Like Daltrey to The Who, Colin Blunstone may have given The Zombies its iconic voice, but he is far from the primary songwriter. In recent years, he has been given the opportunity to write a few of the band’s songs alongside his longtime partner in crime—and key songwriter/composer Rod Argent. As a matter of fact, he has a self-written tune on Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees’ upcoming album, which has yet to emerge. “I'm really pleased that the boys recorded it,” Blunstone told Creative Loafing Tampa.
The Zombies have been given more exposure in the last decade than ever before. In almost every Tom Petty book, documentary, or interview, they come up as one of his greatest influences, and much later, friends of his. And to add a more explosive source, “This Will Be Our Year,” off of the now-critically acclaimed Odessey and Oracle album, played as Johnny and Moira Rose drove off in the final scene of the “Schitt’s Creek” series finale. “It’s always a very pleasant surprise when that sort of thing happens,” said Blunstone.
When The Zombies arrive in downtown Clearwater next week for their annual C-town show, there won’t be a full performance of Odessey and Oracle with the original band, like on its 2019 co-headlining tour with Brian Wilson (which we’re still sad about skipping over Florida). But hey, let that be the only thing you complain about upon going to see these legends live. And who can resist the excitement around the seventh studio album from a band that’s technically been around for 60 years now?
Get our interview with Colin Blunstone below, and go catch The Zombies with singer-songwriter Bruce Sudano at the Bilheimer Capitol Theatre on Tuesday, April 5.
Pleasure, pleasure. I like the name of your show. Creative Loafing!
Oh, thanks! Yeah, it’s an alt-weekly based in Tampa, Florida.
Yeah, it's a great title.
Ha, thanks. I’ll pass that on. So, I wanted to start with something I read in an interview with Rod Argent recently. In the beginning, you hated the name “The Zombies.” Do you still?
*laughs* Well, I think after a while, it sort of loses its meaning, really. You don't analyze the name of group when it's been going for a long time. It's just sort of represents the music that that band created, but I wasn't very keen on it at the beginning to be absolutely honest. And you have to remember, there was no “zombies culture.” In 1961, when the band first got together, I don't think I really knew what a zombie was. And to tell the truth, I'm not sure I really know what a zombie is now either, but it's a really catchy name! Everyone else loves it. And it just sucks, you know? I was just probably a bit confused about what exactly it meant, but it served us well, and it is memorable, so it's certainly done its job.
This tour that you're going to be doing is partially promoting a new album that you've been working on for what feels like forever. Can you tell us anything about the new record?
Well, I can tell you it was literally finished last week. Unfortunately, it won't be in the shop while we're touring, I don't think. Just because of the pandemic, everything has taken so much longer than we initially thought. We like to record with everyone in the studio together, playing together, and that might seem a little strange, but very often nowadays, people will play their part in the studio on their own, and then it all comes together later on. But we find that there’s a different energy in the studio if we're all in the studio together.
But of course, it's been very difficult with the pandemic, especially with our bass player, who actually is Danish, he lives in Denmark. It's quite hard to get us all together, so it's taken longer to record this album than we would have hoped. Rod Argent has written the majority of the songs, some real cracking songs on there. I've written one tune myself, which I'm really pleased that the boys recorded. It was recorded in Rod’s studio, he’s just built a new studio where he lives, about an hour away from where I am. And otherwise, I just say it's absolutely great. I just hope that all the listeners will rush out and buy it.
You mentioned your new bassist, Søren. What made him the perfect choice to take over for Jim Rodford when he passed away?
Well, obviously it was a really tragic time when Jim died in an accident, falling on the stairs at home. The first thing we had to do was decide whether the band would go on. I mean, Jim was such a central part of the band. He’s a cornerstone of the band.
But he was a real performer’s performer. I know he would have loved the band to go on, and so, that was the first decision. The second decision was, we had a tour starting approximately 10 days after Jim’s accident, so if we were going to continue, we had to do something quite quickly. And we were introduced to Søren by a mutual friend. He’s somebody who’s much younger than us, but he's fascinated with the music of the 60s. And he had actually come over to the U.K. to see The Zombies play. And we were just fascinated—when he came in to play with us, I suppose in a way, to audition for us. He knew all the songs, and he knew all the harmonies to the songs as well.
It's been a bit of a mystery to me how that all came together, in a very nice way. He literally just played three or four songs. It was obviously he knew everything that we played. He did come back about a week later, we went through the show once, and then we opened in New York. He had only played the set once, and I’ve never heard him make a mistake. He knew all the bass parts, and he knew all the harmonies. So he's a real sensation, Søren, he’s a wonderful musician. And he's a great authority on ‘60s music.
You would think he'd be practicing in his basement or something.
Right! It’s almost like he was practicing in his basement, waiting for the call from The Zombies. It was so amazing that he knew these tunes. I couldn't believe it. I thought we would spend days rehearsing until we opened in New York, but we didn't need to. He's just phenomenal.
I heard that you worked in an insurance office around that time. While you were there, did anybody know who you were?
