By Josiah HughesKnown best for his work in avant-metal experimenters Hella, Sacramento-based mega-drummer Zach Hill has always been known for his many projects and collaborations. (Hill estimates that he is currently involved in eight musical projects.) As such, itís only fitting that Astrological Straits, his first solo record, is packed to the brim with collaborations from the likes of Les Claypool, Marnie Stern, the Deftonesí Chino Moreno, No Ageís Randy Randall and Dean Spunt, and many more. Led by Hillís ferocious drumming, heartfelt vocals and complex arrangements, the album bustles with its collaboratorsí frenetic energy while retaining Hillís singular vision. Opener "Iambic StraysĒ runs pulsating synths and eerie guitars over Hillís hectic drumming and surprisingly laidback vocals, working as a nice run into the anthemic guitar of "Toll Road.Ē "Street PeopleĒ makes things a little chaotic, with hammered guitar runs and ferocious drum rolls, while "Ummer of LoveĒ veers between start-stop dynamics and slow release melodies. Then itís over to "NecromancerĒ on disc two, the 32-minute drum piece perfectly matched by pianist Marco Benevento. Astrological Straits is both the most ambitious and accessible work Zach Hill has ever done, successfully bridging the gap between his prog, free jazz, metal and punk influences, leaving his peers covered in dust. )
Why did you do a solo record at this point in your career? Even from a younger age, Iíve always had the idea that at some point Iíd like to start my own group from a bandleader stance, and start my own discography. I donít want to call it a "careerĒ but my own discography and my own core group of people, like Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, where everybodyís doing what they want to do and expressing themselves but doing it under the direction of an individual. I always thought that would be interesting to do from the perspective of a drummer, just to put what the role of drummer is in a different perspective from how itís normally perceived. That was always a long-term goal of mine. It was always something in the back of my head, and just from doing this more and more, basically by being fortunate enough and lucky enough, my resources evolved to where it became a reality where maybe I could do that and people would want to listen. I started talking to Mike Patton about it and prior to them even wanting to release a Hella record, I had a plan to do a solo record with them. So Iíd been thinking about it for a long time. It isnít a one-off project. Itís the first in a long line of what Iíd like to do. Iím planning on making records on my own from now on.
Does that mean Hella will take a backseat? That kind of depends. Hella is a real grey area in general right now, so itís hard to say. I donít really perceive things like that, probably because my brainís used to doing so many things at once. If things work out and Iím getting the fun, the challenge, and the creativity in whatever Iím doing, that will always take the backseat.
Is there a particularly memorable story from recording Astrological Straits? One thing that was pretty mind-blowing was when Marco Benevento came in to record the second discís improv piece. Itís a 30-minute straight drum piece, but I knew I wanted to have a piano piece to accompany it. I knew Marco would be great for it because heís an amazing player and an amazing improviser. He has all of the sensibilities to take something like that on. I was trying to explain the whole track, because it has kind of a story that goes with it. But as soon as he got to the studio, probably three minutes later, he was sitting at the piano going, "Iím ready! Iím ready!Ē He wanted to do this thing and really didnít want any explanation. We werenít even ready and he was like, "Just roll it! Just roll it!Ē So we did and he just ripped through all 30 minutes, playing the most incredible shit. It was totally on point to every sensitive little spot. It was pretty crazy. He rolled up, sat down and did it.
What have you been up to so far today? Basically a lot of monitors, things like emailing and the vortex of the computer world, and then I had lunch with some friends to discuss some musical things. Getting ready to go to band practice, and Iíve been painting for the last two hours.
I didnít know you were into painting. Iím definitely really into visual art. When I was younger, prior to playing music, it was actually what I saw myself doing. My idol was Walt Disney, and from a young age I was really into visual arts and drawing. Iím still pretty active, and when I get a chance I like to bridge those things together with my music, as far as all of the album art and videos I do. In the future, I would like to get as focused with that side of things as I am in music, but itís kind of hard to put the same amount into both. (Ipecac)