After speaking with Paulie Z last year at Rockwood Music Hall and in 2013, I caught up with him in New York City once again prior to his awesome performance that night for a fun sit down interview.
Alex Obert: So you just had your birthday before the big celebration tonight. What did you do yesterday to celebrate?
Paulie Z: Spent time with family, that’s all I wanted.
Alex Obert: What was the food like?
Paulie Z: Well I had my favorite meal, I specifically went to Shake Shack. I made sure that I did that on my birthday. I don’t know if going to Shake Shack will be the be-all and end-all for the rest of my life, but right now I’m definitely in a phase where I crave it like a drug. (laughs)
Alex Obert: Who got you into Shake Shack?
Paulie Z: I don’t remember who the first person was that got me into it, but I remember that when I was working at Kidville, it was something that a lot of the teachers, and the other musicians were talking about. They said Shake Shack and Chipotle were the places to go. I’m not a huge Chipotle fan because of the spice of it. And when I tasted Shake Shack for the first time, I was just blown away. So I did that and then we ordered pizza that night from a local pizzeria that I love. It’s nice having food that there’s an emotional connection to, some sort of memory.
Alex Obert: Since you moved from New York to LA, what’s your stance on Shake Shack versus In-N-Out Burger?
Paulie Z: In my mind, there’s no question. Shake Shack is by far better. But I have an interesting relationship with In-N-Out because I tried it a few times when I visited LA over the years and my brother and Joey feel the same way when ZO2, all three of us hated it. Not even thought it was okay, didn’t like it to the point where I didn’t finish it. For me to not finish something that’s edible is pretty bad. I gave it another try when I moved and funny enough, I can’t explain it, but when I lived there and then I tried it, I actually liked it. It’s actually pretty good. The meat is good and you can tell it’s fresh. I don’t like the bun or the fries, I feel like they’re very dry. I get it Animal Style with the extra sauce and just a lettuce wrap, it’s actually really good. But to me, it doesn’t compare to Shake Shack.
Alex Obert: When you were young, who was your Z Brothers? In other words, did you listen to any children’s musicians when you were the target age?
Paulie Z: No, I honestly don’t remember listening to kids songs. The earliest memory I have is KISS. I was about six or seven at the time. Before that, I don’t remember. I mean I’m sure I sang Wheels on the Bus, but nothing comes to memory like remembering a lullaby from when I was a baby. When I think of the earliest memory of music, it’s Hotter Than Hell. (laughs)
Alex Obert: So if you got it to them at such a young age, what was your parents’ stance on it?
Paulie Z: Well my dad is a musician, so he’s the one that had all these records. So I learned everything from him. And my uncle is the one who gave me my first KISS record. My mom didn’t really get it, she was like, “What is all this noise?” Typical mom not really getting rock ‘n roll. For her, if it wasn’t Elvis, it was crap. But my dad, he had every Black Sabbath record, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, it was a no-brainer that I was gonna be a rock fan.
Alex Obert: You start getting into these bands and also discover bands that influenced ZO2 such as Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith, but which bands could you just not get into over the years?
Paulie Z: There are a couple bands in particular that took me a long time to appreciate. I never liked Bruce Springsteen for the longest period of time until I had to start singing some Springsteen songs at cover gigs. Once I learned the words and had to match the passion of how he sang them, I finally got it then. I thought he was amazing. And I didn’t really like U2 for a long time. I feel like they come from the Bob Dylan seed of songwriters. Bands like KISS and Sabbath and Aerosmith and Zeppelin came from more of a Rolling Stones, flashy, visual, ballsy attitude kind of place. For me, that’s where I was for the most part. Now I like them a lot, but growing up, I wasn’t really into those guys.
Alex Obert: Who do you just flat out not like? Perhaps even a genre?
Paulie Z: That’s a question of have to think about because I can’t think of anything. I’m sure there is though. About genres, not anymore. I used to be very close-minded, but as I got older and older, I just learned to appreciate more music.
Alex Obert: How about rap?
Paulie Z: No, I love rap. I used to hate it. I mean it’s not my go-to, you’re not gonna see much rap in my collection. But I like when I hear good rap. Busta Rhymes is great. So are Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. It’s impressive, but I feel like you have to mentally be prepared for it so you can appreciate it. Country too, I never liked it and now I do. It’s like watching a movie, if you’re in the mood for a lighthearted comedy, you can’t sit and watch The Godfather. You just can’t appreciate it.
