Grab your Fender Telecaster and set your metronome to 3/4....
It’s Math Rock time!
In search of some Canadian Bacon I headed North to have a quick Q and A sesh with Vancouver’s very own Zoo Strategies we talk about: their local scene, modern music distribution models and....the bronze age(?)
Now, before you say “who strategies?” (see what I did there?) Here’s a quick info bomb:
Forming in 2014 originally intended as an internet side project, the debut EP ‘Zeus Tragedies’ was released in November that year and wowed all who listened, with one fellow hailing the band’s sound as ‘Mall Prog’. The EP even scraped into Fecking Bahamas (online math bible) Top 50 Math Albums Readers Poll at number 49.
(You can read my thoughts on the band's latest release at the bottom of this feature)
The next year in March they dropped a sophomore EP entitled ‘Separation' this time ending up at number 40 alongside Irish post rockers And So I Watch You From Afar and British mathcore heroes Rollo Tomasi. Not bad at all considering they haven’t played outside of their home city yet….
DMD: How did you guys come up with the band name?
Trevor (Guitar) This name was formed by my recognition of a place on Broadway and Granville called “financial strategies”. I saw the “strategies” part and thought it was appealing.
I just took that and added Zoo to it to create an aesthetically appealing two word combo. This process is essentially how all good band names are created.
DMD: What is the age of everybody in the band?
Trevor: Personally, my favourite age is the bronze age. It really speaks to me. Either that or age of empires. I’d say that’s a good age too.
DB: British Imperial Africa and the Zulu Nation
DMD: How is the music scene in Vancouver?
Brendan (Bass) The metal scene is really good. There's some top notch death metal and some really good doom and stoner stuff as well. Mitochondrion, Auroch, and Haggatha are the big three Vancouver bands for me personally. Unfortunately, there aren't many math rock bands, but there are a few good ones like mi’ens and hawking. I also don’t think that Vancouver has very many experimental acts in general. It is very run of the mill in a lot of cases.
Trevor: It’s okay. There are lots of folk and singer songwriter acts here. They seem to just parrot each other. Vancouver, however, has a pretty good avant garde electronic music scene. Some of my local favourites include Jonathan Sherk and Ian William Craig. As for my favourite local group i’d probably say it’s Fond of Tigers.
Daniel Baxter (Guitar and Vox) Vancouver’s music scene can be very clique-y. Like certain groups or singers will interact or collaborate with each other and it’s difficult to get in with them, unless you have ‘cred’ from some other outer source.
DMD: Tell me the epic history of the band
Trevor: We started in 2014 and the band originally began as an internet collaboration between me and Miles. I had a few demos that Miles was writing drums for. Over time naturally expanded with Brendan and Daniel joining the band shortly after. Between that time we’ve written some music and played some shows. A federal election happened during the existence of the band.
DB: Our other groups Polarhorse (Trevor and Daniel) and Yes Bear (Miles and Brendan) have been good friends and stage sharers for a couple years as well.
DMD: Describe the music of Z.S
Trevor: If old Macdonald kept his farm and didn’t go batshit insane, this is the music he would have made. Zoo Strategies is, for all intensive purposes, mall prog.
DB: A Miyazaki road trip to the eastern Great Lakes Area.
DMD: Have you chaps played outside of Canada? If not, where do you want to play next?
Brendan: Not yet, unfortunately, but a west coast tour in the States would be pretty awesome.
Trevor: I really want to play in North Vancouver.
DMD: How did you guys get to feature on the Vancouver Connection? (The EP track ‘Actual Birthday’ appeared on the compilation ‘Vancouver Connection volume 1.’ The band are currently selling physical copies through their social media).
Trevor: A guy named Adam Sharp asked us. Here’s a suggestion for future research: find out how Adam Sharp found us!
DB: He’s a British immigrant.
DMD: There are a couple of lines of vocals on Separation, are vocals going to feature more on future ZS releases?
Trevor: They might. It really depends if we think that vocals will support the music. We’re agnostic to the idea of using more or adding less at the moment.
