Only Natural, the fourth album by Brooklyn-based rockers
Zan Zone, features the music and vocals of band leader Zan
Burnham. In the spirit of post-Americana bands like String Cheese
Incident, band leader Zan gets excellent support from his Zan Zone
band mates and his electric guitar work is first rate too. Blending,
rock, jazz, blues and folk sounds, Zan Zone truly defies categories,
and in doing so comes up with a highly entertaining combination of
various musical styles. The lead off instrumental, For The Rising
Sun is short but sweet and provides a solid intro to the eleven
track CD. Hard to believe but Zan Zone has been going strong since
the early 1990s and some astute listeners may remember the bands
2013 double album called Shorts. Putting
It's Only Natural into the special history of his band, Zan
Ive been focusing on original music since at least the
early 1990s. Way back then, one of my back-up singers coined the name
Zan Zone, and its been fun to use it since as a signpost and
a shingle. While much of the time, I have been the primary lead singer,
over the past few years, Ive been lucky to have two amazing
singers willing and excited to be a part of Zan Zone. As Im
the producer, its just been incredible to have Philip Dessinger
and Sabrina Clery singing on so much of this album. Of course, Im
singing as well, along with my daughter, Arianna Burnham on a couple
of songs. I really like group singing, and I notice that my vocal
arrangements often seem to remind many people of the great 1960s vocal
group, The Fifth Dimension and the Mamas & the Papas,
an era of downloads of mp3 files, one can only applaud Zan Zone and
their superbly packaged album. The booklet is filled with eye-catching
color photos and complete lyrics. With outstanding musicianship from
a range of players and vocalists, Its Only Natural is
a must hear for fans of 21st century rock. www.zanzone.com
presents an interview with
Zan Burnham of ZAN ZONE
Can you tell where youre from originally and what you like best
about living in Brooklyn, what part of Brooklyn? Have you always lived
in Brooklyn? I miss it! Its so ironic that with the internet
making everyone decentralized
its almost like it was predicted
in the movie 2001, back in 1968, 50 years ago! Were all lost
Zan Burnham: I fled cyberspace for The Zone! The Zan Zone
Born in Manhattan, I actually started kicking and screaming in Queens,
New York for five or six years until my parents decided the suburbs
were the way to go. Id say that was a mixed blessing. More space
and woods; less social awareness... And a lot of bedroom dreaming
Eventually, I lived in a bunch of places in the NY Tri-state area.
Ive been in Brooklyn since the mid 1990s, and its a very
dynamic place to be. The train system, for all its faults, affords
pretty flexible travel possibilities. Of course, lots of the rough
edges and cool culture has been purged from NYC in recent decades,
but then, everything is changing constantly, everywhere
mwe3: Whats your favorite part of Brooklyn? I was born
there but I still cant wrap my head around the fact that Brooklyn
is something like the fourth largest city in the US. I know weve
spoken about Brooklyn before.
Zan Burnham: Well, a great writer once pointed out that only
the dead know Brooklyn, as in its way too big to know
it all. Im in a moderately quiet nook. Itd be fun to be
on a busy avenue, but I appreciate the little peace I do have in,
as you say, the fourth biggest city in America. As far as cool clubs,
shops, and funky people, Id probably have to cite Williamsburg
as my favorite part
but I dont know if I want to live
there! There are actually loads of amazing residential areas all over
Brooklyn; regrettably, theyre also all quite expensive these
mwe3: How and when did Zan Zone as a band, come together? How
many albums have you made and who are the key members of the band?
You have some great singers in the band and you also sing so does
having some great lead singers in the band allow you to focus on being
the band leader and also on your guitar work? Its all done to
great effect, as your guitar work is excellent throughout the album.
Zan Burnham: Thanks for the shout-out about my guitar
playing! I worked very, very hard on all of the guitar parts on the
new album. Ive been focusing on original music since at least
the early 1990s. Way back then, one of my back-up singers coined the
name Zan Zone, and its been fun to use it since as a signpost
and a shingle. There have been years since the 90s when I did
a bunch of live shows, and years where I just played solo, or only
wrote and recorded. While much of the time, I have been the primary
lead singer, over the past few years, Ive been lucky to have
two amazing singers willing and excited to be a part of Zan Zone.
