Zero Down Interview

A good melodic hardcore band is easy to find these days, however a great melodic hardcore band is nearly impossible to locate. Fortunately, ZERO DOWN, has helped fill up the gap recently with the release of their incredible debut, “With a Lifetime to Pay.” Featuring ex-members of STRUNG OUT, PULLEY, and DOWN BY LAW, these seasoned veterans smoke the competition with a blindling array of sheer power and saucy melodies. Simply put, if you like gripping punk rock with an edge in the vein of BAD RELIGION, then these guys should be on your playlist. This interview was conducted with lead vocalist and bassist, Jim Cherry, by email sometime in early March. Interview by Jordan A. Baker

pastepunk: After you were no longer in STRUNG OUT, how long did it take you to realize that you wanted to be in another full time band?

Jim: Well, I took a year off and in the beginning of that year, I decided I didn’t want to be in a band anymore. I’m a contractor, I do flooring for a living and I’m really good at it. I can make almost five times as much money doing my menial job. I guess I felt like I wasn’t done. It took about a year to feel that way, but I hadn’t picked up my guitar in a year, and I just did one day. Three hours later I had three songs. I wasn’t even trying, it just happened.

pastepunk: How did the ZERO DOWN line-up come together?

Jim: I was jamming with this drummer kid who was really good and looking for a guitar player. A friend of mine, Johanna who used to run the clothing company Serial Killer mentioned her friend John and said he was a really good guitar player and was looking to jam. I called him, he came and learned a couple of songs and I asked him what he could do, and he showed me some riffs that later became five of our songs. It was indescribable, he could play exactly what I wanted to hear. I could say “we need a dark part for this song” he would just come up with it. The drummer kid we were jamming with left for greener pastures and John and I had the pleasure of sitting through about 20 different drummers, before we got sick of it and put an ad out in our local paper The Recycler that read “punk band looking for a good drummer” and that’s it. Milo paged me, he was the only one who answered the ad and it turned out he was the drummer for Down By Law and he was looking for a punk band to keep his chops up during his off time. He called me and was kind of perplexed, he didn’t know I wasn’t in Strung Out anymore. I was on a job at the time. Milo has a reputation in our home town as the best drummer around, he’s played jazz for 20-odd years, and does almost every kind of percussion I can think of. I knew this was a golden opportunity so I asked him if he was going to be around for half an hour and I ran home, grabbed my acoustic, and went over to his house and played him five songs. I guess he liked what he heard, sat in for one practice, played “Down This Road”, John and I looked at each other and asked him if he was busy for the next 10 years. We tried finding a singer, and another guitar player to complement John’s playing, but nothing clicked. After nine months of kinda half assed being a band, we decided it would be just the three of us and it’s been that way ever since. I think we’ve come a long way.

pastepunk: A lot of your lyrics deal with lessons gained in life through both observations and experiences, what do you intend to accomplish by telling others of what you have learned?

Jim: This whole album was a catharsis, it got me through a lot of shit. I just write what I feel and what I know, I don’t ever think “Is this going to change someone’s life” or anything, it’s just my story. I just hope people can relate.

pastepunk: You’ve been playing music professionally now for quite some time, what is the continual impetus that makes you want to keep on going?

Jim: It’s what I do. Some guys wake up and spend their free time wrenching on cars or building ships in a bottle, I make music. I’m just fortunate enough to be able to go out and play in front of people. All of my friends are musicians. I can only think of very few who’ve made any kind of released recordings. I like to write, it’s the only thing that makes me feel like I’ve actually accomplished anything with my life.

pastepunk: I know that you are married, how does that affect touring and other band responsibilities?

Jim: When I was 19 and living with Mom and Dad, I didn’t have any bills. The only thing I worried about was whether the van was gonna blow up or not. Now I’m 29, and I still worry if that same van is gonna blow up or not, but if the van blows up, will I still be able to pay rent, car insurance, phone bills, etc. As far as affecting touring, I just got a big phone bill now. I’m really lucky because I know a lot of guys whose girlfriends and wives get really jealous of the band thing, I’m sure they wonder what is it that makes a guy want to leave his family and go live in a van and eat Top Ramen off a Coleman stove. I wish I had an answer for that one. Wendy supports me 100%, she does the band web site, she’s integral to the business aspect of the music, and she’s great to bounce ideas off of. It’s actually really cool because you know no matter what, you got someone in your corner when everything else goes wrong. It works for me.

pastepunk: In a musical genre that STRUNG OUT and DOWN BY LAW helped practically define, how do you try to update your sound in ZERO DOWN while retaining what is familiar to you?

Jim: Well, I can’t really say that I update anything, I kind of feel like I “outdate” shit sometimes. I listened to the first record I did (Skinny Years) over 10 years ago the other day, and the tempos and the dark melodies are very similar to the writing of this record, just more mature. I try to make every record sound different than the last one. I don’t think it’s a conscious effort, I really just write. I think the people who get too concerned with the bullshit about what market it will appeal to and if there’s a “radio” song on it are missing the point. The best music just happens.

pastepunk: I noticed that in your lyrics, instead of immense feelings of rage, there is more of a theme of “no regrets.” When was the last time you felt that your views and goals were challenged in life? How did you handle that?

Jim: Well, I used to live my life thinking that I would never do a job I didn’t want to do, work for someone who didn’t respect me, or treat anyone else unequal. As soon as I got back into construction, I was doing a job I hated, working for a guy who called you a dumbfuck if something went wrong, and had a group of guys working for me who deserved better treatment than they were getting by the company, so I quit. I found work elsewhere, didn’t pay as much, but it made me realize this is not what I wanted to do. You have to stop and think, why get up in the morning if you are not doing what makes you happy, what’s the fucking point? You will never be the best at a job you hate.

pastepunk: What advice do you have for bands who are just starting out and want to become the next NOFX?

