So here I am… sitting in a pub opposite The Islington Academy with Chris (Glithero), Paul (Frost) and Ollie (Middleton) – the unholy trinity otherwise known as Zico Chain, as they prepare for their The Devil In Your Heart album launch gig. It must be confessed that their stark image as sinister goths is immediately dashed within seconds as the frontman – Chris – waves towards me as I arrive. Motioning me towards where the rest of the band are seated, he’s thoroughly polite (although his “throat’s knackered”), as are the rest of the band. Once we’re seated, it’s business as usual, and we get down to the interview as presented below:
So how was the tour?
Chris – Fantastic man.
Ollie – The tour finished a few weeks ago. Tonight’s just a one-off gig, but the tour went really well.
What are your plans after tonight’s gig?
Paul – We’ve just shot a video for ‘New Romantic’ which will be released in the coming months, and we’ve got a couple of hot-spot festivals over the Summer, and then on to some small European tours in the Autumn.
What festivals will you be playing?
Paul – We’ll be playing 2000trees Festival, and that should be a lot of fun.
What has the reaction been like for The Devil in Your Heart (your latest album), as opposed to your previous albums – such as Food?
Paul – It feels like a lot of our hardcore fans are still there and they’re still enjoying what we’re doing, although it’s taken a different shape with this record. So, the response of our fans has been great. They really like the progression and our development, our broader styles and stylistic choices. So that’s been really encouraging and it’s been great.
Your recent album is slightly more diverse in comparison to previous albums, in that you’ve opted to incorporate string arrangements. How have your fans reacted to this “stylistic progression”?
Paul – I think as to what’s helped is, when everyone came and saw us on the tour, we’ve still got all the old songs which people love and which we’ll play. The album’s got some broader parts to it, but it still has some heavy rock in it. I think we’ve gone bigger, rather than changed entirely. There’s still that part of Zico Chain – the fast, heavy, frantic part – which people love.
I read a recent interview in which you mentioned that your experience with arena shows made you want to up your game, and that there was a stark difference between bands which play arenas, and bands which play toilets. Do you think you have a bigger sound, or a more all-encompassing sound, because of your experiences with seeing bands at arenas?
Ollie – Primarily in how they control 90,000 people and get them to eat out of the palm of their hands. Billie Joe and Dave Grohl are just phenomenal front-men, and the way they can control that crowd and perform to them, and the way their stage show is epic, has just inspired us quite a lot in terms of our live performance and how we want to communicate our songs over. It’s quite inspiring.
Now you guys have supported some big name acts such as Disturbed and Velvet Revolver, and you guys have opened up shows where you guys are playing in front of 10,000 people. How does it feel to go from that level, to the level where you are at right now, where you still feel that you have some way to go in order to get to a level where you are a headline act?
Paul – It’s not really a step down, as it’s two different things. You’re supporting a band, and that’s totally different. We’re not selling out 10,000 seats. It’s just a great experience. You learn a lot. You introduce yourself to bands that you wouldn’t have done, which is why you do it. That’s a great thing to do. And then when you come back, it’s your show, and it’s your fans. It’s a close environment and it’s just different. They’re very different entities for me. I think you take each one on its own merit. Playing to a big audience is great, but then again, playing to 20 or 50 or 200 of your closest fans is equally rewarding if not more so.
What’s the best show you’ve ever played?
Paul – Bit of a mixture. Donnington was probably our best large-scale show – that’s like 50,000 people, so that was incredible. So, what was our favourite show of the last tour? Nottingham was great.
Ollie – We’ve always had a warm reception there. It’s cool. All of our London shows are great too. It was fun playing Proud Gallery, and it’s going to be even more fun playing this (London Islington Academy). London shows always have an air of anticipation about them, which is great.
Are you guys based in London?
Paul – Essentially yes. We haven’t settled at the moment, but we’re basically London based, yes.
According to Wikipaedia, your sound is partly inspired from your dissatisfaction with the British music scene…
Paul – When we all met, we found a lot of music we agreed that we all liked – ie we had a lot of influences together, collectively. But what was going on at the time in the rock scene didn’t excite us very much, so we just focused on our collective influences.
Does that explain why you guys are a bit more American and “grungy” in your sound?
