Words by Josh Rocha
Photography by Michael Schaffer (email@example.com)
Find some headphones right now and listen to the recently released single, "Be My Mango," by Zettajoule. The track opens with a playful combination: a Hammond organ whirling through Leslie speakers coupled with a piano seemingly twisted through a meat grinder. The organ halts the melody and rests into a tense chord just before the band bursts through the door like a raucous bunch on their way to the coast for a beach bonfire. The verse jukes between head thrashing tom hits and bouncy guitar riffs before finally catching a wave into something decidedly surf rock.
I had a chance to sit down for a conversation with this young pop rock group before their last of five Free Week shows as the headliner at Hotel Vegas. As Sunday night was ordering another round and stumbling into Monday morning, Zettajoule arranged their gear on stage in front of a subdued crowd weary from a week of free music. By the second song of Zettajoule’s energetic set, however, every warm body from across the bar and the back porch crowded in front of the stage, absorbed and reenergized by this inspiring band.
Watching Zettajoule is a study in contrasts. There are times when their music feels somewhat hot-blooded – take for example the otherworldly, massive sound of "How a Tree Grows." During the verses, a fuzzed out, polyrythmic bass line by Greg Hagen bounces alongside the chugging engine of Nick Lombard’s drums. But the highlight of this song is the vocal work – Meggan Carney and Matt Sheffer have voices that mesh better than most when doubling a melody. Just before the big ending to the tune, bassist, Hagen, joins the two voices and the three split a melody between them, one note each. It sounds great on the recording and it's even more impressive live.
True to form, before you think you have your finger on what you think Zettajoule is as a band, however, they put out a bouncy surf tune like "Be My Mango." You’d be forgiven for being reminded of the space rock/surf recordings that Joe Meek did with The Tornados.
All this is to say that Zettajoule is many things: powerful, intelligent, and exceedingly fun to watch. Much like their name implies, their music has energy to spare. One thing this band is not, however, is a one trick pony. They’re music ranges from the soaring (See "Be Nize") to the sublime (See "Empathy").
Take this last song, "Empathy," for example. Recorded live at KUTX’s studio 1A, this poignant duet melds Carney’s ever-impressive siren song with Sheffer’s satin tenor. The tune slowly grows like a young love blossoming in the summer and then finally hits its apex. But instead of blasting out some cheesy power-bridge chords, Carney’s organ instead sends the couple into a spiraling and chaotic circus scene just as Sheffer’s guitar work turns vicious. And like that, the scene pauses and we’re returned to the earlier romanticism as if we never left. This is the kind of musical contrast this group excels at. Zettajoule is absolutely a band to watch, but more importantly, Zettajoule is a band to listen to.
In addition to numerous shows during SxSW, you can catch Zettajoule on the following dates:
March 11 @ The Sidewinder w/Grassy Knoll
March 12 @ The Grackle w/The Deer
March 19 @ ABGB Day Party