2022 marks the return of Brooklyn’s best band, NYC rockers Zan Zone. Featuring the songs of band founder Zan Burnham, Start Where You Stand is the long-awaited result of 38 months of blood, sweat & tears that found the band enlisting the aid of a new co-lead female singer Angela Watson Modeste. Angela joins forces with long-time Zan Zone vocalists Zan Burnham, Philip Dessinger and Zan’s daughter Arianna Burnham. Angela’s voice rounds out the trademark, 4-part vocal harmony that is featured on a number of Start Where You Stand songs, including the title track composed by band member Philip Dessinger. Speaking about the title track for Start Where You Stand, Zan tells mwe3.com “The anonymous man Philip mentions in verse one could stand in for millions of folks who, while just trying to live their lives, are caught up in these huge political power plays playing out on a planetary scale. And no one’s life is worth a damn. It’s among the worst expressions of human activities.”
In contrast to the catchy, pop-rock anthems that are featured on the album in abundance, the Zan Zone approach to instrumental music is also put to the test on Start Where You Stand with “Extinction: Rebellion” and “Extinction: Romp”, proving that Zan Zone is not only rock and progressive music but rock instrumental too. Speaking about “Extinction: Rebellion” and “Extinction: Romp”, Zan adds, “Extinction: Rebellion” refers to a movement started in England which bases itself on the idea that humanity - and much of all current life, is in distinct danger of extinction. The other number, “Extinction: Romp” is more about how we’re all full of frolic and jolly, ‘romping’, as we gallop headlong towards the edge of the cliff…”
Driving Zan Zone’s powerhouse beat are Saadi Zain (electric / acoustic bass) and Marko Djordjevic (drums / percussion). In contrast to 2013’s It’s Only Natural, the cover art and album concept of Start Where You Stand is unsettled, perhaps alluding to the current global refugee crisis in the hell-fire aftermath of the pandemic era. One thing is clear: long-time Zan Zone devotees and newcomers will come away with big smiles on their faces after witnessing the pop-rock magic in play on Start Where You Stand. www.RandomAxeRecords.com / www.ZanZone.com
mwe3.com presents a new interview with
mwe3: Where does Start Where You Stand find Zan Zone in 2022? It sounds like you cover all the bases both musically and topically too on this brilliant new album.
Zan Burnham: Start Where You Stand is very much where Zan Zone is right now. Great songs, excellent recording techniques, and awesome performances that are at the high end of skill, effort and expression. The songs, especially on this album, are mostly all meant to expose and illuminate aspects and issues of everything that’s been going on in society: our continued war mongering, the assault of the planet, and the debacle of current world governments with their criminal approach to all of the world’s people and problems. Certainly, these issues are ongoing and hopefully this album is one more prompt to everyone to look deeply into everything, to question authority, and to act on our insights and growing understanding of all of the corruption and essentially evil agendas of so many powerful people and institutions.
Zan Burnham: Zan Zone’s essential goal for Start Where You Stand is to bring us to a much wider audience. A band can’t just rely on friends and acquaintances to support them. A band needs a much larger group of listeners and potential fans in order to afford to play live and to elevate their status and the public profile of the band. These days, with so many old revenue streams for musicians just gone, it’s absolutely critical that audiences support artists or it’s just impossible to bring a band to a level where it’s self-supporting. What business can survive without resources and income? None, for very long. So we hope Start Where You Stand will finally put Zan Zone on enough music fans’ radars in order for the band to become a legitimate player in the larger musical universe.
mwe3: How much did the activities of the past two years influence Start Where You Stand and specifically the title track, although I think it was written before the pandemic? It’s certainly been a very challenging time in history.
Zan Burnham: The past two years, if they’ve proven anything, it’s that life is utterly unpredictable, and tough times are always like a wolf at the door who pushes his way in, way too often. Certainly, when we started this project around March, 2019, few on Earth knew what was likely coming. We didn’t. Yet, while searching for meaning, truth, and some positive response to many of the issues confronting all of us, the album presciently walked right into the global pandemic as if the album was intended, from the start, to be generally about many of the same underlying issues.
mwe3: Start Where You Stand begins with “Bad Dreams”. How does the song set the tone and mood and was that song directly influenced by the events of the past two years? How does the part about the animals all leaving town relate to the messaging of “Bad Dreams”?
