There are a lot of good newcomers in the Metal scene. Many of these bands seem to be copying the sound of leading names like HAMMERFALL, STRATOVARIUS, RHAPSODY and GAMMA RAY creating their own, already existing, style and sound. A few bands however, keep their distance to this and try to be a bit more creative. Houston based outfit Z-LOT-Z keep their sound melodic by polishing the raw edges a bit. They've three CDs out already ("Tearing At Your Mind", "Soul Existence" and " '92" ) and their star is rising fast. But nobody seems to know about these well talented newcomers. Snakepit got in touch with their guitarplayer Eric Halpern and found out about the past, present and the future plans of Z-LOT-Z. The story starts in 19??... Oh well, read on and see what Eric had to say to us. He tells us the story of Z-LOT-Z.
When did you guys get together to form Z-LOT-Z?
"Gregg and I formed the band in 1991. We didn't have a singer at first, so Gregg was doing that and playing guitar. Then, Tom joined in 1992 after his band at the time split up. Shane joined in 1993 after we fired our bass player. Finally, Van joined in 1994 after his band split up and our drummer at the time left."
Did any of you guys play in any other band before moving to Z-LOT-Z or is this your first band for each and every one of you?
"We've all played in different band before this one. Gregg and I played in a band together for a couple of years before we formed Z-LOT-Z."
As musical references I'd like to mention old-QUEENSRYCHE, BADLANDS, CRIMSON GLORY, KINGDOM COME, but maybe you can tell me where your influences really came from and which other bands you admire?
"There's a lot of bands we admire and the list is too long. But our musical influences include JUDAS PRIEST, IRON MAIDEN, BLACK SABBATH, DIO, OZZY OSBOURNE (Randy Rhoads), QUEENSRYCHE, ACCEPT, RUSH, DREAM THEATER, KISS, KING X and several others. Our singers main influences include Geoff Tate, Bruce Dickinson, Ronnie James Dio and Steve Perry."
Your debut CD "Tearing At Your Mind" was released through Molten Metal USA. How did you get in touch with them?
"We had originally released "Tearing At Your Mind" independently and were contacted by Hellion Records (Germany) about purchasing some. I called Hellion's U.S. associate who is Molten Metal USA. When they heard the CD, they really liked it and wanted to release it through their label."
How many copies were printed of this CD? The CD booklet of "Soul Existence" said that it was an extremely limited edition.
"The initial pressing of "Tearing At Your Mind'" was 3000 copies. I'm not sure how many they've pressed since then. Copies of this CD are limited because that pressing is almost sold out and it's questionable if it will be repressed. "Soul Existence" and our newest release " '92" are available from Molten Metal USA."
With whom did you play live already and what did you learn from these big names?
"We've opened for several big names including DIO, TESLA, YNGWIE MALMSTEEN, SLAUGHTER, DANGEROUS TOYS and FIREHOUSE. We learned about how to be professional and put on a good show. We also learned not to make it to hard for the opening band, because there was a time when you were struggling just like them."
Any nice tour experiences you'd like to share with our readers?
"One of our best experiences was opening for DIO in Houston on his "Strange Highways" tour. I mean, he's a legend and it was an honor just to meet him, let alone open for him. His crew was great, they helped us out and treated us with respect. The crowd thought we were on tour with him and we wished we really were!! The audience was nuts! We just were tuning our guitars and they were screaming for the show to start. We were pretty nervous before we went on, but once we started, it was awesome."
In which ways does "Soul Existence" differ from your debut CD "Tearing At Your Mind" in your opinion?
"First of all, the production is much better. We had a lot more time in the studio to work on it and add parts to enhance the songs. I think musically "Soul Exisistence" is heavier and darker than "Tearing At Your Mind". Some of the songs on "Tearing At Your Mind" were a bit cliche and I think the songwriting is stronger on "Soul Existence". Also, we were trying to sound more modern on "Soul Existence", which, in retrospect, may not have been such a good idea."
On "Soul Existence" there are tracks like "Who Am I?" and "Why?". Are there so many unanswered questions to write songs about or are you guys just thinking about the deeper meaning of life?
"Tom writes most of the lyrics and his lyrics reflect things that were going on in his personal life during the time we were writing these songs. It was a time where he was questioning his direction in life and I think writing songs about it is one way he deals with it."
One of the bonus tracks on this album is a preview of the soon to be released Z-LOT-Z CD, which contains your unreleased '92 demo. What's the reason to bring out this demo instead of new material?