Alex Obert: Looking back on memories of Z Rock, what would you say was your least favorite episode?
Paulie Z: Any of the episodes with Dave and Joey. (laughs) I don’t know about an episode, but there were definitely scenes. The one with the politician or the biz-ar mitzvah, I don’t know if they were as strong as some of the like with Steel Panther and Chris Jericho. Those had more meaty storylines and funnier jokes.
Alex Obert: I recall you mentioning at one point that the network wanted to tone down the vulgarity for season two.
Paulie Z: The network was going from very edgy to wanting some commercials and sponsors. Listen, anytime you want money, you have to sell out a little bit. It’s just the way it goes. You have to play by the rules because the people who hold the key to the gates of the wealth have their certain standards and they want things the way they want them. So they wanted to tone everything down and make the season less of an arc storyline. Arc means that the story carries from the first episode to the last episode of the season. If you come in and watch episode five, you may not understand what’s going on. You can’t just watch a Sopranos episode because you won’t know what’s going on, but you can put on House and there’s a beginning, middle and end. There’s a complete thought. We were pretty much not happy about that because we felt the whole premise of the show was following us and rooting for us as a struggling band.
Alex Obert: What are your thoughts on the show that Joey is working on, Joeylicious?
Paulie Z: From what I’ve seen, it looks funny. I know he’s a big wrestling fan, so I’m really happy for him. I love the fact that he’s doing something. I love seeing people take an idea from the beginning to the end and invest in themselves. Most people have big ideas, but they don’t live them because they sit at the desk with no ambition and they’re not willing to take a chance. And he’s taking a chance. I love that. I’m really happy that he’s putting himself out there and doing something that he believes in. Whether it’s successful or not, it’s almost irrelevant at a certain point. You have to follow your heart and your passion. If it doesn’t work, you do something else and you keep going. Him doing a wrestling show is like me doing a cooking show or being a taste tester. (laughs) That would be the equivalent. I’m happy for him and I hope that it does really well.
Alex Obert: Since he wasn’t born into the Z Family, what was your first impression of him?
Paulie Z: He’s not like us, but there’s a lot of similarities. It’s an interesting dichotomy because we all love comic books and action figures and we’re all good with kids and we don’t drink or do drugs. Well when I say drink, I mean drink heavily. Never smoked a cigarette, never been arrested, any of those things. We loved KISS and rock ‘n roll, we had all this in common. But yet, he was so different, I always looked at him as an older brother. He was much more mature than the two of us and much more secure with himself. He didn’t have to show off to get attention and he wasn’t chasing tail like we were. He had a lot of these manly qualities, while we still had a very boyish mentality. There was a nice balance of that. But yet, we connected on these youthful things like comic books, but it in a different way. I noticed right off the bat that he had a very great sense of humor, was very talented, was a smart guy. He had all these things, he was well put together as a person. That’s what I noticed.
Alex Obert: What is your take on being a solo musician? For some, they work very closely with the musicians that they perform with and it feels like a full band. Then you have those such as popstars who perform with nameless hired gun musicians. How do you view it?
Paulie Z: I am trying to get that vibe of working with musicians. I would like it to be more like Springsteen and the E Street Band. Like Paulie Z and the Shake Shacks. (laughs) I would love to have a band where we have consistent chemistry. It’s hard now because I moved. Maybe in another year or so, I might find that out in LA. But it helps that my brother is playing tonight and my fiancé sings on a song with me. My buddy, Chuck, he’s consistent and comes out to LA to play. He cowrote all the songs with me. I’ve tried to use the same people like Chris on drums, he’s played all the shows with me except for maybe one. So it’s pretty consistent. I prefer that over the pop thing where I just hire people I don’t know because I’m a vibe guy. Rock and roll is all about vibe. That is the difference to me between pop and rock n’ roll. It’s not just music, it is a vibe. In a recording, you can probably get away with it if the songs are good. I don’t think anyone will worry so much about the vibe. Half those records we love like the ZZ Top albums, the other two guys weren’t even in the studio. And the KISS record. Half the time, it’s people you didn’t even think played on them. But live, it’s a different story. So I always try to create that vibe as much as I can. Even with strangers.
