'An interview with Zockapilli' / Campbell Mowat
Zockapilli have been busy since their early 2017 formation, from a prompt partnership with Side Stare Music (The Pretty Littles, The Stained Daisies) to sold out shows in Melbourne’s inner north. Their debut single Fever Dream was called “nervy and sneering” by Triple J’s Dave Ruby Howe, landing them a spot on the local Melbourne music scene radar. Playing everywhere from a guitar shop to regional Victoria with acts such as Jarrow and The Pretty Littles, Zockapilli have reeled in their charmingly addictive take on indie with two residencies at both The Tote and The Gasometer this year. 2018 isn't slowing down anytime soon for the young four piece, as they're set to release a new single ‘You’re So Cold’, produced by Neil Gray (The Living End, Dan Sultan, Big Scary) later this August.
Campbell Mowat spoke with Zockapilli's lead singer and guitarist, Sandy, about the band's history, their inspirations and the possibility that instead of guitar, Sandy could have been born to play the tuba.
Let’s start with the the band name. I’m getting Star Trek vibes, mixed with some form of Greek cuisine. Am I close?
Not quite, but it’s a funny story. I was sitting on the corner of Gertrude and Smith Street and I bumped into an old friend who mentioned her boyfriend’s brother or her friend’s brother, whose name was Xochipilli. I thought that was a really fucking cool name and found out it came from Aztec mythology. It had this really awkward spelling that looks really bad, but after changing it to be a bit more readable, I thought it was a great band name. I didn’t want a daft name like ‘The Who’ or one of those ironic Melbourne band names like ‘The Durry Munchers’. Zockapilli could be anything. It could be a funk band or a neo-soul band. It’s nothing specific and I kind of like that because our songs themselves are quite diverse.
For those who haven’t heard you, how would you describe your sound?
Well we all listen to a lot of different music. Gene, our drummer, has studied jazz for years and loves his hip-hop. Josh, the bassist, listens a lot of soul, funk and really sad folk music because he’s a very sensitive person. Roy, the guitarist, listens to bands like Oasis and Radiohead. I love the rhythmic complexities of bands like The Strokes and Interpol. I guess we are very much focused on making music that has accessible pop hooks and melodies but develops in a way that is engaging. We don’t really have a scene or an image which we are trying to mimic. We’re just a bunch of music nerds, so every song is a bit different.
After your early 2017 formation, you guys seemed to hit the ground running with gigs, residencies and releases. What was your secret in gaining traction so quickly?
It was all a mistake really. After setting out our goals pretty early on, we worked out we wanted some sort of management and to play a lot of gigs. So we just contacted a couple of small record labels and management agencies in Melbourne. I lied on the email, saying we had a ‘45-minute set’ and we’d been gigging all around Melbourne for ages. We probably had like five songs and hadn’t even played a show yet. We also sent through two really shitty demos recorded in our living room and Side Stare Music got back to us saying they were interested. We invited them to a warehouse party we were playing. They stayed for two songs and left. I thought they hated us and I felt horrible. Then they called me half an hour later and said they wanted to work with us.
From there, they helped us with quite a few gigs, which was good because we were no longer just playing for our mates. Being the youngest in the band, I was 16 at the time and the other bands we were playing with were much older which was really refreshing. A lot of the traction we’ve gained has just been learning about the industry. There’s been no tangible reward but we are still so young. That’s also why our music is very much all over the place. I find it sad when people pigeon-hole themselves early because you could realise in five years ‘fuck I’m actually meant for the tuba’. But yeah, to answer your question quickly, the label really helped us get started and I’m very thankful for that.
In light of your upcoming single release ‘You’re So Cold’, how do you think the band has evolved from then to now?
We started out as a three-piece and it really wasn’t anything serious. We were listening to a lot of bands like Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees and I remember Josh said he wanted to make music that people can “lose their shit to”. So it started as very primal and naïve three chord songs. Then we got Gene in on drums because Roy wanted to play lead guitar and we all went through a lot of musical changes. The simple stuff was really fun to play live but we weren’t completely proud of it yet. I wanted to prove myself more as a musician and that’s why listening to our new single You’re So Cold, it’s a lot more technical and there’s a lot more going on.
Speaking of that new single… who exactly is ‘so cold’? Are most of your songs and lyrics written about real people and experiences?
You’re So Cold is a reference to the song Razorblade by The Strokes. In the bridge [Julian Casablancas] sings "you’re so cold" before a big instrumental breakdown. I listened to a lot of that album at the time I was writing and so it’s a reference to the influence and inspiration they provided - especially the sound of it. If you listen to that song and You’re So Cold, production-wise it’s actually very similar.
Lyrically, the song isn’t about much. I’m not old enough yet to have a lot of stuff to talk about. I’m a white dude in Melbourne, you know? So it’s more just what fits rhythmically. My girlfriend probably wrote most of the lyrics now that I think about it.
You’ve worked with analogue recording and released music on both 7” vinyl and tape. How important are these old music formats for a newly formed band like yourselves?
We’re all very interested in music production. When it comes to analogue in 2018, it’s a bit of a fuck around. Compared to digital recording, it’s a lot more expensive and lot more work. But being in a situation where I’ve done both, it’s definitely a lot more of a rewarding experience recording with analogue. Besides being able to physically see it, there’s also a natural compression I really like. Everything kind of blends in together more easily than digital recordings. But when you’re listening to something through your phone or shitty earphones you’re really not going to hear the difference. So for me, I think it’s more the process and enjoyment of doing it all in a couple of takes.
You’ve had your fair share of gigs in and around Melbourne; what venue would you consider to be Zockapilli’s home and why?
Our residency at The Gasometer was great. The staff there are amazing, it’s a really nice inviting area, it sounds really good and I also love just hanging out there. So I’d probably say The Gaso. And also because it’s my Mum’s favourite.
A band of your choosing is touring Australia and you guys are on support duties. Who gets your pick and why?
Dead or alive?
Let’s go one of each.
Dead: Jeff Buckley. Alive: The Strokes. I think the rest of the band would have a very different answer but that’s what I’m into at the moment.
After the release of your single on August 1, what’s next for you guys?
We’ve got a lot of new music and our set list is rapidly changing. But I guess the main thing we want to do is land some good support slots, opening up for bigger bands. This will help us get to know more people in the industry and hopefully keep building our fan base.