Jim: If you are starting out and you want to be the next NOFX, forget it. As you can tell by my songs, I grew up on Bad Religion, I love Bad Religion, but my songs pale in comparison. It’s all about the songs, write very good songs, the rest will happen. You also have to be prepared to work you fucking ass off. If you’re in it for the chicks and the status and all the other bullshit that comes along with being in a band, you will find that everyday people don’t give a shit if you are in a band or not, how many records you’ve sold, or who you fucked last night. It’s only the handful of shallow fuckers who give a shit. Outside validation isn’t a very deep motivation.

pastepunk: I think the artwork on the new disc is flat out amazing. What was the inspiration behind the “technology” theme?

Jim: Dan Tripp. Scary dude. Sits in this tiny room and draws 18 to 20 hours a day seven days a week. He did the last and the next Pulley record. I handed Dan the finished music and said “This is what it sounds like, now show me what it looks like.” It took him a while to get it all the way he wanted, and just called me one day and said “I have the idea for it” and he described his feeling about Napster and that whole controversy, and the only people who really give a shit are the big record labels who stand to lose millions and these fucked up rock stars who already have more money than they’ll ever spend. Guys like me, think it’s great, it’s great promotion. At first I was against it, because I thought no one would buy records anymore to support artists, but it isn’t that way. If I hear a good song on Napster, I go out and buy the record, it’s that simple. I’ve bought records this year I never would have bought before because of Napster. Actually, it’s pretty funny, because now the fucking record labels are forced to put more than one good song on a CD at $19 a pop. No more ripping off unsuspecting kids.

pastepunk: I think it is pretty clear that BAD RELIGION has been a big influence over your writing skills (which is great!). Do you have any opinions on their semi-recent our with BLINK 182 – a move that shocked many a long time BR fans?

Jim: Wow, Bad Religion opened for Blink 182? Seemed like three years ago, Blink 182 was opening up for Pulley in Berlin to like 5 people. Amazing. Shit changes. All I can say, to Greg Graffin, is “Run, don’t walk, get on your hands and knees, beg, grovel, pray for forgiveness and get Brett back.”

pastepunk: Outside of music, what other hobbies, passions do you have that help direct your life?

Jim: I built a studio in the back of my house, I love to record punk bands. I remember when Strung Out first started, we recorded the Skinny Years and fuck I shelled out so much of my own money to get that fucking god awful recording done. We had to drive at least 20 times out to Fullerton to go record with this guy. So not worth it. I record punk bands for free because I remember how hard it used to be to get shows without a demo. I remember how hard getting a good demo was. Some kids brought me this demo they did for $1500. We compared my demo to their $1500 one, and they were pretty bummed they were out $1500. I like fishing, hiking (to the fishing spot), and throwing the ball for my crazy dog.

pastepunk: Many people have their wacky conceptions of what it is like to be a “FAT” band. Please describe your relationship with Fat Mike, and the label since you’ve been working them.

Jim: Well, I bribed Fat Mike to sign Strung Out (no lie) by laying all the carpet in his new house for free back in ’93. I know he doesn’t regret signing them, but I would not leave him alone and I still to this day annoy him and everyone at Fat Wreck Chords. I think they have bets on how many times a day I will call. I’m really glad to be part of it. I’ve been a part of another punk rock label that was supposedly much bigger, and it was just that, much bigger. Easy to get lost. I talked to the owner one time, and I saw him around and he didn’t even know I was on his label. It’s nice to be able to call and actually talk to the boss, and her husband. Mike and I have a good relationship, although he’s really busy now and a lot harder to talk to for more than five minutes. I still respect him as a songwriter, and he shows me the same respect.

pastepunk: Did you ever eat paste when you were younger?

Jim: I think so, you got to remember, younger for me was a fucking long time ago. I ate some kid’s goldfish once at a job, but I wasn’t that young. This was last year. These kids didn’t want their goldfish anymore and they kept bugging the shit out of me all day while I was trying to work, and I told them if they didn’t leave me alone I would eat their goldfish. They didn’t, I did. I got kicked off the job, oh well. These kids were screaming, “Mommy, mommy, he ate Freddy”. I felt real bad after I knew his name.

pastepunk: I was told that ZERO DOWN was already working on a new album, can you tell more about that?

Jim: Big secret. I’m always writing, and John had a lot of great stuff. He and I have both been so busy, we haven’t had as much time as we’d like. We are playing a couple of new ones in the set already. We hope to record this summer, winter at the latest. It’s different, it’s a lot faster. Feels different, I got a lot off my chest with “With a Lifetime to Pay.” Now I can focus on things I’m passionate about.

pastepunk: What’s currently playing in your stereo? What was the last book you read?

Jim: Bob Marley “Legend,” currently reading Orwell’s “1984” again, just finished the California State Contractors Licensing Manual. Now that one was riveting.

pastepunk: In the long run of life, when you look back at your musical accomplishments, what do you think will stand out the most?

Jim: Shit, I’ve put a lot of music out. I never really rested, and I never intend to rest on my laurels. I make it a rule to not put out crap or “filler”. If it takes me five years to write an album with my band to make it good, I will. Out of all of it, I hope something stands out to someone other than me.

pastepunk: Any other comments?

Jim: In three hours, I have to get up and drive to Vancouver, which is two days drive away. People can talk a lot of shit about who I am, but they can’t question my dedication. See you at the show.

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