I had the distinct pleasure of taking an extensive and compelling verbal stroll with punk rock veteran JonZip O’Neil, lead protagonist of the renowned Scottish punk band, The Zips. I reeled Jon in before soundcheck in Glasgow’s loud and electrifying rock venue McChuills on the launch night of their current 4th album titled Huh!? Jon has an immensely engaging personality, creatively passionate and naturally supportive to everyone within the fold of the punk scene. Within the interview Jon lay down a brief history of the band, their position and development within the Glaswegian punk movement and further afield in Europe, as well as talking in fine detail about the album, the creative process, production, artwork, the highlight of the bands summer, thoughts on D.I.Y ethos and much, much more…
Miff – Hello Jon, thanks for taking the time out to join me in Interview for Louderthanwar. How are you?
JonZip – I’m fine thanks, I’m looking forward to tonight as this is the launch night for 4th Zips album, titled HUH!?
Miff- Omg, this is your fourth album?! How can that be? Zips have been around forever and ever.
JonZip -[Laughs] – I know! We didn’t do albums back in the day. Just to give you a brief history…
In 77 we were trying to get the band together, couldn’t find a bass player in Glasgow because Glasgow was a Heavy Metal town. Eventually we got Phil, who is still with me today, that was January 78, so, we started playing in early 78 and we put out two singles before we split in 1980.
Miff – So, were you more or less the first punk band to come out of Glasgow city?
JonZip – Kind of, around about the same time, I think the first one that goes down in history is, Johnny And The Self Abusers, which then morphed into, Simple Minds. And they had one single out as well, they predated our single, so yeah, you could say that they were around before us, but they didn’t play many gigs before they split. They had the same difficulty as we had, that Glasgow city council had banned punk music because of a rowdy Stranglers gig, but no more rowdy than you would expect at any other gig, but it was in a council hall and so they decided that was it, NO PUNK, and they were reading all this stuff in the press about the, Sex Pistols and all that kind of stuff, so they panicked. So, Johnny And The Self Abusers would have been in the same position as what we were, that we couldn’t get punk gigs because even the bars were scared to lose their licence if they put a punk band on.
Miff – It’s scare mongering….
JonZip – Yeah, it was scare mongering and it really stifled punk in Glasgow, I’ve had this conversation with a few people, that you can usually pick a city around the UK and you can find a band that is associated with that city, I was going to say Edinburgh but not strictly Edinburgh, around that area, Fife with, The Skids and then Newcastle, you got, Penetration, you know, it jumps out all the different bands, Buzzcocks – Manchester.
Miff – Just the fact that Glasgow in its aesthetic, especially back then, was so much edgier and you can imagine the need for release of expression.
JonZip – Yeah, Yeah, It should have happened. Punk was there and there was obviously quite a lot of bands like us that was trying to do something, but we gravitated Paisley, because Paisley would put on bands and it wasn’t too far away, so you could still get people to travel from Glasgow out to Paisley to get to gigs, so that’s the way it was. We also put on gigs in Cumbernauld Theatre which is not too far from Glasgow; but yeah, there was that sort of stifling of punk in Glasgow which was unfortunate but we put one single out, and that was, The Zips EP, five hundred copies; that sold really quickly and we then decided that we wouldn’t do another pressing of that, we would go do other songs, as we were writing other songs anyway. It was actually the right thing to do because with only 500 copies, it’s actually quite a rare single!
Miff- Magic! Little did you know at the time, that decision made the pressing more unique.
JonZip – Yeah, and the single still sells on Discogs; Err, trying to remember the last time I looked, it was over 400 dollars just for one copy!
Miff – Wow! That’s amazing! Do you always play that single at your gigs?
JonZip – Yeah, we always play one out of the four tracks at our gigs, its such a significant single, impossible not to.
Miff – And you guys played Rebellion Festival this year, didn’t you?
JonZip – Yeah, we played it this year, we have played it a few years now.
Miff – And what was the highlight of your summer? Was it good?
JonZip – Oh, Rebellion was definitely the highlight of our summer.
Miff – Every time I look on your Social media page, The Zips are always out on the road touring, this must lead to immense networking of other promoters, bands and creatives?
JonZip – Yeah, absolutely and we have Rebellion to thank for that as well because in 2011 we played Rebellion and there was a few European booking agents in the audience and from that we got gigs in Holland and then we met up with a band from Berlin called, Erotic Devices and they were dead keen for us to go over there and we would tour together, so they would provide the van, the use of their equipment, and I don’t know how many tours we’ve done with them now?… One every year basically, since 2012. And they have been over here as well playing, but not as much, because there is not as much scope, like Germany is just brilliant for punk.
