Houston Calling

Bass In Your Face!

March 13th, 2003 · No Comments

Some friends and I saw Godspeed You Black Emperor (insert the exclamation point wherever you like these days) play a sold out show last night at Engine Room in Houston.

The Washington Post review I read yesterday was pretty much dead on–the show was dark, the music slow and eerie (was amazing actually), the band sat in chairs throughout the entire set, and about a quarter of the crowd left after an hour or so.

I think there were three things wrong with last night’s show:

1. It was during spring break.
2. It was during spring break.
3. It was during spring break.

You can figure it out.

For fans of the band, it was a good show. I thought it was a little long and was too crowded, but other than that (and the fact the band sold no merchandise) I didn’t have any real complaints.

Thanks to Hands Up Houston for bringing yet another great band to town. The Locust, Erase Eratta, Fast Forward, Moving Units are playing tonight at Fat Cat’s on Washington Ave. (formerly Mary Jane’s). Idlewild will perform at Rudz on Waugh Dr.

As I promised, here is the first in a series of interviews with musicians/bands that I will be posting from time to time. So far, I have had a great response–thanks to all who have participated so far.

Let me introduce a talented Houston musician named Rozzano (Rozz) Zamorano. Rozz was voted best bassist in the 2002 Houston Press Music Awards and has been nominated pretty much every year for the past few years. With good reason. This man–heavily influenced by jazz, fusion, and funk–plays the bass like no one I have ever seen. Maybe Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers is a good comparison, although I’d find it very interesting to see them play together.

Rozz started Zam Records in 2000 and released his first solo album via the website. He is primarily the bassist and co-founder of Houstons’ Fondue Monks, a band that has been playing together around the south for 10 years.

I recently asked Rozz if he was interested in being interviewed for Houston Calling and he was quite appreciative for the free promo (and who can blame him, right?)

Here goes:

Ten Questions For Rozz Zamorano

HC: Are you working on a new solo record? When will it be ready, what is the title, etc?

RZ:. I am currently writing new material for the next solo album and I am real excited about some of the material that I have come up with. I think this next solo album will be more song oriented and less chops but I say that now and will probably end up with a little of both…

I am thinking of calling the album Life on A string and I hope to have it completed by August of this year. I also have an idea to call it Iconoclast or American Icon–kinda to pay a little tribute to our American heroes. Not just musicians, people like Harry Truman, Joe Dimaggio, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, MLK, JFK, Roger Staubach, Jaco, Miles Davis, Rita Moreno, and others. Even though some of these people were not at the forefront of popularity during my childhood or teenage years this does not excuse us from the history of these people and what they accomplished and what they stood for, which ultimately is the proof of the American Dream.

HC: What direction are you trying to take your music this time around?

RZ: One of the things I would like to do different on this next album is add some players, like maybe a keyboard player and a drummer or some sax. But it will still be a bass album with the bass carrying the melodies and establishing the rhythm as well as taking the solos. There will still be a few just-bass solo pieces, I am still interested in the sound of the bass by itself–it still speaks to me. I would like this album to be more musical than the last one. In terms of songwriting and presentation this album will be a little more polished but still have that rawness that lets the music breathe.

HC: Did you find the Internet to be a useful resource for promotion your first solo effort, Eudamonia?

RZ: The net was amazing and served as an incredible tool to promote my first solo album. I gained fans through the net from Austria, France, Germany, and Russia. I actually sold several copies in eastern Europe to a gentlemen who owns a few CD stores over there that specialize in selling instrumental music and he was very helpful with promoting my music in Europe. One of the things that is cool is that my website allows people to sign in and give comments on the music that is on the site as well as comment on my solo album and it is really cool to talk shop with musicians from around the world.

I am eager to follow up with the second album so I can continue to reach more people. I think the net is proving to me to be my saving grace since the major labels seem to have been experiencing some trouble with the amount of projects they are signing. The net has opened up my eyes on how I can corner a niche market. What I mean by this is that I can seek out the narrow market of people who would be even interested in a bass CD and continue to speak to them and market new CD’s that I am on to this group and hopefully it will continue to grow.

I even got in touch with someone from Australia who purchased my CD and then turned out to be a DJ and started to play it. What was cool about this guy is that he was a huge Jaco fan and sent me some bootleg recordings that he had made back in the early eighties when he was in New York. I have also gotten some radio play from people finding my site and purchasing the CD in America, places like a college radio station in Memphis as well as another college radio station in Arkansas.

