Liverpool has had a reputation for breeding young, talented musicians who push the envelope, claiming rock groups such as The Beatles, The La’s and The Coral. Next in line may be the psychedelic five-piece act The Zutons.
So what is a Zuton, you might ask? A clear definition may be hard to come by, but perhaps that’s exactly what the band intended. According to their 2004 debut album Who Killed the Zutons? (Sony) a Zuton is an epidemic-like sensation that runs through the head to create a “Zuton Fever” (the first track off the album).
The Zutons officially started off in the spring of 2002 when lead singer-guitarist for the band David McCabe was joined by fellow bass players Boyan Chowdhury and Russ Pritchard. Saxophone player Abi Harding and drum player Sean Payne joined the mix, and the band began to take shape. Without a desire to fit into a pre-established genre, The Zutons began experimenting with various sounds, combining hand clapping, foot stomping and chanting with their modern jazz/soul, guitar and saxophone vibe. Together they produce a sound that wanders across genres and never quite settles down. Part of this is due to the unique contributions made by every musician.
“Everyone in the band is an individual, with different musical influences,” said bass player Russ Pritchard, who cited Public Enemy, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones as inspirations while stressing that the group’s influences run deeper into jazz, punk and soul territories.
At their recent 9:30 Club appearance, the band played nearly every track off Who Killed The Zutons? creating a multi-layered cacophony of sounds. The show’s opener, “Zuton Fever,” revealed that it is Harding’s bold saxophone contributions that push the Zutons away from pure rock, punk and soul. Her sax expertise is showcased during solos that cut into the middle of songs to create a dialogue with singer/guitarist McCabe’s chorus of “Pressure Pressure Pressure Pressure Pressure…” McCabe’s use of nonsensical chants throughout the album such as the “Whoo hoo hoo’s” off “Pressure Point” add yet another dimension to the Zuton sound. The first 10 seconds of “Don’t Ever Think” begin with spirited hand clapping and chanting from the entire band. Unusual skat-like lyrics and soulful jazz-saxophone melodies pervade the rest of the album, accompanied by powerful percussion and bass exchanges.
Although similar melodies can be found across the album, according to Pritchard, there is no clear sense of continuity among the songs. He compared the album’s grouping of songs to a week in Liverpool. Like the thrills and pressures that exist from day to day, each song on the album tries to convey a different story and sensation experienced over the course of that week. The listener can use his or her imagination to take whatever they want from a particular song.
So, you decide for yourself: who are the Zutons? And have they really been killed?