Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Conversation With David Z

Bassist David Z is full of energy. Whether it is playing bass in a tux while touring with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, shirtless at one of his ZO2 shows, dressed in bright '80s garb with Rubix Kube, or simply sitting across the table from me in a club dressing room, David is indefatigable. As he himself says, he is "always on ten". And for those lucky enough to work with him or catch him in concert, his spirited personality and enthusiasm for life and music are contagious. I caught up with David before a Rubix Kube concert in the heart of New York City to discuss some of his musical history and what he is up to currently.

Dan Roth:  When did you start going by the abbreviated name of "David Z"?

David Z:  As soon as I realized that Zablidowsky was too hard to pronounce, so pretty much right from the beginning. It sounded cooler, it was easier, and it was quicker to sign that way.

DR:  Have you always played bass guitar? Why has that become your instrument of choice?

DZ:  I play other instruments: guitar, piano, drums. Bass has been my first passion, my first love. My dad played bass so I think I took after him with that.

DR:  Have you and your brother Paulie always been a musical team?

DZ:  Yeah! My very first band was with Paul and it was called Legend. It was very Iron Maiden-esque. But even before we actually learned to play instruments, we were making cardboard-cutout guitars, performing concerts with these fake guitars and singing cover songs in our bedroom.

DR:  Did Legend ever record or release anything?

DZ:  Yeah, the only official thing we put out was a three or six-song cassette tape, back in those days. After that, we did a CD but I don't remember if we officially released it. None of it was ever released through any kind of label, so technically all of it was "officially unofficial". But, we had a good collection of songs that were out there and we did pretty well in the Brooklyn area. And then after Legend I joined up with October Thorns.

DR:  They were a prog band, correct?

DZ:  October Thorns was basically a progressive metal band, like a heavier Dream Theater. And it was while I was with October Thorns that Paul and I formed CO2. This was an early version of what was to become ZO2. It was still a three-piece, but we had a different drummer. CO2 was our first attempt at sounding more modern. Prior to that, it was all hair metal and then prog metal. CO2 eventually evolved into ZO2 when we parted ways with our original drummer, Ike, and we found Joey [Cassata].

DR:  On the TV show that you guys eventually did, it was advertised that it was based on real events.  On the show, the band often played for kids.  Was that a real thing?

DZ:  When they said, "semi-scripted comedy show based on reality", we really did do children's music by day. So the idea for the show took that general premise, saying "a kid's band by day, a rock band by night". Then mayhem will ensue when we start throwing in things that were not true. But that piece of it is 100% authentic.

Paulie Z and David Z with ZO2
October 2012, Webster Hall, NYC
Photo courtesy of Michael Jurick

DR:  I know ZO2 opened for KISS on one of their tours. How early into the band's career did this happen? And how did you guys happen into such a great opportunity?

DZ:  Very early. At that point, we had played maybe six or eight live shows together as a band. As opposed to what we were doing with Legend and what you hear most bands do - where they play and play and try to land a record deal - the manager we were working with made us feel confident in doing our own record. When you're young and just starting out, you might think, "If there isn't a label, it's not going to be a "real record" ". But realistically it was just a matter of going to the right studio and having the right engineer and your record can sound as good as a major label release. A lot of times, those records can cost a ton of money because the band is renting out the entire studio; they're writing in the studio, they're paying for extravagant food.

What we did was cut our own demos and getting them as exact as possible before we set foot into a real studio. By the time we got into the studio, it took us one take to do everything. We wound up keeping the costs down because of all the prep we did for it in our rehearsal studio. So we did our first record completely funded by ourselves. It was a big leap - it cost us about $30 grand out of our own money. We were serious about it. The way I always looked at was that if I am not willing to dump money into my own project, why would alone else be? So, instead of vacations or cars or elaborate things like that, we put all of our money into our own music. And it paid off.  Our manager had ties with KISS. He told us that he could give it to them and their manager, Doc McGhee. In the past, he was able to get bands that he managed a date or two opening for KISS in New York and New Jersey and he told us that he would talk to them about doing that again with us.  He gave Doc and Paul Stanley our record and instead of offering us a couple dates, they offered us the entire tour, which was unbelievable! Apart from the business standpoint, KISS was our favorite band of all time. They are our idols. To have somebody that you looked up to your entire life offer you a full tour was unbelievable.

