Monday, June 13, 2016

Love and Anger: Inside Steve Zing’s Blak29

Steve Zing and Dan Tracey of Blak29 (Photo by Steve Zing/Joe Simanello)

During a career highlighted by stints in Samhain, The Undead and Mourning Noise, longtime Danzig bassist Steve Zing has been a part of some of the most legendary moments in the history of Horror Punk and Metal. Now, he is taking center stage as the leader of Blak29.

Boasting some of Zing’s heaviest performances in years, Blak29’s debut album, Love And Anger, hits listeners with a perfect balance between Sonic Temple-era The Cult and How The Gods Kill-era Danzig. Fueled by Zing (who handles lead vocals, drums and occasional additional guitar and bass duties), Dan Tracey (lead guitar, bass and backing vocals) and some very special guests, Love And Anger is strong enough to stand alongside the classics in the Danzig/Samhain canon.

Blak29 rose from the ashes of Zing’s most recent non-Danzig project, Marra’s Drug. As much as he enjoyed that band while it lasted, he admits that musical differences eventually led to its demise.   

“Our guitar player in Marra’s Drug [Steve Falco] was amazing,” he says. “But when you're an amazing player, you want to play amazingly. That tends to lead to overplaying. The drummer [John Caton, ex-Electric Frankenstein] was great – and when they're great, some drummers are just in the pocket, and others just want to play a lot. I think there was too much going on for my taste. Everybody's got this perception of 'making it' or whatever you want to call it. It wasn't happening fast enough; everybody kind of got bummed by that fact. There were words spoken like, 'Well, you get to go play in front of thousands of people with Danzig.' I'd say, 'Well, okay...That's not my fault.' But I still talk to the guys all the time, and it's great. It was good while it lasted; it was a good era.”

Recruiting former Marra’s Drug bassist Tracey for the new project, Zing began putting Blak29 (named after Zing’s June 29 birthday and love of roulette) into motion. Recorded in Zing’s home studio over a three-year period, Love And Anger was first teased in a video clip of Hades/Non-Fiction guitarist Dan Lorenzo adding his touch to the proceedings. With the album finally out in the world, Zing is happy with where the endeavor ultimately ended up.

“Everything could not have gone better,” he says. “We have fun doing it, and there's no egos. We're trying to do what's best for the song. Although I'm the drummer and I play some guitar and some bass on it and am the singer, I'm not listening just for myself. Dan's not listening just for his instruments, whereas others would go, 'Turn the guitar up; I need more lead.' This is just for the song, and that's it.”

Love And Anger features a fiery cover of former ABBA singer Frida’s 1982 hit, “I Know There’s Something Going On.”

“When that song came out, I really liked it,” Zing explains. “I thought the drums were so powerful, and it’s just a cool song for the time that always stuck with me. I was like, 'You know what? Someday, I'm going to do a version of that song,' and that's exactly what happened.”

“I Know There’s Something Going On” features Lorenzo on guest guitar.

“Dan actually lives a few blocks from where I am,” explains Zing. “I got to know him because I knew his drummer from his band, Hades. When Hades did some shows, I went down to a rehearsal of theirs and we found out we were basically neighbors. We just kept in touch, and we met for breakfast and lunch a few times. One time, I was like, 'Man, I have a Hades 45 from the early '80s!' One day, I called him up and said, 'Hey, why don’t you come and play some guitar?'

“I Know There’s Something Going On” also features guest co-lead vocals by Leiana, a Philadelphia-based singer who currently fronts the band TheOne2s.   

“The girl can write; the girl can sing,” says Zing of Leiana, who was first crossed paths with him via New York-based vocal coach Melissa Cross. “When I was gonna do that Frida cover, I was like, 'I think it would really work best as a duo-type thing. I called her up and said, 'Hey, how'd you like to do this?' I thought she did an amazing job. She's really a great musician.”

Zing’s longtime friend and current Danzig drummer Johnny Kelly (Type O Negative/Seventh Void) also turns up on Love And Anger, bringing the beat to “I Know There’s Something Going On,” “Can’t Find My Way” and “Not Feeling Heaven.”

“When you're having fun, there's no pressure,” Zing observes. “Obviously, Johnny knew of the song, but I said to him, 'Play what you want.' With the other two songs he did on the record as well, he wasn’t given anything. He didn't have weeks to rehearse; he came down and I said, 'Do your thing.' I'm a big Johnny Kelly fan; he swings like no other drummer. Obviously, Bill Ward is one of his biggest influences. Bill Ward, John Bonham...he swings when he plays. He's got such a great feel.”

With Love And Anger now a reality, Zing is looking to build a band to showcase the material live.

“Obviously, I'll ask Johnny,” he says. “It's a two-guitar sound; I've been looking around and I have my eye on a few people in the area who I'll be asking soon to see what they think. I definitely want to play live. I love the art of recording; I've been into it since I was a little kid, but live is really where you get to show your wares, so to speak.”

In addition to a standard-edition black-and-white cover, Love And Anger has also been issued with a special full-color cover by Florida-based artist Dave Berns.