Miff – I can imagine how well received, The Zips would be over in Germany.
JonZip – Yeah, totally, because you are more exotic in another country, you know (Laughs) But, Yeah, Rebellion was the highlight of the summer, the festival was punted as one of the biggest in Europe, but I think it’s now being punted as one of the biggest in the world! So, I won’t argue with that! Rebellion offers such great exposure as there are people from all over the world coming to the festival.
Miff – So you have just watched the festival grow incrementally over the years?
JonZip- Yeah, before it was Rebellion, it was called, Wasted Festival and it was in the coastal town of Morecambe. I think, if my memory serves me correct we played it 2005 or something like that, and it was quite a small gathering at that stage, and it was held in different venues so people had to move around to see all the gigs, but now Rebellion is in such a great location In, The Tower and have so many venues in the one place, If it’s raining, you don’t have to go out in it and that’s great! So, Yeah, overall, it’s been good for us.
Miff – Let’s talk about your new album! What has the process been like? Have you been writing over the summer? Where the hell do you get the space to write?
JonZip – This ones really weird, because the first album, Guitars 4 Hire was kind of easy because it was basically the songs we were doing live and we just had to whittle it down to fourteen tracks, so that was easy, the second album, the band had just changed line-up, so it was a wee bit tricky getting new guys in, Um, and that’s the line-up we got now, this is the longest line-up we’ve ever had in our history so touch wood it’s staying that way; but we had written some songs before the new guys joined so it was a process of teaching the new guys those songs and then other songs spun out from it, so it wasn’t too hard at the end of the day, and we used the studio that we rehearse in, located in Barrhead, Standing Stones Studios, a guy there that runs it called Colin, who has a punk background so he knows what we are trying to achieve and its dead easy working with him, so that was the, 19 Forevva album, and then the third album was, Down With The Zips.
Miff – (Laughs) Oh Yeah, I love that title! It really sticks in my head for catchiness.
JonZip – (Laughs) I know, and we will get onto that about the title of the new album, but there was arguments about what the title was going to be, and then we had had some stickers that said ‘Down With The Zips’ But originally back in 79 we had stickers that said, Down With The Zips, so we thought Ok, we got all these stickers, why don’t we just make the album, Down With the Zips and we already got merch to start with!
Miff – Resourceful thinking!
JonZip – (Laughs) It was a bit of a cop out at the time, I suppose, but that album was probably more developed as we worked on the songs in the studio in Barrhead where we could rehearse and bring the songs up to scratch, so that was a proper album process for that one. This current album was a nightmare. Obviously if we were recording the album in the studio in Barrhead we would have to pay the studio time, but Phil the bass player had a friend who had access to farm property outside Glasgow and we said yeah, we can just use that to get the songs together there, So, we had about half a dozen songs which we were fairly happy with at that stage, and then a new opportunity arose from the people who had put the tours on in Germany as they had heard what we were doing and they said to us that they would like to put a single out, they already had a kind of split album with Erotic Devices and us.
Miff – Was that in Berlin?
JonZip – Well, just outside Berlin, Potzdamer, and they said we would like to release a vinyl single, and we really liked that idea as its brilliant to be able to do that as everyone is always looking for vinyl and we don’t usually do it, so we said yeah, great
Miff – What do you call the label?
JonZip -The label I thought we were going to use was, Clash City Records which is based in Berlin, but they decided they were going to set up a new record label and this would be the first release on it, so, it was all massively positive and they talked about making it coloured vinyl and all that stuff, so we said, right, fine. We were going to be in Berlin to do some gigs, I think it was about Easter time, two years back, in 2017 and we recorded the two songs and then we had other songs that obviously we had been working on, So we recorded a few more and we got up to about seven songs but, one of them we scrapped, so we had six songs, but we thought that we just couldn’t keep going backwards and forwards to Berlin to do this so we then did the rest of the songs in Barrhead recording studios, so the album ended up being kind of like a mongrel in terms of its intervention in formation and locations.
Miff – And who worked on production?
JonZip – In Germany it was a guy called, Daniel Distraction.
Miff – (Laughs) Brilliant name!
