The arrival of arena rock
Interview by Gina Virgilio
Picture this: a dimly lit bar is buzzing with excitement. The setting is small and intimate, with comfortable chairs and tables strewn around the room. People are swarming around the front of the stage. They are waiting with baited breath for three handsome guys, armed with screaming guitars and swagger to hit the stage.
Finally, the band jumps on stage, pulsating adrenaline as they pick up their instruments. The lead singer, wearing tight jeans and rocking a curly 'fro, sidles up to the microphone as a delicious chord of musical bliss hums through the room. This is ZO2. They are a trio of old-school rockers from Brooklyn, New York; made up of brothers Paulie Z and David Z (surname: Zablidowsky), and their long-time friend Joey Cassata. Paulie plays lead guitar and wails on vocals, reaching notes that send chills down your spine. David plays a soulful and bluesy bass guitar, strumming haunting solos. Joey powerfully plays a mean set of drums, infusing emotion and endless energy into it. Their sound is the perfect blend of classic and early '80's arena rock with a rich bluesy undertone.
The boys joined up and created ZO2 in the latter half of 2002. They started out playing local New York City venues, such as the steady gig they held down at Arlene's Grocery. The band was booked on a 40-city tour with KISS, which gained them notoriety and popularity alongside other shows they did with Bret Michaels and Twisted Sister. However, they still had not yet signed a record deal, even after the tour.
An interesting twist to their story is the fact that the guys also played kid's songs at children's birthday parties to earn them some extra money, under the guise of "The Z Brothers." This side job ended up helping to get them discovered when a television producer saw them play at a children's party. This stroke of luck developed into two seasons of the comedy show, "Z-Rock," aired on IFC, the Independent Film Channel. The show was a non-scripted parody of the guys' everyday lives as both a children's band and a rock band.
The success of the show skyrocketed ZO2 into the limelight. They are much more well-known across the country, and thousands flock to their concerts. They continue to play in small venues, and always mingle with the fans after every concert. I sat down with the guys during their 2nd Midwest tour in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They were all smiles and joking around as we got down to business.
PSF: At what age did you guys realize you wanted to do music?
DAVID: Coming out of the canal!
JOEY: I was a late bloomer, probably around 4 1/2.
DAVID: You can't pinpoint something like that. As far as you can remember, you wanted to do this. Even before we could play, we were making cardboard guitars and playing performances for our parents.
JOEY: I actually got to see KISS when I was 5 years old. My brother was a big KISS fan. I had no interest in music or anything but I didn't know anything else. They took me to see KISS in Madison Square Garden. I saw Peter rise up on the drum riser and I went crazy.
PAULIE: When I was a little kid, I had the KISS dolls. My father is where I get my musical influence from, but it's funny because KISS came from my uncle. His brother had KISS and my father didn't have any KISS albums at the time. When I was at his house, I saw the makeup. It was hotter than hell and it was really more the visual that got me, which I think is the case with most kids at the time. That sucked me in. I think all 3 of us sort of have the same story.
JOEY: I used to polish, with Windex, my double platinum record. I destroyed it- it's cardboard! I polished it so much there was nothing left- no writing on the inside anymore, nothing.
PSF: That leads into getting to tour with KISS. That was kind of your big break, right?
DAVID: That's funny, because that happened before anything else. That happened very early on in our touring career. So, it was a Catch-22 because it was a big break, but it happened so quickly that we didn't have anything to back it up. We didn't have records in the stores at the time, we didn't have a label set up, we didn't have any promotion behind us. So it was great because it put us on the map, but had it happened two years down the line, it would've been a completely different story.
PSF: I noticed that you had kind of a lag afterwards.
JOEY: Yeah. Up to that point, we had only played about 10 live shows together, and then we got the tour. So, we just got thrust right into the fire, you know what I mean? We did 40 dates with them across the country and it was great. So we figured, do the tour and we'll be superstars! We didn't realize that as soon as the tour was over, it went down a little bit. It took us a little while to get back up, and then we wound up getting Z-Rock.
