Hockey. Rock and Roll. One involves young men on skates chasing a puck, the other, young men with guitars chasing a… Anyway, what we’re trying to say is when it comes to hockey and rock and roll, the similarities are, well, not so similar. And yet, despite the staggering odds of pulling such a venture off, for more than 20 years, one American band, The Zambonis, have been showing that hockey and rock and roll are, surprisingly, two great tastes that taste great together.
Over 8 albums and on tracks like “The Referee’s Daughter,” “Hockey on the Moon” and “Lost My Teeth“ the Connecticut sextet have tackled love, loss, and the very philosophy of life with sometimes driving, sometimes kooky, and often straight ahead rock songs that see the world of music, and life, through the holes of a goalies mask. Their newest album Five Minute Major (in d minor) is loaded with toothsome, guitar fueled reasons to love this band, including the Rocker staff’s favorite, the adorably groovy “I Got A Concussion (When I Fell For You).”
Off the ice, we got a chance to catch up with the band to hear more about life as a Zamboni.
Rocker: I know that the band has been together a long time, but wondering if you could expand on how you all first came up with the idea of having a band where you would only sing songs about hockey. Were there other sports considered?
Dave Schneider: In 1990, I filled in on guitar for a great/fun Connecticut band called Those Melvins. At one show in Norwalk, Connecticut, I made up a song about Jonathan Richman. At the end of the set, two guys came up to me and asked, “Who wrote that song? Me and my brother love Jonathan.” Those brothers were Peter and Tarquin Katis, who had—and have—a band called The Philistines Jr., who were geeky, real and playing music I loved that was completely their own. I wanted to join their world, and, soon, we became fast friends. I had to be in a band with these guys, but, how? The Philistines were invited by legendary BBC radio DJ John Peel to record a “Peel Session,” so I invited myself along. We were in England, staying at a friend’s flat, and we really wanted to watch some hockey—which was a long shot in the UK. I said to Pete and Tarquin: “Let’s start a band that writes songs only about hockey!” One said, “Yes!” and the other said, “You two are idiots.” We wrote a few songs that night—and we’re still at it. When we got stateside, we asked Jon from Those Melvins to join the band. A few years later, we got Mat, their 6-foot-7-inch drummer/enforcer to join, too. Strange, but until this moment, I never really thought how much one gig in Norwalk changed my life.
Regarding singing songs about other sports, hell no. The reason we are still so pumped to do this is our original idea to do something that nobody else has ever done: write every song about hockey.
Mat Orefice: Everyone knows the band geeks and the football players never hung out. To be really good at one, a person needs to nearly exclude the other. Show me someone who focuses on guitar four hours a day and I’ll show you someone who has little time for sports or jocks. Similarly, show me an elite athlete and I’ll show you someone who has the musical taste of your average minivan pilot. So, to answer the question, no, I don’t think there’s any synergy–as evidenced by our wonderfully secluded niche in the music-sports universe. That said, we do consider ourselves the Lewis & Clark of that universe.
Rocker: I was pleased to see you have a mascot, a really proper mascot for your band. How did the Hockey Monkey first come into being?
Dave: We wrote a song called “Hockey Monkey” with our friend, James Kochalka. First Viacom/Nickelodeon made a video and gave us some money for it. Then, Fox Television made it a theme song to a great cult-classic sitcom called The Loop, which lasted just two seasons. Thankfully, they paid us too much money. Most smart rock bands would take the dough and hire management, a booking agent, a publicist or a roadie/sound guy. Not us. We felt our money would be better spent building a friend for life. We spent about $2,200 on our pal, The Hockey Monkey. What’s funny is, the actual man in the suit (uh, it’s not a real monkey, kids) was the mascot for The New York Islanders for seven years. Sometimes, when I look at the Monkey on stage, I see a huge dollar sign instead of a mascot (kidding, kind of). We love our Hockey Monkey.
Rocker: Do you think other bands would do well to consider having a mascot?
Dave: Personally, the first band I can think of that would kill it with a mascot and pull it off would be The Flaming Lips. Imagine their crazy huge shiny, puffy pink mascot Lippy. If you ever see them live, it’s like a weird, wonderful dream. Lippy would fit in perfectly. I think The Baseball Project would be great with a mascot, too. We have said it since they started in 2007 that we should do a Baseball vs. Hockey tour together.
Rocker: Your band has had a lot of amazing opportunities what with playing for All Star Games and on NHL Live. For you, what has been your best moment with The Zambonis, where you thought “we have finally really made it” or alternately “I can’t believe how absurd this is”?
Dave: In our early years, “making it” consisted of getting free hockey jerseys as payment for our gigs. We have 500 jerseys in the basement, so, in that respect, we really made it.
