Interview with Zombies lead singer Colin Blunstone ahead of their UK tour
We have a chat with Colin Blunstone ahead of The Zombies’s UK tour that will be starting next week.
Hi Colin, thanks for taking the time to chat to Louder Than War. The Zombies’s new record “Still Got That Hunger” was the first where you used Pledge Music. Is it something that you enjoyed doing and in which way did you use the funds from the campaign ?
The original reason for us to go to Pledge wasn’t to raise funds because we’ve recorded our three previous albums independently and took the finished product to a distributor, we didn’t release it to a record company. We are financially independent in that we can record an album without the help of a record company. The idea of going to Pledge was to try and involve our fanbase in the whole recording process, to keep them informed on early rehearsals and plans for which recording studio we were to use, the producer that we were going to work with and how the recording sessions were developing as we were going along. I hope we managed to keep them involve but I also think we learned a lot in using Pledge. I think we would record the next album in the same way but I think we could make it much more sophisticated if we do it a second time.
The last album “Breathe Out, Breathe In” received really good reviews, did you feel any pressure to come up with something as good while working on “Still Got That Hunger” ?
You always try and make the next album better .As a band we are very forward thinking, we don’t dwell on the past whether its the previous album or the sixties. At the present time we are working on promoting “Still Got That Hunger” but as soon as we’ve finished we’ll start thinking about the next album. New songs will be written and that’s the way this band is motivated, it’s the will to work, to think about the future.
You contribute songs very occasionally for The Zombie’s albums, is there any particular reason behind that ?
I wrote two songs for The Zombies in the sixties but I was just starting to write songs then, it was very early days for me as a writer. Traditionally I’ve been writing more for my solo projects than I do for The Zombies but maybe in the future. It’s a fluid situation, it could change. To a large extent it depends on who has the new songs ready when we go into the studio and I’ve used up most of my songs on my last solo album.
When listening to the last two Zombies’s albums you get the impression that far from being a continuation of The Zombies sixties sound, they are more an aggregate of all the different music phases you and Rod have been through on your different projects. Is it something you would agree on ?
Yes definitely. The opposite way of looking at it is that I have met people who were hoping that it would be an absolute continuation of where we were in 1967. We could do that but I think it would be very contrived. We’ve tried to be very open and honest in that of course there is a thread that links these albums to what we did in the sixties because Rod wrote many of these songs and he’s writing most of the new songs too and I sang most of the old ones and I’m singing the new ones too. There is a relationship between them but it has been magnified by what we have done in-between 1967 and when we got back together in 1999. Rod and I had very full and varied musical careers and we brought that experience to the table as well.
I read a recent interview with Rod where he says that the band is in a good place right now because you revisit the old songs and at the same time the new material you’re putting out is getting a good reception from your fans.
Absolutely. There’s a couple of things that have really intrigued me. One is that we get as good a response in concert to our new material as we do to the classic songs. It’s very rewarding and it encourages us to go on and write and record new songs. In a different way, when we first got back together in 1999 we didn’t call ourselves The Zombies and we didn’t play many Zombies tracks. We thought people had forgotten about The Zombies, so it was a very pleasant surprise that people were continuously asking us to play Zombies material, often quite obscure songs that we’d almost forgotten about. We started rediscovering our own repertoire at the same time the public was rediscovering it too. It was a very interesting journey for us as we had to relearn these songs, some of them we had just recorded for the albums and never played live. It was 7 or 8 years after we’d started playing together that we realized that the majority of the tracks that we were playing in concert were Zombies tracks. At that point we sat down and spoke to the original members and said “Listen, we think that the honest course for us to take is to call the band “The Zombies”, how do you feel about that ?” and they very much gave us their blessing. They both retired from playing live concerts a long long time ago and weren’t interested in playing live again. Our set list nowadays contains a majority of Zombies material interspersed with some newer material and also one or two hit records that we’ve had while we were away from The Zombies. We’ll play one or two Argent songs and one or two hits I’ve had as a solo artist.
