Zico Chain are about to set fire to everything you thought British heavy rock could be. According to Chris, the singing bassist, their mission statement has always been certain. “I want to make the heaviest, most diverse pop album in the world.” Blasphemous? Maybe? Essential? Definitely. “That’s where I wanna go. I want to make music that’s amazingly easy to listen to but you don’t know why, because it’s pounding your head so hard.”
When you’ve woken up from having your head battered by the bloody ‘Aneamia’, your veins fired up by ‘Junk’ and your eyes popped by ‘Pretty Pictures’, you’ll probably want to meet the people who did it to you. Meet Zico Chain: Chris Glithero, songwriter and singing bassist with a fire in his belly and an evil Mancunian glint in his eye. There’s Paul Frost, the long-haired wiry guitarist whose zen-like calm might trick you at first, until you hear the frenetic, screeching punishment he gives Chris’ melodies. And finally, Ollie Middleton on drums, a pogoing force of nature with hair as big as his heart. Together they’re the tightest of rock threesomes and the closest of comrades – spreading their own brand of chaos across the UK, Europe and America. Like Motorhead crossed with QOTSA (and of course, a dollop of Nirvana), they’re here to bring back both the fun and the fire.
If , like many people, you thought the Britrock scene was stagnating, you need to hear ‘Food’ – its next great opus, and their first great album. Produced by Joe Baresi (Tool, QOTSA) ‘Food’ takes the dreams and fantasies of the American west coast and transplants them into a flaming ball of ‘Britishness’.
It’s the culmination (so far) of a journey that began back in the midsts of a few years ago, when they found each other at university in 2002. “We gravitated to each other from corners of a room,” remembers Chris. Ollie just remembers “laughing my bollocks off that night.” The decision to form a band took just hours. Chris recalls, “The thing I noticed was none of us were emo, none of us looked particularly rock, we were just three angry looking guys with a lot to say. I couldn’t put them anywhere, so this was something we could work with.”
The three bonded over a common purpose, if not much in the way of musical common ground. Chris was raised on the classics of Britpop, finding himself drawn to harder-edged American rock like The Bronx and Queens Of The Stone Age; Ollie had the funk from a young age, while Paul’s father, a musician himself, had him well schooled in the classic rock of Deep Purple and Jefferson Airplane. The band – and the people – Zico Chain would become would grow organically, and together.
“The fact that it was a blank canvas and we didn’t know what we wanted to do was an advantage. We knew for certain how we didn’t want to sound, and we ended up taking all the bits that we liked from all the stuff we didn’t like. That’s why I’m convinced we have something at the moment that’s our own. And it’s purely because we were so green at first.”
They took their name from Chris’ first idol, the Brazilian midfielder Zico. As his first proper hero, he could trace the degrees of separation, and explosive chain of events that would lead to the band’s assault. They immersed themselves in a rock fantasy world somewhere between Sunset Strip circa 1985, the 90s British thrash explosion and the mystic desert rock of the Joshua Tree (they would even make a Fear-and-Loathing style road trip to rock’s dusty birthplace after SXSW – purely for, erm, research purposes).
Meanwhile, back home, a crazed live following was sprouting forward, and a deal with white-hot indie Hassle Records, gave them a stable where their fire inside could be properly nurtured. Last year releasing ‘The Zico Chain’ EP, and scoring their first hit with the diesel-powered ‘Rohypnol’.
Touring with Alkaline Trio, Wolfmother, Nine Black Alps along the way, the threesome continued to plot their debut album proper, heading to Los Angeles to record with legendary west coast producer Joe Baresi. The band favoured Baresi’s organic approach and sonic vision, and they in turn impressed him with the way they recorded their demos live. “He knew we weren’t lying to him, he knew we wouldn’t get in the studio and not be able to play our stuff live.”
Like all the great rock’n’roll, sessions could be tense, with the band’s singular vision sometimes clashing with Baresi’s Californian discipline. When they did click, “He got the best out of us,” says Ollie of the four weeks they spent out in California. “Sometimes he had to beat the best out of us!”
The result is ‘Food’. It’s an album of breadth and scope, but with clarity of original vision. Recent underground hit single ‘Where Would You Rather Be?’ climbed straight to number 1on the MTV2 rock charts, and questions the real difference (if any) between the drunk on the street and the cokehead in the board-room; ‘Pretty Pictures’ takes an uncomfortable look at re-offenders and the paedophiles in the prison system, while ‘Anaemia’, the centrepoint to the album’s message, grounds the political strands of the album squarely in the personal sphere.
“It’s about lack of courage. It’s about being proud of the things that you think may be bad. Like, we probably wouldn’t have talked about how we got together at one point, about how we didn’t have much of a common influence or that we didn’t have much direction. We’ve now got to the point where we’re proud of it, and that’s the point we were trying to make with Anaemia – be proud of your influences, and of the things that have happened in your past, and use them.”
‘Food’ roundly succeeds on all of its aims, melodies that bore deep into your head and riffs that beat the crap out of it. “We want to make it heavy, we want to make it dirty, we want to make it horrible,” says Chris with a grin. “But we also want your Mum to like it. You can’t fool the mums”
Mind you, that would be one hard-rocking mother. “I love natural dirty riffs, that’s what turns me on,” says Chris. I like the grimy side of rock and the grimy side of everything. Everything that’s ever really turned me on has had that misfit edge, be it Nirvana or Oasis, Slipknot or Nick Drake.”
“And if we didn’t have that in our music,” notes Paul, “then we’d probably be more horrible as people. Because if you’ve got that stuff in your music you channel it into your music and it leaves you to be happy the rest of the time.”
And Zico Chain have a party reputation that precedes them. At various points over the past two years, they’ve found themselves on the sharp end of Spanish policing after inadvertently offending the country’s war dead by stealing a marrow; held at gunpoint over a misunderstanding in a strip club, hijacking Queens Of The Stone Age’s Rancho de la Luna studio, and becoming heroes of the gay community in Phoenix, Arizona. Invariably, it’s Paul who ends up bailing the other two out. “We do seem to find ourselves in pretty strange situations without trying. The thing about us,” sighs Chris, “is we’re not the Towers Of London. It’s not nasty carnage, it’s just pure drunken mischief, but every now and then we get really out of our depth.”
But Zico Chain’s depth is getting deeper and deeper. With the release of ‘Food’, there’ll be no stopping them. Oh yeah, what’s with the ‘Food’ thing anyway?
Explains Chris: “It’s a common theme within the album, about being manipulated by other people, and other standards and other circles. You are the food for other people, the parasites who will feed of your failings and insecurities and inhibitions, so don’t allow yourself to be eaten. But we couldn’t have called the album ‘Don’t Allow Yourself To Be Eaten.”
If not a good name for an album, then a great one for a state of mind. Zico Chain are here to grill anyone who stands in their way…….