As Im the producer, its just been incredible to have Philip
Dessinger and Sabrina Clery singing on so much of this album. Of course,
Im singing as well, along with my daughter, Arianna Burnham
on a couple of songs. I really like group singing, and I notice that
my vocal arrangements often seem to remind many people of the great
1960s vocal group, The Fifth Dimension and the Mamas & the
Can you tell us something about your guitars that you play on Its
Only Natural and do you write the music on guitars? I saw the
pic of your guitars in the CD booklet. (ed. see left) Very impressive
indeed. Do you play other instruments as well?
Zan Burnham: I write almost exclusively on the guitar. Ive
been fortunate to accumulate a good dozen, or so, guitars all of which
are wonderful tools to make music with. I can play piano well enough
to be able to utilize a synthesizer in the studio, and I can play
an acceptable bass guitar. But the only other instrument
I really focus on is percussion. I use lots of percussion in the studio
and I really like the colors it adds to the music.
mwe3: How did the new album take shapeand can you compare it
to your early works? Are all your albums in print? Although these
days in print means digital too. Tell us about the great album art
and packaging for Its Only Natural. Its a great
looking and a super sounding CD
Zan Burnham: In 2013, I released the third Zan Zone album called
Shorts. It was a collection of what I think of as interesting
singer/songwriter art songs. I think a few of the recordings
came out extremely well, and I remain quite happy with that project.
However, the 3 female singers Id used on that project, and there
were a total of 19 players and singers combined, all moved away. I
happened to ask a musician friend if he knew of any great female singers
around, and he said you gotta check out Sabrina Clery, a Toronto native,
who was in New York singing here and there. When I first walked in
on a performance of hers, she was singing Leonard Cohens Hallelujah,
a favorite song of mine, and we hit it off right away! And then, a
singer and writer Id worked with much earlier, who also sang
one song on Shorts, Philip Dessinger, agreed to come on full
time and thus, a new male/female singing duo was born! Were
still a few weeks away from our first performance with this line-up,
but I think theres gonna be explosions!
Its Only Natural is Zan Zones fourth album. We
have it, two other full albums, and an EP on CD Baby for sale. Theres
also 1995s Zan Zone CD floating around out there in cyberspace.
Old as it is, its got some pretty cool stuff on it, so
far as the artwork is concerned, I have to say that Ive had
the great fortune to have a former band member, Jera Denny, who happened
to also be an amazing graphic designer, helping me out with artwork
since the 2005 Watchin The World EP. Im also interested
in visuals and design, and I contribute a good bit to the artwork,
especially conceptually. Ive been vegan for a long time, and
for this latest project, since I had the song, Its Only
Natural, I turned it into the title song, and used concepts
related to natural food, etc., to direct the theme. It was a lot of
fun! On the front cover, were turnips; on the back, radishes.
Some folks thought we were rocks on the cover, but hopefully most
people will get the vegetable references!
The CD was mostly recorded at a great studio in Brooklyn, Atlantic
Sound Studios. The engineer, Diko Shoturma has won Grammys, and he
is incredible. He absolutely had a lot to do with the quality of the
album, and especially his help with the mix. The lead guitars, most
vocals and the percussion were recorded at my home studio, which allowed
me unlimited time to get good sounds and performances on those parts.
Almost every song started out with a live trio, and we eschewed click
tracks to give the music a very real feel. While theres
usually always stuff any artist might change on a given recording,
this one came out pretty damn good I think.
mwe3: The 2018 Zan Zone album Its Only Natural starts
off with an instrumental track called For The Rising Sun.
What inspired that track and what kind of sound were you going for
on that track? Would you consider doing more instrumentals? Do you
like rock instrumental albums and artists as well?
Zan Burnham: For The Rising Sun was inspired by
just what it seems. Dawn! Actually, I was in my dorm room, senior
year in college, and my windows looked east. I was up early one late
winter/early spring morning, and it just seemed and felt so good to
see the sun rise. I picked up my guitar and I was able to capture
my feelings. Im pretty happy with the recording. To me, its
kind of a very short example of stately jazz-rock fusion. I love doing
instrumentals. I actually mostly listen to instrumental music at this
point in my life, and I do have plans to do an all-instrumental album
someday. Guitar oriented/pop oriented rock/rnb instrumental
music used to be something audiences dug, but its not heard
that much these days. There also arent a ton of great rock instrumental
albums, especially when compared to jazz offerings. And for anyone
to come up with an album full of quality rock instrumentals like Frankenstein,
or, say Sleep Walk, well, youd have to be some kinda
genius! Otherwise, it can all get a bit tedious. Jazz opens enough
musical dimensions that its a natural for instrumentals, which
also can include rock elements.
