Full Zombie Season interview

Mark Brenden

All ye Zombie Season fans out there: get your fix in full. The limited space alloted to me only allowed for a portion of the interview I had with Zombie Season singer and guitarist Ali Jaafar last week. Here is the interview in its entirety, which covers the Zombies, Edgar Allan Poe and Jaafar’s State of the Union regarding the Minneapolis scene. "M" stands for me, Mark, and "A" stand for Ali Jaafar.



M: What’s the genesis of Zombie Season?

A: It’s kinda funny. A little more than a year ago our old bass player Amelia and I were in a 48-hour band contest, and we weren’t in the same band, we were in different bands. But she played cello and I was like, "Oh I play cello too, we should have a band because we both play cello." And the first practice we had I showed up with a bass. I don’t really know why, I was just like, "I wanna play bass." And I don’t even play bass anymore but we just started jamming from there. We got my friend to drum and we just started playing. And then a lot of other crap happened and now there are completely different people in the band.

M: So both the drummer and the bassist left and got replaced?

A: Yeah, yeah. People just kinda move around, ya know? That’s just how it is when you’re in a local band — you aren’t making any money.

M: Where did you grow up?

A: Me? I’ve lived a lot of places. I’ve lived all over the country. As for when I was a kid, I was in Cincinnati mostly. And then I moved to Minneapolis when I was in seventh grade or something. So I just pretty much here in Minnesota, but I’ve lived in Cincinnati, Texas.

M: And how did this lead you to punk music?

A: Minneapolis?

M: Yeah.

A: I think it was because when I was little I really liked Weezer when I was like six years old because I had older sisters. I also really liked David Bowie.

M: Don’t we all?

A: Sure. I mean if you’re a kid and you like Weezer and David Bowie, you are eventually going to get into punk.

M: So you don’t think the geography of your upbringing really affected your psyche to guide you towards punk music?

A: Well I guess it’s more anyone who is disaffected, a little bit intelligent and had a (expletive) family life probably gets into punk.

M: So are you saying you had a (expletive) family life?

A: I mean, sure why not. No one wants to talk about it but … yeah sure.

M: So Zombie Season. What’s with the name?

A: That was our old bassist, Amelia. We were trying to come up with names, and no one likes my band names. So I just started picking mythical creatures. So from there our bassist suggested, "Well we should be called Vampire Season." I thought no, there’s Vampire Hands, Vampire Weekend, who were like huge — then and now. So I figured, "Why not zombies?" because I was really zombie-fixated.

M: I know that some bands put a lot of thought into their band name and look to exhume some sort of resonance from it. Was that the case here or what were you trying to say with Zombie Season?

A: I think it’s just totally aesthetic. It sounds nice, it looks good on a flyer, people usually remember it. There are a lot of good bands who, their names aren’t band, but you just don’t remember it. There’s something weird about it, but not the good weird, kinda bad weird.

M: Yeah, I mean there’s some kind of enigma to it. Like mysteriousness. When you go to their show are they going to play or are they going to drop some fangs on your throat?

A: Yeah for sure. The only downside to it, I think, is that a lot of people think it’s a Zombies reference, because there’s that Zombies song, "Time of the Season" and we have doo wop songs so people think we’re a Zombies spin-off. I mean, I like the Zombies but that’s not why we picked the name.

M: You guys actually got me back into the Zombies, because I downloaded your album, "Life is Tragic" because I was doing this story and I typed in "Zombie Season" to my iTunes and put it on shuffle. So I was listening to your "Makeout" song and then all of a sudden it was "Time of the Season." So it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

A: No, the sweet thing about the Zombies is how you can get like all their songs on one disc if you have "Odyssies and Oracles."

M: Isn’t it beautiful?

A: It’s awesome!

M: Describe your sound. What are you trying to accomplish with it or what do you think it is?