PSF: I know that the music that influenced you was a lot of 70's type stuff, KISS, early 80's, Def Leppard, and such.
DAVID: For me, Rush was a big, big influence. It's my 2nd favorite band of all time. You can kinda see where I get my influences- KISS, Rush, and Michael Jackson. So, definitely, I like pop stuff as well.
PAULIE: KISS- # 1, and then for me, bands like Deep Purple, Rush. I love blues-oriented bands, so I love things like early Whitesnake, Janis Joplin, Humble Pie, things like that.
JOEY: I don't know about influences, but stuff I love to listen to... obviously KISS, for all of us that should be first. That's a given. I'm a big Prince fan, Billy Joel, stuff like that.
PSF: Do you like any of the recent kind of rock that's out now?
PAULIE: I do. I like Wolfmother, also Dave and I got into the grunge stuff, a little bit late though, like Alice In Chains, STP, Soundgarden. I love that stuff.
JOEY: It's funny. I really believe music is all about relating it to a time and place and stuff. When you're growing up, it just influences you so much more. I would say from the ages of 10-14, the things you hear then are the things that you're going to love for the rest of your life. (ED NOTE: Amen!)
JOEY: Even though you like new music and get into it, you'll never have the same passion. I'll never be sitting in my apartment looking at a CD while I'm listening to the music like the 3, 4, 5 hours straight when I was a kid. It just doesn't happen (anymore).
PSF: I noticed that there was an agent at one of the kid's parties that you guys played. Did you approach them, did they approach you, who came up with the idea to do the show?
DAVID: It's funny because no matter how hard we tried in the music industry, things always seemed to be so difficult, and the odds always seemed to be against us. The kid's world was completely the opposite. We didn't do anything for the kid's thing. We never put out ads, we never promoted, yet we were constantly hired, and we were constantly doing parties. Oddly enough, all of our connections-all our bigger connections- came from doing these kid's parties. We would be doing a kid's party for (Robert) DeNiro, or for Al Roker, or the head of BMG Records would be there. So, all these contacts you'd be able to make at these kid's parties; and because we weren't pushing anything, they were very open and receptive to what we did. They would actually approach us and say "There's no way you do only this for a living." We would do the kid's parties looking like this, looking like rockers. An agent was one of the dads at a bunch of the parties that we were doing, and he approached us just like everybody else does, and said "What else do you guys do?" When we told him we had a rock band, he was like "What? I've got to check this out!" So we invited him to a show we were doing at BB King's in Times Square, and when he came down, he was like "This is such a cool dichotomy- the day and the night, the yin and the yang. We really should do something." We thought he worked for the booking department, and when we found out he worked for the television department, our manager actually came up with the idea and said "Hey look, let's put together a TV show about their lives because it's so interesting." That's kind of how it all came about.
PSF: How did you guys come up with the name "ZO2"?
PAULIE: Well, there's a couple different stories about it. We had a band before this, before we met Joey, called CO2, and then because David and I had The Z Brothers, it was a natural progression to just turn it into ZO2. I like to think of it as a chemistry because ZO2 sounds like it's chemical, or some sort of element, and I say that's the chemistry the 3 of us have. The truth is, whether you like the band or not, or you like the show or not, no one can deny that the 3 of us have some sort of chemistry that works. So, whatever it is, that's the element ZO2. My brother David has a slightly different take on it...
DAVID: I think this is actually a lot cooler. Our father and uncle had a band back in the '70's called Z, with an Italian drummer named Joe, believe it or not. So, it was a 3-piece called Z. We kind of went Z Mach 2, or the Second Coming, and also we started the band in the tail end of 2002. So, it's got a lot of meanings that way, Z the second version.
PAULIE: Or it could be two Z brothers, and the O means the other guy...
DAVID: That's actually the real reason, but he doesn't like that.
JOEY: I was outvoted! My choice was 2 Jews and the Italian but I got outvoted.
