INTERVIEW with HOT DAY AT THE ZOO – by Greg Allis
New England is a hotbed for upcoming talent. It is always a pleasure visiting Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine because I know there will be some sort of live music event occurring. Large or small, the musical environment in these states is always impressive, impassioned, and energetic.
Hot Day At The Zoo has made a name for themselves nationwide with their high energy genre blends, incorporating Folk, Blues, Jazz, Rock, and Americana into flowing, technical jams that draw the listener right in. The name of their most recent release, “Zoograss,” recorded live at The Waterhole in Saranac Lake, should give you an idea about what kind of energy and feel they are going for in their performances.
Therefore, when given the opportunity to witness Hot Day At The Zoo at Westcott Theatre on March 30th, I wasn’t about to say “No!” Cool guys they are, I was able to sit down with Michael, JT, Jon, and Jed to get to know the guys a bit better, discuss their live shows, talk about their writing process and approach, and gauge their excitement about being one of the main acts on this year’s Fiddler’s Picnic happening in June.
G- Hi guys and thank you for taking the time to speak with me for ! So, where do you all come from?
Michael – I come from Lowell, Mass where the band is based out of, and a couple of these guys are all southern New Hampshire cats, but we consider ourselves based in Lowell Mass.
Jon- Well, he does! (Laughter)
G- So it’s a struggle on the New England states right now!
JT- You know, it’s 3 against 1!
G- Hahahaha! How long has HDATZ been a group? How did everyone meet and when did you first get started?
Michael- I’ll take part A. We’ve been a group for 9 years. (To Jon) You can take part B.
Jon – I used to do an open mic thing and I met Mike. I started picking with them and then they picked me up there. And so basically the local music scene, in the Lowell area, we just kinda found a place there.
Michael- Jon was our dobro player for 3 years. He’s the dobro player on our first album.
G- How did you guys come up with the name of the group?
Michael- It was actually born the first day we ever played together at my dad’s house. Playing for hours on end, finally we took a break to go have a smoke and have some drinks. We went back into the room after playing and it fuckin’ reeked… It was just overwhelmingly putrid, and it was us. So somebody just said ‘It smells like a hot day at the zoo in here.’ And the funny thing is it was the middle of January… Freezing outside! So the name just stuck… we never let it go.
G- You are known for your energetic performances and your ability to draw influences from many different styles of music. By incorporating Bluegrass, Folk, Jazz, Americana, Rock and Roll, and many styles into your music, you have a fantastic overall reach… There is something for everyone! Was your goal to be limitless, or did the sound come about organically?
Jon – Organically.
Michael- Yea definitely organically. For the first few years there was almost no practice… It was all stage time. Until JT showed up, and he made us practice. (Laughter throughout).
G- Atta boy! Any particular bands that influence your style?
Michael- Well, Jed is a huge Village people fan!
At this point, Jed breaks out into an acoustic rendition of Y.M.C.A. Let it be known that HDATZ are very friendly, good time guys.
G- This is going on the bootleg, right here! Anyways… Your most recent release is titled “Zoograss,” on your own record label, INTA Records. The album was recorded live in Saranac Lake, NY at The Waterhole… Can you discuss why did you decided to record a live record? Tell me a bit about the experience.
Michael- I’d say the best thing about that experience is that we didn’t actually plan on it. It wasn’t like we went in and said ‘We’re going to record an album tonight.’ It just got recorded.
3 or 4 months later, the next time we were playing up there again, the house engineer said ‘I got this old recording last time you were here’ and he gave it to us. It was just a stereo recording, but he said he did it all multi-tracked. When we listened to it on the van ride home, it was pretty powerful, so we asked him if he still had the multi-tracked mixable version, and he said yes. So we bought it off of
him, and mixed it ourselves.
Jon- The whole show was a surprise!
G- Your website states that Jon (Cummings) and Michael (Dion) are the primary songwriters for HDATZ. Can you tell us a bit about what your writing process is like?
Jon- I think Mike and I probably write the same way. We come up with a basic format for a song… Hook, words, and chords… and we bring it to the band. Then JT and Jed start getting their hands on it, and we mould it as a group from there. Mike and I draw the lines, and those guys color it in.
G- FUCKIN’ TRACERS!
Room busts out in laughter again!
G- So, what does HDATZ have in the works for 2012? Are you currently working on any new recordings or trying to break into any new markets?
Michael- (Laughing) New bass player, new banjo.
Jon- We’ve been going down to Virginia and Washington D.C., so we are trying to hit down South, and then West. We are trying to do a 15-hour radius with the new markets we are trying to hit.
Michael- Michigan, Ohio…
G- Nice… Day trip! So, You are one of the main attractions at this year 1st ever Fiddler’s Picnic happening in June, and there are several incredible acts sharing the bill with you! What can you tell us about the difference between festival performances and your own club shows? Which do you prefer?
Michael- I think, generally speaking, festivals are just too much fun! You’re put in front of a huge audience that you typically wouldn’t get a chance to play in front of. When you headline your own show, you have people coming out to see just you, for the most part. So there is a connection between opening sets and festival slots where you’re in front of a lot of people who’ve never heard you before. They’re all cool, though. I don’t really differentiate… We just do our show!
G- Right on. I’m not sure if there is any consensus, but what is the most memorable show HDATZ has played to date? Can you tell us about the experience?
Michael- (Laughing) That one show where Jed took his clothes off… It happens all the time!
JT- “Zoograss” was great!
Jon- For me, one show that stands out is opening for David “Dawg” Grisman (Grateful Dead collaborator) in Portsmouth, NH at the Music Hall. We were firing on all cylinders and had a great time! The sound was incredible and we were received very well. We actually got a standing ovation from a “Dawg Crowd” which, to me, is pretty cool! Afterwards, we hung out with David for a little bit. The whole experience was pretty amazing!
G- Nice! Lastly, what advice could you give some of the young, up and coming bands in Upstate NY who are looking to become successful, professional musicians?
Michael- Don’t do what we do!
Room explodes in laughter.
Michael- No, just stay true to yourself. Don’t bend to anyone else’s will. Art should be limitless and unhindered. Don’t let anyone fuck with your shit.
JT- Quote him on that!
G- Michael Dion. Hot Day At The Zoo. Gangsta Rapper!
Michael- “Rolling down the street in my ‘64”
G- That’s awesome guys! Thank you very much!
Clearly, we all had good time! Check out a full review of the show in the upcoming Music Guide, and be on the lookout for these guys when they come to Fiddler’s Picnic… It’s going to be a wild one!