I recently had the opportunity to chat with one of my biggest rock heroes, Paulie Z, about ZO2, Z Rock, and what he’s up to in the future with his music.
Alex Obert: So anyone who knows ZO2 knows that your first big gig was the Kiss and Poison tour, but who are some of the bands that people might not know that you actually opened for throughout ZO2’s career?
Paulie Z: Twisted Sister. Alice Cooper. Bret Michaels. We did one with Stone Temple Pilots in Tampa. Scorpions/Sammy Hagar, that was awesome.
AO: With all the shows you’ve done, what would you say are some of your most memorable?
PZ: They all have their own special depth to them. Obviously, I think the Kiss tour will always be the most memorable for many reasons. But if that’s a given and you’re trying to find something else from me, then the Scorpions/Sammy Hagar show was pretty special. It was outdoors and they flew us in, so it was like the whole experience. It wasn’t local, so it was nice to be flown in and get the hotel, and just a big outdoor arena. That was really cool.
AO: What are some of the venues that you considered home?
PZ: All of the local ones, obviously. For us, Arlene’s Grocery is pretty much our CBGB’s if we were The Ramones, that was home for us. So that will always have a special place. And all the Rock Asylum shows that we’ve done, even though we weren’t opening for bigger bands, we were the headliner. Those, I would say, rank among the more special shows that I will always remember. I would play places like Sherlock’s in Erie, Pennsylvania, that’s a very big place in our heart. That was another home for ZO2. A place called Rock Junction in Rhode Island which used to be called Balls, but the owner started his own place. That was like another home for us, out in Rhode Island. There was another place called Stingers, I think it was down in Maryland. They closed down, but that was a great place. You know, the funny thing is, the places we played the most and the best shows where it was where we ate the best. The people who fed us the best are the ones who always made it in our hearts.
AO: Going into your music, how do you feel that the band’s sound evolved from Tuesdays & Thursdays to Casino Logic and your approach to writing and recording an album?
PZ: People say your first album is very hard to match in a way, certainly, because that’s an album you’ve been writing your whole life, and then you have to follow up that album within a shorter time period. And so I think our first album is a little bit more varied, as far as style and stuff. I think it ran from pop songs to heavy songs to groovy songs. With our second album, I think it was more cohesive, as far as the sound, because we had played live a lot. With the first album, we really didn’t play, but these are songs that we were practicing a lot in the studio, so they were very tight and I loved the way it came out. But I feel like the second album, I think it was probably the strongest because it came from us heavy touring, like local touring, not big concerts, but us really, really paying our dues. And the songs evolve when you play in front of an audience and you see what works and what doesn’t. And I think that album out of the three captured our live energy and vibe more than anything. And then I think the third album, we were again then trying to hone that sound, but also try a few different things and experiment a little bit, so I think that’s why that one I feel, was also a little bit more varied. I feel like that second one, Ain’t It Beautiful, is probably the most consistent and truthful to us as a live band. And I think the first album was the slickest, as far as production wise. I think the best produced, as far as slickness. But then we were trying to get away from that a little bit and say we wanted to capture more of our live feel. So that’s kind of the direction we went.
AO: Did you have any idea for a fourth album at some point? I know you released several singles, but was there ever plans for a fourth album?
PZ: Yeah, there was. Those singles were going to be part of a fourth album. The guy that did those four songs, his name is John Santos, a good friend of ours, and we were very excited, actually, to start writing. And we started playing some of the new songs live too. So anyone that saw us live last year probably heard a couple of the new songs, three new ones. The production sound would have been a lot more modern sounding and we really loved the way he produces, but that’s around the time when I decided to make a change and move on. The timing could have been better, I guess. (laughs) Sometimes there’s frustration that we should have done the record and then moved on. But to me, if anyone asks me, the way I explain it is if you’re in a relationship and you’re thinking you may want to move on and go on your own, you don’t have a child with your partner. You don’t have a child and then walk away. So for me, it would have been too hard to move forward, put out an album, and I couldn’t leave, I would have had to push that album and I would have been so invested emotionally into that. So I felt it was better to just not do it.
