It’s no secret that the spirit of rock and roll is alive and well inside of Paulie Z. How many musicians can say that after growing up as a KISS fanatic, that they would get to tour with the band for an entire summer when his band, ZO2, had just released their first album that year? Another opportunity of a lifetime came when himself and fellow bandmates, David and Joey, starred in the smash hit IFC series, Z Rock. Paulie has always been about capitalizing on the opportunities that are presented to him. When the boys of ZO2 decided to go their separate ways to pursue new and exciting projects, it was a bold new chapter for a certain curly-haired hard rock frontman.
Fans of ZO2 were disappointed to get the news on the band’s Facebook page last year that read, “First off, we’d like to thank you all for 10 amazing years of loyalty and support. ZO2 as a band has retired and we are all pursuing our own individual projects right now.” I spoke to Paulie Z in a big interview for JOAF right around that time and he left me with a great quote that I will never forget, “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.”
Without Joey and David by his side on stage and in the studio, it was time for something new in Paulie’s life. He bravely went after the dream of taking on a solo career. ZO2 was known as a hard rock band with shades of classic and modern, ranging from Aerosmith to Stone Temple Pilots. Paulie describes his new sound as, “Bluesy, groovy, soulful and sincere. A mix of Oasis meets Kings of Leon meets OneRepublic meets Train.” And it’s not just the sound that has changed. Paulie cut off his signature long curly locks recently as he felt it was the only thing left of the old vibe. “The curly hair had a playful goofiness to it. I feel like some of the stuff I’m trying to say now doesn’t make sense with that kind of vibe. That was a very youthful and fun-loving connection to what the music was then.”
When ZO2 would take the stage at venues such as Webster Hall, Arlene’s Grocery and the Whisky A Go Go, it was a far different vibe on stage than Paulie is currently aiming towards. “With ZO2, I was a frontman a hundred percent of the time. I’m less showy now, I move organically to the beat of the song. It’s definitely not as physical as ZO2 where we would emulate rockstar movements that we all grew up watching. Now I can focus more on the song. I feel like I’m trying to grow into more of a songwriter. There is a difference between a frontman and a songwriter. As a frontman, I’m thinking of entertaining and performing. But if you go up in a t-shirt and jeans and an acoustic guitar, then you’re thinking about connecting.”
Though Paulie is focused on his solo career, he has fond memories of ZO2 and will always carry those with him. His goal is to evolve and grow from those days into a more mature musician. “With ZO2, it was writing riffs and writing with the bass and drums with the amps turned up. That makes you play a certain way. With an acoustic guitar and a piano, you think a different way. It’s like, “Okay, what am I trying to say? What is this song about?”” Listeners of ZO2 will be happy to know that Paulie compares his solo music to songs from the past such as ‘Ain’t It Beautiful?’ and ‘Show Me’, two incredibly popular ZO2 songs that were staples on the band’s setlist. During his time in the band, Paulie had all of these new song ideas that didn’t really flow with the direction of the established ZO2 sound and that is what makes his new music truly special. “I think that’s why a lot of artists do solo projects. Even if it’s just a one-off and they come back, they have all these other things that they want to put out there and it just wouldn’t make sense within the band context.”
Even before his first solo show, fans got a taste of Paulie performing on an acoustic guitar. On a couple of occasions throughout 2010 and 2011, Paulie and David performed special acoustic shows including a show for the students of P.S. 119, the Highline Ballroom and a performance with Joey on drums at House of Guitars in Rochester, NY. It was those performances that helped plant a seed for Paulie’s future. “Doing acoustic shows with Dave a few years ago was a little bit of an eye-opener because it was just totally different. It becomes more about the vocals. I think that’s why singers tend to do solo projects moreso than bassists, drummers or guitarists. Singers are communicating the emotion. I find that when the volume’s a little lower with a piano and an acoustic guitar, I get to sing more. I can do less belting and be more emotional.”
Paulie Z has big plans ahead and it all started with the big announcement of his upcoming EP. He has reached out to family, friends and fans on PledgeMusic in support of the EP. For donating particular amounts, there is an eclectic listing of prizes for donors to choose from. A donation of six to ten dollars will get you the new EP either as a download or on CD, signed or unsigned, depending on how much you donate. Anyone who plays guitar or is looking to start has to take a look at the Les “Paulie” guitar. The instrument has been all over the place from on the road with ZO2 to performing on Z Rock and it was used on the EP. Other notable prizes include an online Skype lesson or concert, handwritten lyrics, a personal phone call and more. The one prize that seems to have everybody talking is that for $250, donors were able to go to his studio and actually sing on one of the tracks. Though that particular event came and passed, Paulie considered it to be a huge success. “It was great! The people had a wonderful time singing and watching how we work in the studio. They even got to see me record a video singing a Beatles song for my Facebook page.” Paulie is so excited to show the world his EP and his plan for the rest of the year is to mainly focus on mixing and mastering it. “On this EP, there are a couple songs in particular that I feel and other people have said the same thing, the writing has gone to another level. To a more mature level. My goal right now is to write great songs that people can connect to on a very real and sincere level.”
