Touring the United States for the first time, The Zutons quickly see a world of difference between their native Liverpool, England, and Anaheim, Calif., site of a recent tour stop.
“People aren’t as miserable,” said singer-guitarist Dave McCabe, standing outside the House of Blues. “I think the weather has a lot to do with it. That’s why you have a lot of shiny, sunny bands here. We don’t have any shiny bands in the U.K., because it’s not a very sunny place.”
Critics and fans worldwide, however, are saying a lot of shiny, happy things about The Zutons’ debut Deltasonic/Epic album, “Who Killed The Zutons?” (released stateside on Oct. 19). So much so, the band was shortlisted for this year’s coveted Mercury Music Prize, eventually losing out to Franz Ferdinand. When an actor or actress says “It’s an honor just to be nominated,” it sounds phony; when The Zutons say it, they mean it.
“I never would’ve imagined this a year ago,” McCabe said. “It just shows you just how far we’ve come.”
Produced by former Lightning Seeds frontman Ian Broudie, “Who Killed The Zutons?” could be the soundtrack to a rock ‘n’ roll B-movie. It has a mixture of British-invasion R&B, funk, psychedelia, blues, 1960s-’70s American rock and the voodoo vibe of Dr. John, with plenty of hooks and rhythms to go around.
“We didn’t do that consciously,” McCabe said. “That just kind of happened naturally. Bands in Liverpool tend to mix a lot of stuff stuff together. I don’t know why it happens like that, but I think we mix more than most bands. The way we mix it in is on a more authentic level, songs with dimension.
“To me, I just describe it as modern rock ‘n’ roll. Rock ‘n’ roll has everything in there – blues, folk, rock. Ours is just a modern formula for it. That’s how simple I can put it myself. I don’t look any further than that.
“The album is like a photograph book, where you can hear the history of the band for the past two years we’ve been together. It has our best moments. We didn’t know what kind of album we wanted to make, we just wanted to make it, period. We just wanted to record the songs, we didn’t think of a concept.”
Since its U.K. release in April, the quirky album has exceeded McCabe’s every expectation. It went Top 10 and spawned three Top 40 singles – “Pressure Point,” “You Will You Won’t” and “Remember Me” (Hear here via iTunes).
Conquering America is a whole other story.
“There’s too much crap like Jennifer Lopez and ‘N Sync, totally mindless bollocks stuff,” McCabe said. “This is why no one wants to buy records anymore, because when you turn on the radio, the songs are pretty bland. There needs to be two sides of it, so people have a choice. At the same time, you don’t want to get on that A-list because you don’t want to turn into one of those bland bands. It’s a weird balance.
“That’s what I like about our band. It’s there if you want to hear it, but it’s not in your face. If our music was in your face, on the radio all the time, people would get bored with it. I think this album will be okay, but I don’t think it’s going to be a smash in the states. It’ll just lay the platform down. We don’t have a massive radio song, in all honesty, and if you want to do well in America, you need a massive radio song. But I think we can build up a fan base by doing gigs, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
McCabe, lead guitarist Boyan Chowdhury, bassist Russell Pritchard, drummer Sean Payne and saxophonist Abi Harding formed in 2002, just as The Coral struck it big and renewed interest in the Liverpool scene. Promptly dispatching any comparisons, The Zutons emerged from The Coral’s shadow to forge their own identity and niche.
“We weren’t a massive band, and neither were The Coral, really,” McCabe said. “But it’s fair to say we were living in their shadow. Still, you start to click together after a certain time, and hopefully you stick together long enough to click. It’s like the Talking Heads; when they made the ‘Remain in Light’ album, that was totally beyond anything they had made before. You just improve with age.”
That’s where The Zutons’ album title comes in.
“Everyone just sort of wrote us off not even as another Coral, but as another Liverpool band,” McCabe said. “The album title was a joke, just in case we never made it. We would at least have a good laugh about it.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “Guns ‘N Roses’ ‘Use Your Illusion I & II.’ Believe it or not, I still love it now. It brings back memories of that time in my life, and some of the songs are quite good, as well.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “Smashing Pumpkins, back in 1992, at the Liverpool Royal Court, and The Verve were supporting them. The Verve weren’t known at the time, and they all had long hair, not The Verve that you probably know. Smashing Pumpkins always did really well in Europe; they were probably a little too far out for America at the time. They were a great band, they had some good songs.”
THE WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: “Working in a fish factory. You had to pull the fish out of the back of this machine and all this fish steam would hit you in the face. Every day, you’d come home absolutely sticking. I would go straight to the bath. It was horrible. And there was like an inch or two of water on the floor in the factory. One time, a fish fell on the floor, and a woman who was the boss, she picked it up off the floor and she made me gut it. She said, ‘It’ll get clean eventually.’ I could never look at mackeral the same.”
ON THE WEB: www.thezutonsusa.com.
BWF (before we forget): Upcoming tour dates, with Muse – Nov. 6, Philadelphia, Electric Factory; Nov. 8, Washington, D.C., 930 Club; Nov. 9, New York, Webster Hall; Nov. 10, Pittsburgh, Mr. Small’s Theatre; Nov. 12, Pontiac, Mich., Clutch Cargos; Nov. 13, Chicago, Riviera; Nov. 14, Milwaukee, Eagles; Nov. 15, Minneapolis, 1st Avenue.
More updates: Joe Henry, Marcus King, Lily Kershaw, Poliça, Sarah Brightman, Jerry Leger, Simple Minds, Grateful Dead, etc