Masters of math-metal Zeroth have steadily established themselves as one of the music industry’s most compelling heavy acts, while simultaneously maintaining one of the lowest profiles.  Widely known for the intensity of their performances, both for their ability to replicate some incredibly complex music live as well as providing an immersive visual experience, even their most devoted fans would likely have a hard time identifying them on the street.  Aside from the occasional comments from drummer K [and his frequent work with other bands – Supercrusher, Manifold Spaceport, and his solo project Kaliclysm], the rest of the band has largely remained out of the public eye.  Until now….

Zeroth recently completed their Portals Tour with a fast-becoming-legendary two night stand at the Giza Necropolis, site of the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx [documented by the massive box set ‘Beneath The Gaze Of Osiris: Live At The Giza Necropolis’, Long Bong Records, 2010].  Even a band as media-averse as Zeroth recognized the importance of such a unique event, and invited Figment News to join them in Egypt to cover the shows, sitting down with us for their first formal interview the day after the concerts.  Over the course of three days, we got a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the complex mechanism that is Zeroth.

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We are backstage at the Giza Necropolis, where Zeroth’s road crew is working on dismantling their extensive lighting rig.  Last night Zeroth completed their second show at the Necropolis, delivering an outstanding set highlighted by a complete start-to-finish cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ for an encore, featuring Zandergriff Miggs on keys/synths and Stalker Channing on vocals.  The first night featured an equally impressive encore selection, with a cover of Rush’s prog-rock masterpiece ‘2112’, also including Mr. Miggs and Ms. Channing.

FN: First-off, thanks for inviting us along.  Given your typical reluctance to do press, we were very pleased to be given this kind of access to the band.

K: No problem, man.  Glad you made it out.

FN: That was some show last night guys, as was the first.  You pulled out some real gems from your catalog, and of course the two outstanding encore covers.  How did you decide to use ‘Dark Side’ and ‘2112’ for encores?

K: Thanks, man, glad you liked the shows.  Well, we have a short list of albums we’ve wanted to cover, when there were appropriate opportunities.  Things that had an impact on us, individually or collectively, and inspired the direction of the group.  The first was ‘Aenima’ [Tool], which we did this past Halloween.  Then the two we did here.  We have a couple others we will break out when the time is right.

FN: Any hints?

Jason Smith: You’ll just have to wait and see.

Tom Ford: I keep suggesting ‘Asia’ [debut album of 80’s supergroup Asia], but the other guys keep voting it down. [groans around the room]

FN: That could be an interesting one.  A little “Heat Of the Moment”, eh?

K: Dude, please don’t encourage him…..

FN: Zandergriff Miggs and Stalker Channing seemed like odd choices to have team up with you guys, but in the end seemed to work out very well.  How’d that come about?

K: Well, I’ve worked with Z a number of times already and he’s done a couple remixes for us too, so that wasn’t as much of a stretch as you’d think.  He’s just a real cool cat, very laid back and up for anything.  He’s also like a walking encyclopedia of funky music, which is always good to add to the mix.  He can jam on about anything you throw at him.  Jason was the one to suggest Stalker.  That took some discussion to agree on.

FN: I can see why.  Her style of cabaret singing wouldn’t seem like a good match with prog-metal.  But, the way you worked her into the two covers was perfect.

Smith: Thanks.  I have always been a big fan of hers, and thought her voice would lend itself to rock in the right context.  She doesn’t normally sing in the high register, but you can tell she’s got the range.  Originally we were just going to do ‘Dark Side’, but when we got the recording of her demoing some of the stuff on there, it hit me she could do Geddy Lee pretty well too.  So, we decided to add ‘2112’ to the agenda with her taking the lead.  Thankfully, I will add, because I don’t think I could have ever managed that myself.

FN: I’m sure you would have done just fine, but she definitely delivered the goods.

Smith: No doubt.

FN: The music world was taken by surprise at the announcement of your gigs here.  Was that your intention?  And how did you decide to come here in the first place?

Jack Witten: We didn’t set out to shock anyone, or do something deliberately for effect, but we definitely want to try and do things that are unusual and fit into our oeuvre.  All the interesting mathematical aspects and mysteries of this place dovetail well with what we’re doing.