Alex Obert: I bring this up because you talked on The Paulie Z Show about David Z having issues when he performed with Joan Jett. What was going on there?
Paulie Z: He was too good for the gig. He was moving and doing his dance thing and garnering a lot of attention. They wanted him to stand still. They literally said “This is your area. Stay in that area and just play your parts.” I think it was too difficult for him and it wasn’t fun. If it’s not fun, then what’s the point? He had other options, it’s not like he had no options. It became something that was just a drag because they wanted to suppress his presence so that Joan Jett was the focus. And I get that, it makes sense. People come to see Joan Jett because it’s “Joan Jett”. So if the bass player is jumping around and taking all the attention away, it kind of defeats the purpose. For him, that was very frustrating.
Alex Obert: And now it’s a 180 with Trans Siberian Orchestra because he’s performing all over the place.
Paulie Z: Exactly. But he brought that into them, they didn’t do that in the beginning. He did his thing, but luckily, they appreciated it. They could’ve very easily said that it’s a family show and they want to keep it classy, but they liked it. The more showy, the better. So he actually shaped their stage show in a lot of ways because he brought this choreography to it and made it more and more showy than it was. I was there for the beginning and it really was more like a choir thing where everyone just stood and sang their songs. Now they’re doing fake fighting and Michael Jackson’s Beat It on stage with the violin. It’s a matter of just finding the right situation for what you do well.
Alex Obert: I was very fascinated when ZO2 did live band karaoke in New York City. What was that night like for you?
Paulie Z: It was a lot of fun. There’s no better complement than people coming up and sing your songs, words and melodies that you’ve written. It was great to see them so happy, that was cool.
Alex Obert: What was the song selection like? The usual suspects?
Paulie Z: It was whatever they picked. We played Head Up and Liar.
Alex Obert: Joey must not have been happy.
Paulie Z: No, definitely not. But we were happy for his unhappiness.
Alex Obert: Can you take readers through the experience of filming the video for the educational song, Earth Hour?
Paulie Z: It was great. It was my third year doing the Hong Kong project. This year was even better because it was the first time I used my own gear to film and edit. We had to hire people to do that the last two years. There’s a little bit of a language barrier and the vibe was not there, meeting these people for the first time and trying to create this product. The truth is, I was frustrated half the time because I knew what I wanted and I’m trying to tell this person to get the shot that I want to get or to record it the way I want to record it. I got the gear and taught myself how to edit and film. I’m still learning and I’m not an expert by any means, but enough that I can do as good a job as the other people were doing. It was my first time doing it like that and it came out great, they actually thought it was the best of the three years. For me, it was a very special moment and a rewarding feeling knowing that they put their trust in me to tape it from beginning to end. And the song and video are killer. I can be humble, and I am humble, but when you rock, you rock. You just gotta admit it.
Alex Obert: Which song on your EP would you say has the most significance to you?
Paulie Z: They all do. I think that’s the difference between this record and all the other records I’ve put out with either ZO2 or CO2 or Z Brothers, any and every thing I’ve done, I don’t think any of them have the same emotional impact as these five songs. These were really written from a deep place of despair and reflection and hope. It’s three main emotions that everyone can relate to. I had scratched that surface a little bit in the past with songs like Stronger with how she left me, but that girl that I was writing about didn’t break my heart. It wasn’t that bad. The only songs that I feel like really had that was talking about fans and stuff, songs like Show Me and Ain’t It Beautiful. That was a real connection and I felt that. I think those songs shine because people can feel the authenticity of what I was saying. But I honestly can’t pick one from these five songs because each one has a very specific meaning and it’s tied to a very real emotion. There’s not a lemon in the bunch. That’s why I didn’t do a full album, to be honest. Everyone asked me why I didn’t do an album and it’s because I didn’t want there to be even one song that was just filler or okay or even just good. I don’t think any of these are just good. I believe, and you can disagree and the world can disagree, but at least I believe that all five are great. That’s all that matters. I put it out and say that this is five of the best I can do at this time and I offer this to the world. I can’t control how people are gonna perceive it.
Alex Obert: What are your plans to continue raising awareness for the EP, as well as separating this from the days of Z Rock and ZO2?
