Okay – what is the common denominator of this musical, yet algebraic bouillabaisse? What single spark connects the punk rock dots to make this unimaginable equation from lying somewhere between the Twilight Zone and some LSD-fueled kid’s rambling hypergraphia? Take the way-back machine for a ride to Indiana circa fall ’79 and pick up some teenaged compadres to form a legendary and pivotal punk rock band, Zero Boys. In rapid succession, release two seriously incendiary records (Living in the ‘80s & Vicious Circle) and before blinking, tour North America and hold their own on bills with bands including the Dead Kennedys and Minor Threat. Then, return home to helm landmark releases by Toxic Reasons, Sloppy Seconds, Raw Power and help to define the signature “Midwest” sound – tight, crisp and (gasp!) cerebral.
Spreading his wings by forming the strangely psychedelic band, Dandelion Abortion and then rootsy pop MTV buzz band Datura Seeds, while concurrently producing breakthrough records by indie acts such as the Blake Babies, Antenna & Lisa Germano. Press pause for just a second and become a Kundalini yoga master while continuing to cement your reputation as an in-demand studio genius while recording “relative unknowns” such as Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp all the while never leaving Indiana. Then, after a 20+ year recording hiatus come full circle to regroup Zero Boys to record and tour in 2014!
Meet Paul Mahern (a.k.a. Paul Z), the vocalist for Indianapolis’ Zero Boys, a man that has apparently never slept.
Catching up with Mahern recently facilitated the chance to quiz him about Zero Boys’ history. Delving into the reasons a seemingly sane man with no need to prove anything musically is willing to go all-in with a West Coast Tour and a new full-length LP titled Monkey.
Mahern elaborates: “I wish I could say it was some sort of plan but it kinda just happened like this … from playing three – five shows a year, really doing nothing to get gigs, someone would drop us a line and say we’ll pay you money and fly you out here to play this festival and we did that. And kind of the whole time we’d toy with doing an LP but it just didn’t seem to work for one reason or another – it didn’t seem to be doing justice to the Zero Boys name!”
Fast forward to 2012 when mainstays Tufty and Vess decline to join Mahern and original drummer Mark Cutsinger on a European tour. Undaunted and feeling it a necessary obligation to honour their commitments, they enlisted two new members.
“[We] hired a couple of subs – from Indiana and raised on Vicious Circle – to play 21 shows in 23 days and, by the end of it we could tell it was like a new energy. I don’t know if it was the new guys in the band or playing so many shows in such a short period of time but something was different and something was new and when we came back we went into my home studio and we put together an EP that came out last year.”
A process that led to more frequent writing and recording which led to the Monkey LP. “[This] is not Vicious Circle but it has all that energy and excitement and it feels really now – it was an LP that was true to the legacy and name of the band but it existed on its own in this time space,” explains Mahern.
Scott Kellogg and Dave Lawson join Mahern and Cutsinger on the tour and album. Mahern also notes that the DNA of founding Zero Boy Terry “Hollywood” Howe (RIP) is not far from the heart and mind on the new LP. “When we made this record we really kinda called on his spirit – big time – we tried to channel his input even though he wasn’t there. He was a larger-than-life character so it was easy to say to ourselves, Okay, now is this something that Terry would have approved of?” he emphasizes.
Obviously Mahern is primarily a music and record fan and not here to cash in on any nostalgia wave. He does genuinely care about the interchange between performers and punters.
“As performers it is our responsibility – as music fans first – to understand and respect that the art/songs are not only ours but are also the fan’s property,” says Mahern and goes on to extol the obvious merits of the 13th Floor Elevators’ Easter Everywhere LP, and then slips in that “we’re gonna play Vicious Circle and the first EP and we’re gonna play some tunes from Monkey and we’re gonna have a great time with some great people!”
You can catch the ZERO BOYS with the Jolts, the Excessives & Snob at FUNKYS in Vancouver May 9.
By Boy Howdy