K: I am a closet Deadhead, and always thought their coming here was one of the coolest things they ever did [the Grateful Dead famously played 3 gigs at the Pyramids in September 1978, the first ever rock concerts at the site].  When we started discussing sites for special gigs, I tossed this out right away, and everyone else pretty much agreed it would be a great venue for us.

FN: Well, it certainly was an excellent choice.  The crowd was really into it, and it was obvious you guys were very inspired in your playing.  And the huge full moon was a nice touch as well.

K: Yeah, we lucked out with the moon.  Wish we could take credit for scheduling it purposefully, but we were just fortunate it lined up with our gig.

FN: Lunar cycles aside, there must have been some pretty substantial logistical challenges?  Any interesting stories?

Witten: Things went more smoothly than we’d hoped actually.  From getting the initial approval to bringing in all our gear, everyone locally was very supportive and bent over backwards to help us out.  No doubt, bringing our show here was a lot of work, and props to the crew for making it all happen, but things worked out pretty well.

Ford: I had three different vendors in the market offered to sell me Ramesses hand.  Of course, when I told the third about the other two, and asked how many hands Ramesses actually had, he said “those others are frauds”.  Too funny…..

FN: So, did you buy one?

Ford: Yeah, bought all three, because you never know.  I’ve got them here…. [leans down beneath the table, then pops up laughing].  Nah, I am just kidding.

FN: Nice.

Ford: I try.

FN: K, there’s a persistent rumor out there you were a bit teary-eyed at the end of the second show.  Care to comment?

K: That’s not true… I was almost full-on crying. [laughter all around] I mean, how could you not?  This was the kind of thing, when you start out playing music, you dream of this kind of event.  To actually be there, amid the Pyramids, and playing our music and some music that inspired us in the first place – there’s just nothing better than that….  And really, who could listen to Stalker just nailing the vocals on “Any Colour You Like” and “Eclipse” and not be overcome.  She really stole the show that night.  Gave me chills….

JS: Absolutely, I just sat back in awe while she went to work.  It was a thing of beauty.  I got so caught up, I almost forgot to come back in once or twice, I must admit.

FN: Tom, you’ve been pretty quiet.  Anything you’d like to add?

Tom Hughes: I’m still kinda processing the whole thing, but I’d say this was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Never would have imagined we’d end up here doing something like this.  It’s mind-blowing for sure.

FN: Fair enough, thanks.  Well, after being around you guys for the last few days, for a band with such a ferocious live reputation, you all seem pretty quiet and well-adjusted.

K: That’s because we play ferociously.  If we didn’t……bad things might ensue……

Ford: Idle hands and all that….

FN: I see.  Sounds like a win all the way around.  Well, I’d like to shift gears and ask some more general questions, if you guys don’t mind.

Smith: Sure, no problem.

FN: You cover some pretty esoteric subjects on your albums.  Where do you come up with your ideas?

K: Wikipedia.

Witten: Quantum Physics For Dummies.

Smith: We’re all pretty well-read – you don’t play math-metal without being a geek to some degree.

FN: And how do you approach building songs around topics such as string theory, turbulence, and solar eclipses?  It’s certainly not “June/moon/swoon” material.

K: Most often, we’ll work out the basics of the music first, then discuss what kind of themes they may inspire and go find some concepts to match.  Once in a while, we’ll have some lyrical material first – usually based off whatever Jason might be reading about at the moment.

Smith: With ‘Portals’, everything started with the cover image that K came up with.  We started discussing all kinds of pathways through space and time and went from there.  ‘Tachyon’ was almost a further evolution of some of those discussions.  It’s really a bit different each time out though.  We definitely do not have any kind of formula.

FN: What is it about math-rock that inspires you guys?

Witten: The blues-rock thing has been done to death.  Nothing against bands like Cream, Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Black Crowes, The White Stripes, etc, they are all awesome.  We sometimes jam on that classic blues-rock stuff for fun in rehearsal.  We just wanted to do something that has very little tie to anything previously done.  Probably the closest thing to what we do is classical music.  We use the same kinds of mathematical progressions and song structures.

K: Mix in a little avant-garde jazz and away we go…..

FN: What do you say to people who think math-metal is pretentious, difficult-for-the-sake-of-being-difficult, musician’s music?