DR:  In terms of lead vocals, Paulie sings on most and Joey sings on a couple.

DZ:  Joey sings lead on one of our newer songs called "I Will Be Alright" which was released on iTunes only. We also have a song called "Comin' Home", where each one of us takes a verse.

DR:  I know you sing lead on some of the songs as well.

DZ:  I sing lead on a lot of them.  On the first CD, I sing lead on "Living Now", "Fly On Your Wings", "Liar", "Paper Breakup" and "Sweet Lover". On Aint it Beautiful, I sing "Everywhere", "I Don't Mind" and "Hopelessly Gone". And on Casino Logic, I sing lead on "Hero", "I'm Still Waiting" and "Infinity Rising".

DR:  "Fly On Your Wings" is always a highlight staple of your live shows - did you perform any of these others in concert?

DZ:  We always ended our shows with "Fly on your Wings" and we would usually alternate two others, often it would be "Hopelessly Gone" and "Infinity Rising".
 So in any given set we would usually do three that I sing lead on.

DR:  In the liner notes on all three ZO2 albums, in addition to your instruments, it would list a particular trait for each of you. Paulie was listed as "Passion", Joey was "Patience" and you are listed as "Persistence". Was that what each of you brought to the band?

DZ:  Yeah. That wasn't made up or anything. Paulie cared the most about the integrity of the music. Not to say that Joey or I didn't, but if you ever watch the movie That Thing You Do where the singer is more concerned about writing that next song
 and really the art of it - that's more Paulie than any of us. Joey was "Patience" because he had to deal with two brothers in the band. We would always fight and debate and Joey would have to be the middle-man in that. He was always the man on the outside having to mediate between the two of us, which took a lot of his patience. And then for me, "Persistence" - I'm like a perfectionist so I won't stop until something is done correctly. I was the accountant for the band, handled all the merchandise, so literally, I would be dealing with all the numbers and I loved doing it. That's where the persistence came from.

DR: How friendly were those fights that Joey was mediating?

DZ:  When I say that Joey was in the middle of our fighting, it was more debates. We're Jewish, so it was always about lawyering up and trying to make your point. [Laughs] We would fight, call each other names and debate pretty hard, but at the end of the day, everything was fine again. Paul is my best friend - always has been, always will be.

DR:  In terms of composing, it looks like you wrote most of your songs together, and some with Bob Held?

DZ:  Yup - Bob was our manager and producer at the time.

DR:  Did you guys have a particular process when writing ZO2 songs? Did one of you focus on lyrics, while another contributed the melody?

DZ:  For the most part, Bob would bring the lyrics to the table on the songs that he co-wrote. We weren't as much lyricists; we were more musicians. We'd come up with melodies, but our lyrics weren't top notch.  Me personally, I never really cared for the lyrics. I know that's a stereotype for men - men usually listen to the melody, women listen to the lyrics. I didn't really care what the lyrics were, as long as the melody was hooky and catchy. Again, that comes from being brought up as a musician first, not necessarily as a singer.

A lot of the time Bob would add lyrics to songs.  Usually it would be something where I would come in to rehearsal with a riff or sometimes a verse and a chorus. Same thing with Paulie. Nothing ever was completely finished. We would come in and start playing what we had come up with, and as we would play it, holes would start getting filled in. Joey was very integral in structuring a lot of this stuff. That's usually how the songs would come about - hashing out pre-written ideas that Paulie or I would have.

DR:  I wanted to ask about "Liar" - the one ZO2 song that you solely wrote.

DZ:  That was one of the songs that was written prior to us hooking up with Bob. There are a few, like this one and "Takin' Me Down" that we had written before ever meeting Bob. Bob eventually become our manager, but he started out as our producer. So as our producer he would tell us things like "the lyrics need a little bit of work" or "it's not up to par". And he was right. "Liar" is just a tune that I happened to write from start to finish and we just never tweaked it.  I'm sure it could've been - if you listen to the lyrics, it's not ingenious [Laughs]. For me, as long as I can sing the melody back, I can sing "La La La" and be happy with that. [Laughs]

DR:  Any song from the ZO2 catalog that holds a special place for you?

