The Zolas examine strange love
Ladies, take note: although I’m not sure he’ll appreciate the Georgia Straight broadcasting this, Zolas singer-guitarist Zachary Gray is single. Just don’t try sidling up to him at a show.
“Being on tour, despite what everybody seems to think, is not the greatest place to meet a girl,” a ruminative Gray reveals, on the line from Regina. “Like, seriously, if you want to meet drunk chicks, then being on tour is the best place in the world. But for the most part, meeting intelligent babes is not the easiest thing to do. They stand back, and then they leave; they’re not going to elbow their way over to talk to you!
“I’m the only single guy in my band,” he adds, “and my bandmates are constantly gnashing their teeth at how uninterested I seem in girls on tour.”
Gray is not, however, oblivious to the opposite sex when he’s at home in Vancouver. Ancient Mars, the Zolas’ recently released sophomore album, is full of nuanced, witty, and frankly intelligent songs about love, although most of them are set in the recent past rather than the lonely present.
The title track, for instance, finds Gray mooning over the rusty rocks of a dead relationship, using the Martian landscape as a central metaphor. “Several billion golden years ago/I lost a planet that I loved to the cold,” he sings, but it’s clear that his wounds are fresher than that.
“The title ‘Ancient Mars’ is a reference to how scientists have been saying for a while that Mars used to have lusher vegetation and water and life and stuff—that it had this beautiful little heyday, like we’re having now on Earth,” he explains. “But fast-forward two billion years later, and there’s almost no evidence of it at all. Now they have the Curiosity rover up there and they’re finding smooth pebbles in what look like used to be riverbeds, and that’s the first really tangible evidence we have of that time.
“So in a lot of ways, that sort of reminds me of the kind of relationships we have in our 20s and in our 30s. And of our friendships that we have, too, where at one point these people were your heyday—you have these little heydays with people, and at one point they’re the most exciting, optimistic part of your life. Two years later, you run into your ex-girlfriend or your old best friend at a show, and it’s barren between you. There’s no evidence of that at all.”
Did I mention that Gray, the son of playwright and author John MacLachlan Gray, is a smart guy? And like most smart straight guys, he’s drawn to women who are just a little odd. “Ancient Mars” leads directly into “Strange Girl”, a more straightforward but equally revealing song about the kind of lover you can’t quite forget, even if forgetting might be prudent.
“My first two girlfriends were sweet girls, and then they got stranger and stranger,” Gray confesses. “And maybe that’s why I’m single: I can’t outstrange the last one.
“Don’t print that!” he adds, then relents. “Well, you can say that the challenge will be to outstrange the ‘Strange Girl’. I just need a girl who forces me to be the best edition of myself—who forces me to do my homework a little bit. And it’s usually the weird, smart girl who’s got a lot of confidence.”
Who knows? Perhaps Gray will find his next love online. Ancient Mars’s other standout track, “Cold Moon”, certainly suggests that he’s familiar with the customs of Facebook, OkCupid, and other social networks.
“I found the stomach to deny/The urge to look you up online/Don’t want to creep on your profile/But sometimes I still do,” he sings, with an affecting combination of wistfulness and warmth. “Sometimes I still do.”
This marks one of the first times a songwriter has addressed a topic that’s already a matter of fierce debate among sociologists: how social media are shaping everyday human interactions.
“Everybody has that struggle,” Gray says, laughing. “Every single person! I can’t believe that more people haven’t written about creeping on other people’s social-media profiles. I can’t believe I’ve never seen that written in a song before.
“A lot of people try to stay timeless in their lyrics by not talking about CDs or iPhones or anything that we use every day,” he continues. “They want to talk about records or about the radio, which doesn’t really exist. But that’s just so unfaithful to the time we live in. Right now is probably one of the most exciting and terrifying times to be alive as a human.”
It’s also an unusually stimulating time to be a songwriter, as Gray happily notes.
“Let’s just be proud that we live in the 21st century,” he concludes. “It’s every bit as beautiful and as fucked-up as science fiction said it would be.”
The Zolas host a CD-release party for Ancient Mars at the Rio Theatre on November 16.