It is often said that the sound of one’s language can be found within the music they create. Sometimes we hear this in the movement of certain diatonic scales: the Klezmer, the Akebono, and Harmonic Minor patterns (to name but a few) all resonate with genuine, tangible cultural experience. The ears and imagination of the listener are instantly overtaken by perceived narrative and history, not just of their own, but often that of the composer’s as well.
With this in mind, perhaps it is within the realm of possibility that when an art-form is universally appreciated, it is when it manages to speak a different kind of language altogether. A language less based in the past, with roots firmly entrenched in something equally important: the future.
Since 2003, Venezuela’s beloved Zeta have successfully married various versions of post-hardcore, punk, and even math-rock to the drum-centric sound of their homeland and it’s surrounding areas. Between their emotional, tape-delay drenched walls of sound, the band effortlessly transforms itself into a benevolent hydra of pure 19th century polyrhythm: sometimes for several minutes. Not an ounce of emotion (or sweat) is sparred, and the accumulative effects are undeniable.
On the eve of releasing Mochima, the band’s newest album, singer and guitarist Juan Ricardo Yilo answered a few questions for us regarding their epic journey as a band, the finer qualities of atomic structure, and what it really means to be recognized for the things you stand for.
Zeta’s journey of course began in Venezuela, sometime in 2003. Since leaving Puerto La Cruz, you guys have referred to places like Argentina, Ecuador and most recently Florida as your homes away from home. What drives the band to travel the way that it does? Are they the same motivations you had as a band almost twenty years ago?
Juan: The drive comes from wanting to learn and share more about our selves, there’s a saying in our country that goes like “you have to get lost in the way to be able to find yourself again”, being able to travel across South America opened a gate inside of us to a whole new perception of identity, and we still feel the same way, even touring in the US. traveling is a great way of learning, and we find at home in many of the places we go because we reconnect with the essential feeling.
Polyrhythm is a huge part of the Zeta sound, with some of your powerful moments solely featuring multiple lines of percussion. Is it safe to assume everyone in the band is a fairly capable drummer?
Juan: Surely everyone in the band is very sensible to rhythms, I don’t know if we can say everyone is a drummer, but we share a huge passion for percussion.
You’ve been on the road in North America for nearly five years straight, and arrived just in time to watch one of the most chaotic and disassembled versions of the United States unfold. How would you compare the last few years in the States to the previous five years you spent in South America? How is connecting to one audience different from connecting to the other?
Juan: Without planning it we are always situated in the places that we have to be, if we were to say Zeta’s music is a huge factor for positive change in the community we’d also say is the best time to be in the US, cause is the best time to proclaim unity, so it really make a lot of sense that we are currently here sharing our message with the communities across America. I think is not that different from South American audiences, in the end is the same heart and the same struggle.
In 2017 you released Magia Infina, met with near universal praise from countries all over the world. After winning a few awards back in the day, (Best Metal Artist Distorxion Awards 2011, Best International Artist Projection Union Rock Show 2013) do you find being recognized for your work means the same thing to you? Or is it more important that people see what the band is fighting for?
Juan: I think for all of us is really important that the people see the band for what we are fighting for, we feel grateful with the recognition but the awards doesn’t define us, our social and political values are a huge core of the art we do, so I think we all prefer people to remember us for the things we stand for.
You guys also set out to create some of the most heartbreaking, impassioned, and meaningful music available, with many of your interviews referring to intentions of healing and dissolving barriers. Is there a fine art to balancing the act of screaming your lungs out and being some of the nicest people on Earth?
Juan: I don’t know if we are the nicest people, but I believe we like to put our heart in to anything we do, music-wise, friendship-wise, it’s just part of who we are, we like to do things with a lot of passion so I guess that’s how our different colors and shades balance each other.
Has there ever been a crowd particularly hard to connect with?
Juan: During the whole time we’ve been a band, yes, we’ve encountered and experienced many different types of crowds, some of them we’ll connect more then others.
How does the band decide on what visual elements to bring to things like music videos, tour posters, and album art?
Juan: Since day one the band have had a lot of interest in graphic and visual elements to express along the music, we try to curate the project as much as we can in every way, and we enjoy art as a whole, designs, screenprinting, merch, tour posters and videos are just more outlets to express, and we normally all get together to chose different visual concepts for new ideas, is one of those things we really enjoy doing.
Zeta is also fairly well known for cooking for large amounts of people in addition to themselves. I have a feeling I know what the answer is, but maybe I can inspire a little friendly competition here: when it comes to vegan cooking, which of you’s got the most skills?
