By: Joe Folladori
Though remembered primarily here in the U.S. for a handful of singles, English rock legends The Zombies deserve to be spoken of in the same breath as their contemporaries, The Kinks and The Beatles. Early hits “Tell Her No” and “She’s Not There” are snappy British Invasion classics, but the final song on their 1968 classic Odessey and Oracle has proven to be their most enduring. Atmospheric and moody, with the insistent bassline of the verse giving way to kaleidoscopic harmonies and a tumultuous keyboard solo, “Time of the Season” is one of those songs that’s so singular, so unique and of a time and place, that it’s almost a cliche (you may recognize it from any one of a hundred Vietnam War documentaries).
Not only is “Time of the Season” an undisputed classic, it’s maybe not even the best song off of Odessey, an album which contains the gorgeously nostalgic “Beechwood Park,” the haunting “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914),” and the flat-out gorgeous “A Rose for Emily.” Odessey and Oracle was recorded at the same time as fellow monoliths such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, but its closest companion may be the Beach Boys’ immortal Pet Sounds; the baroque instrumentation, introspective melancholy and otherworldly, impeccably arranged harmonies give both records a sort of “church choirboys dropping acid” vibe.
Odessey was released in early 1968, at which point the band had been broken up for close to a year. While “Time of the Season” was climbing the charts, the original members had long since gone their separate ways; singer/keyboardist Rod Argent went on to form the somewhat heavier Argent, while singer/guitarist Colin Blunstone embarked on a solo career. Now, over fifty years after they first formed the band, Argent and Blunstone are once again performing under the Zombies name, touring the world and writing new material (They’ve actually released more LPs in this past decade than they did in the 1960s, including 2011′s well-received Breathe Out, Breathe In).
“This (current) incarnation of the Zombies was totally unexpected,” Blunstone recounts via telephone from his Dallas hotel room as the band geared up for its SXSW appearances. Blunstone and Argent reunited for a limited run of low-key performances in 2000, and have continued picking up steam ever since. “It was only planned to be six dates but it just felt so natural, so good to be playing again. It just kept going and here we are 13 years later doing what we love to do.”
Blunstone is friendly and engaging on the phone, as well as impeccably English. He comes off every bit the working musician, inspired by the weight of his band’s legacy rather than burdened by it, but happy to continue recording and performing new material. “We love to play our old hits, he says. “It’s been great fun finding and exploring new tunes and expanding the repertoire. We really enjoy it, as long as it’s in the context that we can write and record new songs as well. I think it’s really important.”
“We didn’t “reform” the Zombies, that was never our intention. For the first seven or eight years we performed we didn’t use the Zombies name at all. We hardly played any Zombies tunes. It’s just been a great, wonderful surprise for us. The interest there is in the Zombies. We both had solo careers, and when we got back together we toured as Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent; it’s just gradually evolved into a reincarnation of The Zombies because people have asked for it.”
The Zombies’ new material is just as well-crafted as their classic catalog, but has a more upbeat, positive vibe than their older material. I asked Blunstone if the Zombies are more optimistic than they were back in their psychedelic youth. “There is a lot of angst in your teenage years and early 20s, isn’t there? A lot of unrequited love and so forth. I think that in our daily lives we were a pretty happy bunch in the ’60s, that’s just how the songs came out. In Rod Argent and Chris White we had two particularly sophisticated songwriters. In many ways they sound very ‘of their time,’ they also had a timeless feel about them. Why shouldn’t our (new) albums show a little of the joy that we feel in sharing our music with the world?”
Blunstone says he doesn’t listen to much modern music (his current interests veer more towards Spanish guitar and classical music), but he is both aware of and encouraged by the wealth of younger bands The Zombies have influenced (acts ranging from Olivia Tremor Control, Caribou, and of Montreal have all cited the band as an inspiration). “That’s one of the most exciting things that you can get, any kind of peer group acceptance is a wonderful thing. It’s a tough profession, being a musician, and people don’t cite you as an influence lightly. I take it as a huge compliment. I think that’s really, really heartening, really encouraging, when people say in any way that you’ve influenced them. That gives you the strength and enthusiasm to keep going out and doing more, fifty years later.”
“In some ways the most exciting thing that’s ever happened in my career has been to reestablish this band, without any chart success, just word of mouth and constant touring, and we now find we’re playing all over the world, to ever more enthusiastic crowds. When the Zombies finished in 1967, I certainly felt the band had run its course, I think we all did. So it’s been a wonderful experience, and a great surprise, to find that the interest is still there (today), to want to hear the songs the Zombies recorded.”
The Zombies will be performing at Fitzgerald’s on Sunday, March 17. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.pegstar.net.