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Zip Tang

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toroddfuglesteg View Drop Down
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    Posted: January 19 2011 at 13:27

This band is made of four musicians, all with both old-school and new-manner rock qualities. Marcus Padgett is vocalist and keyboardist, but most impressively he plays the sax. He mainly perfected, over years, a music of New-Age, Rock and Jazz wind-ups. Rick Wolfe, bassist and vocalist, played instead in a lot of bands, finding a good edge in hard rock. Perry Merritt is the third vocalist in Zip Tang, but he essentially plays the guitar, under a style of moods and grips. Fred Faller is "only" a drummer, yet his bigger passions (culminating in soft Avant-Garde or pure Fusion) do reflect the essential precision.

The modern rock air of Zip Tang is essentially fresh, interesting to hear and slippery as art. Their great jam reminds, occasionally, of pure rock and new art. The firm classic influences are nice and beloved, but also rapid, carving Zip Tang as both original and alternative in progressive rock's deep stream.

Zip Tang has just released their third album Feed Our Heads and I got in touch with the band for their story. Perry answered my questions.


When, where and by whom was Zip Tang started ?

I met Rick at a small jam session just outside of Chicago in 2002. We had both taken a long break from music and were itching to play again, so after playing together at this open jam we began talking and I told him I was kicking around the idea of starting a band. The idea was to find a couple of good musicians and play some challenging covers.

We auditioned several drummers and finally Fred came along. We asked him to come ready to play Green Earrings by Steely Dan and after just a few bars I knew he was our choice. We were looking for a keyboard player for a long time with no success, and Fred mentioned he knew a sax player that played a little keys also so he brought Marcus over. We hadn’t considered a sax player originally, but we started jamming on some Steely Dan, Jeff Beck and Traffic tunes, and it sounded really good. So we started working up a set of mostly progressive covers by bands like King Crimson, Yes, Jeff Beck, Steely Dan, Traffic, Kevin Gilbert and Joe Jackson, and played out under the name RPM.

Did any of you, past and present Zip Tang members, play in any other bands before joining up in Zip Tang ?

We had all played in numerous bands when we were younger with varying degrees of success. Rick played in mainly hard rock and hair bands in the ‘80s. I played in more blues oriented and classic rock cover bands mainly in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Fred played in all types of bands from rock, to jazz to musical theater. And Marcus I believe started with classical training, and then went to jazz and new wave in the ‘80s.

Why did you choose that name ?

After we started writing some original music, and seeing that there were far too many bands named RPM, we painstakingly tried coming up with a new name. I wish I could find the old list of the ones that didn’t make it. One was Rotating Plasma Machine (RPM). I think sometimes Fred signed his e-mails Zip Tang and I think I suggested it as the name and it stuck. Fred is a cyclist and runner and Zip Tang is the sound the Roadrunner in the old cartoon made when he took off. Beep-Beep! Zip-Tang!

How was the music scene in your area when you started ?

Well if you mean when we all started as young players separately it was very good in Chicago, where I’m from. We all came from different parts of the country so I assume it wasn’t as good in Buffalo where Fred is from, or Alaska where Marcus is from. But they all wound up here in Chicago thankfully for me.

The music scene now is tough I think everywhere, at least here in the U.S. I imagine it’s better in other countries where they are more open to different kinds of music and seem to appreciate originality more. Right now cover bands seem to draw the biggest crowds in the medium to small music venues here in Chicago, which is really sad to me.

Over to your albums. Your debut album was Luminiferous Ether from 2007. Please tell us more about this album.

While we were still RPM, we started recording on some very basic gear and began jamming more. Marcus had done some writing before and brought in some of his old ideas and tracks. We would jam on some of these ideas and they began turning into new songs which make up most of Luminiferous Ether. I tried my hand at writing lyrics for the first time and wrote “Tower Of Tuna” which Marcus put to the melody. Rick wrote the lyrics to the first part of Doctor Plush and I wrote the lyrics on the second. So it was truly a collaborative effort.

You did a cover of Tarkus (ELP) on that album. Which is a very strange choice. Let alone a very brave choice. Please tell us what possessed you to
put your heads inside a lion's mouth by covering this epic. Was it difficult to play this epic ?

We were still playing covers while writing and recording Luminiferous Ether, and once in a while Fred would start playing a passage from Tarkus and Rick would join in. I think Fred already new the whole suite, and Rick knew a little. Someone jokingly said “let’s learn it”, and so we did.

It was more difficult for me to learn it than to play it I think. Marcus reads charts on the fly well so he doesn’t have to memorize anything. The rest of us play everything from memory, and I was the least familiar with the whole suite, so it took me a long time just to familiarize myself with the piece. We spent several months learning, arranging and rehearsing it. The solo sections are loosely based on the original but are mostly improvised, so at least that was relatively easy for me. The drums and bass on the recording on the album are actually a single take with little or no fixes, while Marcus and I played scratch tracks. Some of the scratch tracks actually made it in too.

