Howdy There, Everybody. Hope everyone is well. Today is the Fourth of February, 2020, and ChuckW.Com is going to try something new.
We're going to start doing Monthly Features! I don't wish to do away with the Q&A interviews but this will be something wholly different. The idea and hope is that one special Independent Musician who has gone above and beyond can have an entire month to sit up top the home page and, hopefully, assist them in obtaining more exposure for their excellent work(s). I hope you enjoy this new experiment with my first feature piece being on the super rocking and brand new release from Stephen Zinda, 'Caesar'.
Buy Straight From The Artist via Instagram DM @stephen_zinda !!!
So, we'll skip my usual fluff as we all move into uncharted waters with February 2020's feature for Caesar.
About February 2020's Featured Artist, Stephen Zinda, In His Own Words:
"I started playing drums in 5th grade, bass in 7th, guitar in 8th, and then started writing actual songs my senior year. Played around in a few bands over the years, played some shows here and there, but really never liked playing shows. It takes so much effort to continue practicing old songs while writing new ones and then sync up with the other members of the group. That and I'm not the best front man, definitely not a jump around and suck you in kinda guy, so it's a lot. I started making music by myself and building up my home studio pretty heavily 3 years ago and I enjoy that so much more. I'm in my element there."
I think I speak for ALL Stephen Zinda Officianados when I say if that's your element, my dude, please never leave. Because, got dang you are making some interesting shit in that space. Avoid mental illness, of course. But, also - NO LEAVING! Ha.
With a fun little ditty I found to be quite Atypical from Stephen's usual convention, if viewing from the angle of his work as a 'catalog' and this standing aside it. But, this is not to say this album does not 'belong' among his berjillion other works (there are a lot and I do recommend you buy every damn one straight from the Artist). It's a twist, a juke and most importantly a conscious maneuver towards the idea of 'who the hell knows where?' Well for one, the person who knows where the material is headed is without a shadow of a doubt their Designer/Creator. And I'll be damned, but Zinda absolutely has that rare and fascinating foresight. To view something through the long term lens while still doing the dirty work that needs doing here in the present. To be perfectly honest, I envy that quality in him as I cannot say I share it with equal understanding.
Anyway, Fancy Words Be Damned A Moment -
Deviation does not equal separation - While I decry Caesar as this cutting-edge, genre-spanning, era-crossing cut, please do not mistake me - Caesar is just as much befitting any of the past insanities we’ve seen from This Man. So, please be sure to support this grassroots and wholly independent Musician by educating yourself further on their earth-shattering material by obtaining it straight from them as laid out and linked to above.
Once You Hear And Understand What Zinda is Trying To Do you will notice there is always (at least one, but no maximum number comes to mind) an Ace this mother fucker has up his sleeve. This is what draws me to his approach and musical flavor/persona/personality. You perpetually think you've got him with a straight flush and he's got a royal. He turns left, leaving you no option but to follow or veer off the road. He's all the good parts of all those awful M. Night Shyamalan movies that were almost intriguing but fell flat in the end. The part daring enough that made you buy a ticket; That's Stephen. This popping out of a birthday cake style of surprise he's always good for still surprises and enthralls, with more and more depth and emotion developing with time ticking by and styles/categorizations being fickle as they are. No matter how much you may think you understand his material or where he's going, Zinda always has AT LEAST 1 curve-ball left to heave at you.
So in a way Caesar's departure from the 'normal' Stephen lexicon is surprising, it still smoothly rolls down the road in a way which is right on par. I’m unsure if I’ve ever heard the Kansan in Stephen come out so much before either than on Ambivalence. It’s usually just kind of a…. Fact about the guy. He’s from Kansas, after all. But, this song immediately strikes me for it’s distinct Southern qualities, as I’m pretty damn sure intended by the Artist. Too obvious to not be the case. But, why? Why now, why first track?? Why …. A CAPELLA?!?!?! Because Zinda is saying, ‘I’m Back, Bitches,’ without stating it so crudely (being such a Southern bell). The title, Ambivalence, is now something of curiosity, turned quite obvious.
Now, this next observation may be out of left field to say but I find it apropos to mention? Also, there’s nowhere else to say it …. I’m reminded of a most sarcastic and intoxicated Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse fame via these vocals. Is that just me? Either way, it’s clearly indicative of the guy having some genuine pipes. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t get half as much heft behind my voice without a fit of coughing following immediately. Thematically, aside from informing us where he is (right here, never left) his vocal assault on your senses is two pronged, with one barreling towards us 90 MPH saying this one’s gonna be a little bit different guys . . . While the other prong says, simultaneously I’m done caring about it either. Fed up and done. Ambivalent. All this in 1:23. Not effin’ bad.
