Local prog-punk trio Zebras is only a year old, but it's managed to play some of the most rocking local shows of 2008 and assemble a fan base that stretches from Madison to Milwaukee. This week Isthmus spoke with guitarist/vocalist Vincent Presley and synthesizer player Lacey Smith about their plans for the new year, which include the much-anticipated release of a split 12-inch vinyl LP with Milwaukee's E = MC Hammer.
You guys have managed to create a pretty unique sound, one that seems to blend a futuristic sort of digital hardcore with a very retro, Krautrock-style synth-rock. What are some of your main influences?
Presley: I grew up listening to Devo, Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, Wendy Carlos, etc., so I got into synths back when no one thought they were cool and they were still super-cheap. Now I mostly listen to Krautrock, minimalist stuff and old country and gospel, but I don't think it comes out very much in the tunes. I think the Zebras sound comes more from my love of Little Richard, Iron Maiden and a plethora of new bands that really get me dancing like a lunatic.
Smith: I like any music that's trying to do something different or maybe even better. I also like straightforward, rocking bands that have some twist. I don't think there are enough just simple rock bands that are really good and that make you dance like a lunatic, as Vincent mentioned.
How did Zebras get started?
Presley: Me and Lacey were in a band called the Window Smashers with Jacob Rust, who also played bass for Zebras until last summer, and Lee Chato, who is in Kitty Rhombus now. After Lee left, the three of us kept playing, but I was forced to become a guitar player. We knew Shawn [Pierce], who played drums, but did not have any friends to play guitar. I wrote the last three songs for the Window Smashers, so we just started there.
What's the story with the new LP?
Presley: It's not really that "new": We've been sitting on it since last February, but it's been worth the wait. It's a concept album that we recorded with Shane Hochstetler from [Milwaukee band] Call Me Lightning, and it was the best recording experience I have had in 13 years. It's a little different from our live shows because it has Jacob Rust playing bass and extra keyboards, weird percussion from Shawn, and lots and lots of handclaps.
You guys mentioned at a recent show that you're holing up for the winter to avoid Madison's arctic weather conditions. Does that mean no shows - and no LP release - until spring?
Presley: Last winter, every time we played out there was a snowstorm. It's not so super to unload equipment in a blizzard to play in front of five people. We have a lot more people at our shows now, but warm weather is better for everyone. Plus, I'll be on tour with my other band, Those Poor Bastards, until mid-March. We [Zebras] are working on a big load of new tunes instead.
As for the LP, it's coming out in March on colored vinyl and has wonderful artwork by Steve Sommers. Half of it is us and the other half is E = MC Hammer from Milwaukee. Some people think it's a weird match, but I really think it works like magic.
Yeah, E = MC Hammer does sort of a heavy, feedback-crazy kind of post-rock, but you guys seem a bit more experimental. How does it all fit together?
Smith: I think the biggest thing we have in common with E = MC Hammer is that we both don't really fit in.
So you're both freaks, but in a good way?