Not only is there a change with the songs and the sound, but he is now accompanied by new band members. It’s a change of pace from performing with his ZO2 brothers. “The chemistry is totally different. You almost can’t compare it. It’s two different worlds. I try to get band chemistry with guys that aren’t even bandmates. Chuck (Charles Ramsay), the piano player, writes the songs with me. Our chemistry is great. The drummer, Chris, played with us a handful of times. There is a chemistry there, but it’s not the same. I enjoyed the ZO2 chemistry much more for live stuff. But I’m in a different headspace right now, I’m much more about writing. And I think for writing, I like being solo because when you write with a band, you tend to have a sound and you write within that sound. People expect that sound. If you think about David Bowie, for example, that guy can constantly reinvent what he does because it’s more about him and his writing and his artistry. As a solo performer, I do songs that are hard rock and I also do songs that are piano-based and ballady. I like the ability to express all those different avenues.”
On October 16th, it all came together at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City. Though it was Paulie’s fifth time performing there since the start of his solo career, it was a very special occasion. Many were in attendance to come celebrate his first single, A Call To Love. The place was packed! Accompanying Paulie on stage was Chris Schultz on drums, Charles Ramsey on piano + background vocals and Joey D’Alessio on bass. Though it’s been a revolving door of bass players, Joey’s story is unique because he joined ZO2 on stage at a 2011 in Naugatuck, CT to play bass on Radio. It was the year before when ZO2 played at his college, Fairfield University, and that’s how he discovered them. When the performance began, I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. The new songs were tremendous with a mixture of acoustic and electric guitars. And not only were the fans excited for the new songs, Paulie was really looking forward to performing a new song with him on vocals and Chuck on piano which he described as “a very pretty song”.
Those who saw ZO2 live were sure to recognize Live Today, which was performed at later ZO2 shows. “Live Today was supposed to be a ZO2 song. It was gonna be on what would’ve been the next album. It was the first song that I wrote outside of the ZO2 circle and that’s why it sounds different than all the other ZO2 songs. I had this desire to write deeper, more mature songs.” Throughout the eleven songs performed, the audience was having a great time, and so was Paulie, who came out of the show feeling like a million bucks. “I feel great about the show. We killed it! My main objective is to engage the crowd and have them be in the moment with me. And that’s what happened, so I’m happy. I love the fact that the audience was attentive and emotionally connected when we did a ballad and then was up and dancing at the end when we rocked out. Also, my band did a great job tonight. It was an amazing evening!” That final song of the night where he got everyone up and dancing was a lot of fun and if you pre-order the EP, you can watch a series of videos where it is performed in the studio.
Paulie has a vision for the future and he is going after it. The plan right now is to do another set of shows in New York and Los Angeles in March. As of this moment, the EP will likely be released on March 10th, but you’ll have to like Paulie Z on Facebook to get the latest news on eveyrthing! And in the next couple of years, he is looking to write a lot more and really hopes to have his music featured in film and television, with an additional goal of getting his music played on the radio. Those who hope to see him live will have to keep a very close eye on dates. He doesn’t see himself doing the big touring like he did with ZO2. The idea for each year is to do three big shows in Los Angeles, three big shows in New York and potentially some random ones here and there. Those who are curious about ZO2 will be delighted to know that he feels that he will jam with David and Joey again at some point. Outside of the solo career, Paulie is looking to start a family. He also continues to have a lot of passion with music education, stating that he has a lot of music programs that he is working on.
Fans of ZO2 are guaranteed to enjoy the new music because even though the days of Z Rock and ZO2 are in the past, Paulie carries his charm with him wherever he goes. Though he isn’t planning on channeling his inner Paul Stanley as much as he did at ZO2 shows, he will always bring his A-game. In our first interview for the site, Paulie told me, “I’ve always been attracted to the spectacle aspect of performing, but I’ve learned more and more to appreciate different types of frontmen. I think the key is engaging the audience and giving them your all at all times.” Fans both new and old are invited to join along on this exciting adventure and it is a guarantee that you won’t be disappointed. Paulie has words of encouragement for those who may be hesitant to see him in a setting without David and Joey by his side. “Take a chance and check it out. If you trust me as an artist to put out great stuff and to really be authentic and to really care about the fans and what they want, follow me on the journey. I’m not gonna put anything out that I don’t think is great. It may be a little different, but the quality’s still gonna be there. I’m pushing myself to see what I can do and I am trying to grow as an artist. I invite everyone to take that journey with me and not be afraid to open up their horizons. The whole idea is to push the boundaries and grow. One of the biggest things I’ve learned from doing this is how to grow and how to push yourself. I have no idea what’s gonna be around the corner, but if I don’t try, I’ll never find out.”