I was lucky enough to see you when you performed “Odessey and Oracle” in full in 2009 at the Hammersmith Apollo and another time at Islington Assembly Hall while you were promoting “Breathe Out, Breathe In”…
Yes I remember the Hammersmith concert quite well. We played three tracks with a string quintet: “Say You Don’t Mind”, “Misty Roses” and “Her Song” from my first solo album “One Year”.
Talking about your solo career, four of your seventies solo albums have been re-released over the past year by Floating World Records (“Ennismore” and “Journey”) and Cherry Red (“Planes” and “Never Even Thought”). Is it something that you are pleased about ?
It is flattering that people will consider reissuing your early work but you always have to temper that with the fact that in the same way The Zombies are always looking forward, I am too. My energies are taken up by what is going to happen next. As well as thinking of the next Zombies album, I’m thinking about the next solo album. I’ve got two careers which means that when one is going through a slightly quiet period, I can concentrate on the other one.
You’re back from a one month tour in America where you were playing songs from the new album and also Odessey and Oracle in its entirety with original members Chris White and Hugh Grundy. Is touring something you still enjoy doing after so many years ?
Well I didn’t tour for a long time for many reasons. I came off the road in 1974. It was just a different business in those days. You were expected to do so many albums and writing and recording just took over your life. Record companies were asking for an album every year. I wasn’t able to concentrate on touring the same way I can now. It is something that sort of happened gradually and I suddenly realised I hadn’t toured in something like twenty years !!! Now I’m still in the record industry and I’d always want to be a touring artist. I think its very important to have that dimension to your work and I’ve been touring regularly again since 1997 and I try and tour as much as possible.
You’re doing one of your biggest European tours to date for the new album and visiting some countries where you’ve only played very occasionally like France. Is visiting new territories something exciting for you ?
Oh yes definitely !!! We have played a couple in times in France and I really enjoyed it. We’re playing in Spain as well which we are looking forward too. We play in America a lot, we tour there 2 or 3 times a year and we regularly visit the far-east and Northern Europe. In France we played near Paris and in Brest in Brittany and got an incredible response which is very intriguing as we haven’t gone back to France since. I’d wish we’d gone back sooner as you have to kind of establish yourself again in the country.
One of the first videos you posted on the Pledge page for the new album was a video of the band rehearsing “Maybe Tomorrow” acoustically at Jim Rodford’s home (Zombies bass player). Do you think that with the current line-up being pretty much the same for the past 15 tears you have reached a level as a band that’s similar to where you were with the original line-up round 1967 ?
Yes it does feel similar. We’ve a 2 or 3 different guitarists. Tom Toomey, our current guitar player has been with us for 5 years and we’re now a very tight combination and I think it’s probably the best line-up we’ve ever had. Our way of working as a band has actually become much more similar to the way we used to work on songs in the sixties with the last album. When we were planning the new album, we thought back to when we recorded “Odessey and Oracle”. Because we had a very small recording budget for “Odessey and Oracle”, we rehearsed a lot before going into the studio so the arrangements and the keys of the performances were all set. This enabled us just to concentrate on the the actual performance when we were in the studio. The new album was recorded at a studio called State of the Ark in Richmond that lends itself to the whole band playing live so we get audio separation but we can see one another visually. There is something very uplifting and energizing about recording together, especially for me as a singer.
You usually record your albums at Rod’s own studio. Why did you choose to record this new album in another studio and this time with the help of a producer ?
Rod’s studio is very good, it is up to commercial standards. In the past we have recorded 3 albums in it. Rod actually moved houses 6 months ago and he’s planning on recreating his studio in one of the out-houses of his new place but it was a good thing because we wanted to record in a different way this time. Chris Potter brought a whole new dimension to the recording too. It took so much of the weight of production off our shoulders, especially Rod’s because to a large extent he was in control of that side of things. Thanks to him we discovered two great independent studios, State of the Ark and Sugar Cane in Wandsworth. He came to listen to us in concert and in rehearsal. He chose the material with us and worked on the arrangements too. He’s a great technician too which means everything sounded wonderful almost straight away. Sometimes when you go into a recording studio, it takes days to get everything to sound properly. The recording was done very quickly and we were able to concentrate on playing as well as we could without getting bogged down with technical issues.