"When our label heard the demo, they thought it was great and they wanted to release it. We had a lot of requests for CD's from fans who originally had it on tape, too. So we thought the time was right to do it. The new material isn't recorded yet, so it'll take some time until it's ready to release."
Are you already working on new material and when will this be released?
"We have been writing new songs and updating some older songs which we had never recorded. There's no date set yet for another release, but I would guess January 2001."
How would you describe the music on "Soul Existence"? Progressive power metal or something like that?
"It's difficult to label because we have a variety of songs. But in general I would agree, progressive/power/melodic metal."
Is there anything you want to say with the screaming head on the cover of "Soul Existence"?
"Sorry to disappoint you, but no, there isn't. We started out by looking over several different front cover designs. We posted the designs at our website and asked our fans to choose their favorite. Though their was no specific "meaning" attached to any cover, we couldn't believe the "deep meaning" fans were associating with the "screaming head" !! It was completely unexpected!! Since it generated such emotional responses, we decided to go with it."
Do you play any covers live besides your own written songs from the two CDs?
"Yes, we'll usually toss in a couple of cover songs during a show. We cover QUEENSRYCHE, DIO, SABBATH, IRON MAIDEN and KROKUS. We do a cover of "Burning Heart" by VANDENBERG which I'd like to record someday. Also, we do a side project QUEENSRYCHE tribute set for fun and to make some extra money."
People refer to "Soul Existence" as the album that QUEENSRYCHE might have written. Any comments on that?
"I think it's wonderful that people would compare us to a great band such as QUEENSRYCHE. I know the person that wrote that and I know he meant it as a big compliment to us as well as expressing his disappointment with the most recent QUEENSRYCHE record. It's no secret that our singer sounds similar to Geoff Tate, so we always get that comparison."
What's the metal scene like in Houston nowadays? Is there any more hidden talent besides Z-LOT-Z?
"Hopefully we're not too hidden!! But, yes there's a lot of talent here. Of course, there's the big names like KINGS X, GALACTIC COWBOYS and James Rivera (DESTINY'S END/HELSTAR). But there's several good traditional metal bands here like MYSTIC CROSS and VICTIM, who put out excellent independent CDs. A smart record label could open an office here and make a ton of money!!"
How did you come up with your band name Z-LOT-Z and what does it mean?
"It comes from the word zealot. Someone already had that name, so Gregg changed it around a little and added another Z to make somewhat symmetrical. It just sounded cool to us and we knew no one else would already be using it. It really doesn't have any special meaning other than that."
After the release of a new CD, a band usually has the idea of a new CD already in their head. How is this with you guys? Do you already have any ideas what the successor of "Soul Existence" will sound like?
"To be honest, we worked on "Soul Existence" for almost a year and by the time it was released, we didn't really want to even think about the next one. We just wanted to put our full effort into promoting it and supporting it with shows. Now that some time has passed, we're starting to develop ideas for a new release and are coming up with an overall concept for it. Gregg is getting pretty good with graphics and digital editing so I'm sure it'll have some killer artwork! As I mentioned before, we are returning more to our roots with songwriting. That seems to suit us best and is what we get the best response from. If anything, our next one will sound more like the EP that was just released. Some of the band is getting into import CD's and we're really enjoying the stuff coming out of Europe like HAMMERFALL, GAMMA RAY, ANGEL DUST & a few of the U.S. bands like STEEL PROPHET and SYMPHONY X. Possibly these influences may find their way into the songwriting of our next release ?!?!"
What are your future plans?
"We're continuing to write new material and eventually record it. We'd like to make it over to Europe and play some dates. Our label is working on that. We will continue to tour regionally and support our upcoming CD release as well as "Soul Existence" and "Tearing At Your Mind". Also, the QUEENSRYCHE tribute shows have been picking up steam, so I'm sure we'll be doing more of that in the future."
Have you got anything to add to this interview or any messages for the readers of Snakepit?
"We like to start by saying thanks for including us in your magazine. We don't get Snakepit here in the US, but we've heard it's a very well-respected magazine. For your readers, we appreciate you taking time to check out Z-LOT-Z. For more info, you can check out our website at: www.z-lot-z.net -and- Molten Metal USA at: http://members. aol.com/jbmestad"
Thank you Eric!!
Interview by: Toine van Poorten
(originally appeared in SNAKEPIT, issue #8, 2000)