Published May 14, 2009Zao's lengthy, storied career has been both blessed and cursed with a comical amount of line-up changes, shifts in sound and an overall lack of regard for whatever the hardcore/metal scene considers marketable at any given time. 2006's The Fear is What Keeps Us Here saw them shedding many of their more consistently present influences to make way for a furiously lean, under-produced attack, but Awake? signals a throwback of sorts to their golden era while absorbing elements from all periods of their work. Guitarist Scott Mellinger's questionable clean vocals have returned in a big way, although they are more convincing and efficiently used than ever before. There is a noticeable lack of conventional metalcore breakdowns; Zao now favour thick, sludgy grooves that make appearances infrequently yet are surprisingly fresh-sounding, serving to actually break down a track, as opposed to cluttering it up with unnecessary chugging. Of course, Daniel Weyandt's distinctively weathered rasp is in fine form, delivering a passionate and menacing accompaniment to the band's most diverse collection of songs in years. By choosing to stop touring, press their albums in limited editions and steer well clear of current trends, Zao have indicated that they exist solely for the love of writing and playing music, and Awake? is a record that reflects that ethos from start to finish.
What motivated your plans to not tour consistently anymore? Are you planning any live appearances at all?
Mellinger: We felt that touring was driving us to not love what we did. We were supporting bands all the time but sales never seemed to be getting any better, so instead of killing ourselves, and eventually the band, we decided to stop. But we love to play and we will be playing as much as possible. I have a daughter now too so that makes it almost impossible. As much as I love playing, my daughter comes first in everything.
The new album reintroduces melodic elements The Fear is What Keeps Us Here mostly excised. How did this come about?
I listen to all types of music; actually my favourite type is indie rock/Brit rock. I feel that to make things heavy you need to create a dynamic. When I sing it makes Dan's parts even more dramatic and the heavy parts heavier. I also can't listen to music without some melody. As long as we do it in the right places I think it adds to the song's charm.
Did Russ [Cogdell, guitarist] contribute to Awake?
No. "Romance of the Southern Spirit" was written around [the time of] The Funeral of God and that is one of my favourites he ever did. We felt that song deserved to be recorded well. We were very happy to include it but as for everything else, he had no part.
How did you guys get hooked up with Tim Lambesis?
We have known him and the band [As I Lay Dying] for a very long time. Whenever Zao decide to do anything we want to surround ourselves with friends and make the situation as fun as possible. As a fan of Zao, we thought that it would be cool to have Tim be involved, and we are happy he wanted to be.
Religious imagery and allusions have been present in your work for years. With the new album though, have Zao reached a point where they no longer ally themselves with Christianity, or is it still in an influence?
Everyone's beliefs are different within the band. Jeff [Gretz, drums] and I don't consider ourselves Christian but we do hold values in it. Zao really hasn't ever been a Christian band, especially since Dan joined, but we were branded with that. I know that Dan will have a personal touch to his lyrics no matter what, and I think he still has some spirituality involved in what he says, but it isn't our sole purpose.
Is there an overarching concept to Awake?
Sort of. We all believe that in some way everyone has become apathetic to everything. People don't care about things that are happening right here in our country and it is extremely sad. We just feel very strongly that people should read and research things and care about everything, because eventually we may not have some of the freedoms we hold dear today.
Your records seem to be the opposite of the last one, but completely different from the one prior. Are Zao constantly striving to evolve, or is it a natural progression?
We always want to push ourselves in new directions. I always challenge myself musically. To me, the most boring thing you can do as a band is put out the same type of record all the time. We are influenced by many different types of music, and we like to showcase different attributes of ourselves on different records. I love experimenting. Music should always evolve, just like any other art form.
Do you feel Zao's limited touring and album release will affect the future of the band? Do you plan to keep going in the long term?
We have come to a very comfortable place with where we are as a band. I don't give a shit about getting any bigger, especially when that usually means compromising somewhere. Like I said, touring is extremely hard for a band at our level and we have been doing it for 11 years. We are happy with the fans that we have and would love to play for them. I also feel that Zao will be around a lot longer than most bands because we have no visions of grandeur and we don't let ourselves get disappointed when sales aren't up. Success to us is being able to write what we want and put it out. We are able to do that, so we will do it as long as we can. (Ferret)