We played the complete suite live I believe about three or four times. A couple of times were actually pretty good J.

Your second album was Pank from 2008. Please tell us more about this album.

Well after Luminiferous Ether received some positive comments and reviews, we decided to hang up the cover thing and start focusing on writing and recording, and try our hand at it again. Luminiferous Ether was virtually the first eight songs we’d written together, probably almost in the order written on the album. So we had very limited material and frankly included Tarkus to fill out an album’s worth of tracks.

We were developing our writing process better and started building a slightly larger catalogue of ideas and jams. We also started developing our style by this point and began moving away from the Steely Dan influence and getting a littler harder. There was also more improvisation on Pank with a few jam sections, and especially on “Cicada Jam” which is actually one of many spontaneous jams we recorded. It wasn’t recorded with the intention of using it anywhere, just a spontaneous moment that we decided to include on Pank, just as it was, live with no overdubs.

Your third and most recent album is Feed Our Heads from 2010. Please tell us more about this album.

We learned a lot from listening back to the first two albums later on and hearing things we didn’t necessarily notice or ignored at the time. It’s hard to be objective when you’re immersed in the recording and mixing processes, but when it’s done and you listen a few months later, it’s easier to step back and hear it almost for the first time, like it’s someone else’s work.

I think we put a little more thought into the song structures, and we’ve gotten a little better at having a vision of the song while it’s still in pre production. Marcus had a vision of quite a few of the songs or parts of songs early on for this one. He wrote all the lyrics on “Feed Our Heads” and wrote “Central Park” on his own. The final version of “Central Park” is practically identical to his early demo of it. “I’ll Put It Right” is a song Marcus wrote a long time ago, I believe, that we took the lyrics and riff from and “Tang-ified” it.

Some of the parts of many of the songs, I was surprised to look back and see, came from jams as far back as 2006. But again, a lot of the songs started from jams, which a lot of the credit has to go to Fred and Rick for starting and developing the grooves for. What they do usually dictates the feel of a song and all I can do is try to influence it one way or another J

Overall we’re pretty pleased with the way this one came out.

How is the creative processes in your band from coming up with an idea to submitting it onto an album ?

Like I’ve mentioned, many of our ideas stem from improvisation. We start most sessions with Fred and Rick coming up with a groove and Marcus and I joining in. Sometimes it last a couple of minutes, and other times a half an hour. We record everything, and later I’ll do a quick mixdown of the jams and upload them to our server where everyone can download them and listen. Next session someone will have come up with a melody or riff to add to that jam from last week and we’ll play around with that, and so on. Sometimes it’s the opposite. Someone will come in with a riff or chord progression and a jam starts around it.

Marcus writes most of the lyrics so there are quite a few songs that he has brought in with a basic verse/chorus structure already laid out, or we may start with that and wind up with something quite different. Others are actually two or three different song ideas or jams that we will combine. Spooky Jam from “Feed Our Heads” is an example.

It’s really been a collaborative effort 90% of the time so far.

Your music has been branded eclectic prog. A label where a band like Gentle Giant is the standard bearer. But how would you describe you music and which bands would you compare yourself with ?

That’s interesting because I think what makes us sound somewhat unique, I hope, is our different backgrounds – musically and otherwise. We really are an eclectic group, Rick coming from the hard rock scene in Michigan, me being heavily influenced in Chicago blues and classic rock, Fred being heavily into progressive rock from an early age, and Marcus coming from classical and jazz backgrounds. But that’s not to say we’re not all into all kinds of music. I think we are all influenced by everything we’ve ever heard whether were into it or not, and we all listen to many different types of music.

I hate to sound cliché, but we really try not to think of or compare ourselves to anyone, or a genre. We often appreciate the comparisons we hear though, and surprised by many. I love when we’re compared to someone I’ve never heard of and I have to go find and listen to them on the internet and hear the interesting similarities, and dissimilarities.

The biggest compliment we’ve gotten is that we don’t sound like anybody. I hope we continue evolving and that any future albums have a slightly different sound from the previous ones, and cross more genres or classifications.

What is your plans for this year and beyond ?

We’ve been working hard rehearsing the songs from FOH to play some local live shows here, and have started jamming and having fun again now that we’re out of recording mode. I think we may be just about ready to start thinking about album number four!

To wrap up this interview, is there anything you want to add to this interview ?

Thanks for the interview and thanks to Progressive Archives and it’s members for the reviews and ratings. We appreciate being allowed the opportunity to reach some new fans and friends!

Thank you to Perry for this interview

Their PA profile is here and their homepage's here

Edited by toroddfuglesteg - January 20 2011 at 16:09
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Rivertree Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 19 2011 at 13:32
Smile  they are still an insiders' tip - worth considering in any case ...

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote chopper Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 20 2011 at 04:19
Excellent band, I have Luminiferous Ether which features their version of Tarkus - very good album. Prog with a jazzy feel to it.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote idlero Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 20 2011 at 14:58
I like their 2010 album
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