Zan Burnham: “Bad Dreams”, originally about a changing a dangerous environment, morphed seamlessly into the whole pandemic experience. The unknowns, the fears, the oppression from hidden places, they all became added to the song’s original emotional intent and the last two years have only strengthened the song’s current relevance. It really kinda sets a mood of foreboding and offers warnings, which are themes explored on much of the rest of the album.
mwe3: There’s been some changes in your personal life as well as changes in the Zan Zone group lineup, including the passing of your wife. I could feel some of the hardships you went through with Marilyn’s passing. Tell us about her. She must have been very musical as she’s been with you through the entire Zan Zone story. Also, your daughter Arianna adds in the missing piece in the Zan Zone four-part vocal harmony.
Zan Burnham: My wife loved my music. She played Zan Zone often in her car and was incredibly supportive of everything I did. A published poet, her perceptive critiques of lyrics are noted on the lyric page for “Survival” - comments: Marilyn!
It’s amazing having Arianna on the album. She sings with us live sometimes, too. I knew she had a special voice growing up and it’s like adding another cool “instrument” having her in the band. It also gives us the classic two boys/two girls vocal approach, which has tons of possibilities. And, everyone sang great.
mwe3: Other Zan Zone changes on Start Where You Stand include bringing in co-lead vocalist Angela Watson Modeste. Tell us about Angela joining Zan Zone.
Zan Burnham: Angela Watson-Modeste is an answer to a dream and a prayer. When our former singer, Sabrina Clery, became too busy with her own band and music, we needed not just a new female lead singer, but an awesome one, and we surely found it in Angela. She’s a delight to work with, a total professional, and someone who’s lovely singing goes right into your heart. She’s a dream come true. While she sings on most of the songs, she only has 2 & 1/2 leads and we hope to get her to sing more and more as time goes on.
Zan Burnham: Certainly, Start Where You Stand refers to wars in general, and specifically recalls numerous conflicts in The Middle East and Asia - even Africa. All places for proxy wars fomented by the USA and other States. The anonymous man Philip mentions in verse one could stand in for millions of folks who, while just trying to live their lives, are caught up in these huge political power plays playing out on a planetary scale. And no one’s life is worth a damn. It’s among the worst expressions of human activities.
mwe3: Is “Watchin’ The World Go By” a possible single from Start Where You Stand? Is there a single track or video coming to YouTube or social media? Sounds and reads like a scathing indictment of the world today. I like the last line “it all goes by in the wink of an eye, In the best line of the week”, priceless! Seems like Global warming is almost an afterthought in the world of 2022.
Zan Burnham: Interesting that you should ask that. Traditionally, singles have had to be as short as possible for many reasons, but “Watchin’ The World Go By” is the longest song on the album! It is, however, very entertaining, especially with the Oceanside scene for a bridge. We are very much thinking of visuals at the moment and I would love to do something for “Watchin’ The World Go By”. But actually we’re just about finished with a lyric-video for “Start Where You Stand”, and while lyric videos are fairly simple with no real motion pictures, we still think it’s gonna come off pretty well. The RandomAxe Records Art Department spearheaded by Jera Denny, is doing a fantastic job with limited resources. You’ll soon see.
Actually, I’ve been reading for years that one notable early sign of real trouble would be issues with food. Now of course, some of our current issues with food shortages are man-made. But not all…
Zan Burnham: Thank you! Yeah - “I Won’t Live A Lie” is a very exciting track. Like the whole album, this song just came out great, and it’s a gas to play the guitar on! The mainstream news is generally filtered through various corporate and political ideologies, and is essentially completely untrustworthy. My song is quite at odds with their whole philosophy.
mwe3: As great as the first four track are on Start Where You Stand, it seems you break new ground for jazz fusion with track 5, “Extinction: Rebellion”. Just the title alone kind of tells a story of fighting back. Tell us about “Extinction: Rebellion”.