Paul – Yeah, definitely.
What bands are you listening to at the moment?
Chris – I just bought the new Young Guns album – Bones, and that’s quite a good record.
Ollie – We’ve got Young Guns, Lost Alone – they’re good friends of ours. There’s a lot of British rock coming through at the moment. There’s a lot of British rock coming through these days, which is fantastic to see.
How do you think the internet and the digitalisation of the music industry has affected your band?
Paul – Affected our band specifically?
Well, from what I gather… you guys have put in a lot of hard work and effort into your latest record. How does it feel when you aren’t necessarily adequately compensated for your hard work when people download and pirate your music?
Paul – It’s kind of a hugely big subject to deal with because you’ve always got that toss-up between the internet to allow access to you or allowing access to hearing something you’ve done – ie via your official site, or Facebook, or whatever – and that’s kind of cool because everyone can check you out.
The fact that obviously the internet’s devalued your art – ie your your music is worthless in a sense, is obviously a hard pill to swallow… It’s in flux, I mean, who knows where we’ll be in another five years. So it’s a little bit difficult to comment at the moment but it hasn’t necessarily felt like it’s effected us directly in that sense, because I don’t think we’ve ever been at the point where we’ve sold that many copies of our records. We’re not talking about millions of pounds here. Do you know what I’m saying?
But you guys are obviously are at the stage now where you guys are opening up these massive shows, and you guys have also had serious air-time on national radio (Radio One etc) and MTV. How does it feel where everyone and their grandma has heard about you, yet from what I gather, you guys were still living in abject poverty two years ago. How does it feel where you’re really famous, yet you don’t have a nickel to your name?
Paul – (Laughs) most bands are still living in abject poverty. It’s no different, they just don’t talk about it. I don’t know any bands that have any money, do you?
Ollie – Unless you get arena massive, stadium massive… rumour was that Disturbed nearly knocked it on the head because they couldn’t make it, so you might be better off being a salesman or something these days.
What would you guys have been if you weren’t musicians?
Paul – What would we be doing? Something closely related to music, I don’t know – produce, engineer…
Ollie – Genuinely couldn’t tell you. I have no clue.
Chris – You know, that’s a scary thought. I don’t know. I’d like to think that I would have been a pimp (laughs).
Now your latest record was self-produced and self-funded. How do you think the recording process differed to your previous records, and considering the lack of studio interference, how do you think this affected the overall sound?
Paul – I think it went bloody well, is the short sum of it. The only way we could have made this record was to do it how we did it. We thankfully had time on our side to do it, which is why it took a long time, but then again that’s how it has to be done. And I think we own it a bit more emotionally because of that, and there’s a little bit more of ourselves in it, rather than a 30 day period of time. There were a lot of hours and a lot of work put into recording a record of that quality I suppose.
Was it during the recording process when you sacked your management?
Paul – When we started the record, we “parted ways”, so to speak.
Have you got new management now?
Paul – Nope, but it’s working out quite well.
Why did you part ways with your previous two record labels?
Paul – Hassle Records’ story is quite quick and simple. We do albums in option periods, and our first option was up – we’d done Food and everything – and the second option record contract was on the table, but it wasn’t a very good one for us financially as they wanted to suddenly take half of everything we’d ever make in terms of live income and merchandise publishing. Which is just not a good idea to give away – the only thing you’re ever going to potentially make something from.
Ollie – We just couldn’t agree with the terms, that’s all.
Paul – We’re still friends with them. We still see them regularly, and they’re lovely people. We just couldn’t agree contractually, and that’s why we parted ways.
What about your second record label – Degenerate Music?
Paul – That was just a pretend label.
Apparently you guys lived in a warehouse…
Paul – For far too long.
Now I do know that a lot of lesser bands would have buckled under the pressure and financial strain, which is why a lot of relationships crumble anyway. Why do you think your band is still going strong, despite those hardships?
Paul – It’s one of those things where you just go “what else are you going to do”. We had to go there and come back on some level probably. We had to hit rock-bottom, so to speak, and the only place to come from that was to make another record and get on with it I suppose.
Ollie – We all agreed that this is what we all wanted to do. It took a while to come to that conclusion that we all still wanted to make another record. Once we all came to that conclusion together, we pressed on with it, and here we are.
