Wilkes Barre, PA
I had the opportunity to interview Scott VanFossen, the founder of Fighting Zero, back in January 2005, while he was a member of An American LIAR. Scott later left AAL to more fully pursue his work with Fighting Zero. Now, with a fuller line-up (Scott on guitars and vocals, Zhach Kelsch on drums, and Dave Longo on base), the boys from Wilkes-Barre, PA are making quite a name for themselves, with their song “Refine” on 97.9X and even a bit in Revolver Magazine. I had the chance to catch up with the guys and run an updated interview with Scott and Zhach.Here’s what they had to say:
AX: Can you give us some background on the band and this new line-up?
Zhach: I met Scott through our mutual friend Randy who previously
played drums with Scott. While I was talking with Randy one night at The Voodoo Lounge, he asked if I was playing with anyone and I said no so he gave me Scott’s number. Randy left the project because at the time it wasn’t a full band and he got an offer to play with a group that was already well established.
Scott: Yeah, and it was an easy transition from playing with Randy Elmy, and then moving Zhach in. The project never stopped rolling at any given point, which is good, because it keeps the energy at an extremely high level. When Randy had exited the band, we (myself, Randy, and Ed Glazinski on bass) were chosen as a runner-up band to open for Hoobastank/Velvet Revolver in May 2005. We were riding a high wave one day, then the next, things changed. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with things, but since our circle of bands/musicians are all great friends, Randy hooked Zhach and me up to keep things rolling. When auditioning bassists to replace Ed Glazinski, we stumbled upon our buddy Dave inadvertently. Dave has a ton of industry experience under his belt, one area band favorite, 3 Stoned Men. He had liked the music from this project before-hand, and we brought him down to jam. The rest is history….
AX: Do you consider this a final lineup for FZ?
Scott: As far as Zhach and Dave? I think they’re keepers. Cool guys, great musicians, and we all have the same goals. What more could you ask for? Being a 3-piece rock act is difficult, but we’ve gotten nothing but props after we’ve played. Things like “Holy Shit! We can’t believe that there’s only 3 of you on-stage and all the music that is coming out!” As for future members? Well…
Zhach: There is a lot talk between us about adding a second guitar player down the road but at this point it’s not even a priority, especially because I feel that being a 3 piece band gives us a bit of a unique quality.
Scott: True that. I think we’re breaking a lot of barriers by what we’re doing as a 3-piece. There aren’t many trios out there that are playing complex tunes like we are, and then throwing live samples in on top of the mix. Totally not easy. haha
AX: How has your sound grown or matured over the last year? (not that you were “immature” before) How you would describe FZ’s music now?
Scott: The song structures had started out in a more simple, straight-forward approach. Layers of samples would then be added in to give the song their textures. It’s obvious to me now, but maybe not others, that the songs have a “straight-forward” sound, but we are actually playing more complex time-signatures underneath a simple feel. It tricks the listener into believing that the song flows right, but actually, there’s a lot of unique musicianship that’s happening underneath the overall song’s feel. The general topics covered in the songs are still the same, melodies are that “hit ya in the face” feel, etc. I like to bring something unique to the table and then that’s when Zhach and Dave put their icing on the cake.
Zhach: I would say that the overall sound has changed completely. This is Scott’s baby so he obviously comes up with the raw ideas for songs but then he comes to Dave and myself asking, “How can we make this even better?” And after that there’s no stops. We beat the song to death making sure it’s as good as it can be.
AX: Have you had any major press, great airplay, or big shows over this year that you’d like people to know about?
Zhach: Yes we have been busy since the new lineup came about. Most recently we dropped a new single called Change My Mind which will be spinning on Wilkes-Barre’s 97.9x and soon to be many others throughout the tri-state area. We played our second show to a packed house at The Staircase Lounge (RIP) in Pittston, PA with Breaking Benjamin. And Revolver Magazine did a review on our songs in their April issue.
Scott: Yeah, the Revolver Magazine issue was a big one for us. It opened a bunch of doors for the band that we might not otherwise have had without it. I won’t name any names, but we were looked at to be included in an upcoming compilation for a well known yearly sporting event. Their soundtracks have some killer bands on them, and I’m proud to say that we were picked to even be considered for it. Like I had mentioned earlier, we also were picked as 1st alternate to open for a Hoobastank/Velvet Revolver show that happened in May 2005. We were super stoked about that! The Breaking Benjamin show was also another great thing that had happened. People had asked us how long we were together… when we told them that playing with Breaking Benjamin was our second live show, their jaws dropped. I thought to myself, “Yeah, I don’t believe it either… ” haha
AX: In all honesty, when I first heard “Down” early on, I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about it. But over time, I kept it on my general playlist, and it sort of grew on me. Why was that? There’s a different kind of edge to your music that’s almost unsettling at first, but it’s really got a great unique quality at the same time. (btw, “Refine” f*ing kicks ass) So, what exactly is it that inspires this different sound with you guys?
