Preaching from the choir: The Zolas explore their musical evolution

a/Arts & Entertainment/Music by

When I called to interview Zachary Gray of The Zolas, he was in a line deciding on a pastry to buy in Toronto. Since September, after stops in Toronto and Hamburg, Germany, they’ve been on a Canada-wide tour. Now, Zolas is embarking on a 30-day tour with Ottawa’s Hollerado and Toronto’s Pup, reaching Montreal on Oct. 18th. Gray and his band mate, Tom Dobrzanski, first met in the British Columbia Boys’ Choir before forming Lotus Child and, eventually, The Zolas together.

“Our chemistry has always been a pretty classic duo where one person is a very detailed thinker and one person is a big picture thinker and that’s sort of how we are. Tom has a mind-boggling detailed mind,” Gray explained. To elaborate on this idea, he felt it was necessary to identify Tom’s spirit animal as a dog.

As for himself: “I’m not a detailed person—although I’m working on that. I’m more of someone who just knows how they want something to feel. So together that’s how we approach things. I would write the big brushstrokes, and he would fill the details. But that’s always changing. [.…] Now it’s a lot more of an orgy of a bunch of talented people.”

Based in Vancouver, BC, The Zolas’ music is best characterized as indie piano-pop. Last year, they released their second album, Ancient Mars, after their debut album, Tic Toc Tic, achieved praise in 2009.

“We had been listening to a lot of The Kinks, and they have a very organic sound. It sounds just like a band in a room kicking the s*** out of their songs. And that’s what we wanted for Tic Toc Tic [.…] For the second album, we wanted the opposite of that. We wanted to create a false atmosphere—aesthetics that wouldn’t normally exist that sound very interesting in your headphones, but nothing that you can produce right away with a four-piece band. We’ve been listening to a lot more produced music like Gorillaz and Beck and Spoon, and we wanted to sound like that.”

Gray has a personal attachment to the Montreal stop on his tour: his mother grew up in the city, and “Local Swan” is written from the perspective of his brother, a Concordia fine arts graduate and roommate of singer-songwriter Sean Nicholas Savage.

“We’re going to be really happy to be there—especially in Montreal [.…] Canada is a very charming country, but in a lot of ways, there are only three proper cities, and Montreal is sort of the biggest jewel in that crown, so playing in Montreal is always a fun thing and an honour.”

As excited as they are to perform in Montreal, they are equally excited about spending time in the van. Normally, the band spends their tour downtime watching cover videos of their songs, but this time, they plan to develop new skills. Gray will spend the month studying to speak Spanish fluently, while bass player James Younger is planning to make electronic beats with a digital audio workstation.

Gray offered some advice to aspiring musicians: “be the best at what you’re doing. Don’t think about the industry [.…] Don’t think about the business—just think about being the best at what you’re doing.”

He appears to be taking his own words to heart.

“We’ve always had high-minded ideas of what we’re going to do and never followed through, but this time, we’re following through. Mark my words, McGill Tribune.” Words marked.

This Friday, extend a “hola” to Zach, witness Tom’s inner Husky, and be entwined in the Zola’s out-of-this-world musical atmosphere.

The Zolas can be seen on Oct. 18th at the Cabaret du Mile End. Tickets are $29.