PAULIE: The original name of the band was 2 Jews and the Italian.
JOEY: I tried to shorten it to Idiots, and that didn't work.
DAVID: Idiots with a "z" at the end.
JOEY: That's a good name, actually.
PSF: I wish I could hear your music on the radio, especially out here in the Midwest. Do you have any plans to try to get your stuff out there globally?
PAULIE: We do. We're limited to the resources we have as an independent band. Every band that has been successful over the years has had the same story. Some of them were fortunate enough to hit earlier, and some of them, bands like Kid Rock and White Zombie, they had been around 10 years before they hit. So, who knows when it will be that time for us? We've had the songs on radio; it's just a matter of which station.
JOEY: It's tough with rock radio too, because there's not much rock radio. That's almost one of the reasons why Z-Rock is there, because in today's day and age, you need another avenue to promote your music. And if radio won't play us, OK; TV will play us!
PSF: That's one of the things I love; especially Season 2 of the show, because "Ain't It Beautiful" was all over that. That's where I realized that "I need to check out their music" so I put the show aside.
DAVID: We hope more people do that!
PSF: Are you guys planning on a Season 3 for Z-Rock?
PAULIE: We're working on it. The only thing is we're not going to be continuing with IFC. There's just creative differences. The direction they wanted to go, the direction we thought the show should go... Don't forget too, the network doesn't necessarily care about the music either. They're TV, that's their business. We respect that, but we feel like "Look, we're a band; it's a music show," so we're trying our best to find a new home for it. A place where it can be the show it should be, and not just another sitcom. So what we tell people is just be patient, it'll take a little bit of time. We're pretty confident it will come back, but it might not be as quick as Season 2 was, which came right away.
DAVID: In the meantime, we're actually filming a bunch of little webisodes ourselves, on the road. So, it's almost like the "real live" Z-Rock. Right now, you can see it on YouTube. It's youtube.com/zo2videoz. They're just little 2 minute to 5 minute segments of stuff that's happened to us on the road. That's reality at its best.
JOEY: There will be a couple from this trip. You'll see.
PAULIE: There's some good ones from this trip already.
PSF: I'm glad to see that you're going to focus more on your music, because that's what it's about.
PAULIE: It is true- as much as a blessing as the show was, it did take us away from being a band. I don't regret it at all, that was the most incredible experience. If we died tomorrow, we can say that we did that. It really did help us get there; the recognition and our names out there. But as musicians, we were off the road. So you lose a little bit of your job, you lose a little bit of the families you built; you have to regrow that vibe and those connections. That's what we're doing right now. So when people say "So, what have you been doing?" It's like, being a band again. Once the show hits, the show can be another month from now, it can be a year from now, but once Season 3 happens again, that's it.
JOEY: It's 5-6 months of filming, so we're tied up.
PSF: I'd rather you guys be on the road, personally.
JOEY: That's what's good about the webisodes. It's a little bit of both.
PAULIE: Well, if you think about it, a great example is KISS, our heroes. If you really think about it, if they didn't want to tour, they could stop. They could tour just when they want to now. They have that choice. There's a lot of other bands that are just a successful, but they have to tour to keep making money, because that's all they got. So for us ideally, it would be great to be able to film a season of the show, tour, do a little bit of this, a little bit of that, just because we can. We are very lucky that we have the ability to do other things.
PSF: Are the way your characters as portrayed on Z-Rock are how you guys really are?
PAULIE: Joey definitely is. We always say like in Spinal Tap, he's the lukewarm water. David and I, because we're brothers also; and it's not just because we're brothers. We happen to have personalities that are very, very different. There are things that cross over, but fire and ice, definitely. When I'm emotional and sensitive, my brain, if you looked at it, would look like...
PAULIE: Like the ball crawl at McDonald's- it would be like that. It would just be a mish-mosh. David's brain would look like The Matrix, you know what I mean? It's just totally different. Joe is in the middle, and he has to work around it, but he's also the instigator because he pits us against each other.
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