Continued from part 1 of our interview with Ali Tabatatbaee, vocalist/rapper from Californian punk-inspired rock band Zebrahead.
Music Weekly: Striving for perfection, in a way, can be seen as bringing the best out of everyone. On the other side of the coin, it can be seen as a way of holding the rest back – especially when there are schedules to abide by. Is there anyone in the band that’s a perfectionist?
Ali Tabatatbaee: When we first started, definitely. It’s different now that we’ve been together for a while. Everybody understands that the creative process is different for the rest of the guys, so you don’t ever want to impede somebody on having an idea or slow ‘em down. Usually the way things work is we’ll work on an idea as long as we can and everybody goes, “OK well, we’ve kind of exhausted this, let’s try a different route”. It’s more of, “Let’s do it, let’s do it, let’s do it. OK, we’ve kind of tried everything, maybe we should look at a different direction”. So it’s kind of like that now. It’s less ‘no’ and more ‘let’s do it’.
Are you guys open to criticism or do you see it as a type of negative energy that you try to block out?
Well usually if anybody says anything negative about our songs we tend to invite them outside and beat the living sh*t out of them.
[Laughs] I’m just kidding. No, we’re good. We’re pretty open to anybody who has a good suggestion. It’s easy to say, “Oh you know what, that sucks”. Everybody can do that but, we’re always more open to proactive ideas. And Cameron [Webb, producer of the album], we’ve worked with him before, he’s like an old friend so we trust his judgement and [he] helped out a lot. Dan is the new guitar player in the band and he had a lot of great ideas, and he’s an amazing guitar player. I’m really excited for people to hear him play and see how good he is.
How different is this upcoming record from your previous ones?
This album is a little bit heavier than our previous ones, as our music has been for a while now… We were also really, really prepared when we went in to record this. 90% of the songs were done before we actually went in to record the album, which was really cool because we had a lot of time in the studio to ask ourselves, “What can make this part of the song better?”. So that helped a lot – just being prepared and everybody having their parts down and knowing what they wanted to do. We spent a lot of time in our own studio making sure the songs were the way we wanted them to be so when we went in to record it in Maple, we’d just put down our parts and Cameron would help out and say, “What if you went this way or that way”, and made us think outside the box, and added some cool finishing touches to the songs that I don’t think we wouldn’t have had just by ourselves.
Do you think you’ve changed in any way, from this album compared to your first?
Oh yeah. Literally, for the first album we released, we didn’t have any lyrics to any of the songs while we were recording. We wrote two of the songs in an hour, from music to lyrics. No one expecting us to do this for a career, much less an album. Now we’re kind of understanding the business aspect of it, trying to be more efficient, and making it the best we can.
You guys have a list of successes under your belts from the 15 years that you’ve been together – some of which are: selling over 2 millions albums, a Grammy nomination, one of your albums certified Gold in Japan. Of everything that has happened in your career, is there anything that really sticks out to you?
To be honest with you, the biggest thing that we’ve all experienced together, recognised and talked about, is the fact that we’ve been able to travel so much and see all these cultures we’d normally wouldn’t have discovered. I think that’s the coolest thing. Honestly, I have friends in places I never thought I’d go, and the whole band really appreciates that. We’re really stoked to be able to do this, and that’s the thing we look forward to when an album comes out. We get to hang out with this person here and that person there. We’ve seen the real culture of the places we’ve been because we go hang out at people’s houses and do normal things – not like hanging out at a venue or on a tour bus all day. That’s the most impressive thing to me and to most of the guys in the band: the opportunity we’ve been given to be able to do that.
Is there a country in particular where you’ve been totally culture-shocked?
Not in a negative way. I’ve never gone anywhere and thought, “this sucks, we shouldn’t have gone here”. It’s always positive, like, “where else can we go where we’ve never been before?” Fortunately we get the chance to come to China this summer. We’ve never been. I’m really, really looking forward to that. Nothing negative, only positive.
Are you privileged with any time-off while you’re on tour, or is it pretty much show after show?
We get a day off every two weeks. But what we do is try to get up early before sound check and load in, and we go sight-see and hang out with our friends either before or after the show. We manage our time pretty well. When we’re in China we have two days off, so we’re gonna make the most of that and try to see as much stuff as we can.
Is it rare to have two full days off in the middle of a tour?
Yeah, actually. Especially if you’re only there for a week, it’s kind of rare, at least for us. We’re gonna go see how much debauchery we can cause while we’re in China for those two days off!
Is it still the same touring now compared to touring when you were younger?
To be honest with you, it is only the band members that are older, the crew are all young. They want to do everything and we tend to go with them. They’re good friends. Our crew forces us to stay young, go out and hang out when we’d probably be sleeping or doing something more mellow. We still go out a lot, which I don’t know is a good thing now thinking about it!
2 August: Yugongyishan, Beijing
3 August: Yuyintang, Shanghai
4 August: 191 Space, Guangzhou
6 August: B10, Shenzhen
10 August: Summer Sonic Festival, Osaka
11 August: Summer Sonic Festival, Tokyo