Zan Burnham: “Extinction: Rebellion” refers to a movement started in England which bases itself on the idea that humanity - and much of all current life, is in distinct danger of extinction. There’s a convincing book about it out there. It’s a real possibility. My piece, musically describes a great build up to an explosion of action, activity, and combustion, leading to a climax, and then destruction, followed by a nightmarish, other-worldly afterworld, and even that too, collapses… The other number, “Extinction: Romp” is more about how we’re all full of frolic and jolly, ‘romping’, as we gallop headlong towards the edge of the cliff…
mwe3: Although “Extinction: Rebellion” ends with a bang, the next track “Baby Cried” sounds like a Top 40 style Motown pop track. Angela’s vocals remind me of Diana Ross. Tell us about the origins of “Baby Cried”. You told me someone else wrote that song?
Zan Burnham: The origins of Zan Zone date back to the 1990’s. For about a year in the early ‘90s, a guitarist and singer named Donna Bersch, played with us. Donna and I also carried on a bit together as well during that year. It was a great time. Donna had been getting back into the guitar and was writing a little when we hooked up. One song she wrote, “Baby Cried”, about her adopted daughter, really impressed me. It was a real life drama about Donna rescuing this four year old girl whose parents had both OD’d. True stories from the first person perspective can be among the most powerful of song types. That’s what this is and I think Donna nailed really her feelings here, and wrote a great song, too. Of course Zan Zone runs the song through our rock-band filter with extensive guitars, background vocals, and a kind of 1970’s soul sound and groove. What’s not to like? And Angela nails it! Diana Ross is an excellent comparison here, but Angela really makes it her own. Classic piece.
mwe3: “THAT” is a great duet between Angela and Philip. It’s a very wordy track, kind of Dylan-esque. Is it about relationships? It’s got a little erotic kind of vibe. What are your favorite lyrics in “That”, plus you have a great Flamenco guitar solo, which adds in a lot, backed by a wind machine ala “She’s So Heavy”. Also why did you capitalize the title?
Zan Burnham: “THAT” is three vignettes, tied together with the crazy chorus. Verse one is about betrayal, verse two is about lust, and verse three is about life. I like the expressiveness in general of all of the lyrics. The line “Wounds of my restlessness” is pretty descriptive and thought provoking, concepts that great poetry is known to reveal. It was a lot of fun to kinda go wild with the lyrics. It’s truly what they used to call an “Art Song” in that it has all sorts of non-commercial elements, and has plenty of them, and... amazingly, all to a disco beat! You can dance to “THAT”!
mwe3: “One Step Ahead Of The Red” is another showstopper track. You wrote that with Phil? Tell us how do you guys write. Are you and Phil the new Lennon / McCartney of Brooklyn? How did you meet Phil and how would you break down the track? Tell us about your guitar solo in that song. It rivals Clapton on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. Tell us how you recorded the guitar solos and the track.
Zan Burnham: Philip came to me with mostly completed lyrics for two verses and the chorus for “One Step Ahead Of The Red”. He also had a basic melody. The first thing I did was to find a supportive chord progression to harmonize his melody. Then I had Philip write a third verse. We both tweaked the lyrics here and there. I actually did get a couple of lines in there, and then I wrote a bridge and Philip wrote some more lyrics, and that was basically it. I personally find it hard to write with anyone in the same room. I’ve certainly done it, but prefer the no-distractions environment. Of course, I wouldn’t say any method is bad. Whatever works!
I tried to make the guitars sound super bluesy to bring out the cries of, and the angst of what the protagonist is experiencing. And yeah, it has a real Eric Clapton/Derek & The Dominos sound. I’m pretty happy that it came out that way! I used an awesome Tom Anderson Drop Top guitar which, like the Strat’s Hendrix and Clapton used to use, is super expressive and lent itself really well to the deep bends and soulful notes that I got from the guitar on this number.
