They might sound like they're from the 70s, but they way they roll is very 2020.
We're introducing Zurich/New Jersey rockers King Zebra in the latest in our series of weekly new music features with Discovr.TV. There's something very traditional about their rock aesthetic that oozes nostalgia, but one thing's for sure: Writing music as a modern-day rock band is a completely different gig to what it was 50 years ago.
King Zebra / Photo Credit: Sebastian Claus
Band members: Roman Lauer, Jerry Napitupulu, Benjamin Grimm, Manuel Jud and Eric St. Michaels
Band Formed: 2012
Origin: Zurich, CH and New Jersey, USA
Genre: Melodic Hard Rock
First single: Glamrock City
First EP/album: Greatest Hits
For a start, ensemble recording is not necessarily the order of the day. In fact, King Zebra only recorded one track (Bad Idea) from their self-titled EP as a band in the studio, but the rest were recorded incrementally.
"The guitar players Jerry and Roman would send simple short demos of songs set to a rough groove to Eric, the singer", they explained in their interview with Discovr.TV. "Eric would then write lyrics and experiment with vocals while the band worked out their parts and recorded the drums and basics in the band room. Once all the tracks were recorded, they were sent to V.O. Pulver to mix at the Little Creek Studio."
Of course, perhaps the most important aspect of writing music is matching that catchy tune with meaningful lyrics. You need a good earworm to hook the listener into playing it on repeat, but you still need to have structure and meaning within it. Once upon a time you could get away with nonsense words if the song itself was bomb, but nowadays it just sounds naive if there's no strong concept.
"The inspiration to complete a new song begins with a riff that won't go away", they said. "With lyrics, flow is important as well as unity and coherence but only to the point that in ten years you still know what you were singing about."
Originality isn't necessarily the key thing bands need to aim for in this age of everything having already been done. But having an idea of the kind of band you want to be is still an important factor when it comes to making music.
"If you jump on a trend you are either in the middle or the end but never the beginning", they muse. "We were pushing for a wider modern sound that harkens back to bands like Aerosmith and Boston and their groundbreaking records. Beefing up the production with fat backing vocals and two guitars with a great tone. Holding back on the effects also gave it some punch."
Another thing to remember is that success does not necessarily mean the same thing that it did decades ago. Nowadays anyone can record and release music and reach a wide audience, and the need for being signed by record labels and flogging bootlegged demos outside dive bars just isn't there anymore.
"We prefer to let our music spread like the roots of a tree finding water where it can and we count every new branch as a success", said King Zebra. "Last year we played small "hole in the wall" clubs and giant open-air stages and for us each one was a success because it brought us together to share the music. Spotify has helped us find thousands of listeners around the globe and we're hopeful that that trend will continue."
Being in a rock band now versus fifty years ago may well be different, but according to King Zebra's latest song Bad Reputation, there's one thing that hasn't changed: "No matter what you do, when you're in a band, you're gonna end up with a bad reputation one way or another."
Worst gig you've ever been to: Bon Jovi at Lexigrund Stadium Zurich
Biggest phobia: Losing my voice (Eric)
Most embarrassing moment: Pants ripping open on stage (Eric)
Best gift you've ever received: My Kids (Eric)
One thing you'd make illegal if you could: Hate
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