AO: Back to Casino Logic and there was a lot going on with that album, what was it like working with John Popper and Chris Barron?
PZ: That was great because first of all, we were looking for a while to start writing with outside people and get some more influences in there. And then when we did Z Rock and we became friendly with these guys, it was just a perfect match up, we were already friends, it wasn’t like some sort of sterile songwriting session. It was great when I was writing, my manager/producer and I went to Chris’s house and we wrote Painted Lady together and that was the last thing that we wrote for that album. It was a classic story where, “Oh, it wasn’t even supposed to be on the album!” and the album was done and we added it at the last second. We felt like we didn’t have the single, and then we did. It went to be instant success, as far as within our demographic, our fans, they loved that one. So, it was good.
AO: With your band members, how did Joey and David influence you both in and out of music?
PZ: Well, I mean David is my brother. That’s a very deep, long history we have there. He was always much more the technician, so he knows theory and he knows how to read music and went to school for it, so he influenced me in the sense that he was the one that corrected me when I was flat or sharp or helped me figure out the difference between this interval and that and how notes compare to each other. He influenced me to strive for perfection and to be much more technically aware, as opposed to just being raw. I come from a much more raw background, with Ian Gillan screaming his head off. But if you can combine the two and you can have the finesse and the subtleties of actual music knowledge and crafting a song knowing if I make that minor a 7th or something, that’s going to evoke this emotion, that that adds so much wealth to the music and he influenced me in that way. His songwriting is just great. And myself, musically, I think also the same kind of concept. I’m much more of a risk taker and a fighter, and he balances that because he’s always checking the books. He’s the more cautious and logical one. He’s like, “I don’t think this is gonna work because XYZ, or we can do this because of this.” We just have that balance.
And Joey was kind of the middle man. He’s in between. He wasn’t as anal rententive as David and he wasn’t as much of a dreamer as I was. So he really held us together by being the middle man. He was like Switzerland. (laughs) And even musically, because he also did like pop, like David, because I was less of a pop fan, and they like more poppy stuff. But he also loved the blues and heavy groove stuff, which David is not a big blues fan. So it was nice to have someone who could be on both sides and really connect to what we were doing. That’s what brought it all together.
AO: With what you three did with Z Rock, who would you say are your closest friends that you still keep in touch with that you made on the set?
PZ: Well definitely Chris Barron and John Popper, we became very close friends. Jay Oakerson, although he’s touring a lot. It’s hard to keep in touch with people when they’re working, but we stayed very friendly. A lot of the crew people, like the directors and a lot of the production people, even the executive people from Starz. I would probably say John and Chris, moreso than the rest. Dave Navarro, stayed friendly with over the years. Dee Snider, I already knew because we had played with them. I don’t know if that counts, because we were friends already. Chris Jericho, actually, Chris Jericho I probably see more than any of them. (laughs)
AO: I know there were rumors about season three, trying to shop for a bigger network, and I know you wanted to make it more of an on the road kind of thing, what plans did you have for season three in your head?
PZ: Well, what we had and what network executives had were obviously two different things. But the way we would have loved to see it go was we thought if the band got a record deal on a small label or something and then we were on the road and then people get to see the trials and tribulations of being a struggling band on the road. And then maybe we would try to pick up, to make up for the money we weren’t making, we would try to pick up kids gigs, around the country. Obviously, we were hoping this thing would go for ten, twenty seasons, forever. (laughs) So you can’t keep it to see struggling goofballs from Brooklyn forever. So at a certain point, we’re like, “Listen, every level of success has its own set of problems. When you’re rich and famous, you still have problems. Bigger problems, different problems.” So I think that I would have loved to see that. Like us, moreso on tour, like playing local venues around the country, rather than just in Brooklyn. You know, at Webster Hall every week or Southpaw.
AO: Who was your favorite guest star or character on the show?