Zan Burnham: The music to “Survival” is really more influenced by The Who then Paul McCartney, with its big power chords and dramatic drum kicks and fills. And yes… it is hopeful… in that I pray that we as a species will come to our senses and treat the planet as a friend, not a victim we’re mugging.
That said, Marilyn DID find a flaw or two in the lyrics. She was a published poet and was great with words. She went through all of the lyrics on the project and this was the only song where she found a few issues. Her questions are on the lyric sheet page. It’s kind of funny, but also it’s a little memento and keepsake from my late wife.
mwe3: “Hot & Cold” is perhaps my favorite song on Start Where You Stand. Talk about a New York track, this is it! It has a kind of White Album effect with the Lennon-esque screaming ending. Funny, that’s NYC in a nutshell. Running hot and cold! Is that a song you wrote for Start Where You Stand or does it have a history like some of the other tracks? Is the song about conformity and mixed feelings about towing the line?
Zan Burnham: That makes this your second #1 favorite song on the album! I guess you can have more than one! When we were first working on this track, I told Marko that I felt it has a kind of Little Feat quality to it. As Marko is primarily a jazz drummer, I wasn’t sure if he was familiar with Little Feat. However, Marko constantly surprises me with an absolute voluminous knowledge of drummers and music and experiences you’d never expect from him. So, it was a bit surprising but not unexpected when he said that he was quite familiar with Little Feat since he had done a whole tour in a backup band playing on the bill with Little Feat, and that he and Richie Hayward had become good friends during the tour. So much for me wondering about his knowledge! So while the song does have some of the toughness of New York, it also has the funky rhythms of the New Orleans based band, and Marko, of course, nails it.
mwe3: “Holdin’ You Tight” is a great way to close Start Where You Stand. It’s a kind of bittersweet way to close the album. It sounds like you wrote it for Marilyn but it’s also a cool love song and a relaxing way to close a pretty intense album. I’m thinking that’s Angela on lead vocals.
Zan Burnham: After Armageddon… after the revolution, after civilization has crumbled all you might have left is one special relationship that you’re trying to hold on to. Or even just the memory. “Holdin’ You Tight” is hopeful yet sad. You just don’t know if you’ll see your loved one again but that the memory, if that’s all you have, sustains you as nothing else will. It also works just as a symbol of loneliness and the hope that the separation will end eventually. We’re all so often separated from who and what we love in life. It’s an inevitable part of life and something we’re all constantly trying to reconcile, at least at one time or another. But the heart doesn’t forget, and if all you have are your memories, well, sometimes, for some folks, that’s all you get, and it must be cherished or what was the point of life to begin with?
And wow - Angela sings this as if she IS the last person on Earth still willing to express undying love regardless of any chance at future happiness or contentment. Her vocal on this song is one of my favorite performances on the album and I fall in love with her each time I hear it. I also would like to give a shout-out to our bassist, Saadi Zain, who’s playing absolutely perfectly complements my guitar work on this song. It doesn’t get much better than this.
mwe3: Is Start Where You Stand a kind of New York album? I remember the great albums made in New York and there were quite a few! Start Where You Stand really rises to the occasion so to speak. Maybe you can put NYC back on map. Tell us about working with your engineer and something else about how was the album recorded. No one uses tape anymore right?
Zan Burnham: I’ll take credit! The cover was my idea!… Feet in mud. Like early humans. But tracks, footprints, history… whoever it was… has moved. Moved on. Marched. Did something! It’s about taking action and boldly pursuing your dreams, and hopefully, for good! Of course, the brilliant art director, Jera Denny, took my rough pictures of my feet in the mud in Prospect Park, here in Brooklyn, and made the whole scene look iconic…
mwe3: Tell us more about the feet in the mud photo sessions in Brooklyn with Jera. Muddy Burnham! How far do you live from Prospect Park? Is that area safe to walk there at night?
You were born in Manhattan. I was born in Brooklyn but moved to Wantagh at 4. I remember Brooklyn. What do you like best about Brooklyn? Tell us something about your neighborhood. What are your favorite parts of Brooklyn and do you still like living in NYC? Not the same as it was in the late 1960s and early ‘70s right?
