News & Press

INTERVIEW: THE ZOLAS

THE ZOLAS TALK TRACK ‘I FEEL THE TRANSITION,’ THEIR NEW ALBUM ‘COME BACK TO LIFE,’ ENCAPSULATING FEELINGS THROUGH ART + MORE

With a brand new album on the horizon, The Zolas prove that you can take a step back to move forward.

Thanks to the tunes off their 2009 debut – Tic Toc Tic, The Zolas became the fourth most heavily-tracked band on SiriusXM radio’s The Verge. Following their sophomore release – Ancient Mars, they made their mark with their 2016 hit title song and JUNO-nominated album, Swooner.

Four years following their breakthrough, comes their forthcoming record Come Back To Life via Light Organ Recordswhich is driving the band in a fresh, new direction.

“In our jam space we started fucking around with this nostalgic vibe: like a warped memory of the Britpop music we obsessed over as kids but never got to make. Eventually it seemed obvious we had to follow that feeling and make an album of it.”

Thematically, the band’s fourth album was inspired naturally by social and political issues. After a long run writing music solely for other artists including Carly Rae Jepsen and James Walsh of Starsailor, Gray is excited to work with his own bandmates again:

“I’m dead happy just being in this band right now. We love making noise together, we’re chasing the same vision, and lyrically I’ve never felt more on it.”

Come Back to Life, dives deeper than it’s preceding releases, touching on everything from Canada’s appalling treatment of its First Nations (“Wreck Beach/Totem Park”), to artists being priced out of the cities they’ve helped make great (“Bombs Away”), to Gray at his most potently poignant on “PrEP” – which came out of a reddit thread asking users to share their first-hand accounts of the ’80s AIDS epidemic.

“My dad [playwright John MacLachlan Gray] was in theatre, so in lots of baby photos I’m being held by friends of his I don’t recognize,” Gray reminisces. “One day I asked him about them, and it turns out every one of them are gone. They were probably gone within five years of the pictures being taken. Now by some miracle HIV is totally manageable and it pisses me off that we’re not all out there celebrating the light at the end of such a long, dark tunnel.”

The album’s latest single “I Feel the Transition” was fueled by the current state of affairs in North America and beyond. Lead singer Zach Gray reflects:

“The words ‘I Feel the Transition’ came to me right away and were underscored by all the young activists making headlines that week, the rest of the song wrote itself. It made me think of a new generation coming up and being thoroughly unimpressed by the world being left to them.”

With Come Back To Life, The Zolas aim to encapsulate feelings on conscious topics, and focus on the importance of music and art during turbulent times.

Q: Tell us about your latest single “I Feel the Transition”:

This was a song that kind of cracked things open for us. We’d been obsessed with the early 90s Manchester baggy scene and it started off like many of our tunes do as a ripoff of a song we love – in this case the Happy Mondays. The words “I Feel the Transition” came to me right away and were underscored by all the young activists making headlines that week, the rest of the song wrote itself. It made me think of a new generation coming up and being thoroughly unimpressed by the world being left to them. This song is driving through the most desperate neighborhoods with empty highrises glittering overhead. It’s getting an arts degree and then discovering how little that’s valued. It’s hearing scientists say we have 7 years to figure this out and then watching politicians talk 30-year plans. It was basically inspired by all the conversations we have with our friends about the state of the world and what we can do about it. But feeling-wise I wanted to capture the swagger you feel when you know you’re fighting for the right thing. I really think this period will be thought of the way they look back at the late 60s and as anxiety-inducing it is to be living through it, we should try to appreciate the moment.

Q: What drove you to switch gears from prominently writing for others to returning to The Zolas to put out a project?

I still write for other people. Sometimes I write a pop song that I can’t pull off myself and it goes into a side-pile to give to other artists. I have a bunch in a drive right now, so if you’re an interesting artist reading this and you want to collab call me.

Q: Your music has touched on many serious subjects – from the treatment of First Nations people to the Aids epidemic to the current political state, how important is it to use your platform to encourage cognisance and conversation?

I don’t set out to write songs about difficult subjects. I just write songs about whatever moves me in the moment, whatever makes me well up. I want to capture that feeling in a little capsule. Like imagine you could take a pill and instantly feel everything I felt when I watched a documentary or read an article or heard a story? I want to make those pills. And like a lot of people lately, I’ve been realizing that there are loads of stories that never get told in mainstream art because they’re not easily digestible and those are the pills I like making best. Not sure if that’s the tidiest metaphor but let’s try it on.

Q: What can we expect from your upcoming new album Come Back to Life?

What I’ve been boasting to people since before we even started writing for it is that our next record will feel like the spiritual heir to the Romeo + Juliet and Trainspotting soundtracks. We’re already there but we’re still adding to it so we’ll see when it’s all wrapped.

Q: Are there any other political or social messages on the record that you’re hoping to convey to your listeners?

Haha no no, I don’t have a checklist or anything. Lots of important issues I care about will do just fine without a song from me. One goal I’m always chipping away at, is to write about climate change in a way that lays bare how simple it is and what we have to do about it. It’s one of those rare times when the radical solution is the only practical solution and it’s centrists who are the naïve ones. It’s really black and white. In my fantasies I’m Naomi Klein’s musical attaché.

Q: Any advice/words of optimism for others during the pandemic?

Nah. I’ve been brutally unproductive. Super disappointed in myself, tbh. I’m dramatically up and down. Maybe that’s the optimism: we’re all going through the exact same thing.

Q: What’s next for The Zolas?

Last night we got together and discussed a plan to set up a proper Zolas HQ where we can officially put an end to the arcane silliness of doing albums every 3 years. Apologies to all you loyal swooners for how long it’s been between releases and let me say that if you’re with us, we’re gonna set it so we can be creative year round and the machine or organ or whatever you want to call it is always pumping.