The title track is a great rocker. Do you write songs from an autobiographical
perspective? I think its the first song I ever heard with the
words GMO Free. Is the song a put-on, spoof or what?
Zan Burnham: Well
yes! It is sort of a spoof. Its
certainly kind of tongue-in-cheek. Its fun when you get on a
lyric like this and you can start playing around with fun, relatable
imagery like equating natural love with being GMO-Free! I definitely
subscribe to the John Lennon/Joni Mitchell/Van Morrison school of
writing about what you see, feel, know and learn
or try to.
mwe3: Is Where Theres Smoke a pro-pot song?
I like the cover art pic for that track with the chili peppers. I
still wish New York and Florida had the same cannabis laws as Colorado
and California. Who is singing lead on that track?
Zan Burnham: Hmmmm
If this was 1968, Id probably
get busted for that song! But no, its not really about pot.
Its about a really good looking woman whos been through
some tough times, and has come out survivin, struttin
her stuff, and feeling good about herself and life
pushing things to the max, to the edge
lighting fires! Phil
and Sabrina sing this as a duet. I like to think of them as kind of
like a new Tom Jones and Tina Turner on this one!
mwe3: Hes Coming Home has a kind of Stax
Records sound to it. Tell us something about Hes Coming
Home and whos singing it?
Zan Burnham: Hes Coming Home started life
as Shes Coming Home. When Sabrina appeared on the
scene, things changed quickly! But its still relates back to
my personal experience. I was missing someone, and thinking about
how Van Morrison gets to the heart of his feelings in lyrics when
I wrote it; simple and clear. We also definitely went for an RnB
feel with the music, and I was also kind of trying to channel Jimi
Hendrix with my response lines on the guitar to Sabrinas voice.
Everybody seems to like this song.
mwe3: Here I Go Again sounds like a late 1960s
song. Sounds like everyone is singing on that one. Whos singing
lead, is that Phil? Is the song about the love of love or the fear
of divorce? Again some great guitar work weaving through the grooves.
This is the only song on Its Only Natural that I feel
misses a little. I think we overdid the drum track and its all
just a little too busy. That said, yeah
its Phil singing.
He does a great job! And I was definitely going for a kind of 1960s
Moody Blues thing here. The song is really about how, no matter ones
reticence, love can have such a powerful pull that its almost
impossible to avoid at times, even though we know there can potentially
be the great pain of a broken heart at the end
like the little vocal round thing we do at the end.
mwe3: Whos singing Mystery? Sabrina and Phil?
It has a kind of West Coast Mamas And Papas sound to it. Is
it folk-rock or? That guitar solo is excellent. Is the song an extension
of Here I Go Again and is Phil singing lead on both tracks?
Zan Burnham: The singing on Mystery is by Sabrina,
Phil, and myself. Again, this is another example of the boy/girl vocal
group sound that I love. I think we did a pretty good job with this
one! Its really a two-chord song for a lot of it and I was actually
kind of trying to write my own version of the Grateful Dead song Dark
Star. But ultimately, It all remains a mystery...
mwe3: Things That Make Me Cry is a sad song.
I just saw you wrote all the songs on the album. Is that a socially
relevant song? Do you think these are times that make people cry more
Zan Burnham: Well, I actually do think loads of folks
let certain kinds of emotions out, infrequently, and alone, quietly,
at night. Sometimes, theres things in the news, or in your personal
experience, that eventually bubble up and when youre in a private
and un-vulnerable place, you might have all sorts of emotions come
out. Laughter, anger and sometimes tears
The song isnt
meant to be only about sad things, though sadness can be an amazingly
powerful feeling at times.
mwe3: I like the guest spot by Blind Lime Burnham on Dem
Blues Is Bad. Is that your alter ego? What part do the blues
play in your music and who are your biggest blues influences? Worried,
broke and lonesome is a deadly combo. Whats worse love sick
blues or broke blues? How can you make friends or peace with the blues?