JonZip – (Laughs) Yeah, great name, he’s a brilliant guitarist/bass player, he played with the, Erotic Devices for a while and then dropped out because he wanted to concentrate on production, and he had a studio in a former Stasi admin block in what was East Berlin; It’s a huge concrete building, all split up from what was formally offices into artists spaces, photographer, video production, ect, and he had one studio unit there, but Jim, our drummer was thrown a curveball as he had never played an electronic kit, but in this studio we couldn’t fit a full drum kit, so he had to learn in half an hour, basically on an electronic kit which was intense, but I don’t know how he did it? It was brilliant the way he pieced it together. He knows it’s not a real kit but in amongst the rest of the production I think it works well. Jim will always say he could have done it better. Daniel was great, but he then had a few issues with the studio space and also had a few personal problems, and so we lost time, and kept losing time, it was two years this Easter we recorded it and we didn’t get the single until June this year, and the launch was at Rebellion Festival. So that’s two and a half years gap! And these current songs were then kicking about as well.
Miff – How many songs are on the album?
JonZip – Ten songs in total. Yeah, so, we had this six from Berlin, and then we had two others, one we had recorded, a guy called Shug O’Neil who was in, The Snipes, he died a few years ago, so there was a night for him In Glasgow’s Audio venue and we did one of his songs titled,
Eins Zwei Drei Vier, so we thought, that just ties in nicely; its in German, its written about Berlin, that would fit perfect into the album, because we don’t normally do cover songs, it’s always our own stuff, plus the fact that we can mention Shug.
Miff- It’s great to inject your own emotion into it.
JonZip- Yeah, and it spoke to his partner Karla and she agreed how great for the song to be on the album. Then we also had another song titled, Bread Over Bombs which is the last track on the album. Bread Over Bombs is an organization that started in LA California, to get money to food banks and the guy who started it off, Brad Mitchell, who is a musician, he recorded an album with Toni Visconti (David Bowie’s Producer) A long story about how it happened!… but then they fell out and the album was sitting there, not happening, and he had worked with different charities within California and he knew how they worked and he realized that food banks was the most pressing need, so he thought, I’m just going to sell the album and give all the money to food banks, so that’s what he started doing right now. If any of our readers wants to check out the charity, please follow the website link https://www.breadoverbombs.org/
JonZip- So, I contacted Brad on Facebook and he said if I wanted to do something in Glasgow, that he would send me his albums and I could sell them in Glasgow and give all the money to Glasgow food banks, and through that I found that he had already linked up with some other people in Glasgow who are involved in the music industry. Tony Gaughan who founded, Neon Tetra Record label. So, Tony knew about him and that was the two of us together, and then we had a guy called John Thompson, he had done a bit of local radio stuff and is highly interested in music. So, we managed to get a team together and we formed our own, Bread Over Bombs Glasgow and we have raised nearly ten thousand pounds over the past two years for Glasgow food banks!
JonZip- The title, Bread Over Bombs inspired me, so I’d written a song and recorded a demo of it to send to Brad to make sure he was happy with it. And so, that then become another track on the album, because it was all ready to go and be recorded and the one track that we hadn’t managed to nail, if you like, in Berlin was called, Rock Twins. Rock Twins is the Facebook name of two German twin girls called Jessica and Jeanene. They are avid music fans, both blind and live in Germany and they made friends with us on Facebook and so it turned out that they are friends with all the bands you can ever think of! UK Subs; I’m sure they are friends with John Robb and his band, The Membranes and they had been to loads of the gigs we have done in Berlin and they travel all the way up from Munich to Berlin for the gigs, but they just know so many punk icons, so I’ve always been inspired by what they do, It’s never a problem for them, so I had written a song about them and sent them the demo to make they were ok with it.
Miff – That’s so class! Lovely gesture, no doubt they liked that.
JonZip – Yeah, they liked the demo, but it was just finding the right music for that song because the guys kept chopping and changing in regard to, let’s do it this way, and that was one of the longest tracks to actually sort out, but we had it all ready to go by May this year. The single was going to come out and we thought that we can’t bring the single and the album out at the same time because it’s too much for people to take on board, so we thought Rebellion Festival is a great place to launch the single, and then we will follow the album up afterwards. And so we focused on getting a title for the album and it took all that time between then and now to find a title, as no one in the band would agree what the title was going to be, we went through about 30 different names before I had been to an exhibition by a local artist called, Stephen Scott whose artwork is now our album cover. He had a powerful image of a tank in Tiananmen Square with a lone man standing in front of it, but he had a mustard/yellow background to the image, I like the image, its very striking, but I asked him if we could change the colour because I’d seen a cracking Clash poster and it was a blue/green teal colour and I thought it would work better as the backdrop to the black tank and lone figure, so he said, Yeah, that’s fine. And he also provided us with illustrations on the back of the album cover.
