with support from Fred Abbott
“It’s always been important to us to look forward, and not just get stuck in the past,” Rod Argent says of the new Zombies release Still Got That Hunger, the fourth album of new studio material since keyboardist Argent and singer Colin Blunstone reunited in 2001.
The new album, set for release October 9, 2015 via The End Records/ADA, marks another milestone for the beloved English combo, whose half-century history stretches back to its 1964 debut single “She’s Not There,” which topped the U.S. pop charts at the height of the British Invasion. The Zombies’ current second lease on life is now in its 16th year, having spawned the aforementioned new albums as well as several live releases and a series of successful tours, including the band’s 2015 U.S. tour, which finds the band performing its classic 1968 album Odessey and Oracle for the first time in America.
Still Got That Hunger harkens back to The Zombies’ vintage sound while also exploring fresh musical and lyrical territory, on such emotion-charged new Argent compositions as “Moving On,” “Edge of the Rainbow” and “Maybe Tomorrow,” and the beautifully bittersweet Blunstone composition “Now I Know I’ll Never Get Over You.”
Blunstone’s unmistakable voice and Argent’s inventive, assertive keyboard work are matched throughout by the solid support of bassist Jim Rodford (previously a member of Rod’s ’70s band Argent and a longterm mainstay of The Kinks), drummer Steve Rodford and guitarist Tom Toomey. The lineup’s skillful ensemble work is also prominent on a new version of “I Want You Back Again,” which the original Zombies released as a single in 1965, and which the band was inspired to revisit after hearing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ live cover of the song.
Still Got That Hunger finds the Zombies working with an outside producer for the first time since the 1960s. For the occasion, they teamed with Chris Potter, whose extensive resume includes work with The Verve, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, U2 and Blur.
“I was happy not to have that responsibility this time around,” says Argent, himself a seasoned producer who’d overseen the production of all of the reunited Zombies’ recent releases. “The thing was, we wanted to record an album the way that we used to in the ’60s. Chris Potter had gotten in touch with us and said that he’d like to work with us, and he was very open to the way we wanted to approach the recording. We were very keen to do the album in a very real, organic way, in a good studio with a lot of vintage gear, and with all of us playing in the same room at the same time. In the old days, that was the only way of doing it, but it forced you to capture a good performance, and that’s what we were going for on this album.”
With Potter on board, the band set out to capture the energy, chemistry and immediacy of the musicians’ live interplay, rehearsing the songs for several days before entering the recording studio.
“We were remembering how we recorded Odessey and Oracle all those years ago,” Blunstone explains. “We rehearsed the songs extensively, and then we went into the studio and recorded them very quickly, so all we had to do was perform to the best of our ability and get that performance onto tape. That led us to wondering if we could record our new album in the same way again. So we rehearsed in depth, and established the arrangements and harmonies, so that we knew the songs inside out before we went into the studio. It was really liberating to go into a studio knowing exactly what you have to do, and to be able to perform the songs as a unit.”
“We just went in and played, with no click tracks or anything, and did very few overdubs,” Argent notes. “We laid down the basic tracks, the guide vocals and the live solos in five days. And we ended up using Colin’s original guide vocal on almost every track. The whole experience was very creative and very interactive and very enjoyable, and most of the tracks came together very easily and naturally. And I think that that feeling comes across on the album.”
“Working with Chris was a joy,” adds Blunstone. “He took away all the responsibilities and worries of studios and deadlines, and left us with the fun bit of performing. He’s very easygoing, while he’s quietly concentrating on getting the job done, and he helped to make this project one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever worked on.”
To bring the project to fruition, the band launched a successful pre-order campaign through PledgeMusic. The campaign allowed fans to become part of the album’s creation, with the band posting behind-the-scenes videos of the rehearsals and recording sessions.
“Knowing that we were part of a far larger group who were following and supporting every move we made certainly helped to keep the wheels turning,” Blunstone asserts. “We couldn’t have made this album without the help of all those who pledged their support, and I hope that everyone who has followed us through these months gets as much pleasure from listening to this album as we did from making it.”
Still Got That Hunger‘s sonic and spiritual connections to the Zombies’ ’60s-era work extend to its cover art, which was created by artist Terry Quirk, who designed the iconic cover visuals for Odessey and Oracle.
