Zula released one of the more underrated albums of 2013, the spry This Hopeful, a sweet and well-produced pop album with electronic flourishes. The record was a damn fine confection of a debut LP, with just about everything you could want in such a debut. It had solid hooks, yet room to grow.
Zula’s music has been described by the New York Times as “pointillistic structures with a mainspring of minimalism.” New York locals and cousins, Nate and Henry Terepka, took a couple moments before playing their tour kick off show at Shea Stadium to talk to me about their writing process, Arto Lindsay, and touring with site friends Friend Roulette.
NYCTaper: How did you decide upon “This Hopeful” as the title for the latest record? Was that an easy choice to make for the band?
Henry Terepka: It wasn’t an easy choice. [Laughs] It took a few months of brain storming, and living with a few different ideas.
Nate Terepka: That was one of the last things we figured out for the record, I feel like.
HT: Yeah, it’s hard, it’s like the way we wrote those songs, they were kind of each on their own, as individual moments, individual feelings, and so it was one of those albums, it was kind of ‘these are the songs we’ve got.”
NYCTaper: Did you have other songs that didn’t make the record; are you saving those for later?
HT: Yeah, we kind of have a surplus of material in general as a band. The big challenge for us in terms of picking the songs was which were going to make it on the specific vinyl format, which has a time constraint on it, which I didn’t know about going into the process.
NYCT: Your songs and the stories in them all have a hopeful bent, but the universe they exist in has this sort of anxious cloud hanging over it. Is this a unifying theme in the music of Zula, or were there events surrounding the writing of the first album that shaped the record’s outlook?
NT: I think our writing is reflective of our internal space when we’re writing a song. I think we both write sort of stream of conscious with our lyrics, and I think we both feel hopeful and anxious.
HT: Yeah, that’s definitely something that’s not going to go away from our music anytime soon. I think those sentiments are important to, I guess, our perspective, our worldview.
NYCT: When do you consider a song to be “done”?
NT: I think that song and recording are two different things.
HT: There’s like a complete idea, thinking about what’s a complete idea, and then there’s thinking about how to present an idea in a way that does justice to that idea. Sometimes those processes get mixed up a little bit.
NYCT: Do you consider the songs on the last record done, or are they still changing?
HT: They’re always changing in live performance. We try to keep things fresh, you know, to keep being in the moment. I think compositionally, we’re pretty happy with where they ended up.
NT: Yeah, I don’t know. That’s an interesting thought. ‘Done’ seems intense in a way. I’m happy with the recordings. I think those recordings are complete, but I’d like to think that songs can take on new life or if they’re not taking on new life you can put them aside.
NYCT: How important is improvisation in your work, like on stage? Is that a part of it or do you pretty much play the songs as they are on the record?
NT: I’d say it’s very important. I think that certain things, structures end up getting a little cemented, but we try to work things into our arrangements where rather than “we’re going to do this for a certain number of measures,” one of us will cue something and then give ourselves the space to stretch out, and I think in general we welcome people trying new lines or messing around if they’re inspired in the moment. We embrace the roughness and magic that can sort of pop up in the moment of playing a song.
NYCT: You often play, and have recently toured with the band Friend Roulette, another band known for their rhythmic and dynamic ability. Has playing with them affected your approach to music? Are there any stories you’d like to share from the tour?
HT: It was really fun getting to know that band, hanging out with them, and soaking up their vibe. I though that one impression they made, is just that over time they were really kind of putting a world together. You could, you know, have whatever feeling you wanted about it, they weren’t asking you to feel one particular thing about it.
NT: Yeah it was really cool getting to know them. I always liked them, but I liked them more and more, seeing them play more shows and spending time with them because I think something what’s not apparent right away is just how that band goes back really far. They’re all very close friends, and that’s very much a band of friends that’s sort of in their own world and vision. They have a really strong vibe that maybe’s a little hard to penetrate at first.
NYCT: Is that something you try to go after yourself? Your songs are pretty straightforward and accessible, but there’s something to be said about listening to them over and over again.
HT: I think we write more complicated songs than we intend to, but we’re not necessarily as good at intentionally withholding pleasure in the way that I’d like to be a little better at.
NT: Yeah, I mean we don’t want our songs to be difficult I don’t think. Pop satisfaction and approachability is something that we aspire to. At the same time there’s a slot of things, a lot of conventions towards accessibility that are a little bit boring and I think we try to do the best that we can to balance accessibility with surprising ideas.
NYCT: The band has always been able to recreate live the sounds on the record, no easy feat. Have you ever written songs, or parts of songs, which have proven difficult to perform on stage?
HT: Our process is pretty oriented towards our live performance as a band, and I think that at least for the last few album projects we’ve been doing our recordings have followed our live arrangements, or come after our live arrangements, but I’m interested to try those approaches. Both Nate and I come from multi-tracking backgrounds, layering stuff and doing stuff that like is not playable live necessarily.
NT: But I also think that we don’t get attached to the specific sound source of a part, more so the role that it plays in a song. So if in the process of recording for a record we end up tracking this part that we can’t reproduce live exactly because of the sound source or whatever, whatever role that part ended up playing in the composition might come into our live set but it’ll be different.
NYCT: In a recent interview, Arto Lindsay, a fellow New York musician, and pioneer in the No Wave movement during the late 70s and 80s said: “Everywhere I go people think I’m too cynical or my humor’s too negative or I treat my friends badly, and I say, ‘That’s the way we do it in New York!’” It seems like Lindsay was being facetious, but do you think there’s any truth to this? How does it compare to your experience as New York based musicians?
HT: I work for a music publisher and we had a composer come in once, an older gentleman who had extensive plastic surgery. He made a kind of odd impression on my staff, but one of the things he said during the course of his interview, he was talking about getting ripped off for music by a company. He was like “So I’m from New York, so like fuck you!,” and that was his whole thing, like you’re from New York, so like fuck you I’m going to beat you up, but I think that that’s a little antiquated.
NYCT: You think that’s old school?
HT: Yeah, I think that’s old school and I think that New York City more than anything is defined by multiple identities, not having one particular identity that you can pin down, but Arto Lindsay’s got a really interesting perspective and certainly we try to take cues from the way he presents himself, and there’s a long tradition of like sarcastic and sort of pessimistic… because in New York things are real, that’s one thing I think is like a legit assumption about New York as opposed to other places.
NYCT: What do you mean by real?
HT: People are open about what they want, so if that means expressing negativity, then that’s totally appropriate, because that’s within the healthy bounds of human emotion.
Stream the complete show:
Brooklyn, NY USA
Exclusive download hosted at nyctaper.com
Recorded by Emilio Herce and Shea Stadium
Produced by acidjack
Multitrack digital soundboard>Adobe Audition CS 5.5 (mix down)>Izotope Ozone 5 (effects on individual tracks, compression, spacing, exciter)>Audacity 2.0.3 (fades, tracking, amplify, balance, downsample)>FLAC ( level 8 )
01 Lucy Loops
03 Getting Warm
05 Be Around
07 Speeding Towards the Arctic