Zan Burnham: The cover is a bit unnerving! It has something about it that reminds you of fossils and footprints from the past. Who was this? Where did they go? Did they survive? The footprints imply that while someone WAS standing here, they made a move, they had a dream, they started where they stood and did something! That’s what the album is about: not being passive, but rather, taking matters into your own hands… or feet!, deciding on a goal or destination, and moving towards that dream.
I like living here but it can get a bit intense and loud! I do crave some quieter space from time to time and I actually hope to be able to spend regular time away from the borough as time goes on. I was pretty young in the late 1960s/early ‘70s and at that time my family had moved to Stamford, Connecticut for a few years, which is about 30 miles outside of the city so, for better or worse, I didn’t get to experience the City so much as a wee lad.
mwe3: We are still talking about the assorted carnage from the pandemic. Have you ever saw a more divisive time in US history? Not since Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s. Is there even a time left for every purpose under heaven? Any predictions for 2023, this time tomorrow?
Zan Burnham: The Vietnam era was certainly highly divisive in America, but events and situations today might take the cake for being just about as divisive as that time was in our history. Of course, The Civil war was pretty damn divisive too! A million Americans dead! That’s probably been our #1 toughest time in the USA so far. But the last two years have just been awful. Powerful, hidden forces have attempted to manipulate all of us in ways that we’re not even completely sure of. It’s been frightening and mysterious. Down has been up, and vice versa. Solid ground has liquified and scary realities have floated into the sky only to rain down difficult uncertainties and situations. Almost no one has been happy.
We have all been subject to diabolical forces with no sure plan or way to combat them. We’ve been stuck in a bag punching the air. It has drastically upset all of our good, normal natures and made everyone question what is real and what is not, with no certainty that we are making the right observations and choices. Yet I do believe the indomitable spirit of humanity will prevail. It just may take a good bit more time to work it all out. And hopefully we will re-emerge with a new birth of freedom and renewed pledges and hope to survive and thrive in the revealing light of truth.
mwe3: So how does a veteran rock band survive the roaring ‘20s, albeit 100 years after the original roaring ‘20s? Even with an album as good as this, what are you hoping to achieve this time around? I guess the pandemic age will continue on with all its scare tactics and messaging. How will you be using social media and YouTube to promote Start Where You Stand? You were talking about going on Tik Tok and Instagram too and are you planning that 60 second info-mercial for Start Where You Stand? Any new marching orders from Zan Zone high command?
Zan Burnham: Honestly, I don’t see how any legit Rock n’ Roll band is surviving anymore. Once Colin Powell’s moronic and phony son Michael, who was presiding over the FCC under Bill Clinton, promulgated the so-called “Telecom Modernization act of 1996“, all music, but especially Rock n’ Roll has been subjected to censorship and control by heavy-handed corporate entities who have done nothing but stifle the voices of independent minded writers and musicians. There is no rock scene now as there was in the times between Elvis Presley and Nirvana. It’s mostly all glad-handing entertainment which strives to be generally uncontroversial and tame. Anything beyond that is de-platformed and minimized by super-controlling corporate masters.
It’s a total 1984 scenario and few people, especially young people who’ve never quite experienced the opposite, are quite aware that this is what has happened. They think it has all so blissfully and naturally evolved into this cardboard pop or generic and obscene rap, which is really not songs and music, it’s sound design with spoken word, dumbed down for people who only want to respond to base and salacious sloganeering which trivializes anything perceptive that it may occasionally have to offer. We live in dark times. I don’t know how we’re going to get out of all this.
In "Yellow Submarine", The Beatles suggested that we all band together and sing our way out. Perhaps that can work, but so far - not so much. Everyone really needs to take stock of what’s happened and that can only occur if folks are willing to dig very, very deeply in order to get a clue as to how and why this has all happened and, at the very least, to make personal changes in their lives and make their lives stand for something. START WHERE YOU STAND!