Juan: Chef Dani, of course! In the world there’s food, and there’s Dani’s food haha, there’s not much else to say, when it comes to Dani’s cooking, food speaks for itself, and we all get together to enjoy vegan feast even when we are not on tour. So food is our way of partying and celebrating and I think if we could we’d share that blessing of having Dani on board with the vegan food with every friend at every show.
Are there any traditionally meaty Miami specialties you can maybe offer a vegan spin on? I had no idea zucchini noodles were a thing until a couple years ago. I am still ashamed of this.
Juan: There’s plenty of Miami and Latin meaty food that we could give an spin on. Cuban sandwiches, vegan ropa vieja, vegan arepas and all sorts of delicious dishes that is making me hungry just to think of hahaha.
For people in bands wanting to go on tour but also try their hand at packing a reliable vegan snack food, what would you suggest? And what would you NOT bring?
Juan: Me personally I suggest all kind of nuts and power food, and a lot of water, it’s so important to stay hydrated during tour!!! And I will say try not to bring stuff that will die in the first day, try thinking about things that will do good in heated climate or stashed in a touring van and won’t get bad the very first day!
Earlier we were talking about how the heavy use of traditional Caribbean drums and percussion sections permeate your music; when you write, do you consciously look for a focal point at which you say “Stop! This is where we all play drums!” or it just part of the magic?
Juan: Is a little mix of both, playing afro Caribbean beats is a very magical feeling, it will get you in a cool trance, so I think when ever we have the opportunity of jumping in to the percussion we take it. For me for example every time I play the congas I’m even surprise of the sound I’m making myself, it moves every inch of my body just to listen to the drums and being part of the ritual of drumming all together. One of the parts that I’m looking more forward during our shows for sure.
They say that humans recognize rhythm faster than they recognize melody. Do you think it’s because we’re all secretly a bunch of vibrating atoms? Or maybe it’s a little more spiritual than that?
Juan: I think from the minute we are conceived we are exposed to rhythm, the heart beats, the sounds around us, the nature, every where you go you are surrounded by rhythmic patterns. So I think that’s a huge reason why everyone is sensible to rhythms like that. There’s also something very primal about moving your body to the sound of percussive elements, it definitely move your heart and soul too, so I guess you can say it also affects you spiritually very much. I got to say you nailed with the vibrating atoms cause it makes huge sense and it sound beautiful the way you put it.
Almost in the same vein, sometimes musical genres can accomplish the opposite of what they mean to. A lot of people imagine the same snappy little waltz when we hear someone say ‘jazz’ for instance. But what can you tell me about “future jazz?” And how close is that to math rock?
Juan: It’s extremely close to math rock! For us defining our sound as future jazz is more about politically standing or tagging our music as something as pure and intelligent as jazz, but saying it’s radicalized and open like modern musical expressions, math rock is definitely an awesome way of describing that same musical feeling as well.
What was it like playing Audiotree, and what made you decide to work with R. Brok Mende on the new album? Was he working the board when you performed?
Juan: Playing Audiotree was one of the most re-comforting experiences in all ways, one of those dreams come true type of things. And yes, Brok was working the sound board that day and we became such great friends, it felt so natural to work with him. And I like to think it was the same for him, we hit it off so good since day one that we had to get together to record a whole album. Brok is also one of the most talented and beautiful human beings we’ve had the opportunity of working with, he was so helpful for this album, and how everything worked out.
I’m sure you guys miss home a lot with all the traveling. Does that nostalgia get bigger or smaller the longer you are away from Venezuela?
Juan: The nostalgia will only get bigger, there’s no way of shrinking that feeling, but we also feel more and more part of these communities that we fostered in the US, and that feeling is also getting bigger with time.
The new album is called “Mochima,” which from what I can tell is one of the most beautiful places on Earth and home to a ton of amazing animals. Is there a particular relationship between the new album and this coastal wonderland?
Juan: Yes! Mochima expresses sonically and lyrically who we are and where we came from. “Bahia de mochima” is a natural reservoir in which our hometown is located at, and everything that touched us while growing up is condensed in that album.
How would you say the new album compares to the records you’ve done before?
Juan: It is different from all of the records before, but it will also have little elements from all of them. It’s like the quintessence of our music so far.
If Zeta could go on a fully funded tour with the express purpose of showing off cool Venezuelan bands you think more people need to hear, who would you bring?
Juan: I don’t know if it counts as a band, but if I could bring a group of Venezuelan people on tour, it would be my family from over there!!!