New York power rock band Zr. King formed in New York in 2012 by members of the former NY rock band Social Hero and the New Jersey band The Minor Lift. Comprised of Griffin Lotti (vocals/guitar), Brandon Lotti (bass/vocals), Medley Shabazz (drums/vocals) and Matt Thompson (guitar/vocals), the band blends a diverse mix of influences that include Led Zeppelin, The Who, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Muse and Queens Of The Stone Age to create their epic, guitar-driven sound. They released their debut album A Potentially Lethal Game of Chance in 2014, which quickly earned them critical praise and a dedicated fanbase. The band has made their mark on the local scene, receiving support on BBox Radio, Radio Free Brooklyn and preforming at many esteemed venues in the Northeast. They released their Sophomore album, Musically and Morally Bankrupt, on May 17th and once again collaborated with legendary producer/engineer Jerry Ramos of Mercury Recording Studio in Rahway, NJ. Having taken a year-long hiatus to work on the album, it marks a long-awaited return since their debut. They released their debut single from the album, “Welcome To Bearizona”, as well as “Don’t Call Me On Saturday” and “Ships In The Night” ahead of the album’s release. With multiple summer shows and then another album in the works, the band is forging ahead with plenty of momentum and excitement for the coming months! Staff writer Emily May spoke with Griffin Lotti by email about the new album, their new single, band influences and what’s next for them. You can follow ZR. King and stay up-to-date with all upcoming news and tour dates, as well as stream and purchase their albums via the following links. Check out “Ships In The Night” and “Don’t Call Me On Saturday” below.
You will be releasing your new album Musically and Morally Bankrupt’on May 17th. Having taken some time off to write new songs for the album, how do you feel it compares to your 2014 debut album A Potentially Lethal Game Of Chance? Having written your first album in a matter of weeks, what led to to take more time with this album?
It was the collision of a few different things; we had a lineup change we knew was coming – original drummer D-Pain had an opportunity he sought to capitalize on out in Las Vegas which led us to head into the studio and capture a number of basic tracks for all the songs we had in motion prior to his departure. These songs were instrumentally complete but had no vocal parts or lyrics. We also had a new addition to the extended Zr. King family in that guitarist/singer Matt and his wife Seryna welcomed a daughter around that same time. As such, the band took some time to reflect on life events and changes, worked to bring Medley into the fold as our new drummer, and Griffin hit the woodshed to really focus on pulling together the stories, melodies, and lyrics that would bring these songs to fruition. We think the extended time was worth it as this collection of tunes has not only a solid sonic footprint, but also a tangible set of lyric tropes to tell the stories with.
You have said that The Refreshment’s 1996 debut album ‘Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big & Buzzy‘ really influenced you, with regards to song structure, guitar solos, vocal harmonies and lyrics, when you guys were writing and recording your first album. What was it about that album that had such a profound impact on you and did you or the other members of the band have any particular influences going into the new album?
That album is a benchmark for us – it’s a collection of songs that are captivating, well thought out and orchestrated, and has a vibe start to finish. Being fortunate enough to see the band in their prime on the tour for that album was another part of what made it such a big influence. It resonates today as much as it did over twenty years ago, and part of what made it so impactful is that the songs tell great stories. That’s what we always seek to do. Roger Clyne and his crew (the Peacemakers) still tour relentlessly today and carry an independent spirit in that they dictate their own agenda and run everything themselves. For a 21st century band, that’s pretty much the blueprint if you want to do it on your own terms: put in the work, slam it sunrise to sunset, and take no prisoners. We admire that and we aspire to that. As far as other influences going into the album… We’re always influenced by what we love and what we’re listening to in the moment, but when all is said and done, we make records the way we want, to sound the way we want, and we hope people are as excited about it as we are. So far, that’s worked, and we’re very happy about that.
The four of you have played in other bands prior to Zr King- Griffin and Brandon in Social Hero and Matt and Medley in The Minor Lift. Griffin and Brandon- What led you to form Zr King?
Put simply: necessity. As a musician, you have to balance artistic compromise with artistic vision, and the ever dwindling quantity of what you have to bring that to life: time and your energy. There’s a very important chemistry balance that flows into the equation as well. When all is said and done, we do this because we love it, enjoy playing together, and are having fun. When pieces of that puzzle fade or dry out, we reevaluate priorities. As long as all the pieces work in sync towards our goals, we’ll keep doing it. Being in a band is like being suspended between, and at times living at, extremes. Sometimes people grow together, sometimes they grow apart. We’ve all been musicians for as long as we can remember and hope to bring the best of all we’ve learned over time to our efforts at every session, show and opportunity.