As it happens, Odessey and Oracle is very much on Argent and Blunstone’s minds at the moment. Still Got That Hunger‘s release coincides with the band’s month-long tour of the United States, on which they’re reuniting with co-founding Zombies members Chris White (bass) and Hugh Grundy (drums) to perform Odessey and Oracle in its entirely, for the first time in America (original guitarist Paul Atkinson passed away in 2004).
The rapturous fan responses that have greeted the Odessey and Oracle tour reflects the 1968 album’s status as a timeless classic. Originally recorded during the original Zombies’ waning days, the visionary song cycle achieved relatively little success upon its original release—although it did spawn “Time of the Season,” which became an international smash single more than a year after the band’s breakup.
The album’s prestige has increased exponentially over the years, winning public acclaim from such high-profile fans as Dave Grohl and Paul Weller, while being named by Rolling Stone and Mojo as one of the 100 best albums of all time, cited by England’s New Music Express and Q magazine as one of the 50 greatest British albums, and featured in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Songs from Odessey and Oracle have been covered by artists as diverse as Weller, the Foo Fighters, Elliott Smith, the Dave Matthews Band, Of Montreal, OK Go, Kurt Elling and Cassandra Wilson, and sampled by the likes of Eminem and Melanie Fiona.
In 2008, Argent and Blunstone reunited with White and Grundy to celebrate Odessey and Oracle‘s 40th anniversary with three sold-out concerts at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London, an event that was released on CD and DVD as Odessey & Oracle (Revisited): The 40th Anniversary Concert. As on those London shows, the current tour finds the four original Zombies augmented by longtime Brian Wilson collaborator Darian Sahanaja, whose keyboard skills and harmony vocals will allow the band to reproduce the album’s original, intricate arrangements.
“It’s going to be lovely, renewing those old ties and playing those songs every night,” Argent predicts, adding, “In the current band, Colin and I are only able to do about half of the Odessey and Oracle tracks, because those are the ones that work with a five-piece. The others really need every note that was on the original record, and we only want to play them if we can do them justice. Odessey and Oracle was the first time we had access to eight-track recording, so it meant that I could overdub a mellotron part of second keyboard part, and that we could add some extra harmonies, and we’ll be able to do the songs properly on this tour. So to actually bring the whole shebang over to the States is a very exciting prospect. ”
The fan excitement that surrounds the current tour is consistent with the deep affinity that the Zombies fans have long felt for the band. The original quintet emerged as one of British Invasion’s most adventurous and musically sophisticated outfits, with such hits as “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No” and “Time of the Season” establishing the band as an international phenomenon, with its popularity extended as far as Scandinavia and the Philippines. Despite its success, the group chose to disband after a whirlwind three years, crafting Odessey and Oracle as its eloquent swan song.
In the years that followed, the Zombies turned down multiple offers to reform, preferring to move forward into new projects. Blunstone built an acclaimed body of work as a solo artist, often working with Argent and fellow ex-bandmate Chris White, as well as collaborating with the likes of Mike Batt, Duncan Browne, Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett and the Alan Parsons Project. Argent achieved substantial success with the band the bore his surname, and established a prolific career as a producer.
When Argent and Blunstone decided to reunite for half a dozen U.K. gigs in 1998, they scarcely suspected that their longstanding musical and personal rapport, combined with ongoing public demand, would make the temporary reunion a permanent one. Those shows quickly stretched into a decade and a half’s worth of committed roadwork, along with a series of well-received new albums, namely 2001’s Out of the Shadows, 2004’s As Far As I Can See…, 2011’s Breathe Out, Breathe In, and now the aptly-titled Still Got That Hunger. The modern-day Zombies remain one of rock’s hardest-working touring bands, continuing to perform for a fiercely loyal audience that includes longtime devotees as well as younger fans.
“When we got back together, the last thing I wanted to do was to rake over a few old embers or rehash the past,” Argent states. “When promoters started to bill us as the Zombies, we initially kicked against it. But then we realized that there was a lot of Zombies material that we’d never played on stage the first time round, and we started to enjoy investigating that stuff. From there, we started to feel like we could incorporate new material, and feeling that there’s a creative path forward. It all developed very naturally, and it’s continued that way.”
“I am constantly amazed and surprised by the continuing interest in The Zombies,” Blunstone concludes. “I have learnt that there are no rules in the music business, and that if you forget about commercialism and make music that moves you, there is a good chance that it will effect others in the same way.”