Well, Don't Stop There! You've Lit Quite The Fire So Please, Do Continue On, Sir. You Have My Undivided Attention. . .
I don't intend to! After the quick kick in the pants that is Ambivalance, my Press Kit brought me straight to track four, a song which shares it's title with that of the album - Caesar. From the outset, this one comes in ready to fire on all cylinders. With a catchy, almost 90’s grunge sound to its initial structure, ‘Caesar,’ the desire to know context somewhat washes away as you are led from Grunge to surprisingly (genuinely, since most people make a part or section such as this in order to transition and/or change styles) further Grunge within the first go of the chorus. Layering his own voice numerous times, Zinda take on a (*Gulp*) Layne Staley quality to his voice. Yet, it works. Whereas we all know Alice in Chains … Sucks… To put it nicely… Somehow, yet again, Stephen works his magic and pulls. This. Shit. Off!
Up until the choral portion mentioned above I don’t think any particular riff can lay claim to being the lead/main melody. It is frenetic, but not at all disjointed. It nearly throws you off kilter as to where you are within the time code of the song because so much is occurring at once. This freneticism does not warrant a label of disjointed or anything stating it’s not precise as fuuuuck. Upon listening again, it become even more clear that Stephen wanted to put forth a track which would allow him to go absolutely ape on and he succeeded in spades.
This is actually worth a bit more exploration because we need to come back to home base and realize that this is ONE FUCKING GUY WE’RE TALKING ABOUT! On every instrument. If I didn’t just happen to previously know that I could have easily been fooled into thinking this was a full band arrangement. Nope, he’s all the Stephen that a Stephen may require. Each and every part recorded clearly with time, love and care doled out equally among them all. No stone is ever left un-turned here. The thundering drums really accentuates and fuels the vocal energy. The guitar noodles but never waivers.
This song is a sonically calculated attack on you, as you’re just trying to gain your bearings, stay calm in this anxious mosaic being painted right in that weird ‘pit of your belly’ spot that begins feeling crummy when you panic. The metering, the pacing, the giant puzzle of a tune that coalesces all these ‘snippet’ parts together - just WOW… Stephen, whatever you’re on, please send me some because it is either working wonders or not. Whichever it may be, it really brings out your abilities and musical persona as ‘Mad Scientist Musician’, which, for my money, is what I am aiming to hear when listening to this mild-mannered man’s music.
Burn The Witch
Check Out The Video Stephen Created For Burn The With Below
As previously mentioned, I received a press copy containing only a few choice songs from Caesar. Again, I’m yet to hear the full album, but within the seventh track, Burn the Witch, we see a shift/transition, straight from the get-go on this tune. It’s not necessarily any less serious a track but the twangy, dueling guitar parts give it an initial airy-ness about it. This I’m finding hard to describe but it feels more open than preceding songs, with this bouncy quality and tonality within what is still only this song’s freaking thesis statement (!). Also, a fundamental shift is somewhat necessary when you’ve had a madman shout rubber room rantings at you all this time. This is the timbre we’re used to hearing from Zinda’s vocals. But, what does that indicate? Why the shift? Why the 180 in tonality? Let’s keep listening and find out together . . .
At 1:57 part of me wants to categorize this genre flip as Pop-Punk. Weird thing to note, I realize, but Stephen’s music does have that ability to leave you with a whole lot to say but your mouth is so damn full you can’t eek it out. I’m calling it pop-punk first sentence but as soon as I hit play and re-visit the tab I’m drafting this piece on, that all goes out the fucking window with another chameleon-esque effort that caused me to hit pause 15 seconds later to catch up textually. It’s like a fine wine, nearly. Different notes and characters come to play along as time passes. Previously, I tasted hints of Sonic Youth with an over-arching, pallette cleansing, red-cheek inducing overtone of Queens of the Stone Age. I cannot say any of this is anywhere near a bad thing, since now we’re sliding into my personal comfort zone he’s hitting on the classics.
Then - - - BAM - - - Quick as those notions of early 90s and early 00s angst entered, they exit and we the audience are witnesses to … A Clapton-type solo? Uhm, yes please. I don’t know where in God’s name this idea came to the Artist, at this juncture of the song, but fuck me running if it is not a perfectly welcomed easter egg, of sorts. Vocals re-enter only to watch this Guitar solo become more the melody, while it falls apart in an angular downward spiral. All while the Vocals pick up the slack so there’s no moment when the mix does not sound full and complete.
A-Plus-Plus-Double-Check-Mark of a grade on one hell of a pivot track (grain of salt there again since I haven’t heard the entire album). This one made me say in my mind’s eye while listening, “Shit, I need to practice more.”
