Turning the corner: AZP releases new album ‘Triangles’; Primal Waters, Mr. Smith Acoustic partner for dynamic split record; Marty McMOON drops funky one-take music video; POLIÇA tonight at The Waiting Room

Turning the corner: AZP releases new album ‘Triangles’

story by Gabriella Parsons

[AZP releases Triangles Friday, March 11 at The Bourbon with BOTH and Mesonjixx. Show is 18-plus and starts at 9 p.m. RSVP here. Listen to the premiere of “All Alone” below.]

It’s 3 a.m. one winter morning and instead of walking home from the bars, AZP frontman Zach Watkins stumbles up the stairs of Parrish Studios on creative whim, a quiet studio encouraging his drunken, artistic state. Watkins wrote an early rendition of “Water” that morning, giving rise to the final track on AZP’s new EP Triangles.

There were plenty of other moments that Watkins said helped spawn the new record, from roaming the colorful streets of Puerto Vallarta to listening to Carlos Santana and Otis Redding to cruising through town in an old beat up Pontiac Bonneville with bandmate Ishma Valenti.

“[Triangles is] like if Otis and Carlos took a cruise in a 1970s drop top Impala around East L.A,” Watkins said.  

This joyride that Watkins dreams of could perhaps be inspired by the ones he took with Valenti in their early days of making music. After years of experiencing the utmost highs and the lowest lows, the AZP six-piece confronts change and finds a Latin flare in its “ride-along” EP.

Read on for a Q&A with Watkins, where he explains how a trip to Mexico turned into a cultural five song arrangement, how a drunken writing session turned into a staple song for the group and how the pain of losing one band member turned into an opportunity to gain another.  

Hear Nebraska: A triangle, by definition, is determined by a specific set of rules and perimeters. Triangles, however, doesn’t seem to be matched by these same constraints. Rather, it is boundless and free flowing. How did the idea of a triangle influence this album’s sense of artistry and creativity?

Zach Watkins: There’s something very powerful about clean straight lines, in unison of three. About three months ago a friend sent me this poem about the “circle of life”. It references life’s seasons, and how we slide into the next chapters in our lives. I get it, I understand that view. But to me, our seasons are a bit more prominent, more straightforward. Personally, I don’t always just “roll off” into a new defining chapter in life. I tend to turn the corner, whether it be a positive or negative season. I started seeing our seasons placed as triangles. Three defining points, whether it be personalities, issues, gifts, curses, and/or struggles. We’re all made up of specific attributes that define our season we’re presently in. The album Triangles describes our present moment in life, and how I’m looking to turn the corner.

HN:  Triangles is the second EP you’ve released in the past year. What’s the motivation behind [such frequency]?

ZW: Albums tell stories. The best ones narrow down a certain issue, feeling, and time period. From the cover art to the instrumentation, albums are made to bring the listener inside the musician’s life, allowing the listener to vibe and relate it to their own lives. When I find an album I like, I usually don’t play anything else until that thing gets old. That can sometimes last a year. We’re passionate about all of that. Creating a collection of emotions, lyrics, artwork, and specific instrumentation that can hopefully strongly relate to someone else’s life.

HN: Your previous record emulated sounds of the past, from Clapton to Hendrix and grooves of the 60s. Where does Triangles draw its inspiration from?

ZW: The sounds and vibes of classic rock and soul will always be the foundation of AZP. How we present that foundation or which classic musicians inspire us at the time is the only thing that presents itself differently. Triangles was inspired by the Latin rock of Carlos Santana and the soulful melodies of Otis Redding. It’s like if Otis and Carlos took a cruise in a 1970s drop top Impala around East L.A. Sonically, we wanted to create something a more contemporary and “popular” to the ear. Red Moon was designed to sound like an old 45. Keeping things narrow, the instruments dirty, dry and raw. Triangles has a bit more cleanness on the guitars. We really focused on the drum tones and wrapped the rest of the instruments around that. It makes the album more vibey, more “ride-along”.

HN: There seems to be a lot of Latin influence behind this record, particularly the lucha mask on the album art and the Spanish percussions/dialect in songs like “Maria.” What was your inspiration for doing this?

ZW: My first trip to Mexico had an amazing effect on me. I remember walking through the old city of Puerto Vallarta and just taking in all the raw, historic culture. I was so intrigued by the slum areas, the wild dogs, little girls sewing and selling dolls. It was powerful. Latin and Afro-Cuban style jazz is such a prominent style, but before I went to Mexico the only connection I had to Latin culture was their music and few friends I grew up with. AZP pretty much makes it a purpose to represent minority culture. So when I told the band I wanted to create a soul-rock album with a Latin feel, they were all very excited.

