SW FEATURE: Touring Life with Zebrahead

“The referee on the side turned around and flipped the ball behind his back after it went out of bounds. [It] was awesome.”

The assimilation into Australian touring life is one of gentle ease for California’s Zebrahead. An introductory observation from guitarist Matty Lewis, recalling the band’s first trip to an AFL game the night prior is both precise and reflective of a band enjoying their time in our country.

While the Americanised sporting terms, namely “referee” in substitute of “umpire” still prevail; it becomes immediately obvious the group appreciate touring life down under.

“We went with a couple of friends that are actually from Australia. They explained everything to us. I loved it, lead vocalist Ali Tabatabaee adds.

Soundwave 2014 is a matter of valued luxury for the bands on the bill. From headliner to opener, each is treated ideally. Zebrahead are enjoying their second stint on the popular annual travelling musical circus.

“It feels like a vacation. You play a show then it’s a vacation. You play [another] show and it’s a vacation. I think it’s one of the best festivals in the world.” Tabatabaee notes.

There is downtime though, with Lewis offering a reflection from the morning.

“I woke Ali up at nine or something in the morning asking if he wanted a burrito,” the guitarist laughs.

While hitting the beach features prominently in Zebrahead’s in-between show itinerary, it’s a simple proposition being in our country.

“We haven’t really met any assholes here.”Tabatabaee says. Simple and direct. No fluff, just good times.

It’s the support and crowds that catch the group’s interest. Australia contains and represents a large international fan base for the group. A point reflected in Killyourstereo.com’s 2013 Album of the Year Poll, with current full-length ‘Call Your Friends’ coming in at the number five spot (as voted by readers).

Both band members acknowledge the support.

“For me what stands out is the crowds [down here] – they’re ready to party,” Lewis notes.

Like most festivals, an eclectic, diverse and sizeable crowd means the potential for new listeners is also an equal possibility.

“It’s perfect because we’re sandwiched between AFI and Panic! At the Disco.” Lewis says.

“Built-in audiences right there. We try to steal their crowds.” Tabatabaee adds.

As the conversation develops, we attempt to get into the mindset of Zebrahead right before they go on stage. If footage of now former Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison throwing up right before he was about to take the stage, as featured on 2002-released DVD ‘Disasterpieces’, is the benchmark for pre-show nerves, Zebrahead might very well reside at the opposing end of the scale.

“I find myself yawning before shows,” Lewis says in reference to his relaxed state of mind.

“I try and jump up and down a little bit to try and wake up.” Tabatabaee offers.

It’s not a question of being complacent, indifferent or even lazy, Zebrahead’s calm pre-show mentality stems from a band that recognises on stage is where they have the most fun.

“At the end of the day, people pay good money to see you play. You don’t want to suck,” Tabatabaee says.

“Well…we suck, but we don’t want to suck even worse,” Lewis laughs.

Moreover, Zebrahead doesn’t discriminate and distinguish between shows. Whether it’s a big festival or intimate club, the general approach and attitude remains the same as Lewis explains.

“To me, I know you might think as a kid in the crowd, there’s a festival and there’s two million people there [is more important]…”

“…That’s a huge festival!” Tabatabaee laughs.

“[However] I personally take each show the same. I’m having a good time no matter what.” Lewis affirms.

Similarly, longevity is nothing to overlook or discredit. Considering most bands fail to make it beyond the formative one or two year mark, 18 years as a functioning outfit is a significant achievement for Zebrahead.

“Our fan base is pretty dedicated. Even the fans that initially started out with us, they now bring their kids,” Tabatabaee states. The vocalist is well adept to make the comment having being there from day dot.

It’s still an interesting profession.“The other day, like Spinal Tap, we got lost going to the stage,” Lewis says.

Continuing with the conversation of Australian touring life, the topic switches to cost of living down here. If there is one aspect that requires careful attention it’s managing the finances in a country where things are generally a little more expensive that overseas. However, Lewis is blissfully ignorant to it all.

“My wife thinks about it. She’s like, “Really?! You bought all this!” the guitarist laughs.

While, the on stage aspects are the most visible components of touring planning, it’s the mundane, but necessary, aspects of touring that are still important. Packing for tour requires it’s own preparation.

“I’d say three show shirts, two show shorts just in case and a pair of pants just in case [too],” Lewis observes.

“What I started doing, I don’t bring a lot of socks because they take up a lot of room. So, I’ll bring like a week’s worth of socks and then just buy them on tour because they’re cheap and then throw them out,” Tabatabaee adds.

It’s all about enjoyment for Zebrahead no matter the circumstance. It’s a refreshing approaching. Their music, like their live shows, can be summed up and akin to Lewis’ account of Australian football, It’s the right amount of excitement. There’s no lull.”

Catch Zebrahead on the remaining Soundwave dates.


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