Burnham: Well, yes! Blind Lime Burnham is a kind of alter-ego,
or a character I enjoy expressing. His appearance is likely not
too pc these days, but Blind Lime is not shy! Woe
be to he or she who challenges Mr. Limes right to exist! Dem
is the colloquial form of Them. It fits Mr. Limes
character to speak like that and I do so out of an almost reverential
respect for the real old blues characters who I am attempting
to channel. Blues is an essential element of a tremendous amount of
the music from the past century.
Dem Blues Is Bad is whats known as a list
song. I go through a whole litany of foibles that can give one
the blues. I think I covered a lot of kinds of blues in this song!
But ultimately, the point is, that no matter what you do, eventually,
youre gonna get the blues, and the trick is to recognize it
and somehow, find a way to accept it as part of life, and move on...
mwe3: Let It Go is a great rocker. Is that a way
to get through the blues, just let it go? What a killer guitar solo!
Is that you Zan? Sounds like a stockbroker, waking up before dawn
to check out the Chinese stock market! Seems like the whole country
is gamblin your soul these days. Whos singing
Zan Burnham: Actually, Philip helped write the lyrics on this
one, and he was definitely thinking about a wall-street type guy.
But, as these things go, its also reminding me of President
Trump these days in a way. And yeah
wall street and our plutocratic
government have set up an absolute culture of gambling. Wall street
is really just a kind of casino. Its a terrible way to run the
economy and peoples economic lives. But no ones asking
me to come up with a better solution! I could try
solo was challenging to do because of the fast tempo. Keeps me up
at night thinking about having to perform it live. I guess I just
have to let it go! And yeah, Sabrina sings the you-know-what outta
mwe3: These Dreams is excellent as well. Whos
on lead vocals and what does the river signify in the
song? Sound like there's a Neil Young influence on the track. Whats
the difference between a dream and a nightmare in your opinion?
Zan Burnham: Wow! I was thinking Neil Young on this
song, both in the song itself and in the lead guitar. I sometimes
refer to my guitar style as Neil-Young-On-Steroids! Phil wrenches
his guts singing this one. The song came from an actual nightmare
I had. I think the un-crossable river represents obstacles one faces.
Its pretty simple, but of course, in the dream state, it becomes
gigantic and intimidating and scary. Nightmares are certainly dreams,
but fortunately, at least for me, I have very few of them! They usually
seem to happen when youre under unusual stress or have outstanding
issues still to be resolved.
Champagne Enthusiasm starts off as a kind of 1950s pop
song but then I realized its sort of a divorce blues kind of
song. Is that pretty much the topic? Is that a woman speaking from
Zan Burnham: Absolutely. Its another empowerment song
where the protagonist stands up for herself and says Im
not going to take it any more, and confidently moves on from
an abusive relationship. It could be anyones perspective, but
the main point is recognizing theres a problem and doing something
mwe3: So you have this great new album out now. What are the
odds that a million people will pick up on it and give it a listen?
Seems like theres a lot of great rock and pop artists still
being overlooked these days. How can you improve the odds in your
favor and what are you looking forward to as we steamroll towards
Zan Burnham: Its very rare that anyone, in any field,
is able to get attention without someone having spent a lot of promotional
dollars. It can and does happen that someone or some
thing breaks out, goes viral, and all that. But then, a few people
win the lottery, too. My perception is, is that unless an artist is
tied into the regimented corporate culture, theres little chance
of being heard on a grand scale. Sure, there are niches; there are
artists who have found a workable approach to making a living; and
there are some very lucky individuals who are all over the media for
quite questionable work. Im not very conducive to fitting in
with corporate culture, which might ultimately doom Zan Zones
chance of being known by more than a handful of fans and music aficionados.
But you never know. Wed certainly love to be given an opportunity
to impress the masses. But we wont sell our souls.
then theres always the absurd ideas, like crashing through the
gates of the White House, planting a Zan Zone sign on the lawn, and
making a hasty exit! How could we not get loads of publicity from
and maybe a jail term
or get shot! Of course, what
sounds good on paper
But right now, myself and the band are
focused on rehearsing and getting our new show together. Sometime
this autumn, we should be gigging in the New York City area. Its
currently a 5 piece, although we may be adding another player in the
near future. The band is really excellent, Philip and Sabrina are
incredible singers, and Im really, really, expecting this group
to blow peoples minds...