Paulie left me with a quote that blew me away and immediately helped put everything into perspective. “If you were a Paulie Z fan before, now you’re gonna get to see what’s on the inside.” Whether you know him from ZO2, Z Rock or are just discovering him for the first time on this site, Paulie Z is a man of his word. With a golden voice, a special charisma and stellar musicianship, this brand new chapter looks to be the biggest and most exciting in the entire story.
As an added bonus, I reached out to those who have played a role in Paulie’s life and career and asked all of them to answer the following question…
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON PAULIE Z PURSUING A SOLO CAREER?
Brimstone: “Paulie Z is an extraordinary frontman who possesses an incredible vocal range. His work ethic is second to none and there is no doubt that he is a bonafide star. I was impressed by Paulie’s stage presence and how he has the undeniable ability to capture and control the crowd. I was blown away by the combined performance of ZO2. Each of the three members have a true gift and I truly believe that together, they are unstoppable! When dealing with such passionate musicians; it’s inevitable that at some point, each of the band members will need to take their personal journeys to quench their thirst of finding themselves in order to feel fulfilled as an artist. The secret to success is to never forget where you came from – it keeps you grounded in an industry that can easily allow you to lose your head. Paulie is one of the most grounded players I know. He’s bound to become a household name and have a blast while doing it!”
David Z: “Paulie Z is my older brother as well as my bandmate for over ten years in the band ZO2. Although I am sad that ZO2 is no longer playing, I couldn’t be happier and more proud of Paulie for continuing on as a solo artist. Paulie has more drive and determination than anyone I have ever met. That coupled with his amazing song writing ability and incredible voice will make him unstoppable. I love ya big bro.”
Mike Portnoy: “Ugh, I couldn’t stand Paulie Z when he was just 1/3 of the band…now it’s ALL HIM???? ZO2 was bad enough, now we have ZO1?? I bet he went solo just so he wouldn’t have to share the dressing room catering!”
David Shankle: “I witnessed ZO2 play at the Whisky a Go Go and I thought they were great. I think Paulie is a great guy. He’s got a heart of gold, he’ll do anything for anybody. He really likes to get involved in charity and helping people that are in need. I think doing a solo career with his voice and his skills as a songwriter is a wonderful decision if that’s the path he wants to take I hope all the best for him I will certainly stand behind him and if he ever needed anybody to do any great guitar solo work I would be there for him.”
Jeff Scott Soto: “Whatever Paulie is doing musically, he just needs to make sure the world hears it! With the disappointment of ZO2 not hitting massively and eventually ending their run, it would be a shame if Paulie Z didn’t share the gift of his amazing talents further, so a solo career is the natural path for him. I am stoked that he’s doing this and I hope he’ll expand his audience even more now that he can control the course of what he wants to do fully!”
Lisa Fernandez: “It is a natural progression for Paulie to go out on his own. He is a rocker with a great sense of how music can change people and their feelings. Going solo will allow Paulie to fufill all his dreams and construct change through his music. I know my kids at P.S. 119 have truly benefitted from all of Paulie’s talents! ROCK ON!!!”
Joey Cassata: “I think it’s great! Paulie has some of the best artistic and musical instincts I’ve ever been around. I hope on his solo project he sticks to being Paulie and not follow trends. I look forward to hearing it.”
Joey D’Alessio: “I think Paulie pursuing a solo career is the next logical progression. He has so many stories to tell, it kinda just makes sense to me. The material is totally different than ZO2, but you can hear the influence, it’s still him. Paulie loves to inspire young musicians and he’s a beacon of hope for everyone who looks up to him. I just love that he keeps moving forward.”
Aryanna Celenda: “No band usually impresses me right away, but ZO2 did. From the first gig I was invited to, the love for ZO2 came right away! I think the first year may have been a challenge with his solo career because he was trying to find himself as a solo artist, trying new things, but having fun while working his tail off. He has finally allowed himself to be vulnerable in front of his audience so that we can really see the man behind the leather jacket. It may be more challenging to bring his solo stuff to the stage in Los Angeles, but in time, it will happen. It’s all part of the magic we call Paulie Z.”
Walter Atkinson: “I have known Paulie Z for almost fourteen years. I performed with Paulie in CO2, a touch of ZO2 and Rock Asylum. Over the years, I had the pleasure of watching Paulie blossom into a star. He developed into one of the finest singers and frontmen on the planet. He has boundless talent, and the the vision and passion to achieve any goal he pursues. Paulie has great love for family, friends, bandmates and fans. This love is returned back to Paulie from all who know him, and the love grows stronger. This love fuels his passion. This is what Paulie told me years ago. He is the frontman among frontmen, I wish Paulie the greatest success in his solo career. He has climbed all the other mountains, why not this one. We love you Paulie.”
Paulie Z performing at Rockwood Music Hall. Credit for this photo and the display photo on the front page of JOAF goes to Jason Findlay.
Paulie and the band (From left: Joey D’Alessio, Chris Schultz, Charles Ramsey and Paulie Z)