HC: How do you balance what you do with Fondue Monks with your solo work?

RZ: It has been somewhat difficult but I always try to remember one simple attitude and that is that every time I pick up my bass I should play it like it is the last time I will ever get to play it so if anything is to happen to me that will make me unable to play I will be able to remember the last time I played was really cool and it was the best I was capable of at that point in time.

The hardest thing about balancing my solo projects with the Monks is that I always realize how much I can get done when it is just myself as opposed to having three different opinions and then myself to take into consideration. This is why it takes so long to get out a whole album because every member in the band has an equal say on what goes on and even though we don’t always agree whatever it is we do seems to be working since we continue to get gigs and great responses from our shows.

One main thing that I have done is to set aside two days out of the week where I practice on just my solo stuff. I am always noodling, but on these two specific days I try and compose and work out solo material. I do still practice every day but I do not practice on being a solo artist–I practice techniques on the bass that will continue to get me work in studios as well as playing for other people. By no means is it easy to stay focused on both projects but I have come to understand that I need to be a little more patient with my band as well as myself and also become more spiritual about the whole situation.

HC: Do you think you’ll ever use a lot of samples or computers in your music?

RZ: I used to have the attitude that samples or computers were a major downfall to the creative process but recently I have become aware and more understanding of how these tools can enhance, as well as be detrimental, to the creative process. That is exactly what they are–they are tools, and like any tool if not used properly or let?s say in good taste, then ultimately it is not good.

Music is such an opinion-based art form–the use of computers and samples have become almost a standard for artists of all genres today. An artist who is accomplished on their respective instrument does not need to use samples or computers to express themselves but may choose to enhance their sound by sampling spoken word or sounds that elicit a certain mood (I am really big into this.) However if there is an artist who is not accomplished on his or her instrument and is unable to express the feeling or attitude and needs to sample some spoken words or sound effects to get their point across, I feel that is okay and it does not make them less of an artist. It is their choice on how to express themselves.

There is a fine line, however, when discussing samples and live performances. Are the real truth tellers where certain artists lose and gain respect by the true-to-life art form? For instance, if you sample someone’s entire song and then sing to it or rap to it how much art did you hear? How many artists? What I mean by this that you have to give credit where it is due. Take away the song that the artist did not write and look at what the artist did bring to the table of the actual project itself.

Here is another point. Many studios now use a computer program called Pro Tools, which I think is wonderful for editing and creating music but there are some things that bother me. For example, say an artist (a vocalist) is trying to lay down a track and cannot sing a few lines consistently. The engineer can take a piece of that particular track where the artist did sing correctly and copy it and then paste in the section where the artist was having trouble. Now I know there are a lot of opinions about this but when it comes to a live situation and a fan has fallen in love with this track and goes to hear this live, what happens? The artist can blow this part or can take a whole Pro Tools setup on stage live and cover their ass there too. Is that art?

What is art then when we are talking music? Does art constitute the ability to create combined with the ability to perform it live or is it solely the sound that we hear and only that? There are so many opinions on this, I guess my opinion on this topic is that computers and samples are very cool but will never replace my ability to play my instrument in a way that I get my point or feeling across. I am planning to use computers and samples on my next album but they will be samples of people’s voices and everyday sounds like weather, traffic, and news broadcasts.

HC: You’re known as a big fan of the late Jaco Pastorius. How has his playing influenced you? I also know you like Miles Davis. Tell me what you think of his work and has he had any influence on you?

RZ: I have been a fan of Jaco since I was about 12 years old. In the neighborhood where I grew up everyone was either a guitar player or a drummer. Most of the kids in my neighborhood were older so in order for me to hang with the cool kids and the likes of my older brother I was told to play the bass, which was cool because I got offered a lot of gigs because nobody wanted to be a bass player. Bass players did not get to solo and stayed in the background and were never the dudes who got all the chicks and were never in the limelight.

One day one of my brother’s drummer friends asked me why I was bumming about being a bass player since I was so young and had a lot of gigs around town. I told him that I wanted to be the man and wanted the chicks and wanted to floor people with my playing and be a rock star like Eddie Van Halen (was my first concert and I came home and told my mom I wanted to be Eddie). Anyway, this friend of my brother and mine gave me Jaco’s first solo CD and it blew me away. And then he gave me some video of Jaco and I was totally blown away. Here is this guy soloing his ass off and literally blowing everyone away. He had style and the look and the stage presence of a rock star but he was playing jazz and rock and funk and a whole bunch of other stuff. He was cool and he was arrogant and cocky and he could deliver the goods!

