Fusing the sounds of hip-hop, jazz, and electronic, Zoogma is known for their eclectic instrumental arrangements of strange samples, sinuous bass melodies, and layers upon layers of effects-laden guitar. They are a four- piece band that actually seems more like a collective of talented and laid- back dudes than a band of four ostentatious instrumentalists.
QRO had the opportunity to talk with drummer, Matt Harris, and bassist, Ryan Nall of Zoogma. Hear what they have to say about their thoughts on jazz, their infamous mantra slogan, and their plans for their 2013 release:
QRO: So how did “What the Fuck is Zoogma” come about? I know it’s your guys’ mantra, right?
Matt Harris: [laughs] Yeah it was definitely a joke at first and started back in a campaign at Bear Creek 2010. It’s funny because it kind of started out sort of like a joke and then it sort of became the mantra of the band. I also think it became a successful slogan to help us sell you know? I always have thought people always work off of what they can see rather than what they can hear so it became also somewhat of a marketing slogan to help raise the word of what Zoogma was. It was catchy, short, and noticeable so it worked. It was funny and effective at the same time so it just stuck with us. We still have a lot of our fans say that to us today.
QRO: I’ve rarely seen people put live instrumentation in an electronic, hip-hop, and jazz context. How did that work?
MH: I think it just kind of just developed over a while. We just approached it from a production DJ standpoint in performance, but still have the integration of live music and instruments into what we were doing. It’s still developing now, but I think as of recently we’re starting to find more of what our sound and our niche is. And we just like that real humanistic aspect to live instrumentation that pure electronic music can sometimes lack. We like to keep it interesting. I think it works because it leaves us more receptive to other people and gives us an opportunity to gain more fans. While some people like DJs, other people like bands, but we appeal to both.
QRO: Going off on jazz, do guys have any jazz influences?
MH: Yeah I definitely think that all of us are imbedded or connected with the late ‘60s, early ‘70s music. All of us really like Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, so I would definitely say a lot of that has influence us as well. But that is not to say those are our only influences. We draw influences from so many bands and have done some pretty weird renditions of them. We’ve covered The Beatle’s “Eleanor Rigby”. Also we even draw inspiration from film and have done some pretty trippy covers of the Ghostbuster’s theme and Jurassic Park’s theme as well.
QRO: You guys are big on improvisation right?
MH: Yeah, that’s the way we keep it really entertaining for ourselves, so that it’s not the same every night. Some songs that we have are a little bit more open to interpretation than others, but I think that keeping some parts of a songs loose and the structures loose, keeps it interesting so each set is never really the same. We also kind of work off the vibe of the crowd and things like that.
QRO: How has the reception for Wet Hot American Mixtape been?
Ryan Nall: Really well, I think. Our original release, Recreational Vehicles, was almost two years ago, so we needed to do something to kind of update the music that we were putting out. We needed to let people know that we are still developing ourselves as a band and moving further along. So I think the mixtape was a way to show the direction in which the band was progressing and it went well. We leaning a little bit more towards electronic elements, but still retaining our staple live aspect. We were even surprised because it gained a little bit more speed than any of us intended it to. It was just supposed to be a summer sampler but it gained some pretty big recognition by fans and other people. I think now that once our tour comes to a close around early November we are going to start really buckling down and work on a next release and try to make a record to get it out by early or mid 2013.
QRO: You guys have mentioned of maybe getting a vocalist for your next release.
RN: Yeah I mean we do a lot of guest stuff or make remixes of vocalists. I guess that’s the good thing in being musicians first rather than performers, because we can improvise and incorporate new elements into our sound. Whether it be a saxophonist, vocalist, horn players, or soloists, we always try to reach for other talented artists that can be incorporated into the band’s dynamic for either on tour or on recordings.
We also like a lot of female vocalists and have done remixes for various artists. It’s something that we definitely like to play with and to continue experimenting with. We have done an Ellie Goulding (QRO live review) remix and we are working on a Janelle Monae (QRO live review) remix. So I don’t think it’s a far cry to say that we would incorporate something like that but I don’t think it would be a permanent thing just a cool addition for tour purposes.
QRO: Any reasons for not picking up a permanent vocalist?
RN: No there has never been a discussion in regards to not wanting a permanent vocalist. But I think part of the music that we make is geared toward being instrumental live electronica and the instrumentation we have on some of the tracks is already overwhelming, and it would take a lot to find how a vocalist could fit into the stuff we make. We would probably have to change and fix our style a little bit to accommodate for the addition of a vocalist. But it’s not something we’re completely unreceptive to or try to steer away from.
QRO: You guys definitely seem like a collective of just talented people rather than a band. I think that is a true testament to your name as Zoogma means “to join” in Greek.
RN: Yeah! I completely agree. We kind of use that to mean a variety of things and I think Zoogma really encompasses the type of music that we play and the people that we are both on stage and off. We are very welcoming to other musicians and styles that we normally don’t play. As long as it can fit into the band’s dynamic and create something interesting and fun then we are all for it.
QRO: So you guys come from Oxford, Mississippi. I could imagine how you changed the music scene in Oxford to become slightly more exposed to electronic.
RN: The southeast definitely isn’t the most predominant electronic music region of the U.S. Of course there is Atlanta and Miami, but those are only the few exceptions. But we are kind of the only electronic acts in not only Oxford but in Mississippi. So I think doing what we do has inspired other acts and talents to start making similar music. The scene is definitely changing and what we see coming out of Oxford are shows that are becoming more and more electronic. I definitely think we helped with that growth at least in Oxford and some parts of the southeast.
QRO: It seem like you guys rarely go back to Oxford to play while on tour. How was it to finally go back and play there in early October?
MH: It was a really great time. It’s weird because when we started all we did was play at bar or rundown parties in Oxford. We never really got out much, but once our music became more noticed everything kind of changed. We rarely play there anymore as we started going on longer tours. So we definitely appreciate playing at our hometown more than we used to. There is nothing like coming back home and seeing all our friends and family who are fans of our music.