Paulie Z: I’m not looking to separate in the sense that I cut that part of my life out, but as far as this being its own thing, I’ll just keep pushing the social media and doing it that way. I’m definitely a lot more focused on doing the educational side of my career, that’s really the priority for me right now. So as far as getting the word out with the EP, just social media and word of mouth, try to play some shows. But I’m not gonna go crazy with it. I would like to see one or two of these songs placed in a movie or in a commercial or TV show, that would make me very happy. Moreso than trying to get on a tour and doing the whole artist/band thing. I did that and my head is just not there at this point to do that.
Alex Obert: What is your order at Shake Shack?
Paulie Z: Two Double Shack Burgers, fries and a Black and White milkshake with chocolate ice cream instead of fudge.
Alex Obert: Favorite line on Z Rock?
Paulie Z: The one where I was like “You’re Italian, you beat the shit out of people. I’m Jewish, I talk the shit out of people.” I like that one. Or when I yelled at David after he poured the milkshake because it was improv spur the moment and I cracked everyone up. I was like “I’m telling Mommy!” There was just something so innocent about that, so goofy. I would say those two stick out.
Alex Obert: Favorite Z Brothers song?
Paulie Z: Probably The Achoo Song. Sometimes it’s hard to create something super simple, people underestimate how difficult it is to think like a child and go back to that place where you just draw the sun with a face. As you get older, you have too much information and it’s very hard to go backwards. I tried to write something that was as simple and as classic as Wheels on the Bus. I dissected that concept. To me, The Achoo Song achieves that. And it’s about allergies, so I like that.
Alex Obert: Favorite wrestler?
Paulie Z: Pulled Pork Paulie! (laughs) I love Randy Savage too.
Alex Obert: Favorite Jewish meal or food?
Paulie Z: Katz’s pastrami, I mean that’s as Jewish as you can get. And knish. And I like a cream soda. Pastrami on rye with mustard, Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda and potato pancakes.
Alex Obert: ZO2 cover you wanted to perform live, but never got a chance to?
Paulie Z: I know one we worked on, but we just never did it. I could never really perfect the riff because I didn’t practice it enough. Green-Tinted Sixties Mind by Mr. Big. We may have broken into it just for fun, but we never really covered it. I was sad that we didn’t get to that point.
Alex Obert: In closing, what do you have to say to those who are a part of this ongoing journey with you in your music career?
Paulie Z: Thank you. Any and every artist will always be very thankful. If they have any appreciation for who put them where they are, they have to be thankful. I’m very thankful and grateful for those out there that like what I do and if it moves them in any way. I would also like to say to continue following me on the journey if you are interested in seeing where the growth is. I don’t know what’s gonna happen next year and I don’t know what the music will be and I don’t know what my hair will look like. I have no idea, but I’m not afraid to find out. So hopefully you guys aren’t either and are willing to grow with me as opposed to saying “I like the fro and I like that sound. And that’s it forever.” Some artists are like that and if my life didn’t turn the way it turned, I probably would’ve been fine with that. But life throws you curveballs and you have to deal with it. If you’re afraid of the dark and you’re afraid of the unknown, then you’ll never know your potential. So I’m in the dark and I’m jumping off the cliff and we’ll see what happens. I’d love for you to continue that journey with me.
Alex Obert: Even in dark, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.
Paulie Z: Always. There always is. But you have to have faith. You have to believe that there is a light there. If you don’t, that’s where fear will take over. And I’m not gonna lie, you think this is a piece of cake to leave ZO2 and do this EP on my own? No, not at all. And even playing the songs is weird because I had a certain shtick down on stage, certain moves. Now the guitar is different and my hair’s not there, it is scary in a way. I’m willing to see what’s out there and push the boundaries. Hopefully that will influence and encourage other people to do the same.
Alex Obert: Last time we talked, you brought up how the feeling was different for Paul Stanley when he had solo gigs, as opposed to the KISS shows. It felt new and exciting again.
Paulie Z: It was! I loved it. You want to see what else people have to offer. And that’s the thing, he always had KISS to go back to. Even KISS is a great example of a band that tried different things, we wouldn’t have songs like I Was Made For Lovin’ You if they stuck to a formula. We wouldn’t have Beth. We wouldn’t have a lot of songs had they just stuck to whatever worked on this particular record or whatever. I like that.
Alex Obert: I’d love to thank you so much for your time.
Paulie Z: Thank you!
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