DZ:  That's a tough question because it's like asking who your favorite child is. "Infinity Rising" was always fun for me - it had a fun vocal line for me to do. But honestly, they all had something about them that made them a good time for us.

DR:  "If You See Kay" was always a favorite in your live sets, with your extended bass solo and Paulie's spoken word intro.

DZ:  KISS is the band that we all looked up to, obviously not from a musician's standpoint because their songwriting and musicianship is not very complicated. But more so in their performance - when you went to see a KISS show, you were seeing something larger than life. When we first started, we were toying with some ideas: Should we dress up? Should we all look the same? Should we use any kind of makeup or any special effects? There were a lot of ideas tossed around.

When we first played live, we realized that we actually don't need any of that. Our music, and just us being up on stage and being the showmen that we are, we don't really need the extra stuff. For the beginning of "If You See Kay", it went back to the idea of putting on a show. We love the idea of intros and outros and segueways, and being in this trio allowed me to perform a bass solo more than if I was in a regular pop-rock band. This was a nice little moment that I got to play something and it just sort of evolved.  Originally, Andrew Dice Clay was the inspiration.

"If You See Kay" was on Aint' It Beautiful, and for that record we played those songs live before we went into the studio to record it. With Tuesdays and Thursdays and Casino Logic we didn't - for those two records we recorded everything and then started playing them live. With the songs from Ain't it Beautiful, we had the luxury of seeing what worked and what didn't work and we were toying with the idea of putting that monologue on the album.  We were actually trying to get in touch with Andrew Dice Clay to have him do it. You can imagine him doing that [in his best Andrew Dice Clay voice] "Once upon a dreary night..." [Laughs]. So that's where the inspiration came from. It was just a fun little poem that goes in the beginning and sets up the song.

DR:  Electric violinist Mark Wood performs on one of your songs - how did that come about?

DZ:  The music business is really all about who you know and who you can pull favors from. I've been with Trans-Siberian Orchestra now for 13 years and have made some really amazing friendships with these people. It was really as simple as saying "We need strings on this song Dirty Water. Who do we know that can do that?" Mark Wood. I mean, who better? That was perfect as Mark and I had a very, very tight relationship and I asked and he did an absolutely amazing job with it. I went up to his studio and he laid down the tracks and it worked out amazingly.

DR:  Can you talk a little about the Rock Asylum shows and foundation that ZO2 was very involved with?

DZ:  Originally, it had nothing to do with children. This was all Paulie's concept and the original concept was to make a local Lollapalooza. Instead of having bands promoting their show, it would be bands promoting the entire night. So we started teaming up with other bands that we respected and enjoyed their music and getting them all together and promoting the "Rock Asylum night"!  The idea was to get the fans to enjoy all of the bands and music and stay the entire night.

Through Paulie's genius, that concept changed. Though it might not have seemed that way on the show, we love doing kid's music. When you get to perform for kids and see their faces, it's really a wonderful thing. Eventually, Paulie said "Why not combine the two?" and make it not just a great night of rock music, but make it something that we can give back to the children. He made it a non-profit foundation that funded music for kids in schools and we also worked with kids on writing and performing their own songs.

DR:  You mentioned loving performing for kids. The show portrayed it as a way to make a living. Did you really want to do children's music?

DZ:  Yeah!  It was both. We got into it by playing at the Children's Museum of Manhattan and places like that.  We would do sit-down sing-a-longs for kids. The very first time we did this, a parent asked us if we did birthday parties. We said "No, but we can!". And we were good at it because we enjoyed it. So, to answer your question: Yes, it definitely paid our bills and yes, it was our job, but we absolutely enjoyed it because we were still playing music at the end of the day.

DR:  It's recently been announced that ZO2 has been retired. How and why did you guys reach this point?

DZ:  A lot of things came together for this to happen. Paulie was looking to move, we no longer had the TV show, we didn't have a label anymore, we didn't have investors. So literally everything that happened since the show stopped was all on our own dime. We're talking about three guys doing what it normally takes for a label to move the band to the next level. We looked at it and realized that things weren't moving ahead. It wasn't going down, we were maintaining but it's not really going anywhere. Truth be told, if we kept doing it without having any real push and real backing, nothing is really going to progress. And if you don't progress and become kind of stale, you will eventually not dig doing it anymore.

