Zao - An email interview with Jeff Gretz
A few weeks ago I had the privilege to review the latest Zao album The Fear That Keeps Us Here. Some days later there was the question if I wanted to do an email interview with Zao, that of course was an opportunity I couldn’t let go. So let’s find out what Jeff Gretz has to say about the new album and Zao.
First of all can you give a small introduction of yourself and Zao?
‘My name is Jeff Gretz, I play drums in Zao alongside Martin Lunn on Bass, Scott Mellinger on guitar and Dan Weyandt on vocals. We’re from Greensburg, Pennsylvania. If you don’t know where that is you’re probably better off.’
The new album The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here is out for several weeks. What are the reactions so far?
‘Actually the reactions are pretty good. It’s like any Zao record but it’s a bit different than the last one so you have the people that hated the last one that love this one, and you have the people that loved the last one that hate this one. People don’t like changes, our sole purpose is to challenge that.’
How did the recording process go?
‘Pretty quick and painless. None of us really like to hang out in the studio. We fight about parts before we enter the studio because studio’s cost money. You hash everything out first and then when you get in there it should just be, “okay, let’s document this”. That’s pretty much how we did it. We did demos of everything for a few months before we went in so it was just a matter of doing it. There was virtually no writing in the studio.’
How did you get in contact with Steve Albini who also did records with
Nirvana and Neurosis?
‘He actually contacted us. He heard the band through his girlfriend and wanted to work with us. Luckily, we decided to let him to do it because it worked out great. All parties got along and he said it was like being on vacation because we were so easy to work with and we felt pretty much the same.’
Russ Cogdell left Zao almost a year ago and you choose to go on with only
one guitar player. Is it still possible to play all the Zao songs onstage
with only one guitar player?
‘Believe it or not, it’s easier. Nine out of ten Zao songs were usually conceived as one guitar songs in the first place with the 2nd guitar either doubling the main one or very minor parts forced in that while they added to the songs, were not integral. We’re much tighter with one guitar and happier with the sound of the band. That’s why we haven’t sought out a replacement.’
Dan Weyandt did some guest vocals with As I lay Dying. How did it happen
and what was it like?
‘I guess it was fun for him. We’re friends with the As I Lay Dying guys and we also toured together in the past. They basically asked him because they like what he does and they get along with him. I don’t think it was any more glorious than that. They certainly didn’t need Dan to help them sell records ,or maybe that’s why that record did so well. Who knows?’
On you’re MySpace you mentioned your not specific a Christian metal band.
But in several interviews and reviews Zao is still mentioned as A Christian
band. Does that bother you?
‘Well, that just goes to show you that people don’t listen. For the longest time people got mad at Zao for keeping quiet about the subject or not saying either way. Over time it got to the point that people would write about it or talk about it like the band was. Then we finally all got to the point where we were like, this is ridiculous let’s just spell it out. People still either got mad or didn’t believe us or just didn’t listen. It’s a gimmick to the general public and for the press it’s easier to write about the band if you have a gimmick. Even magazines that we know are aware, throw those little comments in there just to have them there. I mean, come on this Christian thing is big money right now. It’s the “in” thing to do. We’d rather have nothing to do with it, we could be banking on it right now, but that’s not where this band is coming from. Let those other bands do that, we’re not going to lie.’
In the past there has been many changes in the Line up of Zao. Do you
think that’s could be a reason why Zao never broke through?
‘Not really. I think more than anything it has been the fact that the band sort of appears to turn it’s back on it’s audience all the time on record. Of course that’s not really what’s happening. You just get bored and want to evolve and try different things and like I said before the average person hates that. Who wants change? That’s sort of the basic premise behind the title of the record. The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here. Of course it does, fear makes people stay in a rut and not move on in their lives. I’m sure even we as a band do it to a certain extent in our personal lives, but we’re sure as hell not going to do it on the records and with the music. That’s the one thing we do have control of.’
Do you think this time Zao will brake through?
‘No I don’t. I don’t even think about that kind of thing because if you do you’ll end up disappointed. I think if this record does really well it’s because of all the touring that the band has done in the past 3 years. I mean, in 3 years the band toured more than it did in it’s first 6 or 7 total. Musically we're so out of touch with what is being eaten up in mass quantities by these kids that I can't even fathom it. I would shoot myself if I sounded like some of these bands that are popular right now.’
Is there any chances that Jesse Smith will return to Zao?
How do you look back on 10 years of Zao?
‘Pissing people off, usually unintentionally. Audience. Promoters. The Press. Metalheads. Hardcore kids. Record Labels. Other members of the band. That’s the ongoing theme.’
Are there any tour plans for Europe?
‘Not for a little bit, but definitely for this album. If we’re not over there in 2007 I’d be surprised.’
What will the future bring for Zao?
‘Who knows, it could end tomorrow you know. Just take one day at a time and when the spark dies, when there’s no passion or nothing left to say. It will be put to rest. But we’ve learned from the bands mistakes in the past. We won’t announce it in case the fire is lit under our asses again. If Zao breaks up, you’ll be the last to know.’