Patton, The Melvins and Aliens – An Interview With Zu
Massimo from Zu is the kind of dude who lives his music from top to bottom. One of the most influential acts in an oft forgotten experimental rock scene, Zu has been carefully cultivated over the last two decades to become a veritable force in the genre, and they’ve never really compromised their morals. My favorite interviews are the ones that go like these – not only do we see the artists passion for their music but we also find out some weird fucking shit about their interests and lives. You gotta love it.
How the hell are you?
I’m very good.
How’s the Roadburn experience been?
Well we’ve only been here for two hours, but it’s very different from what we normally do so it’s exciting, I would like to see many bands. I would love to see Chelsea Wolfe but she plays during our soundcheck sadly. I would love to see Ulver, Amenra and Hypnopazuzu but that’s days we aren’t here.
What festivals do you enjoy playing because you get to see other bands?
I really like All Tomorrow’s Parties the one curated by the Melvins and Patton. I had a lot of friends there.
You have a relationship with them right?
Yes. We did two records with Ipecac and on the first of those we had King Buzzo on a song and Patton singing on another. We’ve toured with both a lot too so we have a strong connection.
How did that relationship start?
It started in a funny way. Back in 2000 it was the first time Fantomas was coming to Rome and it was about 5PM when my phone rang, and back in those days it was an actual landline. The promoter from the show, who I didn’t know, and says “I’m here with Patton and he refuses to have the opening band play, he heard the soundcheck and doesn’t want them, he’s asking for you”. I had no idea he was aware of us! Our first record had only been out for six months. He passed me Patton on the phone and he speaks Italian because his wife is Italian. So he asked me “Are you coming to play then?” And I said “Sure but we will need to share backline” and he said “Let me ask the guys but it should be fine!” So we went and opened for Fantomas but after the gig we lost contact. We thought it was just a nice adventure. Then a month later we went to play a Swiss festival and checked into the hotel and we hear some guy screaming “Romans” and it was Patton and he started talking to us. Immediately he was like “You guys should be on Ipecac!” It took us eight years to get there but still!
He told us that John Zorn had given him our first album and that’s how he knew about us. There were a lot of strange connections that brought us together. Zorn new about us because I sent him the album. He wanted to release us for a while. Back then we would write letters and postcards to each other. I knew he liked us but I had no idea that he would give the CD to Patton! It’s a crazy story!
And then you had King Buzzo… how was he involved?
When we toured with Fantomas and the Melvins Buzz started to hang out with us in our dressing room because we found out we had a lot of extramusical weird interests like UFO’s, strange Second World War myths, all kind of weird stuff. We spent a lot of time in the dressing room with him. We toured in the US and had a few days off and started recording the record in LA and it turned out that the band was in town and they were happy to come into the studio to collaborate. It was super nice!
Do you ever wonder who the next big person to get involved will be?
(Laughter) You can’t think about that. This stuff just happens. On our last record we were missing the end and I had an idea for a string quartet. A friend of mine hit me up when I was in Paris and said she would have free time to record and so I got some time at a studio to do it! When you’re open things happen. When you just follow your little plan it’s harder, but if you’re open it can be nice! I never try and think about it too much.
Why the interest in UFO’s?
It’s not an interest in UFO’s as such. My personal interests are in all kinds of things that are deemed weird and irrational. We live in a very limited framework that we have been taught to live in. You can do whatever you want but in a box. You start to realize that the box is not everything, there’s so many possibilities so things open. It’s not your fault, there all kinds of things that in the last couple of hundred years have been deemed ‘crazy’.
I’ve been to Rome and that’s a weird fucking city, does being from there impact your music?
I always thought in the beginning that we were playing against Rome. I don’t live in Rome anymore so I really feel the vibe. It has the Italian government, the Vatican which is very strong, all these very dark power structures that create strong and strict systems for people to live under. I always thought that when you grow up there you get weird. For example – you go to primary school for five years and there’s a sculpture of Jesus on the cross, bleeding. That can’t not have an impact on a young kid. It makes you wonder! I grew up in an atheist family but it’s still there. At some point you have to break free in various layers. First you do it in simple rebellion with metal, hardcore, squatting and those communities and eventually you break free even from that, open your mind more, find out more things. For example in my eyes if you are an intelligent person you have to become an atheist. But then you go further than that because it’s not a binary system. If you don’t believe in their god that doesn’t mean you have to be an atheist.
But if you are going on tour and engaging in labels aren’t you kind of by default engaging with these structures?
I deal with that personally. Every year I take a lot of time off and I live completely in nature separated from everything. That is for my personal balance to be able to do what I do in the best way and have joy in doing it and not taking it as a routine or a job. Otherwise you can have some strange thinking about having to get bigger, to sell more or fill out bigger venues. That goes against the primal spirit of the music. For these reasons I take at least 3 or 4 months off and I work the rest of the year. You can’t avoid that. Our way to do it is to play music fr what we believe are the right reasons and trying to keep it very pure and try to do it because it’s something we need to do. We never want to put out an album because we have to release something but rather have the same drive you have when you are a teenager and just want to play. If you don’t take care it drowns under other stuff, but it is important to keep the connection with that place alive. It’s a key part of what we do. We are trying to conjure it every night.
You mentioned being interested in WWII myths – what are some of your favorites?
We just opened a can of worms! We find out about these things in school and we don’t think beyond that. We use simple explanations. It’s just like “Oh there was a crazy guy with a mustache and suddenly people started following him” but there were a lot of other stuff going on in the background, like political and occult forces. You can’t just turn history on its head.
What occult forces impacted WWII?
Are you sure you want to go there?
Let’s do it.
If you study the Nazis they all came from very strong occult studies as were the guys who influenced Hitler. There were a lot of secret societies. There was a whole layer of occult nobility. They were trying to follow a plan. It’s like today in a way. We have Trump and we think it’s him who is the problem, but it’s never them. That’s an elementary explanation of our world, there are deeper layers and influences and they are so deep that no one from the normal world can understand it really.
There are many ancient myths from the flood to Atlantis with strange cultures – who were these people? I live in an open state and can smoke weed and I think that’s a healthy point to start. It’s a healthy point to start and say “I know nothing” What has been said to me is such a small part of what the big picture is so I try to stay open and filter for myself what rings true and what doesn’t ring true. It doesn’t mean believing everything you hear or read but just keeping an open state of mind. There are things that I am sure about. For example I’m sure that humans are not an exception, the only intelligent creatures in the universe, that’s ridiculous. We are just in the beginning of scientific technology and research. We will find other people much more advanced than us, maybe they lived here before us and we don’t know about it.
That has to do a lot with our music too. When you play or write you refer to things, it can be a Black Sabbath riff or it can be a fashion or to the history of classical music and then you have the larger spectrum. It opens up. At one point you realize it’s not just about music. You can draw inspiration from ancient mythology and traditions from other places and draw them in. You can see if it’s really there. It’s all very related – it’s what you choose with your thoughts. I really like going to music, music that I feel is not strict in a sense of genre or style but that has an open field of possibilities. It even leaves you with a sense of mystery. Where does this idea come from? I don’t understand it even if I am drawn to it.