Just as the sun-dappled, craggy terrain of Laurel Canyon birthed the sounds of psychedelic rock, the 4 pm sunsets and ice-glazed pavement of New York winters is giving rise to an au courant, localized sonic sensibility: noir gaze. “We’ve been called dark wave and noir gaze,” explains multi-instrumentalist Jennifer P. Fraser of Brooklyn dream-rock act ZAZA, “It’s a little peppered with goth, co-authored by sentimentalism from the 80’s and early 90’s. I think it has to do with the landscape of New York, frankly. I think the pavement and the gloom, extreme seasons and angular nature of New York informs what’s going on in music right now.” Comprised of Fraser and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Danny Taylor, ZAZA creates spaciously orchestral, oneiric fuzzscapes that recall the the bite and scratch sensuality of 90s acts like Spiritualized, My Bloody Valentine, and Slowdive. Rooted in Taylor and Fraser’s love affair — which quickly spun its way into musical collabo territory — ZAZA’s music is intimate, vertiginous, primal, and bewitching. Just like love.
Fraser and Taylor are both West-coast natives who met by chance at an out-of-the-way concert in Brooklyn, each brought there by the intuitive sense that they would meet someone important that night. Californian Fraser had been on tour for four years with traveling neo-psych collective The Warlocks, and was on hiatus in New York visiting friends. Taylor, an instrument restorer by day and Brooklyn multi-instrumentalist-about-town by night, had worked with the likes of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Kordan. Soon after this momentous first encounter, Fraser moved to New York, and the two found themselves spending a particularly hard biting winter confined to Taylor’s Brooklyn loft. There, prodded along by the stray instruments that were always lying around, the duo began creating Philip Glass-informed orchestral soundscapes and collaging random looped sounds. ZAZA, in its first, raw iteration was born. Now, with live percussionist Dru Prentiss added into the mix, and a further-evolved sound which melds the orchestral with pavement pounding percussion, spectral vocals, and somber washes of drone, ZAZA is looking forward to releasing their first LP later this year. OAKAZINE caught up with Jennifer and Danny and spoke a bit about noir gaze, processes, and fate. To download ZAZA’s newest MP3 “Distance Creator” visit www.zazasound.com. Interview and more pictures after the jump. — Text by Marlo Kronberg. Produced by Peter Berwind Humphrey. Photos by Therese and Joel.
So the first thing I wanted to ask you is how did your first discover music and when did you first realize that you wanted to make your own?
J: Both my parents were way into music like doo-wop and the Stones. I really feel as if music found me though. I went to school for writing, and I’ve always been a writer. Music is something I got into because I liked skateboarding, boys, and the discovery that came along with it.
What was the first instrument you picked up and were drawn to? Why?
J: Bass has always been my first instrument. To me, bass is nothing more or less than dancing. It’s about rhythm and communication with the pulse. I remember the year that I started playing bass I didn’t get on the dance team I wanted to, so I put my energy into a different medium.
How old were you when you first started playing?
J: I think about fifteen. My best friend was the only lesbian in town, and she played guitar. We decided we were gonna listen to Bikini Kill and Sonic Youth records and try to play them.
How did where you grew up influence your musical development?
J: There was an inverse effect. I always was kind of marginal. I always felt a big discrepancy between who I was and the Southern Californian environment. Up against that backdrop it was very stark how much of a difference there is. I always had to seek out the alternative kids. I think that is a pretty common mentality in New York: we all migrated here to find that community we were lacking otherwise.
Were you involved in an local music scenes growing up?
J: Music was a driving force; Often it really can be an identity when one is filtering through who they and their friends are. It becomes an introduction. I remember hearing the album Siamese Dream and having it destroy my world. Also hearing Loveless by My Bloody Valentine for the first time. I can remember to this day the first time I heard a song from that album and being like: What is that collision of sounds? I was always attracted to hearing sex and conflict in music.
Jennifer — in school you studied writing. What sort of writing were you doing?
J: Every kind of writing — it was really sweeping my life at the time. I suppose any scene that you feel captured and understood by, becomes a family portrait. At the time I was playing in different genre bands just to be a better player. While I was writing my senior thesis, I was asked to play in a touring band. That one decision has shaped my entire life.
You went on tour with The Warlocks right after college?
J: I actually spent four years of my life on tour with them. They were a really proactive band and were amazing to be involved in because they were a intricate machine at the time, a real pleasure.
