Interview with guitarist Lenny Burnett
Interview conducted by MetalMike
Date online: February 18, 2012
MetalMike: Congratulations on the new album, Looking to Start a Riot! As I had not heard of Zero Down prior to receiving the album for review let me start with a simple one; is there any special meaning to the name "Zero Down?"
Lenny: Thanks Mike! It feels good to have a new album out that we think kicks ass and had such a blast recording. As for any meaning to our name, I wish I had some enlightening insight or story about our name but I don't, really. I've always liked two word band names like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, etc...it has a certain strength in the sound so I was just throwing different words together to find something in that same vein. Those two words seemed to work. As a phrase it's used in all kinds of situations and has multiple meanings but it just sounded strong to me. Luckily everyone in the band could live with it and it stuck. In general coming up with a band name is usually an incredibly frustrating experience that you just can't wait for it to be done.
MetalMike: Looking to Start a Riot is the band's third self-released album (correct me if I'm mistaken). What keeps you guys going amidst the indifference for your type of music in the American market?
Lenny: Yes, third release. Old Time Revival (2005) and Good Times at the Gates of Hell (2008) are our first two releases. We keep going because we love playing this style of Metal music and we're all bonded as people and friends. Once you free yourself from the expectations of getting signed and needing some kind of corporate machine to validate what you do, you can do it on your own terms and satisfaction. We do this to please ourselves first and I think that comes through when people hear or see us. A real honest love for what we are doing. Trends come and go so you just have to do what you do and let the rest take care of its self.
MetalMike: What are some of the challenges faced by an unsigned, American Heavy Metal band?
Lenny: Everything!...ha...ha...I think the biggest challenge period is getting your music to young people. If you're an older band like us it's hard to get in front of that crowd on a regular basis whether its live/touring, magazines, webzines, radio...etc. Granted the style of our music attracts an older crowd but most of our opportunities are 21 and over shows and played on Rock Radio that targets an older cash friendly crowd. Certainly touring is more expensive now so that's another big challenge when you're doing it yourself. You know it's a double-edged sword. You have so much more available to you now to give you tools to do it yourself but once you have got it all together (CDs, merch, media sites, etc..) how do you separate yourself from the million other bands doing the same thing without relying on some gimmick or over the top video on YouTube. I guess we are still working on that!
MetalMike: With so many bands these days going for an 80s sound, how does a band like Zero Down keep the music fresh while still honoring the classic sound?
Lenny: It's certainly a fine line between being a retro 80's band and one that just has a lot of those influences. Hopefully we come across a little different because it's not the only genre of music we like collectively. Our influences are all over the map so even though it leans toward the 80's NWOBHM style everything goes into it. We definitely have made an effort in the studio to find a balance production wise to fall somewhere between a classic sound and new modern sound. I think the 80's song writing style may be the biggest influence on me and us. Songs that have tough riffs but plenty of melody that help produce anthemic results. There are a ton of newer metal bands that really can play but I just don't hear very many good songs, just a lot of interesting ideas and playing with a lot of non-memorable aggressive vocals.
MetalMike: What bands do you most admire and how do they influence Zero Down's style?
Lenny: If I had to pick one band that I admire the most it would be Iron Maiden. For the most part, as everyone makes mistakes (Blaze era and Bruce should just keep his mouth shut sometimes..ha..ha..), they have been the blue print for what you should and should not do as a band. The relationship they have with their fans is the best of all the Metal bands. Everything from how they do their merch to their Fan Clubs. They really do give everyone an opportunity to get what they want without over exposure like KISS. Like doing the two Retro Tours and then doing a tour of only newer songs with some classics. Plus they still deliver live. From all the bands their age they run circles around the rest of them because they have made a commitment to be in shape to put on that kind of show. Hopefully that shows up in that we really put time and effort into our artwork, merch, recordings, etc...Not to mention musically a huge influence especially when it comes to the dual harmony guitars. Musically the Di'anno-era has a bigger impact on us but the Bruce-era has plenty of great stuff too.
MetalMike: Some bands are very serious but Zero Down has a sense of humor (the song "Battle at the Battle of the Bands" jumps to mind!). How important is it not to take yourselves too seriously? Is it a concern that others might not take your music seriously?
Lenny: Super important to not take ourselves too serious! We're definitely not a novelty act like Steel Panther but there has to be some element of having fun with it. After all its entertainment to some degree and we're not a Hardcore band or an Extreme Metal band that cover a lot of built up angst ridden emotions/concepts and darker themes. Those genres cater to that mind set just fine. We're way past taking anything so serious it gets in the way of killing the fun in it. We're serious in that we want to write aggressive energetic great songs and cover a bunch of themes to give people something that takes their minds off the usual daily crap so you can let loose. And yes, with a wink and a smile sometimes. And they either get it or they don't.
MetalMike: How does the writing process work for Zero Down? Is it files through email, like many bands today, or do you get together and work out songs in the studio/practice space.
