Nick Cave and Neko Case, the Arctic Monkeys, Paul Weller, Belle and Sebastian, Tom Petty and the Foo Fighters all have paid homage to the Zombies. As an instantly recognizable band from the first ‘60s British Invasion, the Zombies legacy is galvanized in era defining songs like “She’s Not There” or “Time of the Season” but they remain a relevant pop cultural touchstone thanks to the likes of film director Quinton Tarantino and culturally icon cartoon series, the Simpsons. The Zombies cerebral and celestial pop has endeared them to fans for over half a century but while the original incarnation of the band broke up some 40 years ago, for the last decade, the Zombies have returned to reclaim their former glory and perhaps even build upon it.
“I think for me, it’ll always be our first single,” ruminates the Zombies lead singer Colin Blunstone on the greatest memory of the last fifty years. “We released “She’s Not There” on July 24 in 1964 and when it made it into the charts in North America, which for us was the home of rock and roll — it was a very exciting time. We were just a group of local teens, just 30 miles from London, who played locally. We didn’t travel to other parts of the country, and then suddenly we make this record and it was a hit all around the world.
“While he might have written a song or two before the band, “She’s Not There” was Rod Argent’s first professional song,” recalls Blunstone. “Chris White our bass player wrote the b-side. We suddenly found ourselves with two great songwriters but one’s who were still finding themselves and one without a back catalogue of songs. They were learning their trade as we went along and that dictated the way we made records. It was all about singles when we started. The record companies didn’t encourage us to make an album. When we did, it didn’t work out the way we’d planned.”
Blunstone and songwriter, keyboardist and vocalist Rod Argent were only 19 years old when they had an international top ten hit. Immediately recognizable as distinctive from their contemporaries, the Zombies would remain more on the fringe with only two albums to their credit before officially disbanding after their sophomore 1968 “Odessey and Oracle” full length album was met with commercial failure. Some thirty years later when the original Zombies line up reunited in honour of a boxed CD set of their catalogue, a creative spark reunited long time friends Argent and Blunstone.
“Artistically and other ways, we’re very close — we learned about life and music on the road with the Zombies,” notes Blunstone. “Rod likes to say, he likes to write songs for my voice and I think I learned to sing by singing his songs. We’re very much influenced by one another.
“It is very distinctive — no one else made music like the Zombies, for many reasons,” he adds. “Our influences came from such a wide spectrum — from classical to modern jazz, rhythm and blues to the blues and rock and roll. It’s all there if you listen to it but I’m not sure it’s that obvious in other bands. We were a keyboard based bands with two very outstanding and prolific songwriters, it was once we got on the road that those writers realized their talents.”
Spikes of success solidify the Zombies place in rock history but some decades later, the entire wealth of Zombies music has been revisited. Now there is much greater appreciation for their former music — so much so that when Argent and Blunstone reunited to work on each other’s new songs, the fans dictated they return to their Zombie roots.
“This situation where we’ve become the second incarnation of the Zombies, it wasn’t something we intended but it did naturally evolve,” explains Blunstone. “The Zombies were five guys that grew up together and since there are only two of us still playing professionally, we didn’t consider ourselves the Zombies. We just put a band together to play some dates and we were very pleasantly surprised that there was immediately an interest in the Zombies repertoire. We were playing songs as solo artists and only then realized that there was this huge interest in the Zombies. And promoters started billing us as the Zombies, which again we weren’t expecting. Often we specified in contracts not to, but they still did it. After a few years, in a way, we gave up the fight. We started relearning obscure Zombies songs because the fans were requesting it and it’s been a very exciting journey into the past rediscovering this material, that for all intents and purposes, we’d forgotten. We were getting ready to tour and we’d have to go back and learn this material we had that sometimes went back as far as 1964.”
With a new live album, “Extended Versions,” released last year Blunstone and Argent are joined by Argent’s cousin and former Kinks member Jim Rodford on bass, Rodford’s son Steve on drums and long time Blunstone collaborator Tom Toomey on guitar, the Zombies have been a recording band for the last decade. While they can’t deny their past success, Blunstone, Argent and the Zombies remain a vital and creative band with an eye on the future.
“We tried to be sensitive to the situation and be as honest as we possibly can,” says Blunstone. “The two remaining surviving members of the band are happy for us to represent the Zombies and that repertoire we built up between ‘64 and ‘67. But since about 2000, we’ve recorded three new albums and two or three live albums as well. There are 35 new songs that we feature in the show and it’s very rewarding that the new songs very often, they fit into the set. And those new songs are recognized as much as the hits from so many years ago.
“We might be limited by time, but yes, as long as we’re able, we will be playing music,” adds Blunstone. “We love to play, it’s what we’ve always wanted to do and the magic is still there for us, I hope it’s there for the audience.” V
The Zombies play this Saturday March 2 at The Molson Canadian Studio at Hamilton Place with Elephant Stone. Click on thezombies.net