INTERVIEW: Ali Tabatabaee of Zebrahead

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Even after almost two decades, eleven albums and countless other endeavours in-between, Orange County punks Zebrahead are still killing it, both in the studio and onstage. The band are gearing up to release their twelfth full-length ‘Walk The Plank’ this week, and to celebrate, we had a chat with frontman Ali Tabatabaee about what makes this album one of their most exciting.

So this is the second Zebrahead record to come out in 2015, after The Early Years: Revisited. What made you want to move on to Walk The Plank so quickly?

We’ve been working on songs for the past two years, and I think after we got home from our last tour, we really wanted to just put those songs down, go into the studio and see what we could make of them. We actually had, like, 56 songs that we’d been working on. We really wanted to go in and record them and then go through them, see which ones were working and which ones weren’t. We were just really excited to get into everything.

Would you say this this is one of the best Zebrahead records to date, or even go as far as to say that it is the best?

It’s tough to say, for me. I would say that it’s one of my favourites. It’s very eclectic in that a lot of the songs are pretty heavy, and then some of them are dance songs. It’s kind of all over the place, but I think that the quality of the songs is very solid.

This is the twelfth full-length Zebrahead album, and that in itself is super impressive! After all of this time and so many records, how are you all able to still come up with fresh and original ideas?

For us, the way we write is… There’s no one set songwriter; there’s five of us, and we all work together. Whenever somebody has an idea, we all put our two cents in until it feels like a complete song. I think having five writers makes it a lot easier, in a sense, because you don’t get that “burned out” feeling. It helps to be able to work with everybody’s ideas and not have to rely on ideas from just one person. We all do get burned out, we all get writer’s block, but it’s very uncommon that all five people will be burned out or have writer’s block, y’know?

In terms of the music we’re going to hear on this record, what makes Walk The Plank unique from all of the other releases?

We never really sit down and go “okay guys, we have to make this album different.” Like I said, we’ve been working on these songs for a couple of years, and when we started recording them, we kind of noticed that some of the songs were stronger than the other ones. There were certain parts of the songs that we thought were better than others, so we focused in on those parts. As far as this album goes, it really stands out to me because there are definitely some heavier songs, and from them, we can go into these wavy, soft songs. This album is unique in that it has so many different styles of songs, and I think people that are into pop music are not going to be disappointed. If you’re into heavy music, you’re going to be stoked.

Do you have a solid method of recording by now, or do you to keep switching it up from album to album?

Actually, on this record we switched things up a bit. We worked with Paul Miner, who went on a couple of songs on our split EP with Man With A Mission. That was different because we had never worked with him on something to this extent before. But usually, the way we do things is, as we’re touring, if anybody has any ideas, we’ll put them down, and then once we have the basics of the songs done, we’ll bust into the studio and start pre-production on the album, which can take around two months, or three months, or whatever, and then we just feed them out until we have about twenty songs, and then at that point we’ll get together with a producer. 

Were there any memories in particular that stood out from working with Paul, or from the studio in general?

We actually all sat in on each other’s parts, from Ed [Udhus] playing his drums to Matt [Lewis] and Dan [Palmer] doing their guitars, we were all there and constantly giving suggestions. Working with Paul, it was very collaborative, so it was cool in that way. Everybody was really positive and inspired to get these songs as good as they can be. 

I want to talk about the touring side of things, because you guys have an absolute fucktonne of shows coming up across Europe and the UK for the rest of the year. Are you stoked to be getting back out on the road?

Yeah man, absolutely! We’ve been at home recording the album for a while now, and you kind of get restless not touring for so long. 

Of course, with a new album comes a whole new setlist. What songs from this record do you think will work best in the live atmosphere?

I think the heavier songs will get some mosh pits started. There’s one song called ‘Kings of the Here and Now’ and I think that’s going to be really fun to play and see the kids going nuts to. And then there’s another one called ‘So What’ which is kind of this mellow acoustic song, but it has this cool energy, so it’ll be fun to play that one as well. 

Okay, so you knew this question was coming - when are we going to see Zebrahead back and killin’ it in Australia?

I know we’re working on getting back down there. The last time we were there was a couple of years ago for Soundwave, so hopefully when this album’s released, we’ll have another reason to come back!

Is Soundwave 2016 a possibility you guys might be open to?

Absolutely! We’re always talking about it. Soundwave is such a cool festival because it’s kind of like a circus; everyone travels together and hangs out all the time, so it doesn’t feel like work. It’s just a huge vacation!

Written by Matt Doria