Say Zuzu – Beyond the Bull
From 1995 to 2001, Say ZuZu drove a 1987 Ford school bus they called The Bull. They often asked fellow musicians they admired to sign the interior, and over the years “Lil’ Bull” was graced by the likes of Richard Buckner, the Derailers, Vince Gill, Wayne Hancock, and Jay Farrar. The bus saw its owners through several tours and the recording of five CDs, most notably 1998’s excellent Bull.
Bass player James Nolan called it quits after that, as did drummer Steve Ruhm, but last March the band’s two singer-songwriters, Jon Nolan and Cliff Murphy (on lead and rhythm guitars, respectively), recruited Harvard grad Tim Nylander (drums) and former ZuZu guitar tech Jon Pistey (bass) for a tour that’s probably better described as a month-long losing streak.
“The four of us get along really well,” says Murphy. “And we’ve had some really bad experiences.” After suffering a blizzard, an injury, exploding rear tires, engine trouble, and a missed gig in Dallas, the band reached Austin during South By Southwest and sold The Bull to a church in order to purchase a “more reliable” 1982 Suburban from a palm reader. The transmission lasted as far as Memphis.
Fortunately, the legendary Ardent Studios was up the street, the band had time to kill, and Studio C just happened to be available. “Of course they didn’t have an engineer!” says Nolan. “But we went in the next day and recorded 7 tunes in 10 hours.” Then they drove 21 hours straight to New York City.
Thematically, the band’s new album, Every Mile, reflects all this. “On tour, you’re confronting, head on, the things that frustrate you about the industry,” says Murphy, who was also weathering the breakup of a three-year relationship at the time. “The word lonely appears in every song I wrote for this album.”
Nolan agrees that the darker sentiments of Murphy’s songs had a big influence on the overall tone of the record, which he describes as “pain with a hope chaser.” Many of Nolan’s songs are spirited, small-town narratives or road songs, whereas Murphy’s tend to be more lyrical, plaintive, and introspective.
Every Mile kicks off with a song called, yes, “Lonely”, a midtempo rocker with joyfully overdriven guitars that sets the stage for what is ultimately more of a rock album than Bull. (For more twang, try Cliff and Jon’s country side-project, Hog Mawl, and their recent debut album Hank Williams Jr. High).
Every Mile has found a home in Europe on Blue Rose Records, but that’s a long way from the band’s home in Newmarket, New Hampshire. The band plans a U.S. release in 2002, even if they have to do it themselves from Newmarket. Which is to say, on the road. Where is Newmarket, after all?
“Exactly,” says Nolan.