HN: Some people will recognize “Water” from the Red Moon release show and other live sets. What influenced the decision to include the track on Triangles versus the previous record?

ZW: “Water” was a song I wrote years ago after a late drunk night on the town. To this day, I remember walking upstairs to our shop in Parrish Studios at three in the morning, heavily intoxicated and banging through that mesmerizing bass line on the piano. When I started writing Red Moon I was so connected to the five songs that every other song I’d written prior was placed aside. I’m the type that doesn’t usually like to use old songs for a present project. All my songs are written at a specific time, for a specific moment, and I don’t like to recreate specific feelings and emotions. We started playing around with “Water” during our rehearsals. It really began to become an AZP staple at our shows. When I started writing for Triangles I was hugely inspired by old westerns. The cowboys trotting into an unfamiliar town, walking into the saloons, where everything and anything happens. “Water” fit so perfect with the blues of Triangles, and recording it live, all together as a band, was the most natural, organic way to present such a song.

HN: You’ve now worked with Philip Zach at The Grid Studio on two records. What has this experience been like?

ZW: A studio or engineer can have the greatest equipment, the best technology, awards here and there, etc., but if their vibe and true interest in your project is not there, then all that other stuff doesn’t matter. Philip provides all of that. He’s as passionate about his studio, his career and his credibility as much as he is with every project I’ve came to him with. He takes full responsibility in the sound and success in our albums. Philip has become like a seventh band member for us. He’s truly a big brother of mine, a mentor. The guy really knows how to be both a leader and a listener, and that’s what you want out of your engineer and producer. Such an awesome experience both times.

HN: James Fleege recently took on a position to tour with Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal. Was it difficult to lose someone who played an integral role in both the live and recorded aspects of the band?

ZW: Fleege, “Raw Dog”, as we call him. Yeah, we’ll always have mad respect for James. Everyone can see and hear how amazing he is at the bass, but what intrigues me most about Fleege is his true musicianship. He’s minimal when the song seeks it and he can rip on the other hand. He’s the type of bassist that listens to every other instrument in the band and fits his tone and style around that. He understands what the bass does for a song and it’s like he’s mixing and engineering with as he plays. We were shocked when Fleege told us he was going to leave us. He became a family member and definitely helped mold the true sound that we seek to present. So, having Fleege leave, at the time, felt like we lost a chunk of AZP. But we’ve been blessed once again. Finding another young, hungry, talented bass player. John Fucinaro is a force to be reckoned with. Not only is he a talented, passionate bassist, he’s always been a big fan of AZP. He jumped in knowing exactly what we were in search of and has done an amazing job so far. Since John came in and save the day, the tears from Fleege leaving have all dried up.

HN: In the same light, what’s it been like to gain a new band member, bassist John Fucinaro?

ZW: I couldn’t be more proud of John. Since our first rehearsal with him, he knew all five songs of Red Moon by heart. I remember starting up “Be Good Be Careful” at rehearsal and waiting for a time where he wouldn’t know the part and we’d have to stop the song. Nope. All the way through. John studies and rehearses because he knows how prominent the bass is in AZP. On top of learning last year’s EP, he then takes on all the newly written bass parts for Triangles and tracks his first album as the new AZP bassist. And as you probably heard, those bass lines on Triangles are no cake walk. They’re tough. A bit more tough than that of Red Moon. With this album being more of grooves and jams, the bass lines I’ve written are bit all over the place. John came in and knocked them out in two days of tracking. John is truly a lifesaver. Ready and willing to tour, rehearse, anything and everything AZP needs of him, he’s ready and prepared. Much love and respect to good old “Johnny Boy”.

HN: After the recording process was over, was there a track that unexpectedly stood out, or did you already have a favorite?

ZW: I kind of always have a favorite song before it ever gets tracked fully. “All Alone,” right off the bat, shows exactly the vision I have for this EP, mixing soul-rock with strong Latin music influence [Editor’s note: the song premieres below]. Making old style music contemporary can be difficult at times, but that song just naturally does that. “All Alone” takes me back to my early 20s when me and Ish would ride around town in this beat up Bonneville he used to have. Young, hard headed, and chasing success to the edge. Although the song kind of has a dark connotation, it’s “ridin'” music and really fun to nod and dance to.