Miff- I like how The Zip’s always provide a retro style to their releases.
JonZip – Yeah, we always present the CD’s to look like vinyl, we like that kind of retro look, lets hope none has ever tried to play it on a record player (Laughs)
Miff – (Laughs) And, are you streaming the album online?
JonZip- Yeah, there will be a digital stream, we usually do it through cdbaby.com and through them it is then uploaded to all the usual streaming platforms, Amazon, Spotify, iTunes, ect. I don’t trust myself with technology to do it myself. Hopefully next year we would like to get a vinyl version of the CD out, but just now it is on physical CD format and available via Ebay, Love Music Records website, All Ages Records in London, or simply just fire me a direct private message.
Miff – I love the way you guys just roll, kind of spontaneous in a way, you know what I mean?
JonZip – (Laughs) Chaos theory you mean.
Miff – (Laughs) No, but I think that’s brilliant! I feel the magic lays in just rolling with the creative project as it occurs in the moment, more opportunities arise, and all feels less regimented with having a manager and trying to stick to intense planning schedules as usually with plans everything goes tits up.
JonZip, You’re right! That’s spot on, because when we first started and when we got back together again and we started playing I did have that mindset of, we need to watch the album, it needs to be out on that set date and that means two months before push to get the album out to magazines and radio stations and all that kind of stuff and we just gave ourselves a complete headache for no reason, because at the end of the day it’s all D.I.Y, so it’s not going to have a great impact in sending it to everybody, just another CD amongst a million other CD’s.
Miff – Yeah! I think D.I.Y ethos is more tailored to a specific mindset of people who are always dedicated and consistent. I suppose you guys had to think in that way initially to throw the feelers out to acknowledge some kind of response, and I’m sure you were only trying to find your direction.
JonZip – I suppose so yeah, I had to do that way initially to help me realize I didn’t need to do it. You are right in what you are saying to just get out there and do whatever’s happening because then you sometimes create a demand for your music retrospectively, and it’s not like you are trying to chart it, so taking that pressure off can be liberating, as well as the possibility of being approached naturally by radio stations or magazines, instead of, what feels like, throwing music into the wind, it’s better to have it requested and there is then the certainly that something will definitely happen. And we have been fortunate with local fanzines and wider spread radio, there is a good Fanzine, Razor Cutz. A guy called, Derek Steel who stays in Falkirk, a kind of mix of old and new style fanzine, reviews/interviews/ new music suggestions and he also encourages writing from local poets. There definitely is still an undercurrent there of D.I.Y, in all of the different creative industries, it’s just pulling it all together, there is Derek with his Fanzine, Stephen with his artwork. It’s just a matter of linking up with people, and people like yourself Miff, your photography is so different from just standard photography.
Miff – Thank you Jon. Most kind. It’s wonderful when people bring their dedication and creative passions together. I think I’ve definitely advanced in my photographic eye and have been given the space to grow in my style of capturing moments.
JonZip – What do you mean advanced, in more equipment or technique?
Miff- I feel that I am better at chasing light, I understand contrast better. I’ve became more definite in my style which carries a lot of atmosphere. I haven’t upgraded my equipment in over two years but have settled into my skin regarding editing style and what atmosphere I want to carry across. I’ve learned that I have a very intricate eye and I carry a lot of intensity across in my photography as I’m very much into the intimacy of expression. I always want my images to carry a narrative, channelling across to the viewer more than what meets the eye. I also learned I have quite an abstract take on my creative viewpoint and I’ve learned to play around with that over the years, as well as listening to my intuition, taking risks and placing myself exactly in the moment without getting hung up on the more technical side it all.
JonZip – I still use the photograph you took of me in the New Hellfire Club record shop when I played there a few years ago, and the good thing was they had one of those vintage style mics, so I felt like Johnny rotten or someone (Laughs)
Miff (Laughs) Elvis you mean!
JonZip- (Laughs) Not as snazzy! But, yeah, overall its great in Glasgow as it is small enough for everyone to network and everyone can appreciate each other’s skills and work with it.
Miff – Yeah! Absolutely! And we can build a strong community of creatives in that way. And that is probably a great way to finish the interview!… Thanks so much again for your time Jon. All the best with the rest of your creative endeavours.
JonZip – Thanks for having me <<>>> Over & Out. <<<<<>>>>
Full batch of photographs from, The Zips HUH!? album launch night to be found over on Gobophotography/Revel Rousers Music media Page.