You want to progress in so many ways - even doing a record was proving to be difficult because we have to fund it. If we start skimping then the record will suffer and it's not going to sound great. We don't necessarily want to call it retirement - nothing is ever final. If an opportunity presents itself down the line we would certainly look at it, but it would have to provide that spark and help us move upward again.

DR:  I wanted to ask a little about the Z-Rock TV show. How scripted was it?

DZ:  Not at all. None of our lines were scripted out. We would take a scene, act out the scene and improve the entire thing. And then we would do it again, taking bits that worked the first time and re-do it. We would keep doing that until we eventually wrote our own script, so nothing was ever written down on page.

DR:  How close to your real life was the show?

DZ:  Essentially, we sat in a room with the producers of the show for hours and hours and gave them all of our road stories and all of our kid party stories - anything that we thought was interesting or funny. The writers would take all of these real stories that we gave and started putting them together and tweaking them. For example, they might take something that happened to us in the beginning of our career and something that happened recently and put them together in an episode. A lot of the scenes that you saw - especially in the first season - are things that kind of happened to us at different points of our career but tweaked and amplified.

DR:  You had a lot of notable musicians making appearances in the episodes. Were these folks that you knew?

DZ:  No. Believe it or not, we got them through casting agents. In the beginning the show was an unknown, so you couldn't go up to a Steven Tyler and say "Hey, you want to be on Z-Rock?" because he wouldn't have known what it was yet. But it worked to our advantage because we got musicians that you wouldn't necessarily think of - John Popper of Blues Traveler, Chris Barron of the Spin Doctors, even Daryl Hall ! I would never think that he would do an acting role. Or Dave Navarro.  We didn't get any musicians who even had any acting experience.

The show wound up being filled with stand-up comedians and musicians. Hardly any actors. That's also what helped give the show its realistic vibe, because nobody on the show were actual trained actors.

DR:  I wanted to ask a bit about your involvement with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. You were on board with their yearly tours way back in 2000, as soon as they split into two touring units. How did you get involved with them?

DZ:  The band that I was playing with at the time, October Thorns, was hired to play a "SavaCon". This was a Savatage convention in New Jersey and they had a talent contest as part of the convention. In this contest, I played a bass solo and the judges for this contest were Chris Caffery and Jon Oliva. They got to see me perform with the band and as a solo artist. Chris came up to me after the show and took my information and we started talking.

About a year later, out of nowhere, I get a call from him saying "Hey this is Chris, we met a while ago at the SavaCon. We just wanted to see if you would be interested in playing with TSO on QVC.". I didn't know what either of those were - I didn't know what TSO was and I didn't know what QVC was. [Laughs] So I said, "Don't know what you're talking about, but Yes! Sign me up." [Laughs] So Chris had me come on and perform with TSO on the QVC shopping network. This was before the tour happened. Looking back, I guess that was kind of my audition. I learned a few songs, we played on the show, and I got to meet everybody and that was essentially my way in. They got to see me play and see my personality and then they asked me to go on that first TSO East tour.

DR:  So there was no formal audition with Paul or the talent team?

DZ:  No, that process didn't even exist back then; it wasn't even an entity the way it is now. Now there are channels that you go through - you go through the audition process, there are callbacks and eventually you get to Paul O'Neill. Back then you weren't really auditioning for anything - it was literally "OK, were going to split this and I know this bass player that would be really good for it."

DR:  I was going to ask you if you were familiar with Savatage or TSO before coming on board.

DZ:  Savatage - yes. I was a big Savatage fan. I knew "Sarajevo" from Savatage. I didn't know that they had a separate thing called TSO where they built an entire record around that song. I didn't realize that until I actually played with them.

DR:  Any idea why [Savatage/TSO bassist] Johnny Lee Middleton wasn't on that QVC show?

DZ:  I think just because of location. QVC is in Pennsylvania and he lived in Florida. And remember - TSO wasn't really anything yet. It was just starting. It probably didn't make sense to bring him up for this one-off show that was just to sell some units, move some CDs.

DR:  How many songs did you have to learn for this?

DZ:  It was two or three songs. We rehearsed "Mad Russian's Christmas", "Sarajevo", and I think there was also an acoustic of "Music Box Blues" with Katrina Chester singing. They were easy to learn and didn't take much time.

