Eclectic rock outfit Zebrahead were formed in the mist of the Orange County punk explosion and since their incarnation have sold more than 1.5 million albums, survived label changes and toured non-stop. Known throughout the globe for their explosive and amusingly entertaining live show, and a broad sound which also incorporates elements of hip-hop, pop, funk, metal and more, they have played countless high-profile festivals throughout the world. They’ll also head to Australia in February/March for the Soundwave Festival. After apologizing for his hoarse tone after blowing out his voice at a gig two days prior, vocalist/guitarist Matty Lewis gave Loud the latest.
Q: You’re returning to Australia for Soundwave, so you’ll have to ensure your voice stays intact for those shows.
A: (Laughs) Yeah. I’ll be just fine, I’ll be just fine. Trust me. It’s our second Soundwave, but our third time to Australia. I expect it to be beautiful weather, which I’m pretty sure is gonna happen. And I expect everybody’s going to have a good time, no matter what. The crowds are awesome; we were so stoked to be there in 2012. I’m glad we’re coming back. I think we might be doing some (Sidewaves) with Bowling for Soup, we’re not really sure. I don’t know if it’s solidified yet, but we’ll see. I hope so.
Q: What other bands are you excited to catch at the festival?
A: Well, I really want to see Living Colour. We have a friend that plays keyboards in Green Day, Jason Freese, and I really want to see Jimmy Eat World again, ‘cause they’re such a great live band, and they’re so talented. And I want to see Dave Mustaine, I want to see him in the catering, so I can say (adopts Mustaine impersonation), ‘hello Dave, it’s me again’ (laughs).
Q: (Laughs) I’m not sure how fond he is of impersonations.
A: Yeah, I know (laughs). Ironically, for this last record, our producer Cameron Webb was working with them for a little while right before, and he had Dave Mustaine’s guitar head. So we used that on some songs, and it was an amazing guitar head.
Q: On the topic of your latest album, you’re ten LPs into your career now. How is the new material slotting alongside the old favourites in the live set?
A: I think it’s been going great. We’ve had a tour in Europe, we’ve played about six of the new songs, and they fit perfectly. The kids sing along with every word, and yeah, it’s great.
Q: You had a shift in producer for the creation of this album. Can you elaborate on that decision?
A: Well, we’ve used Cameron Webb for (2003’s) MFZB, (2006’s) Broadcast to the World and (2008’s) Phoenix, three of our earlier ones. We just thought it was a change, because we had a new guitarist, Dan Palmer for this record, and we just had a, ‘let’s see what Cameron can do for us again’. He was great; there were no hard feelings with Jason (Freese) or anything. We just wanted to go with Cameron this time, and it turned our great, because his fridge was stocked full with beer.
Q: (Laughs) How has the new personnel slotted into the Zebrahead ranks?
A: Dan’s been great. We’ve known him for about five years, and he actually was with us at the first Soundwave, which was awesome. And he’s also done another tour with us before in the past. He’s a fantastic guy that we’ve known, and he’s just like seamless, and a breath of fresh air. He brings a lot of stuff like writing-wise. He’s just a really positive guy to have around, and a fantastic part of the team.
Q: How did his joining the band alter the writing dynamic, if at all?
A: Only through the fact that we would write three ways. I would write at home in my studio, and then, (the rest of) the band, the four of them would write, and then we all five (of us) would write together at one time. Dan, he was just really stoked, ‘cause he was in a band called Death by Stereo, which is a metal band. And he’s more than a metal guitarist, so he had a lot of these ideas which he couldn’t throw in with Death by Stereo, so he did with Zebrahead. It was pretty awesome. He had stepped up and he actually helped us write the song ‘Get Nice!’ on the last record.
Q: Is he the token metal-head then, or are there other members who are heavily into that style of music too?
A: No, I think what’s cool about Zebrahead is that Ed (Udhus, drums) is really into punk rock, and Ben (Osmundson) our bassist, he’s into punk rock as well, and likes Fugazi and stuff like that, Quicksand. Ali (Tabatabaee), the rapper guy, he was into old school rap and new school rap and stuff. Dan was into ‘80s hair metal, and he’s also into like the heavier stuff. Then you’ve got me, I love country music and I love things like Huey Lewis and the News, and a lot of old pop stuff and also hair metal too. We all combined make Zebrahead really different I think. Or weird, who knows?
Q: What’s it like on the tour bus then – do you have to wrestle for control of whose music gets played?
A: No, thankfully when we tour on the bus, we all hang out in the lounge together on the bus, then if we want to go by ourselves we can go in our bunk and listen to whatever we want to listen to. It’s no big deal (laughs). We’re usually drunk anyway, so it doesn’t matter.
Q: At that stage, the hair metal must go down a treat as well.
A: Absolutely. That’s when everybody sings along, and it’s so fun. It’s great.
Q: What do you make of certain hair bands enjoying somewhat of a renaissance of popularity during recent years then?
A: I think it’s great, I think that was a good time. I mean, it was so cool, because you don’t have that these days. Where there’s like a guy, like a frontman who’s just like, whoa. My favourite band is Van Halen; there will never be a David Lee Roth or Eddie Van Halen, you know? And a lot of the bands of the ‘80s were just, you know the singer, and you know the guitarist. They were really up-front, they’re just like big personalities and big hair (laughs).
Q: You’re clearly disappointed that type of flamboyance and showmanship isn’t common in rock these days.
A: Unfortunately I think so, mainly because I don’t think a lot of people are having fun. And that’s one thing about us – we’re just having a great time. We’re there for, like the song says, we’re just here for the free beer, and it’s just rock ‘n’ roll, so have a good time doing it. I think that’s one of the reasons why our fans are so loyal, and why we’ve been around for a while, because we really haven’t… What we are now is basically the five of us, we are who we are. What we wear on-stage is what we wear at home sometimes, and we’re not there to push political thoughts or anything down people’s throats. We just like to have a good time. It’s fun; we’re putting fun in the music I guess. Playing music is fun, and especially playing live. The kids singing in the crowd, they’re having fun. No one should be going to a show and being all depressed.
Q: When do you believe the fun largely disappeared from rock music then?
A: I don’t know. There’s a lot of crappy stuff going on in the world, and I know a lot of people were political, a lot of people were singing about bad stuff, depressing stuff. Whatever, it’s just sit down, drink a beer and enjoy the time while you’ve got it. That’s what I think. I don’t know, I’m probably wrong, but that’s just my opinion.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: We just love Australia, and we’re so thankful to come back to Soundwave this year. We hope to see everybody there, and the Australian fans that we have, and the new ones that we’re getting, we just love them, and we’re so thankful that they’ve come out in droves and kept on supporting us. So, thank you.
You can catch Zebrahead at Soundwave on the following dates:
22/2: RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane QLD
23/2: Olympic Park, Sydney NSW
28/2: Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne VIC
1/3: Boynthon Park, Adelaide SA
3/3: Claremont Showground, Perth WA