Lenny: Yeah I can't even imagine writing through sending files via email to each other but we're lucky in that we all live in the same city and have a rehearsal space we can go too and have real in the moment interaction a couple times a week..ha...ha... Normally the writing process starts with me bringing in the guitar parts and basic structure musically for a song. Without Hawk, our singer, we usually beat it to death musically until we have a pretty solid foundation and then start working on vocal melodies/lyrics. We basically keep it a little loose at that point to be open to either extending or shortening parts to set up the vocals. We will then either four
track or make some simple live recordings of the song so we can step away from it to see if its as good as we think it is. Usually the final step is me and Hawk getting together to fine tune the lyrics and melodies. There's usually not much experimenting in the studio for us. Everything is usually pretty nailed down before we go in.
MetalMike: What show or album convinced you to pick up the guitar and start playing Heavy Metal?
Lenny: It didn't really make me pick up the guitar at the time as I didn't start playing guitar until after High School but I would say the most pivotal early metal show I saw was Judas Priest and Iron Maiden together in 81. Point of Entry for Priest and Killers for Maiden. Unbelievable shows as both bands were at the top of their game! I was already moving towards that kind of music as I loved both bands but it made me lose interest in the dying 70's rock bands and look for harder and faster bands. I just couldn't get enough of it and it eventually led me to all the great underground NWOBHM bands that weren't getting attention in the States like Diamond Head, Angelwitch, Tank, Savage, Tygers of Pan Tang, etc...
MetalMike: Which guitarists do you admire and why?
Lenny: Man, there are so many I love. Rhoads, Van Halen, John Sykes, Gary Moore, Angus, Blackmore, Billy Gibbons, etc....but if I had to pick just one guy it would be Michael Schenker. Not the innovator that Van Halen was but for sure ability to just always seemingly play the perfect thing with the greatest tone in the world he can just move me unlike any of the other players. That UFO – Strangers in the Night record is one of my fav records of all time. We had the pleasure of opening for MSG and it was quite a nostalgic moment. Very surreal.
MetalMike: Does the guitar make a difference in the type of Heavy Metal you play? What do you use?
Lenny: I play a late 80's Gibson Flying V. Dark red finish a lot like one of the V's K.K. Downing played at one point. Does it matter? Oh it certainly has a look that screams classic metal and let's not kid ourselves that is important! It all makes a difference. The guitar, pick ups, the amp and certainly the player. Metal has always had a look or "uniform" and, depending on the sub genre you're in, it certainly to a point dictates what guitar, equipment and uniform you use. I mean if I showed up to a show with a black BC Rich Warlock guitar, upside down cross necklace and nail spiked arm bands like Kerry King the crowd would be wondering what the fuck I was doing in our band...ha....ha...I'll save that look for my Norwegian-style Black Metal Band...with Corpse Paint of course. Thinking of image....what do you think about the band GHOST? I love it!!! My fav record of last year.
MetalMike: What is the best show you've seen? Is there a classic show or band that you'd like to go back in time to see?Lenny: I could never pick a best show but I can list a couple classic shows that I would love to go back in time and see again. Van Halen on the Women & Children First Tour and Ozzy Ozbourne on the Diary of a Madman Tour. The Ozzy show was Randy Rhoads last show. I grew up in Knoxville, TN and he died in the plane crash the next day on their way to Lakeland, Fl. Both were monumental shows in my life and to jump in the Time Machine and see them again would be amazing!
MetalMike: You've played with many bands since you started in '04. Has anyone really blown you away?
Lenny: We've played with some truly great bands that still can deliver. Y&T may have surprised me the most. Even though it's only Brian Tatler left in Diamond Head, that was special to me as was UFO and MSG but I would say the band that delivered the most was Accept. Even without Udo they were just a juggernaut.
MetalMike: What do the Zero Down guys do when not practicing/playing/recording?
Lenny: My biggest passion outside of the band is traveling. I can't get enough of it and the more remote the better now. I just went to Israel and I am heading to Africa in May. The rest of the guys....Ronnie (Bass) has a country band called the Shivering Denizens, Matt Fox (Guitar) is in a million bands and is highly inolved in the Social/Political landscape of Seattle, Tyler (Drums) is a big Seattle Sports Fan and Hawk (Singer) deals cards at a local Casino. Collectively we're a funny crew together. Never a dull moment that's for sure.
MetalMike: What are the band's tour plans? Where haven't you played that you'd like to get to in the future? What can someone expect at a Zero Down show?
Lenny: Our biggest goal for touring this year is Europe since we have never played there. For the type of music we are playing there is certainly a great market there and geographically it's an area that you could work a couple times a year and make some measurable impact. But hey if a label steps up we're game to cover it all! As Dio would say "LOOK OUT!"
MetalMike: Anything else we need to know about Zero Down that we haven't covered?
Lenny: Shameless self promotion I guess! You can get all three of our discs through CD Baby at www.cdbaby.com/Artist/ZeroDown , hit our Facebook Fan Page for updates/song samples and email email@example.com for any inquiries or promo material.
MetalMike: Congratulations again on the new album, Looking to Start a Riot. Maybe we'll see the band here on the East Coast soon.
Lenny: Thanks Mike! Truly appreciate you and your site's support and time! Kick Out The Jams Motherfucker!
|Other information about Zero Down on this site|
|Review: Looking to Start a Riot|
|Review: No Limit to the Evil|
|Video: Battle at The Battle of the Bands|
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