Too many “best moments” to list here. The obvious stuff is: The NHL All-Star Game (once in LA, the other in Raleigh), and all the Stanley Cup events and parties. We were invited by Matt Cullen (currently with the Minnesota Wild) to play his victory party after he won the Cup in 2005 with the Carolina Hurricanes. The party’s special guest? THE STANLEY FRIGGIN CUP! We arrived in the club in Fargo to a lovely stage outfitted with vintage gear—and The Stanley Cup just sitting there on the drum riser! We even broke one of the unwritten rules of the Cup: we hoisted it above our heads on several occasions. After the show, we had the great privilege of drinking beer from the Cup, with Mr. Cullen acting as “beer tender.” This was a historic night for another reason: it was the first taste of alcohol for our 44-year-old drummer, Mat (forever immortalized on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XZJLldqeus)
Ohhhh, traveling to Latvia in 2004 during the NHL lockout was a huge moment for us. We played a hockey arena, a few punk clubs, and a Russian-owned casino that was, unbeknownst to us, a place of ill repute. To promote this casino show, we appeared on the equivalent of Latvian MTV, with a viewing demographic from 12 to about 22. I decided to plug the gig for that night, “Hey, you can see us tonight at Le Rock!” Everyone behind the camera starts waving and shaking their heads. I figured I had mispronounced the club’s name so I quickly said, “I mean we’re playing at La Roca!” They wave more frantically while the two young interviewers have odd, uncomfortable grins. After they cut to a commercial, the translator informs us we are playing a club inside a Russian mob-owned casino and whorehouse. Oops.
And, lest we forget the pair of all-hockey weddings-on-ice, three hockey bar mitzvahs, and the countless hockey banquets. All of that said, we play “hockey rock” where the music is just as important as the hockey. Our “best moments” are fulfilled every time we hit the stage.
Rocker: After 20 years, is it challenging to come up with fresh musical examinations of hockey?
Mat: If we have a true talent, it is being able to find ways to enter the hockey arena from different doors. Thanks to the wonders of metaphor, we can link nearly any topic with any musical genre and, voila, hockey music! Like we’ve said before, we don’t feel hemmed in by hockey rock. I know some bands that dabble in hockey songs, feel they have to be “metallic” in order to convey hockey’s speed and aggression. But, we believe melody and emotion—even in the form of a slow a slow country ballad or a 55-second hardcore thrash—can speak to music and hockey fans as well. We feel sad for bands forced to stay in their genre or be cast out (yes, a subtle Rush reference!!!).
Rocker: How do you feel when people refer to The Zambonis as comedy rock, does it feel pejorative, or is it an apt fit?
Mat: Let’s face it, Dream Theater we ain’t. But, on the other hand, we take a lot of pride in being original, melodic and memorable. Catchy is not a crime in our book. We understand people have preconceptions about our “original” music, but, once you hear or see us, we feel we transcend the “joke (or worse “novelty”) rock” tag. We’re used to hearing, ‘You’re much better than I thought you’d be,” and we always take that as a big compliment. We also take a lot of pride in not doing the obvious “Puck You” type of hockey schtick. We can be subtle, like a perfect pass from behind the net.
Rocker: Do you ever have secret urges to write songs that aren’t not really about hockey, or alternately, about other sports?
Dave: Never ever do I have any such non-hockey urges. I have been writing these songs since I really learned how to write a song. I wouldn’t know how to write a song about another sport or want to, for that matter. I seriously have troubles not coming up with some sort of weird hockey reference when I write. Maybe I like to hide behind the metaphor. I would need to talk to a shrink about why I hide behind humor and hockey, but these aren’t NASCAR or baseball songs, so I can’t afford a shrink.
Rocker: What’s coming up next for the Zambonis?
Dave: We’re auctioning off guitars for some great causes! I had my vintage Gibson guitar damaged by Delta Airlines in December and Gibson Guitars not only reached out and gave me a new one, they also gave me a few extras to give away to some local charities, so we will be doing the first one on April 6th at a Bridgeport Sound Tiger’s game. They are the AHL affiliate for the NHL’s New York Islanders. All proceeds will go to families of the tragedy in Newtown and a Bridgeport CT Homeless Shelter. We will be doing a bunch of East Coast shows in mid June. We just recorded a sweet tribute song for The Jay Thomas Show on Sirius/XM. The song has a total ’67 Who vibe. We like that vibe. We are big Jay Thomas fans and I was recently on his show. He asked if I knew how he and I had a connection? I said, “Yes of course, you played Eddie LeBec on Cheers.” Eddie was Karla’s boyfriend who was written off the show after being run over by a Zamboni. Hopefully, we’ll be playing the song on the show one Friday morning in NYC in the next month or so.
We have tons of new songs and we are still pushing our recently released record Five Minute Major (in d minor). I wish everybody were my son. He is three and is musically obsessed with all things with the letter Z. He only listens to The Zambonis and Led Zeppelin. Please don’t tell him about the band Zebra.
Find The Zambonis at: WWW.THEZAMBONIS.COM
Like The Zambonis here: Facebook.com/TheZambonis
Tweet The Zambonis at @TheZambonis