Basement music: an interview with math / punk band ZOO BOOKS!

ZOO BOOKS, the amazing math punk band I wrote about back in March last year, recently released their first studio EP “Right Hooks” and a nice split record with their fellas from WATER POLO. ZOO BOOKS come from Cinnaminson, an NJ township right outside of Philly. They play a swell mix of post hardcore and math rock influenced by bands such as THE REPTILIAN and NATIVE. They’ve done an excellent job of outlining the instinctive outbursts of passion and emotions and juxtaposing it with precise and calculated moments of progressive complexity and clarity. Don’t be fooled by the title of this article – the art coming from these guys proves that it can be so much more than just an experiment and a fun listen. See for yourself – launch the player and scroll down to read my interview with ZOO BOOKS!

Hey guys! What’s up in Cinnaminson? What kind of an amazing name is that?

Matt: “Not much, same as in any typical south jersey suburb. As for the name, it’s from the Lenape word meaning sweet water.”

Jeremy: “nothing happens here. It’s close to Philly so that’s cool. I call it cinnamon town sometimes for fun”

Ruben: “I don’t know. It’s cinnamony”

Having so many amazing music scenes around, it must be the greatest blessing, huh? Tell me more about the biggest music hubs and most important spots on your local music map?

Back when we were in high school (mid 2000s) one of the most popular venue was The Church in center city Philly. Pretty much any band traveling through played either there or the TLA on South Street. We had many opportunities to see the bands we were into at the time. Over the bridge in South Jersey, the local hardcore bands played at a billiards hall called the Cue Club 2. Since it was only a town over from us in Cinnaminson, we spent a lot of time there as well. Ruben even played a few shows there, back when he was in IN MINDS EYE.

Since then, the church is not as active and the cue club 2 is now some gym. But places have started springing up all over the city, such as Johnny Brenda’s and Kung Fu Necktie in Fish Town or Boot and Saddle in South Philly. The DIY music scene also thrives here. There are tons of house shows everywhere. A new one seemingly pops up every day. They draw pretty decent crowds (being BYOB and considering that many of the venues are 21+).

This is something we European would probably never understand. Age restrictions at DIY shows. Did you explore the origins of bad US habit?

Ah, sorry for the misunderstanding. DIY shows are all ages and many use it as an excuse for a party which can be annoying. People sometimes show up to drink rather than pay attention to the bands playing. However it seems like more people show up to some of these shows than 21+ shows at bars.

Never really looked into the origins of it. We just like to blame the people that ruined it for the rest of us. The drinking age used to be 18 back in the day.

ZOO BOOKS live band

Ok guys, so please introduce ZOO BOOKS and tell us more about your background. What other bands have you been in and what were some of the main reasons behind forming this project?

Matt: “Well ever since we’ve known each other, jamming together has always been our thing. It has never been anything formal. I’ve never been in an official band before this just have been playing guitar for 12 years or so now, developing my own style with each new band that I listen to. What really started it was when we wrote Djangle one night drinking and dog sitting for Jeremy’s cousins. Ruben jumped on drums and Jeremy picked up a bass, while I stuck with guitar. Considering that each of our primary instrument is guitar, writing with these three has definitely been a unique experience for me. From then on we just kept writing until we had a full set. You can’t play a show without a name, so…ZOO BOOKS. But in all, this is simply hanging out with friends and having fun. As for me specifically, I’m just a grad student in Physics pursuing his PhD. Having the creative balance of music / guitar is my escape, as cliched as that sounds. It really is a great way to relax and decompress as well as have the excitement of playing shows.

Ruben: “Been in different music projects when I was in high school and in college enjoyed playing music all that time (still do). Giving this project a shot out of curiosity and the enjoyment of playing music with like minded people.”

Jeremy: “ZOO BOOKS is just three friends making music in basements. Matt and I have been playing music together since around early high school. We always wanted to play music but no project ever really took off until now. ZOO BOOKS is basically just a continuation of that and always playing music together. It came about as friends hanging out and playing guitars together, making cool riffs, and eventually jamming stuff out into real songs, recording, and playing shows together. It’s just a form of hanging out with friends doing what we love along the way”

About that name, you actually CAN play a bunch of shows without a name, haha.

Ok guys, your demo was a crushing display of incredibly energized mix of math rock and post hardcore and your new split with WATER POLO really proves your worth! How did you guys team up for this cool release?

Back in May, we played our first show at Studio Luloo. WATER POLO was headlining, so that’s how we initially met them. We all thought they were pretty rad. A few months later, we were actually added last minute to another show with WATER POLO at the same venue. Soon after, we heard that they wanted to release a split but couldn’t find a second band. We got in contact and made it happen. Matthew Short from WATER POLO even came to the recording studio for a guest vocal spot in Slamwise Jangly.