“I got turned on to Dave because he's done Danzig posters for certain shows over the years,” Zing explains. “I always loved his artwork; he's done some incredible posters for us.”

Almost all of the 250 copies of this version were already sold out at the time of this writing. Naturally, Zing has been pleased with the public’s response to the album.

“It's done better than my expectations,” he shares. “As you know, the music business has become stagnant; I think people have lost faith in music. What I mean by that is today's music is all programmed. Of course, there are a bunch of bands that are still putting out real music, like a lot of the Metal bands. But as far as anything else that even has a remote chance of being somewhat commercial, it's all programed instant-gratification music. I'm not putting any of those artists down. If you can make a living in the music business, I don't care who you are – good for you! But don't give me your bullshit; I don't want to hear your political stance and things like that. This ain’t politics. We're artists and musicians; we're not politicians. Leave the politics for the rest of the idiots and just concentrate on making people happy and forget their lousy jobs or whatever they have for the length of your CD or your show.”

The release of Love And Anger is the latest chapter in Zing's 36-year musical story. He first cut his teeth in the short-lived New Jersey Punk band Implosion, which eventually morphed into the Misfits-inspired Mourning Noise. The band's 1983 EP Dawn Of The Dead remains one of era’s most memorable releases, while the 1998 compilation Death Trip Delivery: 1981-1985 is an essential purchase. When the Misfits collapsed later in ‘83, Zing joined Glenn Danzig and drummer-turned-bassist Eerie Von (Rosemary’s Babies) in Samhain. While still in Samhain, he helped out his old friend (and former Misfits guitarist) Bobby Steele by playing drums in more than one version of the ever-fluctuating Undead. (His contributions to the band are best represented on 1985’s “Never Say Die!” / “In Eighty Four” single, 1989's Age Your Rage! LP and the 1991 compilation Dawn Of The Undead.) By 1987, he was out front singing lead vocals in Chyna, a Heavy Rock group that lasted 12 years and produced a series of independent releases. In 1999, Zing participated in the first Samhain reunion tour, alternating on bass and drums with November-Coming-Fire-era member London May. Following the trek's conclusion, he and May joined hooked up with Danzig touring guitarist Todd Youth (Murphy's Law/Warzone/Agnostic Front) and AFI singer Davey Havok for Son of Sam, releasing the album Songs From The Earth in 2001. (A second album, 2008's In The Night, saw Havok replaced by Ian Thorne and future Michael Monroe drummer Karl “Rockfist” Rosqvist replace May). In 2003, Zing formed Doomtree, releasing the album Down Below two years later. After the CD's release, a trademark dispute with a Rap act of the same name forced Zing to re-name the band Marra's Drug. An eponymous album under the new moniker was released in 2011. He also joined Danzig in 2006 as the band's full-time bassist and has remained with them ever since.

With the exception of a couple of tours where Kelly was temporarily replaced due to other commitments, the current incarnation of Danzig (completed by Prong guitarist Tommy Victor) has been together since 2008 – lasting longer than even the classic original lineup of Glenn Danzig, Von, guitarist John Christ and Chuck Biscuits. What makes the current version of the band work so well?

“Johnny gets to look at our asses all the time!” Zing jokes. “You know, it's a real blessing to be playing in Danzig, let alone playing with Glenn, Johnny and Tommy. Tommy is no slouch, for sure. You couldn't ask for better players and better bandmates. We have a lot of fun. You're talking about musicians who are up there because they love to play music. Johnny will play anywhere at any time. He just loves to play drums. He's one of those guys; it never gets old for him. You put a pair of sticks in his hand, and this guy just lights up and plays.

“When Danzig goes in to do a rehearsal, we plug in and in a half hour, it's like we’ve been playing every day, even though a year can go by,” he adds. “We know what to expect from each other.”

Love And Anger comes at an interesting time in Zing’s career, as this summer marks the 30th anniversary of his debut solo single, a cover of Del Shannon’s “Runaway.” Limited to a one-time pressing of 100 45s, the record has become one of the most coveted item in the Misfits/Samhain/Danzig collector universe.

 “Every once in a while, I find one on eBay or something for like $300,” Zing says. “I think I have like five left; I'm saving them for my kids.”

Another critical anniversary in Zing’s world hit two years ago, when Glenn Danzig called him up to inform him that there was an offer on the table for Samhain reunion show at that year’s Riot Fest to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Initium album. The success of the performance (which included Peter Adams of Baroness on guest guitar and May sharing drum/bass duties with Zing) led to a six-date tour under the name “30 Bloody Years.” The trek ended on November 1, 2014 at the Best Buy Theatre in New York City.

“It was bittersweet,” says Zing of the band’s (as of now) final onstage appearance. “The show was over, and security comes over and says, 'We're closing the building!' We kind of all scattered and never said goodbye. Obviously, I talk to Glenn and London all the time, but it was just a weird way the way everything just ended. It kinda didn't close the book for me; it left that last chapter open like, 'Wait a minute! This is not the way this is supposed to end!' But you never know – I never thought [’30 Bloody Years’] would happen. It never came up in a conversation [previously] between Glenn and me. Basically, he called me around March of 2014 and said, 'Hey, we got an offer to Samhain for the 30th anniversary.' I was like, 'Oh, shit...that long ago?!' It was one of those things you put out of your mind and don't think about.”


