By Nicole Fitzgerald
What: Outdoor Concert Series
When: Saturday, April 14
Where: Skier’s Plaza
When I saw Zilla at the now-closed Boot Pub last year, it was like stepping inside Einstein’s brain and watching how all those cogs and wheels turned to create new ideas and formulas that would forever change the way we go about and view life.
The Colorado band is doing the same for music. A Zilla concert experience truly is a new way to look at music.
What other band willingly steps to a stage with no songs, let alone a song list, and produces electronica music on instruments literally hundreds of years old, without a synthesizer — and does so to audiences in the thousands, for more than four years.
“It’s improv the whole time; we still don’t have a song we can call out after four years,” said musician Jamie Janover after a sound check for a Zilla show in California earlier this week.
Sure bands find new discoveries within a genre, but to truly call music original, a new performance genre would have to be created.
Zilla has made that E=MC-squared discovery and is going where no band (at least in North America) has ever gone before by creating the band, their music, their career on really nothing at all.
No songs, no set lists and most importantly no noodling around; this band is about nothing, nothing but pure genius and technical prowess that can make matter out of seemingly empty space.
This is not, I repeat, not a jam band. The only term I can come up with to describe the Zilla experience is something similar to pure adrenaline, both for the musicians and the listeners.
So let’s break down the improvisational equation to better understand how Zilla works.
The American boys are made up of the former driving percussive force behind The String Cheese Incident, Michael Travis along with Aaron Holstein and Janover. Janover recorded eight hammer dulcimer (Indian stringed instrument) albums and played with the likes of Phish, New Monsoon, Keller Williams and Garaj Mahal. Holstein spans instruments ranging from bass, keyboard and sampling to scatting and beat boxing, and he has also played with the likes of Boogie Shoes and VibeSquad.
The Zilla vibe is catching on, with a quick stopover in Japan in between covering the North American festival circuit last year, including selling out the Great Music Hall in San Francisco.
Now touring is exhausting: traveling all day, set up, sound checks, show and tear down, and back in the van to clock more miles on the speedometer. But add never knowing what to expect and that fear of creating something from nothing, the live-or-die concentration crucial to a Zilla show doesn’t allow musicians to take a quick mental break by getting lost in a set song played night after night. It’s adrenaline rush from start to finish night after night.
“That is pretty much our feeling every second,” Janover said. “You are playing and you have to make a decision every nano-second where your hand falls next. That is the beauty of improv. You have to listen to your bandmates and react. Ideally we listen first and play second. It’s mentally exhausting.” And makes sound checks always interesting.
Instead of one or two instruments, band members play up to three or four instruments at a time, filling out their sound to six-band-members proportions.
“It can really sound full and fresh,” Janover said. “We’ve never heard anything sound like us. When we get into a flow, we can play forever.”
It will be a forever week in Whistler with Zilla joining forces with Bassnectar to just add even more of a challenge, with the international turntable talent improvising along for the Big Air event on the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival concert mainstage on Saturday, April 14 in Skier’s Plaza.
Travis and Janover will also be joining forces with Jason Hann, another String Cheese Incident band member, for an EotOver show based solely on live looping on Tuesday, April 10 at the Garibaldi Lift Company. Tickets are $15/$20.