DB: Really depends on the song and what we want to convey musically. Vocals are just another texture and should be treated as any other instrument
DMD: Do you guys have a special approach to writing or just let it come out naturally?
Trevor: The approach we seem to take involves one of us having a few seed ideas. We usually record ideas and send them to each other via the internet. We then think about the ideas and try to mobilize our thoughts into production action at rehearsal. At practice we try to learn the ideas in the order that they are presented. From then we usually tinker with the form. I’d say that all four of us really like the idea of form and composition so we usually take a bit of time to think about what kind of songs we’d like to write, what kind of forms we have or haven’t used yet, and what we can do to support the music or make our songs more coherent. Perhaps one of my favourite aspects of playing in this band is that we usually think of our method pretty philosophically. We are always refining and debating what we do and how we should do it. Above all else, we experience anguish at the possibilities as to where our music might go.
DB: I think about songwriting like carving a totem pole out of a tree. The tree is the idealist version of the song, and then you carve and whittle in the shape and details.
DMD: What’s an album you guys always come back to?
Trevor: Piglet: Lava Land
DB: Talk Talk - Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock
DMD: Who first inspired you to pick up a musical instrument?
Brendan: No one at first but since I started playing there were a few people who blew my mind and really inspired me, probably most notably Colin Marston.
Trevor: Some humans.
DMD: Your music is ‘pay what you want’ on Bandcamp, do you think underground bands trying to get people to pay something like $7.99 for an album is more dead than David Bowie?
Brendan: I feel like if someone wants you to pay for all the hard work they put into their music, then fair enough. But I definitely like to have our music available for free.
Trevor: I am definitely an advocate for having our music as a free download as well. Unless I felt like I was doing this for purely economic reasons, having a price point for our music is not interesting to me.
DB: I think it’s dependant on the fan base we want to reach. I know that sounds controversial
DMD: When is the next record coming out? and will it be self released or through a label?
Trevor: Most likely this year. I should hope so at least. It might be released through a label, But It will be released through the internet.
You can listen to and download the band's EPs for free here
I thoroughly enjoyed the band’s debut EP ‘Zeus Tragedies’ and for those haven’t yet heard it just yet here are my thoughts:
I would describe it as a bit of a wilder beast than the band’s latest offeringc, but that is part of its raw charm. Whether its slowly raining melodies one moment, guitars capering over blast-beats the next, or climbing a ladder to mouth-open-in-disbelief endings, it makes for a most Intriguing and Impressive listen.
Separation Track by Track review:
Opening with the rushing sounds of several passing cars in the rain, this acts nicely as the record’s starting pistol. Separation is shorter and sweeter than the previous release, the song-writing this time around leaves nothing to chance; no riff feels over-done and no section feels too long, all band members sound intently focused on the same sonic goal.
The track ‘Actual Birthday’ comes complete with addictive drum rhythms and delightful well rounded guitar hooks that will get your heart racing and your feet tapping. I would describe the guitar-playing as less finger dancing, and more finger singing!
Bass beautifully buzzes away like a stoned bumblebee in ‘Weekend Dad’ with the surprise appearance of vocals for the first time in the band’s recorded career. These don’t spoil the sound but add to the the weaving bright aesthetics the angelic guitar chords and harmonies paint, then out of nowhere ZS roll the dice again pounding into a heavy steel and concrete cadence without even a whiff of a distortion or overdrive pedal.
Instrumental track ‘Bleeding Out’ serves as spacey ambient break before the closing song ‘Teen Suicide Ghosts Roam These Skateparks’ politely kicks down the door.
The drumming remains impressive all the way through the EP, but is best showcased on this final track, sounding more like one continuous solo in it’s own right, the fills don't over compensate but compliment the acrobatic guitars that positively sparkle and twinkle in the closing bars. The dynamics still rise and fall at the drop of a hat, but ZS have already proven to us they are masters of such art. Before you know it, Separation is over, and left not knowing what to do with oneself, just smile and hit repeat.