The band has a guitar-driven, power rock style. What made you want to have that sound as a band and who would you consider some of your favorite power rock bands?
It wasn’t an intentional thing, we just don’t know any other way to do it. Loud guitars? Slamming bass? Screaming drums? Vocal histrionics? That’s all we know. Our faves in that regard really span the gamut; we listen to as much as we can get our paws one and lots of it has what we’d call a power rock style; Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, QOTSA, Eagles of Death Metal, Muse, Mastodon, Red Fang, Foo Fighters, Led Zeppelin, Rammstein, Corrosion of Conformity, Pantera, Down, Revolution Mother, Clutch, Ghost, Slash, Lamb of God, Volbeat. We listen to as much as we can.
What can you tell me about your new single “Ships In The Night”? You’ve described it as “a celebration of the confidence that comes from rebuilding yourself”. What can you tell me about that journey.
The thought behind that song is if you’ve ever internally revisited arguments you had with the significant other that smashed your heart into a million pieces 3-7 years ago. If so, then you already know what Ships In The Night is about, because you’ve replayed it in your head. It was written as an exploration of the common human pattern of repeating the same behaviors with the hope of a different outcome, and from there, rebuilding yourself when you finally break the cycle. So you may have been wronged, but you’ll be stronger and wiser for it. Most people have been through the ringer with another person in such a way that they can look back and say, “Fuck, I should have known that’s where this was going, and that I was going to get burned.” To us, this song is the celebration of the rebound from that burn. Because in the end, you’re still alive and still have something to give.
I read that you never sang before Zr King. What made you decide to sing in this band and do you feel totally at ease behind the microphone at this point? You have said that the approach that helped you to get comfortable with singing in the first place transformed into your process for writing. What was that approach and what can you tell me about your songwriting process?
Largely this was also out of necessity. As the main vocal/melody writer and lyricist in the band, it kind of naturally falls to Griffin to approach the vocals and map things out. Fortunately, the rest of the guys are very capable, and there’s a lot of harmony work written, so vocal responsibilities are shared too. As far as process, we’ve often been a band that puts together the musical pieces and comes back around to work the vocals – and that continues. It’s very rare a song is written around a vocal part or based on a vocal melody, though that certainly can happen. Typically though, an instrumental is finished and demoed, and from there Griffin listens to the song a few thousand times and maps where the vocals fit and what harmonies there should be. Each song is a bit different, some fall together in moments and others can take weeks before they really land.
In what ways do you push yourselves to keep growing and evolving as a band?
We continue to get together to make music, and go into the studio to make music, that we love. That may or may not involve growing/evolving – it’s certainly possible, as it’s a good time to rip and make loud rock’n’roll tunes that we love, that we don’t grow much – but we like to think that as we’re influenced by the bands we love and the world around us that we’re constantly pushing the envelope. Regardless, we do this because we love it and as long as that stays true, we’ll keep at it. If it’s not fun, why bother?
You guys have decided to operate as an independent band. What has that journey been like for you so far? So many bands feel like they have to sign with a major label to “make it” but end up losing a lot of their creative control. What have some of your biggest challenges and accomplishments and what are your goals going forward?
That is borne from having alternative choices and the fact that making music is not a largely profitable endeavor these days. In Zr. King, we all have careers. We all are a part of this band because we love making music and love getting together in rehearsal and ripping at max volume. It would be amazing if we could do this for a living, but we’re not hedging bets that that will materialize and change our way of life. Today, you can make a killer record on a very reasonable budget. A record label isn’t there to tell you what to listen to. So working with a label may be beneficial from a touring, alignment, or coordination perspective, but you don’t need to do it as an independent artist to get your tunes in front of people. Then again, we don’t couch surf and tour our asses off the way we used to, which is certainly something a label can help with. It’s a challenge.
What are your thoughts on the role of social media and streaming platforms in music today?
Two very different animals, but both are double edged swords. Social media platforms allow an artist to connect with immediacy – but would you really expect to connect that way? Streaming platforms are different in that the way people engage with and consume music is so different today. We’re on Spotify and Pandora, etc. – but not sure that’s the best approach towards music consumption. It may not be.
You will be playing your album release show at Arlene’s Grocery in NYC on May 16th! What can people expect from the show? Do you have anything special planned?
Insanity. Volume. We’re excited to get together with our friends and rip it up. We have a few tricks up our sleeve, mostly our drummer’s sleeve – it’s gonna be a blast, as always.
What’s next for the band? Do you have any tours or festivals coming up?
We have multiple summer shows planned, and another album we’re working through for future release. It may be out as soon as early next year!