Cool. What was your preferred format for this record?

We are going to make handmade tapes for this split similar to the ones we did previously. We thought the last tapes came out really well and viewed them almost as art pieces just because of all the work that went into them. For the most part we view ourselves as a band that favors digital releases because it’s easier for everyone to access. Physical releases have always been kind of secondary to us because of the time involved. The music should speak for itself regardless of format. Having the albums free on bandcamp just means more people can get access to it.

How about the gramophone/phonograph records? More and more people are buying vinyl and pressing plants seem to be really swamped with the amount of orders. Have you ever experienced frustration because of this unexpected bottleneck?

Jeremy: We would love to have our releases pressed on vinyl but the costs associated are just too prohibitive right now for a band of our size and popularity. If there was a lot of genuine interest and if it were financially viable we would pursue it further, but right now it doesn’t seem feasible. Everything we are doing now is very DIY.

When we made tapes previously we had to record each tape one at a time on an old tape deck I have. We also printed out and cut all the inserts ourselves and hand wrote the track listing and other info which was incredibly time consuming but worthwhile. We are planning on using the same process to make tapes for this split release, but instead of only making 6 tapes like the old demo release, we are going to make a lot more which is going to be challenging. The real bottle neck for this process comes down to having to listen to the full length of the release while recording each tape individually over and over.

Here are some pictures of the previous tape we made. We are hoping to come out with something similar with this split soon.



By the way physical records, (please don’t laugh), have your musical projects and undertakings been a profitable venture? Is it even possible to somehow live off DIY and independent stuff?

We created ZOO BOOKS for fun. Writing music and playing shows is something that each of us really enjoy. Recording is more for posterity and getting it to ears outside of our basements.

Each of us has a full time job. Considering that the cost of equipment and studio time has far exceeded any “profit” made, it is a hobby. We certainly aren’t trying to get rich from doing what we like. Even some bands that tour full time on labels are broke, making just enough money to sustain the lifestyle.

Do you think there’s a lack of some kind of focus amongst independent artists and record labels? Regarding artistic-development facility, what do you lack the most?

At least it our experience, it doesn’t really seem like labels seek out bands, more like bands seek out labels in order to get signed, tour more, etc. This isn’t something we are that interested in though.

Due to the high quantity of shows at a given DIY venue, there is no drive for a strong crowd. If you miss an appearance by a band, it’s no big deal. Chances are that they will be playing the same gig in a week. Local bands around here tend to play as often as possible and there aren’t many opportunities to really get on different stages with a fresh audience to increase exposure. It always seems like the same crowd is at every show. That, combined with so much music online, it’s hard to gain traction when there’s so much music out there to listen to. It’s easy for smaller bands to be overlooked.

It’s no big deal to see some local bands because they are always there, resulting in a lack of urgency. Consequently, labels go for the bigger bands that are already established. So popular bands just get more popular while small bands never have the chance to get big. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. People seem to listen to bands that are already somewhat established, and let others find smaller, more obscure bands for them.

Ha! And here we are, trying to change the damn status quo, right? :)

What’s your approach to experiencing art? Are you more of a creator or rather a consumer? Do you actively search for bands to release or is it more a focus on your own work?

Music is an integral part of our lives. Whether it be aimlessly jamming in our basements or playing a set, we always have instruments in our hands. Though, we are consumers as much as we are creators. It is always exciting listening to the newest release of our favourite bands on repeat. Being musicians definitely allows for a different kind of appreciation. Inspiration inevitably arises from this. So, the two are intimate in that our writing feeds off of what we enjoy.


Ok, so back to your discography, what are your next steps? Are you ready for a full length yet?

Nothing planned so far. Just taking a break and writing some more material for maybe another small release. All the songs we have been recorded and released so we are happy about that.

Any plans to take your tunes on the road sometime soon?

No real plans on touring, but it’s something we’d love to do if there was enough support for it. Right now we are focused on building our presence in the local scene. It seems like too many smaller bands rush to tour without cultivating an actual need to. It does seem like a great way to take a vacation though.

Have you ever been to Europe? :)

Matt: England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain

Ruben: Italy, Germany, France, Austria

Jeremy: nope.

Ha! So you must take Jeremy, come to Europe this year and show him this piece of the world.

Ok guys. What else? Would you like to discuss something I missed? Any final thoughts?

Nope that’s it! Thank you so much for this opportunity and for your patience between emails. We are looking forward to the final product. Keep us posted! Thanks!

Thanks! Take care!

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