Q&A: The Zombies will bring tired SXSW attendees back to life

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The Zombies, the second band from across the pond to have a No. 1 hit in the United States, will perform at Stubb’s on Thursday.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Cannonball PR | Daily Texan Staff

Colin Blunstone is the lead singer of The Zombies. Known for their psychedelic sound. The Zombies were the second U.K. band — the first being The Beatles — to have a No. 1 hit in the United States, helping lead the “British Invasion” in the mid-1960s. The Zombies will perform at Stubb’s on Thursday.

The Daily Texan: In 1964, you came to the United States. What was it like being one of the first pioneering groups?

Colin Blunstone: For us, it was a culture shock. Whereas now a lot of the cultural elements are very similar to the U.K., people didn’t travel back then like they do now. To get on a plane and go across the Atlantic was quite a big deal. We were just 19 years old, and to come to America, the land of rock ‘n’ roll. It was amazing. All of our heroes came from America: Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard. These are the people we grew up listening to, and it was the place we always wanted to come to.

DT: What did you use as inspiration to find your sound in the early days of The Zombies?

CB: We took our inspiration from a very wide spectrum of music. There’s jazz influences, rhythm and blues, rock ‘n’ roll and pop music all there in our music. That’s one of the things that made our music so different. To give your band individuality can be a great advantage, but, in the beginning, it was a disadvantage as well. People get confused when they can’t mentally connect the music to something they’ve heard before.

DT: A lot of people consider the The Zombie’s early career as frustrating because of poor management. Do you think that with a different record company or manager, you guys could have been as big as The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?

CB: I wouldn’t want to compare us to any of those bigger bands of the time, but yes, if we had been looked after properly. This is true for nearly every British band of the ’60s. The bands weren’t looked after; they were exploited and used. That’s what frustrates me. If some of the people in management had a bit more vision, they could have been involved in creating lifetime careers. But they just didn’t have the vision.

DT: There were rumors when you guys broke up in late 1967 that John Lennon, himself, offered to manage your band. Is any of that true?

CB: Well, he never spoke to me about it. What I am told is that he was interested in producing the band, not necessarily managing. But I have to say that I heard it in the same way you have — never from him.

DT: In your most recent album and presumably your upcoming one, there’s a slightly different style than that of your earlier works. What should listeners be looking out for?

CB: We could play something similar to Odessey and Oracle, but we were 20 years old when we played that. What I would say is that people should look out for fine songwriting in the album we’re just starting to record now. Everyone in the band is incredibly skilled, so I would also pay attention to the musicianship. I just sit back and watch them play as a fan of sorts. It’s a thrill for me to be up on stage, being part of a group with such wonderful players.

DT: Where do you see your influence in bands today?

CB: When they, themselves, cite us as an influence in how they’ve come to be playing their music and how they’ve developed, our influence is clear, but I can rarely hear it myself. It’s definitely one of the highest compliments you can receive. When people like Tom Petty and Dave Grohl have all said how much they enjoyed our music and cite us as an influence, it’s wonderful.

DT: What are you guys looking forward to most at SXSW?

CB: I love the madness. It’s just crazy. Last year, we were playing three or four times a day, and, when we weren’t playing, we were moving the gear, going to do radio shows, live sets [and] acoustic duos. It’s just all these different things all the time. It is truly the most full-on festival in the world, and it is a little crazy, but incredibly good fun.