DR:  Once you got the call to go out with TSO on the 2000 East tour, did you work at all with Johnny Lee or Al Pitrelli on learning the bass guitar parts?

DZ:  No, the way I learned bass in general is by ear. I didn't learn music theory until way later. When I first started playing it was all literally ear training. I would listen to a song and keep picking out the bass part until it sounded right. By doing that for so many years, that's how I learn all my music now. I never go by any tabs or music - I literally do it all by ear.

DR:  So I am guessing you really didn't know what you were getting into on that first tour.

DZ:  I was a kid in a candy store - it was a dream come true. When I first showed up and saw the tour bus, I was on cloud 9, and I think everyone saw that. Whenever Paul mentions me in an interview, he talks about my "youthful energy", and that is totally true. I was so happy and so willing to do anything and everything it took to make this tour as good as it can be. I literally was bursting with energy and loved it - and still do! For me, if you don't love what you're doing, then why are you doing it?

DR:  Do you ever tire of playing many of the same songs every year? Until last year, the first half of the show was exactly the same for 13 tours. Did you ever think of passing on it and doing something different?

DZ:  No, and for a few reasons. First, in my eyes it would be such a silly thing to say 'no' to because it's only three months out of the year - now it's down to just two months. Even if you were getting to that point - which I'm not - where it's becoming old hat, to me it makes no sense to turn it down. It's still work, you're still getting to play in front of 10-15,000 people. As a musician, what is better than that?

It's a very different setting - we are in an arena, but all the fans are sitting down. It's not like when I'm playing a club like this one that I will be doing tonight with Rubix Kube, where the people are in your face and it's a party environment. For me, I get the best of both worlds. I get to experience that arena-rock feeling and vibe on the TSO tour and then I got to experience the smaller more-intimate club settings when I'm playing with Rubix Kube or when I was playing with ZO2.

DR:  The first few years of TSO tours, they were playing in theaters. Some fans and performers feel strongly one way or another over that transition from the more-intimate settings. Did you have a particular thought on it?

DZ:  I know a lot of people didn't like when we made the transition to the arenas - they did feel more disconnected. And I understand that vibe - it's natural for some to feel that way. Me personally - I like the arenas. Again, my idols are KISS, so I want to be playing stadiums. I just love that rush of hitting the stage and seeing that many fans. And it's great to be playing on a stage where, growing up, I used to see some of my favorite bands play.

Don't get me wrong - the theater shows were fantastic. There was a closer connection between us and the audience, especially for this kind of show. But Paul has been able to make it this big and bombastic thing - just like the KISS shows - with pyro and lasers and lights. You couldn't do all of that in a theater.

DR:  There were three Winter tours that you were not on: 2007, 2008 and 2009. Were you concentrating on ZO2 in those years?

DZ:  That was specifically because of Z-Rock. The filming schedules were colliding with the TSO schedule. That was 2007. Then the following year we were doing Season 2. And then
Photo Courtesy of Jean Scrocco
  that third year (2009), we weren't doing Z-Rock anymore but I didn't even think about asking to come back because I just assumed that I was out. For that next year, I took a shot in the dark and called them and explained that I wasn't doing the TV show anymore and that I would love to come back in any capacity, even if it were in the backup band or where you could fit me in. I was super fortunate that they took me back as a full touring member again. I lucked out and was so happy, which is why I will never stop this again.

DR:  Do you know Chris Altenhoff?

DZ: I do.

DR:  Any bad vibes there from you taking your old job back? [Laughs]

DZ:  [Laughs] I don't know. To be fair, it was my spot originally. But we're all musicians and we know what the score is. This happens with gigs, especially for Broadway musicians. Somebody holds the chair and then they have subs that come in whenever somebody can't do it. So it is an ever-evolving career. Unless you are lucky enough to be in 'an Aerosmith' as an example, you will be jumping from one gig to another.

DR:  So you weren't in their backup band for those three years?

DZ:  No. I was just so busy filming the TV show and touring with ZO2.

DR:  You mentioned energy earlier. It seems like you are having a blast on stage with your little dance moves and interactions with the other players. Is that something that just comes as part of the David Z package or is any of that directed?