Oh yes, they all did. It was a really big office. I mean, there were probably 30 or 40 people on the floor I was on, but there were two or three floors. It was right in the center of London, and it’s a little bit of a strange thing, but with The Zombies, the main writers, Rod Argent and Chris White, they got all their royalties paid accurately to them, so they were in a totally different financial situation to the other three, Hugh Grundy was our drummer. Paul Atkinson was our guitarist, and then myself. We got to a point where we were penniless, and our manager and agent who controlled all our live work, was not very good at making any money! And I'm not talking about big money, I'm talking about money to eat, money to survive. And when we decided that the band was going to split up, all three of us had to get jobs straightaway.
I mean, it was a little bit crazy, because I just took the first job that was offered to me. I didn't feel a vocation was calling me in the insurance world. It just happened to be the first job I was offered. I was paid so little, but after I'd been there a few months, I worked out what I was being paid and I had to get a train in into the center of London, I had to pay some rent, and other bits and pieces. So, there wasn't an awful lot of financial advantage in my brief excursion into the world of insurance, but it did help me get over the sadness of the band ending. It was, you know, quite emotional, really. We'd been together for four years as an amateur band, and three years as a professional band, so seven years in all. And it just came to an end.
Being in a band is like a way of life, and suddenly, that was all taken away. It didn't seem like there was any choice at the time, but looking back, I think we did have a choice. We could have gone on, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. But being in that office, it was very, very busy, my brush with insurance. It was a very busy office, and I didn't have time to think about the sadness of the band ending. So in a way, I think it served me well, just working in office for a short period of time.
That's good. Going back to music, recently, The Zombies were introduced to a whole new generation of people, when “This Will Be Our Year” played over the ending credits of the final episode of “Schitt’s Creek.” Have you seen that show at all?
I've heard of it, but no, I haven't seen it. And it's a thing that really intrigues me, that The Zombies’ music is used a lot in TV, and also in films. It was in two films over last summer: The Disney film, “Cruella,” and the latest Cate Blanchett film, which is “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” or something like that. It was also on a big commercial in the States, and it sort of goes on and on. I watched TV last week, and it came on twice in the UK. Various songs from The Zombies came on. “She's Not There” was one of them, and the other one was “The Way I Feel Inside,” which really surprised me. It was in a very touching moment in this series, and it's really funny because there's no warning. I didn't know it was coming. I mean, I’m sitting there with my family, and I think “that's me! That's me singing.” It’s always a very pleasant surprise when that sort of thing happens.
On this tour, you have Bruce Sudano opening for you. How did you guys discover him?
Well, we're managed by the same company, so we know one another pretty well. Bruce is a lovely guy, and he writes great songs. He's actually opened for me as a solo artist in the UK, so I've already done one quite long tour with him, opening for me, and now he's going to be opening for The Zombies. He's a great guy to travel with, and he puts on a really good show.
That's cool. So tell me a little bit about the time you spent with Tom Petty. I mean, you guys meant the world to him when he was alive.
He was so supportive of us, it’s incredible. So many times, he quoted us as being an influence in his progression as a musician. So, when we played in Los Angeles, he would always come to see us play, and we would always hang out afterwards. Shortly before he died, actually, we went to his house. He had a studio at his house in Malibu, and I think we talked for about an hour on his program. And it was fascinating to just sit down and share stories with him. He was a wonderful character and a sensational musician and songwriter. We owe him a lot because he was such an ardent supporter of The Zombies.
He was a great guy.
What do you think it is about Odessey and Oracle that maintains its relevance and its legacy 50-plus years later?
Well, I think one of the main things is that I think that Rod Argent and Chris White were at the height of their writing at that time. Every song on that album is just wonderful, and it certainly is a part of its appeal today. The songs it's just fantastic, there are no weak songs on there at all. And also, it was the first time that they put Rod Argent and Chris White in the producer chairs. It's the first time that I think the band sounded anything like the band wanted to sound. We worked with a very autocratic producer before then. A lovely guy, a great producer, but he didn't allow us to grow in the studio in a way that we wanted to. This is the first time we were in the studio, and we were free to play and record the way we wanted to.
I should just add that it was brilliant to be working in Abbey Road, probably the best studio in the world at that time. And we were fortunate to have two great recording engineers, Peter Vince and Geoff Emerick, who really made a very important contribution to the project. So, if you add all those things together—and of course, the band would really rehearse because we had such a small recording budget. We decided we had to rehearse as much as we possibly could so that when we went into the studio, we knew the songs we were gonna play, we knew the arrangements, we knew the keys, we’re just looking for a performance, and it just came together. And if you add all those factors together, you end up with Odessey and Oracle, and I’m intrigued to say that it is quite a revered album, considering it was recording all those years ago.
It's amazing what time will do to albums.
Yeah, it is. Some grow and become more important, and others disappear. Only time decides which is which.
Well, good for you guys. You made a masterpiece.
Well, thank you very much. Very kind of you.
Sure. Well, I want to thank you again for doing this interview with me. Break a leg at all those shows. Hope to see you in Clearwater.
Josh Bradley is Creative Loafing Tampa's resident live music freak. He started freelancing with the paper in 2020 at the age of 18, and has since covered, announced, and previewed numerous live shows in Tampa Bay. Check the music section in print and online every week for the latest in local live music.