Of course, another reunion involving Danzig recently made international headlines. While new and old fiends around the world have plenty of opinions of the upcoming “Original Misfits” shows at Riot Fest, Zing’s perspectives on the subject are from a person who’s known Doyle since grade school and witnessed his first Misfits rehearsal (at Jerry Only and Doyle’s family home in Lodi, NJ) in 1978.

“If you were there and you got to witness them rehearse 39 years ago and watch that...As I've told the story before, Doyle brings me in the garage, and it's Glenn, Jerry, [original guitarist] Franche Coma and [former drummer] Jim Catania, and it changed my life,” he says. “I knew right there and then that I wanted to play music. I always had an interest in music before that, but that solidified what I needed to do, and I knew that I'd be in a band with Glenn. And I was all of 11, 12. So that's etched in my head. After listening to them, watching the image grow and seeing them live in the early ’80s, I kinda want to die with that memory. To see anything else...Look, I've seen Jerry's Misfits. I'm not knocking Jerry; he's keeping that alive, I guess. But it's kind of like doing the Ramones without Joey Ramone. The Michale Graves era was okay; I guess it worked. I saw it a few times. It's kind of like Motley Crue with John Corabi. Vince Neil was the guy. Again, I'm not putting them down; they're doing what they have to do, but I have my memory of what it was. I'm not sure [about the reunion]... I’m afraid that it might fail. It's a really weird feeling that I have about it.

“I love looking at old pictures that are online because that really fills a void,” he adds. “The Misfits created a war in music...When we do Misfits songs in Danzig when we do stuff with Doyle, I get chills because it takes me back to a place in time. I'm standing on stage with this guy who I used to watch when I was a little kid, and I'm like, 'Wow!' It's a real spine-tingler for me.”

Zing is reaching people these days with more than just music. In February, Zing appeared in a special video on depression filmed on behalf the You Rock Foundation. In the clip, he details his struggles with the condition, stressing to viewers who face similar obstacles that they are not alone. While some would shy away from publicly discussing such a deeply personal matter, he used his fame as a means of reaching people who could use words of encouragement.

Zing’s participation in the video came at the suggestion of filmmaker Pawl Bazile (Living The American Nightmare).

“[Pawl] said, 'Hey, we're doing this thing about depression. Have you had struggles with it?’” recalls Zing. “I was like,‘Well, are you living under a rock? Who hasn't?' He's like, ‘Would you want to open yourself up to something like this?' I said, 'Sure. I've got nothing to hide. If it can help someone, let's do it.'

“There are kids out there who are going through depression and think they're the only ones,” he continues. “I struggled with anxiety and depression when I was a kid. In today's day and age, there's so much help out there. Even if you go on YouTube and put in 'meditation,' there are ways to meditate to kind of calm yourself down. Those options weren't there for me when I was a kid; you'd go to the doctor and get put on a pill. I didn't want to do that. Music got me through everything, as it has for as long as I can remember. To this day, if I'm in a real shitty mood or feeling blah, I'll come down to my studio at one in the morning, put headphones on and listen to music. Sometimes I just need to go back to a place in time in my mind, and I'll put on a Misfits song or something. It brings me to a different place, and that's the great thing about music.”

The first thing Zing did before the video was posted to the public was send it to his daughters, Serena and Talia.  

“I thought it was important that they got to see it before anyone else,” he shares. “They were both in college; I talked to them and then I sent them the link. And they cried; they said, 'We had no idea.' I said, 'That's really nice, but it's okay. This is life, and life is nowhere near perfect.' I don’t care who you are – if you tell me that you have a perfect life, get out from under that rock. There's always a skeleton in that closet, whether it's in your head or whatever. There's always something there, but what's important is how you deal with it.”

The rest of 2016 promises to be a positive and productive time for Zing. In addition to performing at the June 17/18 Azkena Rock Festival in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain with The Who(!), Gutterdämmerung (with Henry Rollins), Primal Scream and more, Danzig are setting up dates for South America and are considering another North American run. Closer to home, Zing is already recording new songs for Blak29 and continues work on a long-running (and currently unnamed) project with Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe. Above all, he is committed to approaching every creative endeavor (and day, for that matter) with positivity and inner strength – a mindset that Zing says has become even stronger in light of the recent deaths of Prince, David Bowie and too many others.

“It affected me and put a lot of things into perspective about how precious life is,” he reveals. “My girlfriend and I went to see Purple Rain the other night. I remember being on tour with Samhain in '84 and we went to see it in the movies when it first came out. It brought back a lot of memories.”

With an extraordinary new album available and a slew of great things in the works, Zing is happier than ever to be a part of the music world.   

“It doesn't stop; that's the great thing about music,” he says. “I'm going to be 52 [on June 29], and I just enjoy it. It's not a hobby; it's just in me. It's just what I love to do.”

No matter where his future takes him, there is no doubt that Zing will have a blast doing it.

As he says, “Never let an opportunity pass you by because there are no second chances or do-overs. There's one go-around, and you have to make the best of it.”

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