James McNair talks to founding members Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone of The Zombies.
Return of The Zombies
Best known for their 1960s US and UK hit singles She’s Not There and Time of the Season, The Zombies were one of the first ‘British Invasion’ bands. Originally formed in St Albans, England, in 1962, they reunited for acclaimed performances of their masterful 1968 album Odessey & Oracle in 2008 and have continued working together since. We talk to the keyboard player Rod Argent and singer Colin Blunstone.
How potent is your new album, Live in the UK?
RA: Thanks. It’s important to us that people know we’re not just going through the motions up there.
Have you began writing the follow-up to your 2011 studio album Breathe Out, Breathe In?
RA: We’re in the very early stages, and we’ve been rehearsing one new song that’s about the experiences we had when we first went to America in the mid-1960s. I can’t tell you the song’s title or any more than that at the moment. We may perform it when we play in Central Park in New York on June 15.
You played She’s Not There on the American TV show Hullabaloo in January 1965 as one of the first British Invasion bands.
RA: It was a huge culture shock. The world was a much bigger, less uniform place in those days. We were skinny 19-year-old white kids from England with our own brand of soulfulness, but to our amazement people such as Patti LaBelle took us to their hearts.
CB: I remember on Hullabaloo they wanted us to dance. We weren’t very good or avid dancers, so our spot got smaller and smaller.
Colin, you’ll be 68 next month but your voice is still in great shape. How do you keep it like that?
CB: Thank you. I have to work constantly on it with a warm-up tape. I often do my vocal exercises in the car and they tend to contort my face, so brace yourself if you’re sitting next to meet at the traffic lights [laughs].
Why was it so many years after its release that your signature album Odessey & Oracle was recognised as a masterpiece?
RA: It actually sells more every year now than it did when it came out, which is very strange. I think a lot of it is down to recommendations by succeeding waves of younger artists – people such as Paul Weller, Dave Grohl and Snow Patrol.
CB: Yes. Paul Weller has often said that it’s a favourite album. He was talking about it even when he was younger and at No 1 in the UK with The Jam.
What in particular makes The Zombies’ music unique?
RA: I think with Odessey … people are often struck by how English and autumnal it sounds, and that appeals to them.
CB: We’re very definitely a keyboard-based rock band and when we started out in 1961 that was very unusual, because most rock bands had three guitar players. We did, too, for a short period, but then we had a break at rehearsal and Rod went over to a broken-down old piano and played Nut Rocker by B Bumble and the Stingers, which was a big hit at the time. I can still remember it as if it was yesterday and I was absolutely astounded. He was only 15, but he was a great keyboard player even then.
How do you pass the time on the tour bus these days?
RA: On our US bus we have wireless, so we can catch up on emails, but there’s no getting around the fact that the travelling parts of touring are incredibly tedious. I’ve never understood how sitting doing nothing can make you so tired.
CB: I’m probably the champion sleeper in the band, but I always make sure I’ve got three or four good books with me.
What memorable experiences has being in The Zombies brought you?
RA: I grew up only liking classical music until I heard Elvis singing Hound Dog when I was 11. So to find myself knocking on his front door in 1965 and saying: “Is Elvis in?” was just extraordinary. His father said: “Elvis is away filming, but he loves you guys.” I thought he was just being kind, but many years later I found out that Elvis had had some Zombies singles on his jukebox.
CB: Performing at some of the most prestigious venues in the world has been wonderful. You never forget playing at The Royal Albert Hall or the Araneta Coliseum in the Philippines.
• The Zombies Live in the UK is out now on Redhouse Records
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