As a kid I just soaked it all up and learned everything I could. I was so caught up in everything that was visual and that it was not until I was much older that I realized Jaco’s compositions were going to change my life completely. He was everything I wanted to be and was devastated when he died. I never got to see him live and never got to meet him. I was crushed and this was a major turning point for me musically. I had to realize the good things that Jaco did and the bad things he did and learn from them and then finally move on. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of him and his music and what he gave me.

Miles Davis came to me in a book and then in college. I read his autobiography and it shook my world! I took my first jazz course in college and realized the contributions this man made. The one thing that was constant with Miles that I really dig was the idea of Change. Once he did something he would not repeat it or go back and do the same thing he would move on and experiment with something new.

HC: We’re not going to find you stomped to death in an alley though, right? (heh!)

RZ: I used to worry about getting so frustrated about the music scene that I would go crazy sometime soon if I did not become famous or rich and then I realized that Jaco and Miles even though they were famous and Miles got rich that was never their goal. They were truly interested in making music and becoming the best at what they did. I hope that I never suffer the same
fate Jaco did but we have to realize that Jaco had a disease and we as a community did not save him like we could have.

HC: After 10 years with Fondue Monks, what is your take on the music industry?

RZ: I have been lucky enough to have seen a whole lot this past ten years and I could write a book to fully express myself on this topic. I will give it to you in a short form. When I started the band in 1991 I wanted to play in a band where I could play the way I wanted to and express myself on my given instrument. Then I wanted to play all the best clubs in town. Then I wanted to travel and play different cities. I then was consumed with getting signed and could not understand why these lame bands were getting signed all the time and not selling any records when my little band was consistently selling CD’s.

When the record guys started coming around because they saw something they liked, they wanted us to change and become more like what they were signing. We signed an independent deal and this just hipped us to what a record deal was all about–the man gets everything and you get flushed down the toilet! So now I am back to playing the cool shows I want to play, avoiding all record companies, and still expressing myself the way I want to and my band is killing in about five or six different cities which have really given us a lot of support.

My take right now is that the industry is in a make-or-break year. I mean, they have really put themselves in a tough position. Sony lost more than $140 million last year, fired Tommy Mottola, and is in direct conflict with itself due to the fact that blank CD’s rose in sales more than 60 percent and Sony is the largest producer of MP3 players and products that are made for the downloading free music. So get this: here is one of the major record companies losing sales on their artists but has another division in the company that is making products that are stealing sales away from the record side of Sony (can you say “Hmmm!) I will tell you this–any company who loses $140 million a year cannot keep doing this and continue in this business.

It is not just downloading free music that is killing the music industry. I truly feel and have heard it from so many music fans that the record industry has failed to market to the over-30-year-old crowd. Last time I checked their money was the same color as the little kids that buy the crap pop–green. Isn’t that what these record labels care about most? Also, when was the last time an album was marketed and not just a single? The record companies are to blame for this also, this attitude of a one-hit-wonder-no-talent-bulls**t artist that will not have a career after the MTV-flavor-of-the-month runs out. The record companies are not interested in a career?s worth of music or developing an artist anymore. They are interested in a quick buck, not seeing that in the long run they have run themselves out of business. I could go on but I think this year is pivotal for the music industry in all kinds of ways.

HC: You were voted Best Bassist in Houston in the 2002 Houston Press Music Awards? How was that?

RZ: It was great to finally win since I had been nominated several times…I had won the critic?s pick the year before which surprised me, but to win both the popular vote and the critic?s pick was awesome. It is great to be recognized since there are a ton of great players in this city. It felt good, but I will be honest and say I would like to win a few more times. I hope that does not sound too terrible. It has given me a lot of respect and legitimacy.

HC: What’s in your CD player right now?

RZ: M Squared by Marcus Miller. He won a Grammy in 2002 for best bass artist. It is incredible and infectious. I recommend it to everyone whether you?re a musician or not. Peace–Out!

Okay. I hope you enjoyed that.

Please visit the Zam Records site and buy his CD. For more on Fondue Monks, read this in-depth article that recently appeared in Swizzle-Stick.

You can visit the Fondue Monks fan club site for more information on them.

Thanks for your time. Please email me with any questions or comments.

Now Playing in my iPOD: The Webb BrothersMaroon

Tags: Music