Story time with The Zolas

by Matt Caprioli

It was the British Columbia Boy’s Choir that brought The Zolas together some 15 years ago. Since then, Zachary Gray and Tom Dobrzanski carried their vocal talents to Lotus Child until 2009, when the duo released the heavily praised Tic Toc Tic. Their latest album, Ancient Mars (2012), has an atmospheric quality with darker lyrics. “Cold Moon” and “Strange Girl” were heavily influenced by exes. Every song is marked by catchy riffs, clever lyrics, and refreshing realness. Though “Knot in My Heart” has received the most attention, there are many more understated gems in Ancient Mars.

Quip had an opportunity to chat with lead singer and guitarist Zachary Gray who is a laid back, cultured man without an ounce of pretension.

We touched on one night-stands run amok, JG Ballard, and touring in the States.

Matt Caprioli: What’s the best concert you’ve been to lately?

Zachary Gray: Man, I’m not being good at remembering, I have answers to these and I think about them sometimes, then I forget what they are…

MC: Maybe your first one? 

ZG: Yeah I remember that one. My very first concert was U2. I had never heard of them before, but I was like, 13, and a friend of mine was a huge U2 fan. I wasn’t really into music at the time, didn’t really get into playing music until my late teens. But he wanted to go so we got tickets.

It was around Christmas time, and I was so hyper to go to this concert because I’ve never been to one. And my mom said “Hey, you need to chill out. Why don’t you go outside and install Christmas lights while you wait for Brodie’s Mom to pick you up.”

So that’s what I did. I had a big staple gun, and was stapling the lights to the house, and I saw the car pull up, and on the final staple I just messed up and it went into the palm of my hand. And I looked over to my mom, and I just saw the concert in Jeopardy. If my mom sees this long ass staple in my hand, there’s no way she’d let me go.

So I snuck into the washroom, pulled the staple out, wrapped a bunch of gauze around my hand, and said “K mom going to the concert love you bye!” I went to the concert and my hand was fine.

MC: Want to share an embarrassing moment? 

ZG: Well, I could talk about my first one night-stand.

MC: That sounds like fun. I say go for it.

ZG: I went home with this girl, met her at a show and she took me back to her place. I was overly self-conscious about what a cliché it was to meet a girl at your own show and go home with her and have a one-night stand. So I wasn’t lost in the moment at all.

We weren’t drunk either. I still know her, she’s awesome and it’s not embarrassing after the fact….but anyway.

She went in the bedroom to make herself more comfortable. It was a classic, “Give me a second to make myself more comfortable.” And she was probably going to the bedroom to take her bra off or something like that. And I go to the washroom to pee, and I flush the toilet, and to my utter horror, the water level starts to rise and it doesn’t stop.

It starts to spill over the toilet, and I’m just freaking out!

Finally, I find the shut off value. But by then there’s a centimeter of water all over her washroom floor. So I had to go down there, and she’s all lying kind of sexy on the bed and I’m like “Hey…Uh, you have any towels?”

She put her bra back on, got a bunch of towels, and we spent the next half hour wiping up all the very diluted piss.

MC: Is there a song of yours you would like your ex to hear repeatedly?

ZG: A song of mine? Oh no. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. That sounds like a fate worse than death. But I have written lots of songs that I feel speak to various exes. I don’t know, I have one song that was straight up about a specific ex, and she could read it and know exactly how I feel. Basically how I feel is it was great, now it’s over, and we’ll always care about each other. Not a very dramatic song. It’s a song called “Strange Girl,” that’s one of the few songs that’s completely about one person. Lots of times I’ll have biographical stuff, but I’ll lace it pretty heavily with stories from other friends, or stories from the news, or other random ideas until it’s not really fact anymore.

MC: What’s your favorite book? 

ZG: Recently, this book called Concrete Island by JG Ballard. It’s about a guy who lives in London, and if you’ve ever been to London you know they have a pretty intense freeway system, just in the outskirts of the city that’s between the city and the suburbs. His car slips off the road and falls into an embankment while he’s on one of those freeways. Nobody sees him and he can’t get off the island because he’s too injured to head back to London…He has to sort of live this Robinson Crusoe life for a bit. It’s pretty cool. Reading JG Ballard gives you the exact same feeling as listening to Radiohead.

MC: Have you toured in the States?

ZG: We’re open to it. We’re just putting out music and going where there’s demand. If we get some traction in the States, probably. I know that people want us to come, but it’s making it financially….No, I guess we just have to go.