You guys operate as a 3-piece. What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of working together as a 3-piece, and have you ever been tempted to get more people on board so as to expand your sound?
Paul – The advantages of being a 3-piece is that there’s more room in the van. We can fit into a hotel easily. It sounds stupid, but those are the actual physical advantages.
Ollie – It’s simpler to write as well. It’s quite easy to communicate between the three of us in the writing process. Obviously on this record there’s a few samples come in – maybe a keyboard sample, I don’t think we’re at the stage yet of bringing in a fourth instrumentalist but who knows in the future (on the next record) we might develop that way. I personally prefer being a 3-piece. It keeps it tidier, and a lot tighter. Sometimes it is difficult to recreate the sound on record live but you’ve just got to replace that with energy.
Have you ever thought about getting an extra guitarist on board, like how Nirvana got Pat Smear for their live concerts?
Ollie – Like I said, it’s an idea we may consider for our next record. Absolutely.
Paul – I don’t know whether we will, or we won’t.
Ollie – It’s working for me being a 3-piece.
Now your latest record has a song called “Case #44PQ”, which is obviously dedicated to Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend Robert Maltby. What inspired the song, and do you think it achieved anything?
Paul – What inspired it was that Chris was looking for inspiration – for any song really – whilst writing the album, and came across the story and just delved into it. He was just moved by the story, and it’s something we can all relate to I think. Most people go through feelings of being different. He then started writing a song on that topic, and then he came across Robert’s art and was blown away by how good of an artist he is, which just started the ball rolling. Chris went “I love your art. Would you be interested in doing anything for our album”, and he did. It’s amazing to have his quality on our album cover and everything. Robert was a joy to work with on that front.
I hope that in the next year or whatever, if that song can maybe allow people to connect the dots between what that song’s about and the incident, it’s always a good thing to re-raise awareness or you know, for people to remember that story, and to keep trying to change themselves and the people around you.
Who are your heroes and why?
Paul – One big music hero of mine is Slash. Still is. Love his guitar playing. He’s definitely one of my all-time favourites.
Ollie – I don’t really know. In terms of rock and roll heroes, it’s definitely Slash and the Guns N Roses boys. For me, I think they epitomise rock and roll. Whether I call them heroes or not, I’m not entirely sure. It depends on your definition of “hero” I guess. But I definitely look up to those guys in terms of rock and roll. I thought Steven Adler was pretty ace, but I wouldn’t call him a hero. I don’t know about “heroes”, to be fair…
How much did it mean to you when Duff and Slash turned around and called you guys their favourite new band?
Paul and Ollie in unison – Yeah that was pretty cool.
Paul – That was very cool. They were just really great. That was just one of those situations where you were meeting people you really look up to, especially when you were a kid and they were doing their thing. You get to play with them, but they’re also really nice and really cool, and being really inviting…
What inspired you to call your new album The Devil In Your Heart?
Paul – Chris had rewrote that line, and rewrote those words, and they just suddenly made sense.
Ollie – It would have been the first line of the record too. It was quite a nice little thing to do.
Now you decided to mix the new album with Peter Miles, and you mastered it with Howie Weinberg. Why them, and what do you think they brought to the table?
Ollie – Well basically… Peter Miles, we’d heard a few records which he’d done and thought they were brilliant, and he was a young producer. We contacted him and asked if he wanted to put a spin on our record, and he loved it. We went down and worked with him, which was really successful. I think he brought a lot to the table in terms of the sounds and the arrangements… Howie Weinberg is an absolute master of his art, so we were really chuffed to have him involved.
Finally, and to paraphrase one of your earlier songs, “where would you rather be” in five years time?
Paul – Back here playing The Academy (laughs).
Ollie – I want to be… erm… basically I want more records out and tour more I guess.
Any final words?
Ollie – Actually, I want to be here with you in five years time celebrating the fifth anniversary of you asking me that question.
Seriously, any final words?
Ollie – The Devil In Your Heart is out now. Zicochain.net is our website.
Paul – And then you’ve got your links from there for contacting us lot, and finding the album and all that stuff. It’s all there.
Ollie – Thanks very much.