DZ:  [Laughs] That's all me, and luckily no one has told me to stop yet. [Laughs] A lot of the moves that I do have evolved over years of playing and it's literally what I feel when playing. It would be a lot harder for me to stand still at a show.

DR:  And you interact a lot with the other players. On the last tour you and Jay Pierce had that little fun dance-step thing you guys did together for a moment.

DZ:  That's great that you noticed that. The cool thing about TSO is that it is so massive that even if you go multiple times, you will never catch every little bit that is happening on that stage. There is so much - so many musicians, so many lights. Every time you go, you can choose to watch just the light show, or just the keyboard players and what they're doing - there are so many details to catch. It is impossible to catch everything because we are all moving. Especially on the instrumental songs, we're everywhere on that stage.

DR:  Have you gotten to record on any of the TSO records?

DZ:  Yes.

DR:  The liner notes are never too specific. Can you tell me which songs you are on?

DZ:  It's so funny because you would think that you would know this, but we record so many different parts and you forget what was used where. The only song that I know I am on for sure - and I am very proud of this song - is "Christmas Jazz". That was just me and Al Pitrelli together. That one was so much fun and it stands out more to me because it's just the two of us - there are no vocals or other instruments - it's just guitar and bass. I am very proud of that one and Al is the consummate professional and such an amazing musician. It was a pleasure and an honor to be able to play a tune with just him and me. He is such a great person to work with in the studio as well. Paul O'Neill was trying to get us into that vibe where "you guys are two old timers who have been coming into this bar and you're old buddies and just playing this thing together". He really gets you into the mood and spirit of the song.

DR:  The word on his recording technique is that there are a lot of takes.

DZ:  Tons! Just tons of takes. But remember, I am the same way - remember "Persistence"! I'm the same way, so I understand it. I will literally sit there and play two notes for ten hours, and be fine with it. That's just my kind of personality. So I had no problem doing it over and over.

DR:  Bass players always have a special relationship with the drummer. You have been playing with Jeff Plate now for many years, both on Chris Caffery's solo records and on the TSO tours.  What's it like working with Jeff?

DZ:  He is fantastic.  Dare I say he is the most professional out of all of us? He really takes pride in making sure everything is right and together and sounds good. At the end of every show, he goes back on the bus and watches the video recording of the show - every night.

DR:  Sounds like a football coach watching game film.

DZ:  It's exactly like that. He looks to see if there was any time that we were not super tight, looks for places where we can tighten things up, and listens to see if the vocals were off in any spots. He is literally listening to all of this so that at the next soundcheck, he has these notes and we go over them to make ourselves better. It's pretty fantastic.

He is also a great pocket player. When I first joined TSO, that's really where I developed my pocket playing. For non-musicians, being "in the pocket" is basically being in the groove - not playing ahead or on top of the beat, you're playing sort of behind the beat so you really feel that 2 and that 4 and you really have a sense of groove.

DR:  Your drummer in ZO2, Joey has been in TSO's backup band for some time.

DZ:  Yeah, he has been doing it forever. Joey came on board years ago after Bob Kinkel came to see us play while we were on the KISS tour. That was the first time Bob had seen and heard Joey play and it just all wound up working out from there. Joey is an amazing, amazing drummer. Same type of thing as Jeff - a great pocket player, very John Bonham-esque.

DR:  The backup players are there to fill in of someone has to miss a show for whatever reason. Have you ever missed a show?

DZ:  No, never missed one.

DR:  Do you know who your backup is?

DZ:  I do, but I am bad with names. He's a younger guy, just out of college.

DR:  Do you work with your backup in rehearsals?

DZ:  Yeah. The whole idea of them coming to the rehearsals is because sometimes we do things differently from coast to coast. The East Coast and West Coast might have a different ending or a different tempo
on a particular song sometimes. The backup guys actually have a very difficult job because they have to learn both sides and both players and what they do and be ready to fill in for either one without a hitch. That's a tough task.

DR:  It seems for as long as TSO has had the rising rear stage, you have been one of the musicians going up on it during the shows.

DZ:  It's worked out that way and I'm happy to do it. I'm such a ham and I love the spotlight. [Laughs]  Believe it or not, a lot of the risers we use are actually KISS's risers - the actual ones that were used by them. For me, to have a chance to jump on something that I can say Gene Simmons was on is great! Sign me up! [Laughs]
David Z with TSO
Newark, NJ 2012
Photo courtesy of Angie Zwicker

DR:  So, assuming you are in the mix, what is the secret to playing while running through the audience?