Ford: You are entitled to your opinions, idiotic as they may be. [laughs]

Smith: It’s certainly not for everyone.  We’ve never sat down and discussed it consciously, but I think we all agree we are making the music we want to hear.  However it’s received is not that important.  Having the success we’ve had has been fantastic – I don’t think any of us would have expected we’d be where we are today, both literally and figuratively – but we’d still be doing the same thing if we were only playing to a handful of people in a small club.

FN: You’ve already acknowledged some of your influences with covers you’ve done.  Any other bands you particularly like or find inspiring?

K: Well, despite everything that’s been made of a “rivalry” between us, we really enjoy Obsidian Paradox’s work.  They’ve been kinda quiet lately, I would like to see something from them soon.

Smith: In a narrow sense, Genesis.  Not the really early stuff or the later poppy Phil stuff.  Basically, ‘Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’.  [gestures with hands] Basically, not here or here, just…..here.

FN: Do I smell a future cover?

Smith: You’ll just have to wait and see.

FN: Merchants Of Metal III was recently announced for May 1 in Philadelphia.  Any chance we’ll see you guys there?  It does look like it would fit between the end of Supercrusher’s tour and the start of the Tachyon Tour.  Coincidence…?

K: Doubtful.  We would only play it if we headlined, which we’ve already done [Zeroth headlined the inaugural MOM], and there are other bands out there that deserve a chance to do that.

FN: Ah, that’s right, you have a policy of never being an opening band, correct?

Smith: There’s that, but it’s really more we have a policy of not repeating ourselves.  MOM is a great festival, and LBR has been an awesome label to be on, but we’ve already done that show.  The label actually agrees with us on this.  It wouldn’t make sense for us to keep playing MOM over and over.  We move on to the next thing.  You won’t ever see “Zeroth at Giza II: The Return”, for instance.

K: [In a dramatic movie announcer voice] “This time, it’s personal….”

FN: What will you do next?  This seems like a tough thing to top.

K: Yeah, this was pretty special.  We have some other cool ideas though, so have no fear….

Smith: When we started the band we all made a list of things we dreamed of accomplishing as a group.  This Giza gig was one.  We have some other ideas for special shows we’ve been discussing, and once we get back together for the Tachyon Tour, we’ll probably come to some decision.

Ford: We are going to leverage quantum physics to play an entire tour’s worth of shows at the same time. [laughs]

FN: That would be something.

Ford: We did go visit the big CERN particle accelerator when were in Europe.  That’s some wild stuff, man.  Creation of black holes, etc….  They are working on it for us.

FN: So, more immediately, what’s on the calendar for this year?  K, you obviously have the Supercrusher tour [The Impact Zone Tour] starting in a couple weeks.  Then the Tachyon Tour kicks off in May.  Will the rest of you work on new music in the meantime, or pursue other hobbies?

Smith: I’m doing a small club tour.  Just me and an acoustic.  I’ll be playing some classic rock and metal covers as well as a few originals.

FN: Wow, I had not heard that.  Will you put an album out?

JS: It’s actually about to come out, on Myrinx Records.  The title will be ‘Midnight Sun’.

FN: Very cool, can’t wait to hear it.  How about you other guys?

Witten: Well, I’m always writing riffs and experimenting with things, so that’s an on-going process for me.  But, with the downtime, I’ll probably go out west and snowboard for a while.  No album coming from that. [chuckles]

Hughes: Just relaxing.

FN: Nice.  You guys have certainly had a busy year, so some downtime is well-deserved.  It was great getting to spend the last few days with you guys – again, the shows were amazing – and to finally sit you all down for an actual interview.  Is this the start of a warmer, fuzzier, more accessible Zeroth?

Smith: Don’t bet on it.

3 Responses to “Rockin’ the Necropolis – The Zeroth Interview”

  1. TMTYTF Says:

    “Aenima” by Tool is an amazing song

  2. ChildofAlma Says:

    Cool guys. Can’t wait to see what you guys do next.

  3. theHoseman Says:

    Really enjoyed this insightful interview. Zeroth are a powerful musical entity comprised of some seriously crazy players. Having jammed with them I can tell you…ain’t no bar they ain’t raised! I love working with these guys because they force me to think outside my musical comfort zone.
    -Zandergriff

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