Arizona's Authority Zero has been making music for going on 20 years -- but not without some roadblocks. Various battles with record companies and management types have resulted in lineup changes that would have permanently crippled most bands.
Somehow, though, singer Jason DeVore has kept some form of Authority Zero going over that time span. The band's 2010 release, Stories of Survival, chronicles the band's struggles within the music industry.
Playing an enjoyable amalgam of punk, ska and reggae, Authority Zero should not have ever had to experience the problems they have. Nonetheless, the band has lived to tell its tale -- and very effectively, at that.
Speaking from a tour stop in Iowa and in anticipation of tonight's show at the House of Blues' Cambridge Room,we caught up with DeVore to ask him about his band's long journey.
When you first started the band, did you think it would make it almost two decades?
We've been going for 16 years. Is that right? Yes, I started the band in the summer of '94, although we had a brief stoppage in '95. I had no idea whatsoever that we would make it together so long. Back then, I couldn't conceive of any band I was in lasting this long.
The band is based in Arizona, but aren't you originally from Wyoming?
My parents split up when I was very young and my mom moved to Wyoming where I stayed, pretty much, until I was 15. In the summers, I would stay with my dad back in Phoenix and Mesa. All the guys in the band lived in the same complex as my dad. I started taking guitar lessons, just messing around with some guys and then a band was formed.
Were you worried that with a name like Authority Zero, most people would think you were a straight up punk band?
No, not really. When we first started, we were just a bunch of punk kids getting together and banging our instruments. We all listened to other stuff, so the reggae and ska stuff started creeping into our sound. We were all skaters so we thought we were making skater music.
There are some definite Spanish themes in some of your songs. Where do those elements come from?
Our bassist, Jeremy Wood, studied Spanish in high school and into college. And, in Arizona, you're exposed to a lot of Spanish culture so it made sense to start using some of those influences. It definitely added a different edge to our music. It made us stick out from the crowd a little bit. By incorporating different sounds, we added new things to the mix.
Why do you think the 2002 album, A Passage in Time, is the one most fans point to as Authority Zero's best album?
The execution has something to do with it. Also, our label did a great job getting the record out to a lot of different places. More people had access to our music than ever before. The songs we chose for that album were just really good, summertime kind of songs. I think a lot of positive elements came together.
There are some great bands from Arizona, including Giant Sand and The Meat Puppets. Are you conscious of the state's musical heritage?
You know, I didn't really notice all the cool bands that come from here. You hear so much about bands from Southern California, all those punk bands and all that. There's certainly something different about the bands that come from Arizona. They have to dig themselves out of the dirt.
Whose idea was it to cover Wall of Voodoo's "Mexican Radio"?
One of our producers suggested it. Then the label got behind the idea. It took us a long time to get that song right. We wanted to release that as a single, but for whatever reason, it never came out as a single. But I was really happy how it came out. I like the feel of it. It's a good song to begin with. That always helps.
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You still do the song live?
Definitely. We do it all of the time.
Is your most recent album, Stories of Survival, about the band's struggles with the music industry?
Yes, from the beginning, we've had a bad relationship with labels and people in the industry. It's a dog eat dog thing. The bottom line with major labels is, if you don't sell enough records, it's not going to be good for you. We had a big contract to make two records. The first one didn't sell very well and then the label just did the bare minimum on the second one. Of course, it didn't work out and we were dropped by that label. Our next label suffered from really bad management and we had to get out of that situation as well. After awhile, it's about staying alive and just surviving. It's about grinding it out, getting to play live, getting on to the next city. Through it all, we're still here and we're still playing.
Seeing that the band has had more ex-members than current members, the years have taken their toll.
Well, we've only had two guitar players. And now we have our original bassist, Jeremy, back in the band, and that makes a lot of difference. To have Jeremy back, that's just amazing. When you've had different members, it really changes the dynamic, especially on stage. Sometimes, it would start to feel like a different band, like an Authority Zero cover band. But when Jeremy came back, it felt right again.