Feel Far Suns
The final track off of Stephen Zinda’s newest release, ‘Caesar,’ which I was made privy to presents us with quite the interesting dynamic in styles and conventions as seen throughout the other tracks. It is just … cool. It’s a cool song.
For a moment I forgot I was writing this after firing the tune up because I was just bobbing along and had to pause to catch up with my notes. It’s beyond catchy. I think I detect a bit of Surf-Rock in there? Possibly some Nada-Surf? I think this is hands down the most ‘approachable’ Stephen has allowed Stephen to be here.
This is kind of a silly statement on my part because if you heard even a moment of the song this is clear as day. There’s a desire to really stretch his vocal cords which Stephen emphasized previously that is also present here, but this time it’s not through artful screaming. He’s full on crooning. And it makes one say, “Hold up - Wasn’t this some sort of post-hardcore type thing going on here?” And to that question, answering on Stephen’s behalf I say Fuck to the NO.
This man is screaming his heart out at you because that’s just how he fucking feels and he’s not going to apologize for it. It seems this may be his personal outlet, similar to therapy, where he just lets it all out. Makes sense because when he goes, this Guy GOES. So, get your daily dose of vitamin scream your fucking head off if you need to. I’m all ears, sock it to me. It sounded cool as hell. Where the argument is, is in blanketly calling or defining this as such a characteristic that it defines the album. No freakin’ way.
I think what defines this album is one man’s desire to put out something ambitious and daring without letting inner voices telling him to factor in other people’s opinions.
This felt like a release from all of life's bullshit put to music. This all gives further prudence to the opening tracks title, Ambivalence. Stephen somehow towed the line throughout never losing sense of himself. As much a winding road for the ‘normal’ listener as any other Zinda material, ‘Caesar’ had me damn near jumping for joy off 4 tracks I was lucky enough to hear in advance.
To lose himself in his music so passionately and unapologetically, to not market a genius album lol, to know yourself, your aim, direction, angle and theme in your head alone for something you’re yet to even write is a rare, rare quality and skill. I think I’ve fan boyed enough here. It’s high-time you listened and subsequently appreciated ‘Caesar’ in the same manner you just read about with my own encounter. I don’t rate albums on this site, but ‘Caesar’ absolutely nets at least 12 stars out of a possible 10. Keep fucking chuggin’, Brother, and keep being you because as long as that’s the case I’m all in.
A Note From the Person who Knows the Album Best!
'Caesar' Broken Down by the Man Himself:
Caesar is an album about how healthy relationships can become unhealthy by creating a dynamic between the two partners that is reminiscent of Caesar and the people of Rome. He was elected and loved by the people of Rome initially, but ended up a Tyrant. You fear and hate Tyrants, but are forced to show adoration to them publicly.
Two partners choose to be with each other. You elect this person to be your partner, but if one becomes the leader of the relationship, where they make all the decisions, even the little ones; what to eat, where to live, what to watch, etc, they become more like a Dictator. The lesser partner takes on the opinions of the Dictator, just going along with whatever they say. On the other end the Dictator doesn't know if they can trust their partner. If they can get honesty from them or just a version of themselves they have created to please the more dominant partner. The lesser partner becomes a character they have created to please the Dictator. When one partner's views and motives are so skewed by an obsession to please their partner, it's like an unwilling populace living under a paranoid Tyrants rule.
Wrappin' It On Up
Well, that's been our time, Folks
You don't have to go home but, wait.... how'd you get in my house? I think it best if you did go home.
First, I feel obligated to thank Stephen for working through this whacky new idea with me. He was very open, which made my life way easy. His edit requests were always reasonable and usually an actual oversight on my end, so the perfect type of person anyone writing a Feature on can be glad they picked. I'd like to have Stephen say some nice words about me, but it's late. Maybe I'll ask tomorrow. Does it matter, though? Since all I care about is giving my Friend here the credit he damn well deserves and spread his word to anyone who will read it, I know I've done my part both by this oh so Humble Musician's momentous new album and shown you Readers some cool shit that you can hopefully dig on for a while. Then, another while. Until one day Caesar is all that you listen to.
In All Seriousness
This site was feeling cold and metallic before writing this. I feel Stephen helped me breathe some life, personality, some soul and some character back into it when it needed it most! For that I'm grateful and thank Stephen for tolerating my ridiculous personal life schedule at the present. Never once can I say I felt rushed other than when I forced the feeling upon myself. If for no other reason than doing your good deed for the day, or helping out a nice young chap, cough up that $11 will you. You won't need or miss it where it will and can take you.
.. And Let's Give It Up For The First Ever ChuckW.Com Feature Artist, Stephen Zinda! Annointed this day the fourth of February in the year of our Lord, 2,020 I Hereby Decree That Thou Shall Never Cease Rockin' and Rollin'!!!!
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