and stuff. Our friends in Death By Stereo have been there on their own tour and had time to actually go sightseeing and check out different places. So there’s a bunch of places that they already want to go and show us. I think they’re going to be our tour guides and let them show us Australia the way they’ve seen it. This will be the most sightseeing I think that we will get ever, when we’ve gone to Australia, so we’re really excited for that.

Do you find that when you’re home, even though you’ve lived there for so long, you still find new things to explore and new places to go?

Totally, I mean even places that we’ve gone to a bunch of times, you can’t possibly see every single cool place, so I feel like as long as you’re willing to have an experience where you’re not just like ‘we need to play this show’ or base the whole trip on just playing a show then you get out of the hotel or the tour bus and go and make an effort to find cool things, and there’s so many rad things to see.

With this tour, you’re playing a lot more intimate shows than when at a festival. What kind of crowd do you prefer to play to?

Well, it’s a different experience. Festival’s are rad because you get to not only play the show, but you get to go watch other bands play, so you get to experience other people’s’ music.

When you play more headline shows and club shows, I find those shows are better because you’re closer to the crowd and the energy is completely different and you can look into the front row and you can see everybody and connect with everybody in that way. Festivals, everybody is so far away and the connection is a little bit different. I personally prefer the club (intimate) shows.

I think it’s really kind of sad that Warped Tour isn’t around the same way it used to be, I think it’s more to do with the fact that with rock music, especially punk music, radio stations don’t really play that anymore, it’s changed so much.
[ Ali Tabatabaee ]

Brain Invaders is your thirteenth record, how have you kept the excitement going with your music making and the creative process? How do you stay motivated?

Zebrahead as a band, we are really bad at writing when we’re on tour, so we tend to only write music really when we’re we’re at home. We’re usually gone for like a year and a half touring, so when we get back into the studio and we’re getting ready to write and record an album, we’re actually really excited because we haven’t done it for a year and a half. Throughout the time you’re like ‘I have this idea for a song‘, ‘I have this idea for a lyric’, and you just kind of store it away, and when you get home, you have all these things that you want to do and you’re excited to do it. In a way I think we’re not very efficient as songwriters because we don’t write when we’re touring, but I think it’s nice when you get home and start focusing on songs, you aren’t burnt out because you haven’t written for a year and a half and you’re excited again.

Do you think you’ve done anything differently for this album, or is it a similar cycle?

I can’t really speak for the other guys, but for me, when we started working on this album, I was really excited to write my rap parts and more hip hop feeling musical parts. I would come up with my parts and home, I’d write them with hip hop lyrics and take them to the studio and the other guys would add their parts, the guitars, their melody, the drums, and the evolution from what I would do at home into how the song would eventually turn out (which) was really exciting for me because in the past I would usually really only write to the music that was available with the band. And it was kind of a really cool freedom for me that I didn’t have in the past. And i’m actually really excited to continue working in that way. Because it’s something that I haven’t done in the past and its refreshing and exciting and more inspiring for me.

What are your highlight songs of the album and why?

This is a tough one. Personally, my favourite song on the album is the second one, which is I Won’t Let You Down, the reason being, that was one of the first songs I actually used loops to write my part, and that opened a path to be more creative and so I think personally, that song is a really good song. The first single we released was All My Friends Are Nobodies and we initially didn’t plan on using that song first, but we were finishing the album and we were on tour and we were like you know what, let’s just play this song because we’re tired of playing our old songs and it might be cool to play something new. And the reaction we got from our fans from the song who had not ever even heard the song. By the end of the first time they’d ever heard it, they were like singing along to the chorus and we thought that was really cool and we’d had such a positive reaction to that song so I think All My Friends Are Nobodies is another good one. With the song You Don’t Know Anything About Me, we had a friend on one section from Reel Big Fish who played some horns on the song, and it’s more of a ska song. It’s a really cool song I think, and hopefully our fans will like it. There’s one called Up In Smoke that I think has a really cool vibe and I really do like this whole album. (People who have listened to the album) have just listened to the album in its entirety, which I think is really cool because I tend to do that with albums that I really like.

With Warped Tour not doing cross-country runs anymore, do you think that’s affected USA’s punk scene at all? Do you think it’s suffering or grown from that?

I think it’s really kind of sad that Warped Tour isn’t around the same way it used to be, I think it’s more to do with the fact that with rock music, especially punk music, radio stations don’t really play that anymore, it’s changed so much. But I do feel like slowly there is a resurrection of rock music and punk rock music. It’s cool now because it’s kind of underground again, and it’s not mainstream anymore. Unfortunately that sucks, because you don’t have the opportunity to go see as many shows as you did when I was growing up into punk music. But i’m hoping that it will build back up and your punk tours will start getting more fans showing up at shows and buying more tickets. That way they can afford to make it cross country again and have more bands coming out to play and have fans listening to bands that they probably would never have heard of otherwise. I know for me, before we played at Warped Tour, it’s about going to see bands and you end up going ‘oh my god I found five new bands that I love, that I would never have heard of’. I think thats the real shame about it, the fact that you’re going to miss out on so many cool newer bands that don’t have the opportunity to tour anymore on that platform.

Pre-order Brain Invaders here.

Catch Zebrahead with Death By Stereo at the following dates:

Wednesday 24 April // Crowbar // Brisbane
Thursday 25 April // Vinnie’s Dive Bar // Southport
Friday 26 April // Hamilton Station // Newcastle
Saturday 27 April // Narrabeen RSL // Narrabeen
Sunday 28 April // Crowbar // Sydney
Tuesday 30 April // Transit Bar // Canberra
Thursday 2 May // Crown & Anchor // Adelaide
Friday 3 May // Bendigo Hotel // Melbourne

Tickets available here.

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