Chain D.L.K.: First off, how can you explain the fact that you still get along pretty well with each other when the most bands split up after the first tour? It looks like you’re always on tour. What’s the average number of gigs you play a year?
Zu: Normally we play between 120 and 150 gigs a year with Zu alone. Then there are a few side projects for each one of us, so you might add 30 gigs to that number. Yes, it’s a huge number, especially if you think that it has been like that for the last six years! Anyway we have been good friends forever, we are not “colleagues”, so we know each other’s personalities pretty well and how to say things and when to say things and when not to…. Also we think that Zu has still so many things to say that we have to do it and this touring schedule is the only way to survive, for us!!
Chain D.L.K.: Lonberg-Holm, Ken Vandermark, Spaceway inc., Dalek, Ex, Thurston More, Lukas Ligeti, Gianni Gebbia, Geoff Farina, Matt Gustafson, Damo Suzuki, Eugene Chadbourne. And I could go on for a couple of pages. But with which (living or already dead) musician would you like to collaborate with? And why?
Zu: Dead ones: these are too many… but would they collaborate with us? And can you set up a few meetings? Can we once meet John Coltrane or Sun Ra, please? Not to play but just to see them…. Alive ones: I think we’re really happy with all the people and musicians we’ve met so far! I think the only name that the three of us together would love to collaborate with is Diamanda Galas. The reason why is so obvious. She’s amazing… we’re truly fans of her, as an artist and woman!!
Chain D.L.K.: You’ve also been collaborating with Roy Paci, he plays on your debut CD and on MotorHellington if my memory doesn’t fail me. A while ago I’ve read an interview where reading between the lines everybody could understand it hadn’t been such a joyful divorce. What can you tell us about it?
Zu: Well, what can I say, we have different attitudes about every possible thing, so as the Ramones would say: “What can you do?”
Chain D.L.K.: I’ve read the three of you came from a squat/social center/punk-hardcore sort of background (and I think were somebody to see you in person it would be evident), like The “mighty” Ex. The world has changed, youth culture constantly changes (I don’t say for worse, I mean it just changes) and a many people had/have to redefine their path (which doesn’t imply a contradiction). But what you think in retrospective?
Zu: It is our history — I cannot even think how it could have been different. I met Jacopo when he was a 13-year-old squatter in our neighbourhood, Ostia. We were raised in the d.i.y. mentality simply because there was nothing — none to rely upon, you know?…. But since the late ’80s in Rome we could see bands like Nomeansno, Fugazi, Rollins Band and I could go on forever, the shows were cheap and they were full of energy. Things have changed a lot, techno took over the squat scene, and punk rock doesn’t mean a thing anymore, except fashion. So, as Nomeansno say, we “stay home and read a book”, and when we met The Ex for the first time and toured together, it meant a lot to us. Simply being in touch with their good spirit and energy, looking at how they still booked their own shows, printed their own records and so on, simply taking life by the reins was a good input and reminder for us. We play also in contemporary music festivals or in jazz clubs. Orthodoxy can be found anywhere, and sometimes punk rockers can be more reactionary than jazz snobs. I mean — we simply live and do and play how we feel, and do it the way we feel comfortable.
Chain D.L.K.: But that together with your “you’d better kill me if you wanna stop me” touring schedule doesn’t make you feel isolated or lonely. “Freak”? Besides that your saxophonist (Luca Mai) is a father now and it shouldn’t be that easy to make it all work. (Somebody would say that’s the hardest improvisation of all…. Ha, ha, ha!)
Zu: Yes, we are and feel like “freaks” anyway, Zu is our freak-show! In our first album there’s a song named “Xenitis”, a Greek word for someone who is never feeling at home… this says it all, I guess. So, we’re on the road all this time to meet other freaks, and there are many out there…. We hardly feel isolated! And Luca has his two-year-old baby boy now, who is already practising drums!!!
Chain D.L.K.: I think like every “good” family (and with such a “trum trum”) there’ve been moments in which you probably thought you (or somebody else) happened to think you were about to quit. Can you remember when and how?
Zu: Oh my! I think that in the beginning we were feeling more fatigue and stress. I remember leaving for only four days and coming back home kinda destroyed! Now it’s much different, we know the road so well, we can tour for long periods, and everyone just knows when he’s feeling weird only because he’s tired, or missing his girlfriend or his baby, or just because maybe we’re in the U.S.A. and food sucks so much…. 🙂 I mean, there would be many reasons to feel sick of running around like headless chickens and coming back home only to work on the next tour, but on the other side we also feel so lucky to be able to see the world and meet freaks like us and tour playing the music we love, and we’re aware it’s also an absurd and challenging music! We’re very aware that we’re also lucky bastards in a way. And this makes things look in a completely different perspective!
Chain D.L.K.: Like many other Italians the place where you get the least recognition (or where it took the most to get it) was your homeland and I think sometimes that can also be frustrating.
Zu: Well, it’s true, but it’s also normal. Any American or English generic band can play arenas in Italy, and there are many historical reasons why…. But you don’t want to get us started on this!!!
Chain D.L.K.: I like your live sets, I’ve noticed they’ve become more and more muscular but that’s the point, surprisingly after the release with Spaceway Inc. Your studio sessions have become more cerebral, should I say “odd”? I think it’s weird, I think it hasn’t happened that gradually but more all of a sudden. Why?
Zu: On record we always try to investigate and focus on one particular aspect of Zu. In this, we’re helped by the person that eventually shows up as the fourth member of the band, who becomes a catalyser of a specific idea or concept. Thus, we change and evolve, and it’s like a chemical reaction, a new ingredient changes the whole solution, it’s always been like this and we saw it happen since the beginning. It’s always very interesting, it’s like a new friend or lover that helps parts of you to come out in a way.
Chain D.L.K.: Live you’re still really strong, you think it has to do with your background or with a “kill, kill, kill” approach to live set?
Zu: …And in the meantime we find how to become more muscular and straightforward in the live context. I think that as an audience member most of the time it would be more interesting to see something very rehearsed than people searching. We still like the energy of live improvisation but nothing is like the perfect engine that you have under your hands after one week of tour!!! It’s always weird to see live bands that were actually better on record, or seeing people playing post-rock without any energy or sense of true liberation involved. I think we all love the “kill, kill, kill” approach of Nomeansno, these are our roots! But also Charles Mingus had a workshop in Italy and — first thing he did, he threw a chair against a wall. A few people were shocked and left immediately, but after, he calmed down and said that this is the way we should play music!!!
Chain D.L.K.: The future? (If you answer “Looks brighter,” I already know it!)
Zu: We never think in long terms, and we don’t consider this as a career, so it’s hard to reply to this question. Normally there are so many things to do in the present that it’s hard to think over, let’s say, a six-month period. But in general terms, we think there’s still much more to do and explore with Zu, so things will just normally and naturally go on, as they are wont…. In practical terms, we have a CD with Nobukazu Takemura coming out on Xeng records in September, and a 10″ vinyl split with Iceburn Collective coming out in the summer on Wallace/Phonometak. I personally have three CDs of Original Silence coming on Smalltown Supersound… the first one will be in the summer too…. Luca will perform live with Nomeansno in Canada…. Jacopo is writing a score for a movie in these days… and we’re leaving in a few hours to go to the USA and Canada for a three-week tour…. The future is already all these things in a way… taking care of the present moment is best.
Visit Zu on the web at:
[interviewed by Andrea Ferraris] [proofreading by Benjamin Pike]