The Zombies, helmed by founding members Rod Argent and singer Colin Blunstone, are marking the group’s half century with a new album – Breathe Out, Breathe In – and a UK tour.
They will be stopping off in the region on Tuesday when they play the Sage, Gateshead.
Rewind to the 60s and the English rock band shot to fame with singles She’s Not There, Tell Her No and Time of the Season. And the 1968 album, Odessey and Oracle, became hailed as a psych masterpiece.
Today’s offering, album Breathe Out, Breathe In, promises 10 songs, rich in harmony and full of melody.
“There was a clear brief,” says Rod Argent. “We wanted to use as many two and three part harmonies as possible and lots of Hammond organ, Mellotron and Memotron. (synthesiser keyboards)
“We didn’t want to recreate the past, but we wanted to capture The Zombies’ essence and meaning. Our energy and enthusiasm for making music is the same as it was when we first started and the magic and mystery of the whole music making process, we are still thrilled by it all. So we thought it would be great to celebrate when that all began.
“I first met Colin outside the Pioneer Club in St Albans for The Zombies’ first rehearsal. We didn’t know each other but Colin turned up with a broken nose and two black eyes. I thought, oh no, what have we got here? But he was a keen rugby player and had got injured during a game.”
“That first rehearsal went really well because we got to borrow The Bluetones, a local St Albans band’s equipment. Jim Rodford, who now plays bass in The Zombies, was in them funnily enough,” says Colin.
“Our own equipment was dreadful though, so when we played on that it brought us down to earth. I would judge how well our gigs went by the amount of blood Rod would lose from his thumb when he played his Jerry Lee Lewis runs on the piano. He’d have to press down really hard. These days he still bleeds for The Zombies, of course … spiritually though not literally.”
Breathe Out, Breathe In was recorded over a year in Argent’s own Red House Studios, the band line-up completed by Colin and Rod’s touring group – guitarist Tom Toomey, the aforementioned Jim Rodford and his son, drummer Steve Rodford.
Rod would put down lead voice, piano and some harmonies on a demo, the band would listen and then lay down the bones of the song in a day.
“Colin and I have been playing with this band for the last 10 years,” explains Rod. “And during those 10 years we’ve grown into a very tight and sympathetic musical unit and so going into the studio was a really enjoyable experience, we have a telepathy.
“We often just know what the other person wants and needs and means without speaking,” says Colin. “There is so much history there, we understand each other and The Zombies are like a cottage industry. We have complete artistic control. We run our own label, we book our own gigs, we provide our own transport and hotels. Rod writes most of the songs, we record in his studio and he produces the record. It keeps it very exciting being at the centre always of everything.”
Musically, the benchmark for Breathe Out, Breathe In is their aforementioned 1968 album Odessey And Oracle, which the original Zombies – Colin and Rod with drummer Hugh Grundy and bassist Chris White – played from beginning to end in 2008 to celebrate its 40th year.
“Chris and Hugh hadn’t been on a stage playing music for a very long time and for a moment I thought how on earth are they going to cope with this,” says Rod.
“I thought they were incredibly brave to do it and just a few bars in I knew it was going to work out fine. Returning to the album, it’s funny, it did subconsciously influence Breathe Out, Breathe In, just in the album’s genesis, we wrote the songs upfront like we used to, and did some of the songs live on the road first. We also used the same ingredients – bass lines being central to the song, lots of harmonies.”
Colin added: “We are still learning, and new discoveries energise us. It’s all part of being an artist, we are very proud of our achievement here. We hope it moves and touches people like it has us.
“The Zombies have been a fantastic journey. We’ve gone from playing in the back of pubs to headlining festivals and it still feels like it is just the beginning.”
l The Zombies play The Sage, Gateshead on May 17. Tickets, priced £16.50 to £19.50, are available on 443 4661 and www.thesagegateshead.org.