PZ: Well, there are two different questions. My favorite character, I would say was Jay Oakerson’s character, Neil, he’s just undeniably hilarious. I could watch him all day. I mean the outtakes, the stuff you didn’t see, was even funnier, I think. It was great timing and dirty as could be. (laughs) And then as far as guests, that’s hard to say because a lot of them did really, really well, like Joan Rivers, she was a great guest. She was so funny and very witty. And also, she’s kind of dirty too. It was interesting to see her come in and have a foul mouth and she doesn’t give a crap and it was really funny. And I thought Popper was really fun, although his acting skills weren’t like Joan Rivers level, but what he brought, he had his own thing. He was very funny and his character, I thought was very good for the show. So I’d say maybe those two might have been my favorites as guests.
AO: When you did The Paulie Z Show, who else did you want to have on the show that you didn’t get to have?
PZ: Tons of people. (laughs) There’s an endless list. I would have just loved to talk to anybody and everybody who was influential in music and talk to them about food. But if I have to be specific, I was trying to get Navarro and he said he was trying to make it happen, but we could never get the schedules to work out. If I said I wanted to get Bruce Springsteen or Adam Levine or Madonna or whatever, that’s probably not as realistic. But I think realistically, people like Navarro because I already have that relationship and it just never went through, so I guess that was disappointing that I couldn’t get that.
AO: Do you think we’ll see a comeback?
PZ: Listen, you never know. It’s the same question with ZO2. I can’t predict the future. I think it is possible. I mean, look, I loved doing it and I would love to talk to people about rock n’ roll and food all the time. I think there’s no point in doing a comeback unless one of two things, and I feel the same way with ZO2, and anything like that. I feel like either one, I get to a level of success that I have enough of an influence, like Dave Grohl can try to do anything he wants and he has enough people, enough of a cult following that will follow that. So I would do that at that level or if I went a certain period of time and just said, You know what? I’m done trying to fight this big Goliath, which is the music industry, settle, have a family, have kids, and then I just wanna do stuff for fun, then I probably would bring back that kind of stuff. But I would do it just for fun.
AO: Regarding what you’re up to now, why did you move to LA? What was the reasoning and inspiration behind it?
PZ: A few different things. One, moreso than anything, believe it or not, was the weather. It’s something I’ve wanted to do my whole life and I just couldn’t because of everything that’s rooted here, family, work, band, relationship, all that stuff. And when there was an opening, when I felt now I can do it, I just did it. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do, weather is the main thing. I’m healthier there because I have asthma and people know that I get sick a lot. And it’s great because I feel like I’ve worked my ass off here in the East Coast, I’ve opened up a lot of doors. There’s a lot of new doors. So it’s exciting to kick down new doors. And I think it’s good for people to push their limits and see what they’re made of and I think you can’t do that in your comfort zone. And when a lot of people say, “Why did you stop ZO2?” and I said, “Because the truth is that it was to a point where it was comfortable. There wasn’t any challenge anymore at that point.” For me, this is a challenge. I’m not in my comfort zone. I’m out of my element, meeting new people. That’s hard, but it’s also exhilarating. It tests your strength and character to see if you can deal with that. So those are like the main reasons.
AO: What are your future plans in and out of music?
PZ: Well in music, I’m focusing much more now on the kids music that I do because that’s something I haven’t really put a lot of attention into over the years because it’s all been ZO2, ZO2, ZO2 and I really love doing it. And I really feel like it’s a great way to make a living and when I have a family at some point, I wanna be able to provide and if I can do that by doing kids music, I’d be very happy. I want to focus on that and while I’m focusing on that, I’m also nurturing my solo stuff, which is a departure from what I’ve been doing up until this point and I’m trying to see what else I’m made of. I’m digging inside myself and seeing what else is in there. Because I know I can do this. I know I can do hard rock, I know I can do this, I know I can do that. Like I said, I think it’s good for people to try and see what else they are, see what they are made of. Working on that stuff and outside of music, I’m trying to be more healthy. I’m at the point where I’m getting into the outdoorsy kind of thing, hiking and things like that. Trying to eat better. It’s hard to do here in New York, but in LA, it’s a lot easier. And then just being happy and healthy, having a good time.
