INTERVIEW: Citizen Zero at NAMM 2017
Citizen Zero is a Detroit rock outfit. The high-energy band “deliver arena-size hits fueled by intricate musicianship” on its full-length debut, State of Mind preceded by the 2012 release of their first independent EP, Life Explodes. Citizen Zero’s expansive sound strikes a balance between an “edgy grunge attitude like the Stone Temple Pilots and bluesy alternative reminiscent of Kings of Leon.” At NAMM 2017, SoCalMusicToday.com spoke to the entire band in person, including vocalist Josh LeMay, lead guitar Sammy Boller, drummer John Dudley and bassist Sam Collins, to discuss both their philosophy as a band, their full-length album and independent EP, playing live, performing alongside established artists and bands, obvious pride they have being from Detroit, as well as what NAMM means to them as musicians and the greater meaning of being part of a community of creative people where everyone gets and understands each other and more.
Citizen Zero has an interesting philosophy. No one is better than anyone but one person can change the world. How did the band come to that conclusion and you all must have put a lot of thought into that?
We’re still kind of living because we’re in an industry where there are about a million of us. Being a musician is a pretty daunting task. So without that mindset of you can change your fate or destiny, we would have given up a long time ago. That’s kind of where it came from.
How does the band feel it is bringing musicianship back? Do you feel there is a lack of it on the music scene? When did it go away in your opinion?
I don’t know if it’s gone away. When you listen to bands like Van Halen or Stone Temple Pilots, it seems like a lot of those bands drew from different influences. It came through in their music. You can listen to interviews with those guys, they drew influences from Motown to old blues to Led Zeppelin and Hendrix and the obvious ones, it showed their music was more musical than this one dimensional sound. I think rock has been in a weird place. It hasn’t necessarily forgotten its roots but it’s let a lot of things slide under the radar. It’s easier to fake these days. People buy into things that aren’t as authentic.
Back in the day, you weren’t going to get away being a big band if you couldn’t go out and perform. Nowadays not that every band can’t perform, there are a lot that kind of half ass it. There was a band we toured with that told us: “You can’t expect to sing every night.” Meaning he is going to sing some nights to track because in his mind he can’t sing every night. That’s just nuts. That is the most mental thing I have ever heard of. We hate that.
Do you find that type of comment kind of insulting and disingenuous?
Yes very. Yes without a doubt. It’s insane.
Personal tragedy as well as headlines ripped from the news seem to influence the band lyric’s. Can you talk more about that in crafting the lyrics of the songs?
It’s not so much tragedy. We are a band bred from chaos. We made it through so much stuff even before we made it to the limelight. Lyrically, we were never not going to tell that story. So when somebody asks what song embodies the record, lyrically it is “Love Let It,” because it lets your dreams lead you into something you are not going to have a Plan B for. You are going to do it no matter what. It goes back to the theme of everything has “No Plan B.”
The band is from Detroit. Did you grow up listening to bands and artists from the city that really grabbed you musically and in attitude? How did they speak to your sensibilities and resonate?
We have a lot to live up to coming from Detroit and the Motown days – Bob Seeger to Ted Nugent. Say what you will about Ted Nugent but I love him. It’s kind of like a feeling with Detroit. No bullshit. You have had some of the greatest musicians of all time come out of Detroit. If you suck, Detroit doesn’t let you out of its grasp. They will tell you and you will be there forever. We are not letting you out of Detroit and letting you tell people you are from Detroit. You have to meet a certain standard. The bands that are hated from Detroit, generally suck.
How did the band come together and meet?
It was through one mutual friend. We grew up in a small town. You always want to be in a band and play music and have a close, tight group of friends. Someone says: “You should meet so and so.” It just kind of progressed from there.
There is obviously a great chemistry and personality wise within the band?
For sure. We wouldn’t have made it this far without that.
The band has released one EP Life Explodes and now a full-length debut album, State of Mind. Has there been a lot of change and stylistic growth like a progression of sorts between both efforts?
I would hope so, For sure. Life Explodes was written during a time we were young and trying to figure stuff out. We were trying to sound like something else instead of finding our own sound. Maybe because we felt we had to. We fought these other wounds coming out of us because they didn’t match these three songs we had to do. Eventually you start growing up. As you stop giving a shit what people think, people start gravitating toward that. Or maybe the sound we started developing, people just liked. The sound off of State if Mind is very much us sitting in a room and seeing what comes out versus trying to achieve something. It was very natural. It’s like organically coming up with something rather than chemically. I’m sure the next record will be different from State of Mind. Even if it is a little different, it will still be us.
We will be able to play live and it will be crazy. We deliver the record but there is some stuff we deliver that is different. We are not putting in a CD or IPod on and playing along with it. Every night we like to think is different than the night before because that is what a show should be. The album is going to live as it is forever. But that is not how the show has to be. I’ve done shows and then in a day, I know like the next day, it’s an even bigger show. I’ve played head games with myself thinking I have to be careful tonight because tomorrow night I have to sing again. I stopped doing that because I realized that there is not one person in one town that deserves a different show. Audiences deserve our all every single night. We go out and no matter what, we deliver a kick-ass show. Different not in a bad way.
The band has opened for major artists and groups like Kid Rock, ZZ Top and Halestorm. What was that experience like playing in front massive audiences? Did you learn anything from those acts or taken anything away opening for them?
You always take away a little bit no matter what. It’s a very cancerous thing to start comparing yourself to those people all the time and why they do that and why don’t I do that. You always pick up on little things. I learned from Kid Rock that there is no such thing as too far. Everything he does is too much really but it works. People gravitate toward that because he is not afraid. That’s how it needs to be. People can shove off it they don’t like what we do. They were never really our fans anyways.
How involved is the band in conceptualizing videos?
Now very. The first one was a little bit of us and mostly we got to get a video. We are learning as we go. Now we have a lot of creative control. We draw creatively from the lyrics themselves and it’s a collaborative thing. We are musicians not video makers.
Do you enjoy writing songs and being in the studio or touring live more and why?
Writing songs and working in the studio is just preparing for playing live. It’s nice to have both. The studio time is a nice change of pace from playing a show every day. Playing shows is a nice change of place from sitting in the studio every day. You need both.
What are some cool things to do in Detroit?
All of it. Eat, Drive fast, Blow stop signs and red lights because that doesn’t matter. Go to underground clubs, Explore. There are a lot of sites to see. I saw something that said Detroit is one of the number one most underrated food cities. There are Crazy sushi restaurants because we are a port town. Michigan is the third largest beer maker. There’s BBQ, Middle-Eastern food. If you go to Detroit, you have to look at the architecture. They gave us some of the most amazing buildings in the Downtown area. It’s way cooler than everybody thinks. Win or lose, we are still diehard fans of Detroit.
Is this your first time at NAMM? What do you like best about it and why are you here?
It’s our second time at NAMM. This is our industry so these are the tools of our trade. We need to be here to keep up on all the new stuff and we build relationships with our representatives. We have a growing list since we have come to NAMM. Ernie Ball, Elixir, Friedman Amps, Dunlop, JH Audio. We met with two different guitar companies in the last four hours. It’s a matter of getting in face time. The music industry is about who you know and what hand to shake. I enjoy seeing other musicians and artists we have toured alongside with, too. NAMM has amazing musicians and brings out the prodigies. Those guys must have sat in their bedrooms since they were four years old until well after high school and played their instrument and honed their craft, it’s just ridiculous. It’s a blast to be with people in your industry. They get us.