Big Bad Zero
-Music by the Numbers
-Local Rockers Take a Bottom Line Approach to Success, One Zero at a Time
By Lee Abraham
Six or seven large, multi-colored charts are scattered around the small office. On first glance, the scene appears to be a kaleidoscope of chaos. Words and numbers in vivid hues are everywhere. After a moment, the barrage of visual stimuli begins to register. Like one of those weird pictures that morph into another image when you stare at it long enough, the scene suddenly makes sense. A rainbow of magic marker organization has emerged amid the chromatic dissonance.
One brightly marked chart lists long-term goals, another is a cash flow projection for an upcoming tour. There's a separate chart for everything from each band member's responsibilities for the week, to new song ideas and a current balance sheet for the band fund. Rock and roll gone corporate? More like, local band slugs it out in the big bad music business.
"The organization is born out of sheer desire," says Rob Whited, drummer for local power-pop trio, Big Bad Zero. "We're serious about this stuff. If guys don't do what they're supposed to, we fine 'em $20, which goes straight into the band fund."
Seems pretty strict. After all, most bands are lucky to get people to show up at practice on time, let alone to cough up the mula for slacking. Just another day in the rock and roll trenches for the members of BBZ. These guys are possessed and it's paying off.
Although their debut CD hasn't even been released yet, two BBZ songs, "Crumble" and "Slippin' Away," have been played on the Edge ??? & 107??. The band's website (www.bigbadzero.com) has been generating more hits every week and their loosely- tight live shows are beginning to buzz. Talk to other local musicians and active club-hoppers and it's always the same: "These guys are -good-!"
"The music is the most important thing," says Nick Mattera, BBZ's singer, guitar player and lyricist, "but if we want to do something other than just play clubs in Vegas, we've got to try to act like a business."
Like any business, success is a team effort. Although Mike Smith doesn't perform onstage, in addition to Dan Gauthier on bass, he is the fourth big zero in this musical equation. As soundman, roadie, camp counselor and "everything else," Smith's contributions have enabled the band to take their act on the road. The Zeros just finished their -fourth- tour in the two years, a successful ten gig run through Arizona and California. Wild nights with packed houses in Phoenix and San Francisco made up for the long hours of driving between gigs and a couple of other shows that weren't as spectacular.
"That's the ups and downs of the road," says Gauthier. "We know we're paying our dues right now. One minute you’re onstage having a blast and the next you're on the side of the road fixing a flat." Paying dues is something the Zeros -have- done. But when it came time to do something they -haven't- done, like record a CD, they found someone who has. Enter Michael Sak of -Kill the Messenger- recording studios. With scores of album credits to his name, including a Platinum Record with the -Goo Goo Dolls-, Sak has -already been- where BBZ wants to go.
"He keeps us humble and in check," says Whited. "We can go in there with delusions of grandeur and he'll shoot it down in a nice sort of way. It's been a real education for all of us."
Sak has no problem playing the role of music-biz mentor. "It's an exciting thing to watch," says the soft-spoken production guru. "We talk about things and then they actually go out and integrate them into what they're doing. That's something that really doesn't happen very often."
In the studio, Sak is very much a part of the creative give and take. Recording sessions become brainstorming marathons. Together with Sak, the Zeros have tightened up arrangements, honed individual parts and generally revamped material they thought was already "complete" before meeting Sak. Many of the songs BBZ used to play have changed so much, they've become something completely different. Over the course of the past year, Sak has helped the Zeros "find the hook" in their songs," while engineering their big, bad sound.
Everybody involved with BBZ's soon to be released CD, -At This Point In Life-, is excited about the project. But it wasn't too long ago that far from big and bad, the band was less than zero.
"I was ready to move back to California," says Mattera. "I had been here for about a year and a half and couldn't get a steady band together." That's before a chance meeting in a smoky local bar turned nothing into something. While hanging out at now-defunct Crash Corrigans, checking out a friend's band called -Mesh-, Mattera overheard Nemo Strang of Jampot Records talking about a new rhythm section that needed a guitar player. The two spoke and arrangements were made for Mattera to meet Gauthier, a recently relocated bass player from Rhode Island, and Whited, a local drummer looking for a band with big time potential. "After about twenty seconds we knew it was cool," says Gauthier. Big Bad Zero was born.
"The most important thing is that you get along and secondly that the music clicks," says Whited. Mattera agrees, "One thing I've learned is that in order for the band to last you've got to be able to hang out, even if you guys suck."
Big Bad Zero has never had -that- problem. Musically, they're as good any local band out there. Although just three guys, BBZ is -not- a typical "power-trio." Sure, their music is loud and they have plenty of edge. The difference is -melody-. Their sound takes very carefully crafted pop sensibilities and drives them beyond the mainstream with a sophisticated angst, a sonic buzzsaw in two-part harmony.
Onstage or in the studio, the Zeros understand their individual roles. "The rhythm section comes in and does what a rhythm section is supposed to do," says Whited. "But when it comes to lyrics we leave it to the master here," he chuckles, motioning toward Mattera.
For his part, Mattera is just happy to be making music he enjoys, but when auditions for a singer didn't pan out, he had no problem stepping up to the mic. "I wasn't even gonna sing in this band," says the multi-talented yet unassuming Mattera. "I always pictured myself as a songwriter, and I always wanted to be the guy playing guitar. I never pictured myself being the front man."
For a guy that doesn't see himself out front, Mattera does quite well. There's a certain playful enthusiasm that underlies his smooth, confident onstage demeanor, an intense but happy vibe that far outweighs what he may lack in vocal range. On drums, Whited is a high-pressure system of rolling percussive thunder. Wood chips splinter and fly from his blur-in-motion drumsticks as they pound the beat. Thumping low and rumbling in time, Gauthier plays an active, animated bass. Most of his bottom end grooves have an aggressive tone, and although heavy by nature, Gauthier pops a little funk when the mood strikes. Onstage, Gauthier is the guy that gets the other two to crack up. Put 'em all together and these three zeros add up to something far greater than the sum of the parts.
"They have a very, very accessible energy-type driven rock
that maintains a really great sense of melody," says Sak. "I don't think it's
a lot like anything that's out right now. I've worked on a bunch of things at
this level that try to get to the next one and this is definitely as good as
any of them."
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