AO: You mentioned solo music, tell me about your solo show in New York City on October 19th and how that all came about.
PZ: Well I played one show at a place called Rockwood in June and it was the smaller room and the place was packed and there was a line around the block. It was a good time, it was a Tuesday night. So I was like, “Okay, obviously there’s people curious to see what I’m doing.” So we were able to book the bigger room for October 19th at an official CMJ showcase. It’s awesome because I never did CMJ. It’s just one of those things that’s not the type of festival ZO2 would have fit into. And now, there is new opportunity, new vibe, new everything. So, I’m very, very excited and I’m hoping people come down and enjoy it. I’m excited and a little anxious at the same time because again, it’s stuff I haven’t really played a lot yet. I don’t know how it’s gonna go over. When Kiss plays Rock and Roll All Nite, they’re not anxious about how it’s gonna go. (laughs) The crowd’s gonna love it. And that’s what happens when you play for so many years. When Paul did his solo tour and something different, it’s exciting because you’re back to that purity of when you were a kid and you’re doing things for the first time and you’re not sure how it’s gonna go and you get a little nervous, that’s exciting. I can’t wait.
AO: Do you see yourself potentially collaborating with more musicians like you did with John Popper and Chris Barron in the future?
PZ: Yeah, well that’s my whole thing, everything I’m doing now is collaboration. So the opposite of what we were doing where we had our own little circle of trust. In ZO2, we have that circle of trust where it’s just us writing. Until we wrote with Chris Barron, I think it’s the only time we wrote with anybody else outside of our circle. And now, it’s the exact opposite. I think every song that I have for my solo catalog, it’s co-written. And with different people. I have one person who’s playing piano with me, he’s kind of like my partner, my writing partner. So most of the stuff is me and him, or him and I, I should say. But I’m writing with different people. So I’m open to that. I want now to bring in other influences and see where else I can go.
AO: Which bands do you feel influenced your solo career sound would you say? What would you compare it to?
PZ: This is a tough question. It’s funny because people ask me that and I kind of narrowed it down, but I don’t know exactly if it’s accurate. I can tell you this is what I think, but you might hear it and say I’m totally off base. But for my opinion, at least in my head, the kind of sound I’d love to go is somewhere between Train, Maroon 5, The Script, The Kin, they’re not as well known, but they’re amazing, and Kings of Leon. Like that vibe, that sound, that vibe. And obviously, my voice is my influence, so there’s always going to be a rock edge to it. I’m always gonna have some Paul Rodgers and Ian Gillan, Robert Plant elements to it because that’s me. But I’m into the analogy that if you put tomato sauce on spaghetti and meatballs, that’s obvious, that’s the obvious choice. I feel like my voice in a hard rock band is the obvious choice. But if you put tomato sauce on sushi and call it The Italian Roll, that’s different. It may or may not work, but you can’t deny that it’s unique and it may create something totally different and that’s kind of what I wanna see. I’m curious to see if you took what I do, but put it in a different setting, what would happen? What does that sound like?
AO: Do you feel like when you do the solo acts, you’ll be shuffling around between LA and New York City or are you going to be more LA based from now on?
PZ: I feel like no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try to get out of New York City, they always suck me back in. (laughs) I don’t mean to say that in a bad way, but meaning like I’m always gonna be a Brooklyn boy and there will always be work for me here. So I see a lot being back and forth. I feel like I wanna be bi coastal anyway and that’s what I was gonna do, but I said I can do that later in life, so that was my reasoning for going all out. I said, “Let me experience LA full, to the full extent, even if it’s just for a handful of years. And then if the time comes when I can afford it, I’ll be bi coastal.” Because I love New York, it’s just I needed a change because for me, it gets overwhelming after a while. I get caught up, I’m a workaholic. I get caught up in the pace of it and I think it’s important to be able to slow down sometimes for your own health.