Scott: Thanks for the comps on “Refine”!! That’s gotten a HUGE response, and when writing it, I never thought it would receive that. I just thought it might be a great song, but nothing that would hook people the way it did. “Down” is one of those songs, that when you hear it for the first time, you’re not sure what to think of it. That tune was written and recorded in one night, but further revisions were made later on. I think there are tons of unsettling parts in that song, just because of what I was feeling at that time. I wanted the song to convey that. The more you listen to it, the more you realize that there is an actual flow to the song, singable parts, and it’s not traditional in the sense that it’s just “verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, end”. It’s boring to hear songs like that, in my opinion, so I try to change things up, but make the overall sound of the song just rule you for however long it is. Kinda keeps you guessing what could possibly happen next…
Zhach: I just play what I feel. If Scott brings an idea, a riff, or an entire song to the table, I like to listen to it for a few days and try to come up with something that supports what he’s doing but in a unique way. In other words, I could just play a straight forward rock beat all the time, but instead I like to keep that basic rock n roll feel or idea and make it a little more interesting without overdoing it or showboating.
AX: Where do your songs come from? Are these pretty much your (Scott’s) babies that you’ve been hashing out for a long time, or more of a collaboration between the new lineup you’ve got going on?
Zhach: As I mentioned before, Scott comes up with the basic ideas but then the ideas go into the blender at practice and come out something completely new and amazing that I’m pretty proud of. The songs are never “DONE” until each of us feels 100% on them.
Scott: Exactly. When I start on a tune, it’s not that I actually try to start it… if there’s no lyrics that are happening, then I put my guitar down and walk away because I know it’s too hard for me to completely express what I need to get off of my chest. I revisit an idea sometimes, and sometimes it just gets put in the trash. With Zhach and Dave in the band now, the tunes get beaten with a hammer until we are all impressed with what the hell we’ve done with it. We sometimes sit back after we’ve worked out a part, scratch our heads, and say “Holy Hell.. that’s unreal.”
AX: You’ve obviously been at this for quite a while. What keeps you going? What made you say “this is what I want to do with my life”? Was there a person who influenced you, an event in your past, or did you just wake up one day and realize this is in your blood?
Zhach: I’ve been playing the drums for over a decade and have loved it the entire time. My dad also played the drums so he was initially the one what got me into it, taught me the basics, and gave me my first set. I just enjoy everything about playing, especially live in front of a crowd. It’s what I live for.
Scott: Dude, it’s so not easy. There are times where I get frustrated with things, whether it’s the songwriting, or the industry itself, but in the end, I can’t EVER imagine myself just putting it down. In fact, I find myself getting deeper into all the time. This music is like my psychologist. I can scream at the top of my lungs to a packed house about something. To me, that’s the best therapy, and it’s not blatantly saying EXACTLY what is on my mind. The beauty part of it all is that the songs can be related to by everybody. That’s what keeps me going. It helps me, and I hope it helps others. Plus, I just like to play my guitar extremely loud. haha
AX: You talked about picking up a guitar at the age of 5 in my original interview with you. What kinds of steps does someone take to go from that to where you are today, garnering some national attention, building a strong fan base, and basically just following what most people would consider a dream?
Scott: It takes patience, perseverance, patience, patience, a smart business sense, and patience. It’s fun, no doubt, but it’s extremely hard work that a lot of people don’t get to see. It’s much more than just getting on stage and shredding up the place. From learning your instrument inside and out, to practicing, to writing, to loading in and out of clubs till 3am, and then add in on top of all of it the business side, which can be very cut throat at times.
Zhach: It sounds cheesy, but if you believe in something strongly enough and have the will to work for it (and deal with a lot of bullshit) you can make almost anything happen.
Scott: True dat.
AX: What do you currently have released, or what’s going to be released in the near future … and when? Where can people pick up your CD/merch/etc.?
Zhach: We have a single called Refine and a brand new single called Change My Mind that are currently released. We are still a relatively new band so we don’t have that much merch at this point. We do have stickers and pins that are free at all of our shows and we are working diligently on a CD as well.
Scott: We’re looking to get a CD into stores extremely soon. Last time I had talked with you, I had mentioned a spring 2005 release, but after listening to us babble, there’s a lot more that has changed that initial date. Here we are later, and might be getting a spring 2006 release. We’re shooting for the end of the 1st quarter. *fingers crossed* It’s hard to commit to an actual date because, as you know, things can change overnight. But that’s what we’re shooting for, no doubt. A cool thing just happened the other day… we got word that someone was spotted in a mall wearing a Fighting Zero t-shirt… It wasn’t one of ours, so we guess that person made their own. That’s what makes our fans rule, and we totally encourage that. Without them, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking with you, and we know it.