A: I think the basic idea is that it’s post-punk music. You know like Joy Division, the Smiths and a lot of other post-punk bands that I like and can’t think of right now. And mix it with ’60s pop, which was another thing we really liked. And when I say ’60s pop I mean obviously you got things like The Ronettes, you’ve got a lot more obscure one that I really like, for example the Paris Sisters and this whole French music thing called "Yeye." My favorite from that is a woman called Francois Hardy, who is just now coming into prominence among people our age just because they are finally releasing her CDs. I used to just have this record when I was a kid from France that I would listen to all the time. I would tell people to listen to Francois Hardy, but you couldn’t find her CDs anywhere and now you go to like Cheapo and you can find the best stuff of her.

Back to the original question though: it was post-punk and ’60s pop and just make it really … just dark. Because that’s the stuff that we’re all into. I’m obsessed with horror — horror anything, movies, books, whatever. Especially Edward Gorey. The art for our last CD was just an Edward Gorey facsimile.

M: Do you like Edgar Allan Poe?

A: Yeah, of course.

M: Yeah, I was reading "The Raven" out loud the other day just because I was bored and it just made me realizing just how (expletive) amazing that poem truly is.

A: Yeah man.

M: How do you feel about the Minneapolis scene? Give us like a State of the Union.

A: I think we have a really awesome scene. Everyone says that. Sometimes I get frustrated, I mean being a musician in a local scene. There’s a billion bands nowadays, anyone who goes on MySpace has a band, so it’s hard to compete and make a name for yourself. But at the same time I talk to some other bands from towns of comparable sizes and they are just like, "Our scene sucks. There’s nothing to do. There’s nowhere to play. We just play in the same (expletive) coffee shop or (expletive) bar." I met a really awesome band from Philadelphia called Brer. They were saying that want to be here, because in Philadelphia there’s no scene. I was talking to some kids in Chicago. And I mean Chicago is Chicago. But there are no house shows. If you want to play a house show in Chicago, you’re out of luck. You have to play a venue. And if you are playing all venue shows and no house shows, you’re always worried about budget, you’re always worried about draw, you’re always worried about commercial, you’re always worried about business, business, business — which is a drag for me. That’s why I love house shows, and shows at art spaces. I don’t have to worry about draw or promotion.  

M: Who or what in the music world are you currently envious of? Or what are you listening to now?

A: I really like those bands that have a really dedicated following but there are completely under the radar. I’ve been listening to a lot of Autolux, lately, a band from LA who I’d never heard of but they came here and they’ve been around for a long time. They have a really dedicated fan base. Or the Dead Science, a band I’ve just picked up recently and they’ve been around forever, who are also under the radar but have a huge following. They do a lot of cool stuff, like they’ll play with an orchestra. I’d like to do stuff like that. To be a band like that. Or, on the opposite spectrum, to just be someone who can just do whatever the (expletive) they want, like Nick Cave or something.

M: Let’s talk about the new album. How is it sitting with you?

A: I am really happy with it. I think it’s really cool. I think we spent the right amount of time recording it, which wasn’t a lot but we just made sure we did it right. As far as the songwriting it’s a lot more nuanced than our last album so it holds up more. Our first CD is, I think, a good pop record. But if it was someone else’s band, I’d listen to it a bit then I’d be like, "What else do you got?" So I think the new one is less of that instant pop thrill. And we’re already working on new stuff now, and I think it’s moving even farther in that direction — more nuance, more stuff going on, less "let’s bang out a pop song."

M: You’re the Editor-in-Chief of The Wake, why is it more B.A. than The Minnesota Daily?

A: I counter with: what about The Wake is not more B.A. than The Minnesota Daily.

M: [Puts hands up]

A: The thing about The Wake is anyone can write whatever they want and people just have complete freedom. So we can cover controversial issues in controversial ways.

M: Anything else you want to say?

A: People should go to shows.

People should just go to lots of shows more. You’ll find a lot of good bands, not necessarily bands that have their (expletive) together, but bands that have an internet following and have retail and you can go see them in real life.

M: So if you died tonight, on your grave would read the epithet "Go to shows"?

A: It’s probably be something a lot less hopeful.