AO: How do you feel that LA has its rock elements? What have you enjoyed most about being there?
PZ: Well it’s interesting because there’s two worlds. The world that I was already tapped into, which is the hard rock world. I go there and if I hang out on Sunset Strip, I know a bunch of people, they know me. So if I go to hang out at the Rainbow or The Whiskey, The Viper Room or whatever, or if I go sing with Steel Panther, people recognize me from Z Rock or they know me from ZO2, I’m already tapped in, I have friends, I have connections. It’s interesting that I have that support system already there. But for my new stuff, there’s a whole nother world of musicians and clubs and a whole nother group of people that I don’t know and I’m starting to meet because the places that I would play are different than the places ZO2 would have played. So, it’s a process. It’s like a new kid in town, you’ve gotta make friends, get in there, shaking hands and meeting people. But yet, I still have that other rockstar world where I’m always welcomed and I’m comfortable and I have that support. So, it’s cool. So I don’t feel alone at all.
AO: What are Joey and David up to nowadays? What are their plans?
PZ: Well Dave’s got Trans Siberian Orchestra which is a killer gig and he plays with Rubix Cube which is another killer gig because they play consistently, they’re playing all the time, and they’re travelling, and their shows are so much fun. I mean he’s living the life. So he’s got that stuff and Joey is pitching a couple TV shows, a cartoon, and then a scripted show. And he’s the drummer for a musical, it’s been very successful. That’s a great gig for him. So everyone’s doing their own thing and I’m hoping in the long run, we can look back and look at it as a springboard for the three of us to realize other avenues of creativity. I don’t want it to be looked upon as a sour note. In my head, it’s more of a rebirth for all three of us to go out and explore new things and hopefully find success on our own.
AO: In closing, how do you want ZO2 to be remembered?
PZ: I would love ZO2 to be remembered as a band of brothers because we really didn’t fight, we had such great chemistry. I want people to remember that. I don’t want them to look and think, “They broke up.” I mean so what, I mean The Beatles broke up, so what? There are very few bands that go on forever. I want people to remember that we had a great time and we cared a lot about our fans, I think our fans would agree with that. And I want them to remember that we always put a hundred percent when we’re sick or if it was a dive bar with two people, it doesn’t matter. Always, always put a hundred percent. And I also hope they would think of us as a good influence in a world that’s full of bad influences. A band that can really rock and that had talent and chops, and that we were respected musically. And that it was also fun and wild and crazy, but without drugs and alcohol and cigarettes and tattoos and being arrested and all that stuff. That’s what I’d like. Kind of the way that I think of my heroes, which is Kiss, at least Paul and Gene. That’s how they influenced me. That would be great.
AO: Well I’d like to thank you for your time.
PZ: You’re welcome.
AO: What do you have to say to fans that want to know what’s next?
PZ: I would say thank you for the amazing loyal support for all these years. And all I can say is I hope that they can follow us, not just me, all three of us, the way I followed the people that influenced me. So if Paul does a movie career, if Kiss broke up and I can say, “I follow them because I believe in them.” They didn’t have to just be that band. So I would like to say I hope they follow us on our journey as we get older and mature. We are going to want to do different things in our lives, but I think the three of us will always, whether we’re together or separate, we’re always gonna be creative, we’re always gonna be trying new things and find new ways to influence people in a positive way, in a creative way, a fun way. And I hope that they follow us on that journey. I’m super excited about the new music I’m doing. I’m very, very excited because I love it and I can’t wait for more people to hear it so I hope that they jump on board. And when you have kids, you can buy a kids CD. Rockin’ Railroad was just released, a kids CD for toddlers I wrote and produced. Anybody out there who’s gonna read this, please check that out if you have kids. It’s the most rockin kids CD out there. I promise.
AO: Alright, well thank you, and I wish you the best for everything up ahead.
PZ: Alright, I appreciate it, man. Thank you.