DZ:  Years of rehearsal. It becomes one of those things where since you have been doing it for so long, you don't necessarily think about what you are playing any longer. That is a fantastic feeling, let me tell you. Once you know the material and you have it in your fingers, it just flows.

DR:  Have you ever wiped out while doing your run back to the stage?

DZ:  Absolutely. A few times. You get back up, smile, and brush it off. A lot of times it looks a lot worse to you than it does to the audience. Even with mistakes. When you make a mistake you think, "Oh my God, this is awful, everybody heard that". Most of the time no one even knows. When we watch it back, we realize that things that seemingly take forever on stage go by in a couple seconds. 

Even if we break a string on stage, it feels like forever while we switch things out but in reality, it goes by so fast. It doesn't happen often because we have such amazing techs and they change out the strings and batteries almost every day - we go through so many strings.

DR:  How many basses do you bring on tour?

DR:  Only two. I know Johnny will have a lot of basses with him where one is tuned down to an E flat, one is tuned down to a D, and one is in standard tuning. I don't do that. It's easier for me to learn it all on the same bass, especially when I'm rehearsing at home and I don't have to keep switching basses for certain songs.

DR:  Are these the same instruments that you use with ZO2 and Rubix Kube?

DZ:  Yup. I play Spector basses. I'm endorsed by them and I've always loved them. I also play with a clutch with a drop tuning on the E string - it's a detuner so that with any of the low D songs that I have to play, I just flip that down and my E string becomes a low D string. I learn it that way so I don't need to have a specific bass that is tuned to D Standard.

DR:  For the folks that aren't musically-inclined, what would be the difference between your bass playing and Johnny Lee's? Could a fan hear a difference?

DZ:  I don't know that you would hear a difference because we're playing the same music. He may use a pick, I'm not sure. I don't use one. I've always been a finger player; I feel more like I'm one with the bass using my fingers. The pick has a great sound though - I used a pick when I toured with Joan Jett because that was the sound needed there.

DR:  I wanted to ask about your time with Braindance. Did you record with them in addition to touring?

DZ:  I recorded one song but I don't know that it ever got released.

DR:  Do you know if they are still together in any sort of way? Their website hasn't been updated in some time.

DZ:  There are so many great bands out there, that it's really difficult to keep going. Even when you have the chops and the songs, you still need that touch of luck. Their music was fantastic; the bass players that played with them were amazing. It was more prog metal, more like October Thorns. I'll put it this way: I used my 6-string when I played with them. Anytime I use my 6-string bass you know it's more musical.

DR:  They had a pretty unique sound and look, and they even had their own musical genre name.

DZ:  Yeah, Progressive Darkwave. It was like Type-O Negative meets Dream Theater.

 Braindance with David Z on bass, 2003

DR:  How were they to work with?

DZ:  Sebastian and Vora were great. We had good times. I don't know that they were ready for my kind of energy [Laughs]. I'm a jokester and very high energy - it sort of created a moment of levity for them, lightening the mood a bit.  Their look is all about Goth and dark - when performing I did all that - the makeup, the fishnets. But as soon as we were done, I would be still be animated and on ten [Laughs].

DR:  In a few minutes, you will be taking the stage with Rubix Kube. You guys used to play exclusively at the Canal Room and then there was some sort of controversy with the band or the name.  Can you straighten that out?

DZ:  Yes. Rubix Kube used to play the Canal Room every Saturday night for like four years, selling out every week. The club owner had an issue with some of the members in the band. What happened was that one of the original members of Rubix Kube, behind all of our backs, brought in all new musicians and blindsided us. We showed up for our weekly gig and the owner of the Canal Room told us that our services were no longer needed. This one member formed a new band, tried using our name, and had a new website with all of these guys. The only original member of Rubix Kube that was in this other band was the guitar player. Myself, both singers, and the drummer are all still together today in the real Rubix Kube.

Since he tried keeping the name, it went to court and he lost. So legally, they then had to change their name. So the band that now plays at the Canal Room never was or is Rubix Kube. It was just this one guitar player, who tried stabbing the rest of the original band in the back, with other musicians.