HN: It’s clear from the track “Austin City” that you’ve had a lot of influential moments there, including your time spent at SXSW. How many years has AZP played at SXSW, and in what ways has attending influenced your art?

ZW: What’s cool about that song is that yes, it does have a reference toward us and our trips to SXSW. To this day, 2014’s trip to SXSW has been one of our favorite performances, headlining Spring Break ATX to a sold out Roof Top On 6th during the last day of the festival. It’s a memory we’ll forever hold deep inside our hearts. That trip really brought us together as a band. On the other hand, “Austin City” is actually inspired by an old western TV show called Laramie. In one of the episodes, Jess, the co-star cowboy, wants to head South and rebuild his life. The song is about heading to a place that “rids you of your sins”. A place no one can judge or point fingers because they don’t quite know your name. Austin felt like that to me. By the end of this trip to SXSW, we’ll have five showcases under our belts. That’s very exciting to even say.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Primal Waters, Mr. Smith Acoustic partner for dynamic split record

If acoustic guitar appears on a thrash metal record at all, it’s often an afterthought or brief reprieve between thrusting riffs and punishing drums. But for the new Primal Waters-Mr. Smith Acoustic collaboration, the two are hand in hand.

The Lincoln metal band and Grand Island-based singer/songwriter Tyler Smith drop new split record Melancholy Vs Metal this Friday. Smith and members of Primal Waters have been close for roughly a decade and frontman Chris Schoenberg says the project was a fun, new way to collaborate.

We’re kind of each other’s biggest fans,” Schoenberg says. “It is a little weird smashing together an acoustic singer/songwriter and a metal band on a split, but a lot of our fans/friends are the same people. The black t-shirt and beard crowd is bigger than one music genre.”

Melancholy Vs Metal brings a slight twist to the traditional split. Each act recorded one track of its own and one cover of the other. In the record’s middle, they teamed up to write and record two tracks, one of which was released late last month.

The six-song EP is Primal Waters’ third output in as many years, and Smith’s second. They recorded with Patrick A. Musilek at Studio B Ltd. in Omaha, going to Sean Joyce of Sean Joyce Audio for mastering. The album’s cover literally depicts the split. Dillon Steinike, who designed art for Primal Waters’ Dichotomy and Recrudescence, designed one half, while Texas artist Erika Jane designed Mr. Smith’s side.

Both acts celebrate the release this Friday at The Spigot, 1624 O St, with Bloodrail and Pure Brown (RSVP here). They play the next night at Kearney bar Gillie’s, 1822 Central Ave, with Broken Arrow, Okla., act Smokestack Relics and McCook’s El Jefe (RSVP here).

“We’ve had 120 people through the door at Gillie’s before, which really packs that tiny bar,” Schoenberg says. “There is a die-hard group of local music fans out in south central and southwest Nebraska. It makes a ton of sense for us to play out that way.”

Sample the album with its first track, “Pennies,” below:

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Marty McMOON drops funky one-take music video

Lincoln Electro-pop artist Cole Shoemaker (as Marty McMOON) has released a brand new music video, “Yours or Mine,” shot all in one take at a local church. He and two friends rigged up a light fixture, brought in a family friend to dance and churned it out in two tries. Shoemaker says they didn’t spend a single dollar on the video.

We were really happy with the turnout for a couple of kids with a cheap camera, tape, and an idea,” Shoemaker says.

Marty McMOON last performed in December for Boximus Maximus, and is currently recording an EP set to release this summer. Shoemaker says he’s also collaborating with Omaha singer/songwriter CJ Mills on a track. Seems like there could be some potential there, given the grooves in “Yours or Mine.”

Watch the full video below:

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Concert Round-Up

Tonight, Poliça plays The Waiting Room with CLARA-NOVA. The former, Minneapolis-based electronica act released United Crushers March 4 on Mom+Pop Records. Dark, eerie and politically charged, it’s a leap forward for the project and a return to the road after an extended break last year. CLARA-NOVA is French-American singer/songwriter Sydney Wayser. RSVP to the 9 p.m. show here.

For a fuller listing of events, head to our statewide calendar here. If you do not see your show or one you plan to attend, email us at news@hearnebraska.org or tell us in the comments.

Andrew Stellmon is Hear Nebraska's managing editor. Reach him with news tips and story ideas at news@hearnebraska.org.