A Spotlite on Revolutionary Band THE ZOMBIES
By Tyler Malone
There’s nothing of the walking dead in The Zombies, as one might misguidedly assume from their name. The guys in one of rock-n-roll’s greatest groups may be older than they were in their 60s heyday, but they’re still as inspired, as lively and as rockin’ as they ever were.
For such a shortlived rock band–they only originally lasted from 1961-1968 with only two albums released in America–they managed to become one of the most influential bands of all time. What is surprising is that since the two main founding members Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone reunited in 2000, they’ve been together longer now in this second wind of collaboration than in their initial run with The Zombies. This year, on the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the band, they’ve got a new album, Breathe Out, Breathe In, and while it feels new, it also harkens back to their old Odessey & Oracle sound–the sound that defines them.
The band that revolutionized that psychedelic baroque pop sound of the rockin’ 60s, now 50 years old as a group, has come full circle. While Odessey & Oracle didn’t sell enough back in the day to keep the band together beyond ’68, I think we’ve become a Zombie nation in the time since. Not only is Odessey & Oracle now hailed as one of the great cult classics of the 60s, but many young musicians cite the band as a major influence. Breathe Out, Breathe In feels like the sound of the band returning home while simultaneously setting out on a new odyssey (or Odessey?). I caught up with Rod Argent, one of the founding members of this revolutionary band, to discuss the past, present and future of one of my favorite bands: The Zombies.
Tyler Malone: So the Zombies broke up in 1968 just as your revolutionary album Odessey and Oracle was being released. I’ve always wondered what that was like to break up at the same time that you released such an iconic record? Did you know at the time what an impact that record would make?
Rod Argent: O & O did actually have great reviews at the time–it just didn’t start selling until about 15 years later! We were excited at the time, and thought it was the best album we could make. However, because the first single in the UK did nothing, we had to break up; the non-writers in the band, Colin, Hugh and Paul just didn’t have any money!
TM: What do you think it was that made Odessey and Oracle so revolutionary? Why do you think it has maintained the cult status that it has?
RA: I think the album has held up over the years because of the way we always approached writing and recording–we never set out to simply try to follow whatever seemed to be the current formula for making a hit record. Instead we followed whatever musical ideas excited us, and just tried to make them work. Consequently, I think the stuff hasn’t dated as much as some of its contemporaries.
TM: Odessey and Oracle is one of those rare albums that really has no duds on it. It can and should be listened to from start to finish, and then repeated ad nauseum. It is just THAT GOOD. I can never pick a favorite song, but I’ve always been drawn to “A Rose for Emily”–maybe because of the Faulkner connection. I’ve always wanted to ask–because I’ve heard conflicting things–what is the relationship between that song and the Faulkner story?
RA: Only the title, really. I’d just read the Faulkner short story, and liked it very much, but it was the title that I thought was particularly evocative. I made up a little story about loneliness which doesn’t rely at all on the content of the Faulkner story, but uses the evocative overtones of the title.
TM: Another great song from Odessey and Oracle is “This Will Be Our Year,” do you think that with the release of your new album Breathe Out, Breathe In, that this will be your year?
RA: I hope so! I must say that the band has never felt so good, and the reactions we’ve just encountered on our US and Canada tour have been the best we’ve ever experienced!
TM: That’s great to hear! And well deserved! It’s fitting that you just released Breathe Out, Breathe In this year, on the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Zombies. Was that intentional? Or did the album and the 50th anniversary just magically manage to coincide?
RA: The 50th anniversary was definitely in our heads, and we wanted to make sure the new album was released this year. Having said that, we were itching to record a new studio album. It did feel exactly right to record it when we did, and the fact that we managed to coincide with the anniversary was a definite bonus.
TM: So you broke up in ’68 just as Odessey and Oracle was released and then you’ve gotten back together in a few incarnations in the 90s and 2000s. What made you guys first get back together after so long? And what has kept you going this time?
RA: Colin and I getting back together was an accident. I was doing a charity show in 2000, Colin was in the audience, and got up on the spur of the moment to sing “She’s Not There” and “Time of the Season.” It felt so good that we decided to do 6 gigs for fun. To that end we put together a great rest of the band, and those 6 gigs have turned into 11 years of touring around the world. At first we had no intention of exploring the Zombies’ legacy, but as time went on, we started to enjoy it more and more, until eventually, it felt right to include The Zombies name again.
TM: I wonder if you guys ever wonder what music you’d have made if you had stayed together like, say, The Rolling Stones for the last 50 years?
RA: Who knows? I think it’s actually helped to have been involved in so many other musical projects–it helps to mature and broaden the palette.
TM: Breathe Out, Breathe In is a great record, and while it certainly has it’s own feel, it does seem to harken back to the heyday of Odessey & Oracle as well–was there an intentional attempt to try and reincorporate elements from the past while making something new, or did that just happen naturally as lovers of a certain kind of music?
RA: Thank you! I think the answer is: a bit of both. During our live premier performances of O & O at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London, it certainly focused my mind on how much we used to love exploring harmonies, for instance, and made me determined to do the same on the new album. Also, because the live recording was so pleasurable, we decided to “layer” the tracks as little as possible, and we made sure we recorded the rhythm tracks in as “live” a way as possible–so we had lots of natural interplay between the instruments.
But, on the other hand, we never at any moment tried to make the songs sound like our earlier stuff. Any similarities–and I agree, I think there are many resonances–are completely the natural results of us just being ourselves.
TM: Odessey & Oracle is often considered one of the greatest albums of the 60s (well, and of all time: it was number 80 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums). I’m curious though, what albums of that decade would you put in your “greatest albums” list?
RA: Oh, certainly something by The Beatles, The White Album, or Revolver. Cream, Disraeli Gears; Beach Boys, Pet Sounds; maybe Crosby Stills and Nash.
TM: Do you follow music of younger generations? I’m also curious what current artists you’re interested in?
RA: I don’t listen to a huge number of current bands, I must admit, but I like Kings Of Leon a lot–the singer almost sounds like a young Stevie Winwood. I like The Killers. Most of the 60s bands had an R&B influence somewhere down the line, and I still like to hear that at least somewhere in the make-up.
TM: What is your favorite song to perform live? Your favorite from your 60s material? And your favorite from your recent material?
RA: I still love “Time Of The Season”–one reason being that there is a strong element of improvisation in the solos, which means we can really vary the playing every night. Of the new songs, I really love playing “Breathe Out, Breathe In” and “A Moment In Time” live.
TM: Lastly, I’m still waiting for your induction into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. Is there anything that you guys haven’t achieved yet that you’d really like to achieve before you call it quits?
RA: I must say, I’d love it if we could be inducted to the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame! Other than that, I’m just happy playing and recording with this fantastic band!
The Zombies are one of the most revered and most influential rock bands of the 60s, and they are still making great music today.
Rod Argent interviewed by Tyler Malone
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of The Zombies & Melani Rogers of Publicity by Design
Design by Clementine Jang
The Zombies, Photography Courtesy of The Zombies & Melani Rogers of Publicity by Design