Danny — what was your creative path before meeting Jennifer?
D: Playing anything I could afford/borrow well or poorly. For better or for worse, I’ve never married myself to one instrument or style. When creativity strikes, and an idea sparks, you’ve got to be ready to translate it.
Why did you move to New York?
J: I moved here because while passing through I had really fallen in love with it. I have had my wildest nights here and it breeds a feral streak. I knew I was going to have a love affair with it. At a certain point, I burned my former life down and bought a one way ticket here.
On that note how did you meet Danny? I read on your Myspace that you met by fate, which I’m always interested in.
J: Do you remember that Weird Science movie? I Weird Scienced the man. True story. Or you could just say I met him through a mutual friend, the darling Tara McPherson.
Danny can you throw in your version of events?
D: Same weird feeling that Jen talked about. I went out to this barely accessible show with a feeling of need. “Close Encounters Of The Lovely Kind”.
How did you guys first start collaborating musically?
J: When Danny and I first met we were both playing in different bands. It took a bit for us to start actually picking up instruments and inventing that dynamic into our common space. It began with Danny’s loft and his roommate having a Baby Grand piano. There were instruments lying around everywhere. It really began with a drum machine, headphones, and loopers. It was winter and we were wild about looping- we’d loop microwave sounds and my cat talking. As surreal as it was, it was organic.
What’s the process with creating songs, and what was the vision when you first got together? Was collaboration something that organically unfolded?
J: We’ve never had a discussion about what our vision is. Danny is a mad scientist engineer, so he can build or fix or anything. Im a philistine when it comes to that arena. When we first met he started building me pedals and we were in a very Philip Glass phase where we were making orchestral soundscapes. Then we started injecting in pop sensibilities. There were definitely things that we were interested in manifesting, but you can’t be too focused on the material — otherwise it can become a bit contrived. I have to say with ZAZA it all comes down to necessity. It started with only us, so we needed a drum machine and loopers to create a soundscape. We then brought in our friend Dru Prentiss to aid in the percussion and electronic aspect of our music, and that changed who we are as a band. It’s a constant evolution. Amen.
Why the name ZAZA?
J: We just really liked it. It’s provocative. It was also a nickname of my Persian grandmother..
D: Aleister Crowley’s forgotten daughter.
What’s your songwriting process together?
J: It’s really different all the time. It can be such a game. We have about 50 versions before we decide on the final version. It’s laborious. We evaluate lyrics really closely.
Most bands I talk to say that lyrics are secondary to the song, so it’s really different to meet a band really invested in that.
J: There are a few songs coming out on the record that Danny wrote by himself when we were not even talking. We were strictly having conversations through music.
How would you genre-ize yourself in a Pitchfork way?
J: That’s a really good question for Danny.
Do you see yourself as part of a wave or sensibility that’s coming out of Brooklyn right now? And what new bands do you look up to or associate yourselves with?
J: Everyone wants to label, but there is something that is completely localized in New York right now that’s cropping up. It’s a little peppered with got,h co-authored by sentimentalism from the 80s and early 90s. I think it has to do with the landscape of New York, frankly. I think the pavement and the gloom, extreme seasons and angular nature of New York informs whats going on in music right now. In New York it’s very challenging and autonomous, and everyone’s fighting to be here. We love the hardworking NYC bands: My Best Fiend, Electric Umbilical Cord, TV on the Radio, The Raveonettes, A Place To Bury Strangers.
Tell me about the best show you’ve ever played with ZAZA.
J: We did a tour with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and it was magical. It felt like for the first time the audience connected psychically with what we were doing. There was an evening in Amsterdam and we were playing in a reconstructed church, the sun was setting through the stained glass windows and the future was that moment.
What’s your last coolest discovery?
J: The clothing designer Raquel Allegra and Pierre Bonnard at the Met.
D: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s soundtrack work.
Top five favorite artists of any medium
J: Egon Schiele, Isadora Duncan, Camilla Staerk, Tennessee Williams, Diane Birch.
Most perfect album of all time?
J: Low by Bowie. Almost anything by Bowie.
Favorite thing to do in New York
D: Living… Eating a cheap hotdog while walking around the Central Park Reservoir at 3AM in early June is nice as well.
Little known fact about yourself
J: My mother has a horse ranch in California. It’s the first place I escape to.
What’s next for ZAZA?
J: Letting you in on the secret!