It was a mess - we had to regroup, our keyboard player at the time decided to stay with them, and we had to figure things out. Our band was trying to be stolen right out from under us. So in the interim while we were booking new places to play, they were still performing at the Canal Room every Saturday night using the Rubix Kube name causing lots of confusion. People didn't know what was going on. The Canal Room was telling people that the band that was now playing there was Rubix Kube but just had a lineup change.  It took probably about three months to get our name back and start booking shows again.

So now, there are two distinct bands. There is Rubix Kube, which has three of the original four members in it, including both original lead singers. And there is that other band that plays at the Canal Room.

DR:  Over the last few months it seems like Rubix Kube has really grown. You guys are playing not just in New York, but all over and packing the houses. What is the secret to a band playing '80s cover tunes growing in popularity like this?

DZ:  The whole thing was really a blessing in disguise. When we were doing the Canal Room every Saturday, it was great to be drawing the crowds and having the residency. But it was hindering us from branching out and getting any bigger. We were the biggest thing at the Canal Room. Since that split, we have started playing in states that we have never played before and the response has been overwhelming.

The secret to it is that we are not a cover band and we are not a tribute band. We are kind of both - we are paying tribute to the entire decade. You are going to see Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi. But it's not just a band covering these artists. From our stage show, to our props, to the videos that we show and the music we play, the entire night is all-encompassing of the 80s. When you walk in, you almost feel like you have been time-warped back to the 80s. We have a big Stay Puft Marshmallow Man standing outside the room. We really want you to feel like you have been transported back to that time period.
Dave Z with Rubix Kube
Photo courtesy of Denise Sparks

DR:  I saw that the band is sponsored by the real Rubik's Cube?

DZ:  Our female lead singer, Cherie Martorana, worked in the board game industry for years before she became a performer. She reached out to the folks who own the licensing for Rubik's Cube. They saw what we we're doing and they loved it. It's a good time, nothing dirty, fun for kids and adults. So they were very generous letting us use the name and happy with what were doing with it.

DR:  Do they play when you are away for the two months with TSO?

DZ:  They do.  Just like any band, we have subs that come in and play for all of our parts.

DR:  You guys did record one original song, "Shakin' & Twistin' " and you directed the music video for it.

DZ:  Yeah, that's been a hobby and a passion of mine for years. I don't do it for the money; I do it for the love of it. I own way more equipment that any one person that's not doing it professionally should own [Laughs]. My younger brother Brian and I always had a love for film - in fact, Brian filmed and edited most of the ZO2 videos. But with "Shakin' & Twistin'", that was all of my equipment and gear and my editing. It was an amazing experience to be able to use all of my toys.

DR:  Earlier this year you toured with Jeff Scott Soto. Was that the first time you worked with him?

DZ:  I've known Jeff for years through TSO. Since he tours with the West Coast band and I am on the East Coast group, the only time our paths cross is during rehearsals in Omaha. This is the first opportunity that we have had to work together. I seized the opportunity because it's Jeff; I love Jeff, his music is great, and it also gave me a chance to tour in Europe for the first time.

DR:  You also played bass on a couple of Chris Caffery's solo records - Faces and Warped. Any fond memories of recording those?

DZ:  That was so long ago. The one thing that stands out is having porno playing on the prompter as we were recording. That was my inspiration. [Laughs]

DR:  What bassists have been influential to you and do you have any favorites today?

DZ:  Geddy Lee was one of my favorite bassists growing up. One of my favorites now is Victor Wooten. I went to Victor's Bass/Nature Camp a few years ago and that was life changing. He can play some incredibly intricate, fast, and hard popping and playing but even when he plays one note it's just the tone and the way he vibratos  it is just fantastic.

DR:  Last question for you - with no more ZO2, what are you working on now?

DZ:  I've had my hand in a lot of things, not sure exactly where I'm going yet. I have so many original songs and so much original material that span from rock to pop to other kinds of genres. I don't know what I am going to with all of that yet. Right now, I am enjoying the success that Rubix Kube and TSO is offering me. Because I don't have ZO2 anymore, I am leaving myself open to whatever comes my way.

For more information:

Rubix Kube:
Z Brothers:
Trans-Siberian Orchestra:
October Thorns:
Spector Bass Guitars: