Talk about an impressive resume! On top of starring on the hit IFC series, Z Rock, David Z has been the bassist for ZO2, Trans Siberian Orchestra, and now rocks out with the eighties tribute band, Rubix Kube! I spoke with him about fond ZO2 memories, how he joined Rubix Kube and what it’s like, and some cool discussion about Trans Siberian Orchestra along the way!
Alex Obert: When you were younger, how did you and your brother, Paulie Z of ZO2, bond over music?
David Z: Well it was pretty easy for us because our dad was a musician and our uncle. They were in a band together called Z. So growing up, we always looked up to them, the fact that it was two brothers and they played together. So at a very early age, even before we knew how to play instruments, we kind of pretended to play. And we would actually make cardboard guitars and sort of put on concerts for my parents and just sort of air guitar on these cardboard things. And the very first band that we both really fell in love with was Kiss. And that is where our showmanship start happened. Falling in love with the whole show and the spectacle and the idea of putting on a huge performance. That, I would think, was really the start of everything for us growing up.
Alex Obert: How did it start when you two began to form bands?
David Z: When we first formed a band, it was my freshman year of high school. I met a few guys and we started a band called Legend. And at the time, Paulie wasn’t really looking, he was in high school for art. And he wasn’t really looking to do music and I sort of brought him into it and I encouraged him to sing. I heard the talent at that early age. I heard the fact that he really could belt it out. So I asked him to join the band and that was really the first project that we ever played together on. And it was closer to an Iron Maiden kind of sound, although we grew up with Kiss, it was all metal influenced. I would say Legend was definitely more of an eighties dragon metal style, if you will. So that was definitely the first band we ever played in together.
While Legend was happening, I joined a progressive metal band called October Thorns. It was kind of like a heavy Dream Theater. I was doing that for a while. When Legend finally broke up, I was in October Thorns, and then Paulie and I started a band called CO2. I was doing both at the time. And October Thorns started getting some steam, so I left CO2. They filled in the bass player position and CO2 kind of kept going. When October Thorns broke up, Paulie and I decided to work together again. We basically took the idea of CO2 and we changed it to ZO2. Found another drummer and that was the start of what eventually became the biggest band that we played in together.
Alex Obert: How did you guys hook up with Joey Cassata, who went on to be the drummer for ZO2?
David Z: He and Paulie played in a Kiss tribute band at the time called Kiss Nation. I believe they still play now, but Paulie and Joey are no longer in it. But at the time, they were playing together. When Paulie and I reunited and said, “Hey, let’s start something again. Let’s put something together.”, he had suggested Joey because he had just started playing with him. And Joey had amazing technical skills, he had a great look, he was a good guy. So we brought him in and immediately, the chemistry was there. We just started playing together and just jamming on probably Kiss songs. And probably some originals that we had with the previous drummer from the band CO2. We showed Joey some of that stuff and saw how he fell in with the vibe of being able to take the new tune and see his take on it. And it sounded amazing. Afterward, we went out to eat and basically said, “Hey, you wanna do this? You wanna start an original band?” The musical style change and everything, with any musician, when you get into a room with other musicians and the chemistry happens, the sound is gonna change into something new. So Paulie and I, because we played together our whole lives, we found it a certain way. But the second Joey played his drums with us, it gave it definitely a heavier, more Bonham-esque Zeppeliny kind of sound and feel. So the music naturally started gearing more towards Zeppelin and Aerosmith and that kind of stuff, moreso than any of the metal roots.
Alex Obert: I’d like to go through a few ZO2 songs. You can share whatever you’d like about them, the influence, the writing, anything that’s significant to you.
David Z: Okay.
Alex Obert: Radio.
David Z: Radio started with that bass riff because growing up, I was always into solo bass players and virtuosos. Geddy Lee was my favorite bass player growing up. And then years later, I got more into the slap stuff and Victor Wooten is a big influence of mine. I always try to incorporate some sort of significant bass line. Something where it wasn’t just in the background, something where there’s a bass solo or the bass line itself was integral to the song itself. So Radio started from that with that slap bass line. And then we just built around it. It was the idea of singing about a girl whose in love with whoever’s on the radio. The idea was very appealing to us, if you’re the next big thing, I’m into you. Once your song gets on the radio, then you’ll be able to have me. The message was a funny take on some women who trivialize the relationship world.
Alex Obert: If You See Kay.
David Z: That one was great, obviously because of the name, the double entendre and the double meaning there. Spelling out F-U-C-K. That one was definitely our song that sounded closest to an Aerosmith vibe. And at the time when we were doing that record, we were saying, “We definitely wanna have some more of those basic Aerosmith rock roots in the album. We definitely wanna have some of those songs on there.” So If You See Kay was something that Paulie brought to us and then we worked on it. But like I said, musically speaking, it was definitely the most rock n’ roll of the album. And lyrically speaking, it was just very funny to have that double meaning. And we never really talked about it. So it was interesting to see the people that got it right away and then some people never realized it. And when you see it, it’s like, “Oh, wow! I didn’t even think about it. That’s amazing that that’s what it means!” And then live, it turned into something completely different where we actually had a lot of audience participation. On the chorus, we’d have everyone pumping their fist on the word hey. “Oh yeah! Hey!” And everybody would throw their fist up in the air. And that happened naturally as well, just playing the stuff live. And we also added on, going back to the idea of having bass being a prominent instrument, we added an entire intro to that song. It was an intro where it was just the bass and Paulie would say a rhyme, a very Andrew Dice Clay esque poem, if you will. And it ended off with, “To Hell with that bitch!” (laughs)
Alex Obert: Red Line Highway.
David Z: Red Line Highway was our take on Highway Star by Deep Purple. When the song was done, that’s the vibe that we got out of that tune. And that was literally supposed to be a super energetic, turn it up on 10, play it loud while you’re driving your car fast. It was just balls to the wall.
Alex Obert: That’s What’s Up.
David Z: That’s What’s Up was one of the newer ones, it actually didn’t appear on any of the three CDs that we put out officially. It was a download only, available on iTunes. That one was a lot of fun because what we started realizing after we did our TV show, Z Rock, our whole image and persona were fun guys. We don’t drink, we don’t do drugs, we don’t smoke. We’re just fun guys who like to have a good time and we were saying our music wasn’t necessarily relating that message. A lot of the stuff we were singing was heavy in nature. And That’s What’s Up was the attempt to really bring that fun vibe and that fun attitude that we have offstage into our music. And I think we did a good job with that. That was Paulie’s tune, actually. I didn’t have anything to do with the writing on that, that was all him. Again, it was a very good representation of who the three of us are as people. Just very, very fun, tongue in cheek. And if you watch the video, you totally see the vibe of what we were going for.
Alex Obert: Moving onto present day, outside of ZO2, how did you get involved with Rubix Kube?
David Z: Rubix Kube is a band that was playing for two years before I joined. The members of that band were friends of mine. When their bass player parted ways with them, they had called me up originally to fill in while they were looking for someone else. They knew at the time that I was very heavy with ZO2 and I was touring with the Trans Siberian Orchestra. So my plate was pretty full. But as a favor, they asked, “Will you fill in while we find someone else?” And I said, “Yeah, of course!” These guys are all my friends, the band is tight, it seems like it’s a lot of fun. So the very first show I did is quite amusing because they all dress up in complete eightiess attire, from spandex to headbands to bright neon colors. And at the time, I was very conscious of what my image was, pertaining to the ZO2 brand and whatnot. I didn’t want pictures floating out there of me looking like that, per se. So I went up and I did the show, I had blue jeans and a red t-shirt. And I remember telling them, “Well, the shirt is red. Does that count?” And I quickly learned that it wound up being a lot better when I went full out and dressed completely eighties because then people realized that it was a fun thing and that I wasn’t trying to take myself seriously. The other way just seemed very silly that I was out there and everybody else was dressed up except me. Basically, when I did that, it was under the premise that I was gonna be filling in till they found somebody. And it just wound up clicking. Once again, you’ll hear people talk about chemistry. And it was the same thing here, these people were my friends already. It was very tight, they were very good at the show they had. And I just fit in, especially the fact that I love going above and beyond in performance. I hate being in the background, just standing still. So this is the perfect music and the perfect outlet for it. Nothing is too much when it comes to the eighties.
Alex Obert: How would you describe a live Rubix Kube show and also the songs that the band performs?
David Z: It’s essentially that you’re getting the best of the eightiess. Every song was a mega hit. A lot of the time when bands do tribute acts to a specific band, you’re gonna get songs that you love, but in an hour and a half to two hour set, bands don’t have enough number one singles to fill up that time frame most of the time. The fact that we’re doing an entire decade, literally one after the other, you’re hearing hit after hit after hit, you’re gonna go into the show and essentially be singing every song you hear.
And as far as the show itself is concerned, it really is closer to a Broadway show, more than anything else. It’s a rock band and a rock show, but everything else around it, the set, the vibe, it definitely feels like a play, which I love. It’s not just the songs that we play and it’s not just the outfits that we wear, it’s everything that we do from putting up a Bill & Ted’s phone booth up on stage and a nine foot Stay Puft marshmallow blow up doll to the videos that we play behind us which are all eighties referenced commercials, music videos, pictures to things that we put out in the audience and the way that we decorate the entire room. So essentially, the idea is we want you to feel like you’ve been time warped back in time and a lot of our shows, people will come dressed up. It definitely helps to add to the magic and the vibe of the whole night. So you’re literally coming in and you’re feeling like the idea is to actually feel like you’re in the eighties, as opposed to watching a bunch of guys just playing eighties music.
Alex Obert: How does this compare on stage to Trans Siberian Orchestra?
David Z: Very, very different. First of all, with any show, forgetting the band, just the sheer size of it. With TSO, I’m playing to arenas. With Rubix Kube and ZO2 and all my other projects, they’re clubs. And sometimes they’re ampitheaters, but either way, it’s a very, very different vibe. In a TSO show, people are sitting, for starters. Even though we’re getting a massive amount of people, sometimes twelve, thirteen thousand people at the show, they are seated. At any club, everyone is standing. And they’re in your face. So I love them both and for very different reasons. I don’t know that I could ever say I love this one more than that one. And then even musically speaking, TSO is a lot more challenging. The music itself is more intricate and for me as a musician, I love that challenge. And I love the thrill of playing very difficult lines. With Rubix Kube, doing those eighties songs, for the most part, the lines are simpler. But in the case of that kind of music, you can dance. So literally, every song, if you took the bass off of me, it looks like I’m a dancer on stage. I’m moving as if I’m dancing on the dance floor. And you have liberty to do that. In a show like TSO, I can’t just go out and do anything I want. Although, I found a way to work all of that stuff into it. I’ll do the moonwalk, I’ll do a split, I do one-armed push ups at a certain point in the TSO show. And luckily, it seems to work and resonate with the crowd. People seem to dig it. It’s just a matter of finding the correct spots for it in TSO because we’re also playing to a storyline and you don’t wanna step on the message that the storyline is trying to relay. Obviously again, with Rubix Kube, the whole thing is just sort of, “Do anything you want whenever you want. The more, the better.”
A cool story to add, TSO played this past New Year’s Eve at Brandenberg Gate in Berlin, Germany. So we literally finished our last show on the 30th, got into a private jet, flew to Germany, got off the plane, soundchecked, and then played in front of a million people in front of Brandenberg Gate. If I was gonna miss the New Year’s Eve show at Mohegan Sun with Rubix Kube, it had to have been something to that standard to make me miss it. (laughs) There’s definitely footage of that TSO show on YouTube!
Alex Obert: One of your last ZO2 shows, what was it like to play the main stage of Webster Hall?
David Z: Oh, it’s fantastic! Above and beyond TSO and Rubix Kube and anything else, with ZO2, it’s our music. And you’re never gonna get something more gratifying than playing to a sold out house where they’re singing words that you came up with in your living room. Your own music, your own vision, that will always be the best and most rewarding feeling.
Alex Obert: When ZO2 would have guest musicians on stage and during the filming of Z Rock, which musicians did you consider to be your mentors?
David Z: That’s a good question. They were all unbelievable. It’s hard to say that just one stood out because really, for us, to be in a situation where it was our television show, it wasn’t like us guest starring on something else, we were the stars of this show. So to see guys like Sebastian Bach and Dave Navarro and Daryl Hall, all these people come on our show and they’re basically guest appearing on our thing, it’s a very weird dynamic. It’s a very strange feeling because we’re sitting there like, “We’re fans.” “Oh my God! It’s John Popper! This is amazing! This is crazy!” And realistically, they came on and they were super gracious and all of them were very, very talented, surprisingly enough, because this was an all-improv show. And when you bring on a musician who isn’t a comedian, who isn’t an actor, and they were able to pull out some of the amazing stuff that they did, I mean Dee Snider was drop dead funny. All those lines that you hear those people saying were coming out of their own head. Nobody gave them or fed them any kind of lines. So I don’t know, it was the entire experience throughout both seasons, it was pretty amazing and unbelievable. So I don’t know that there was a single one that would stand out in my mind. I think they were all great and I was super happy that we remain friends with most of these people.
Alex Obert: Who do you wish could have been on Z Rock that wasn’t?
David Z: For me, it would have been great if Geddy Lee came on because like I said before, that was my bass idol growing up. So that would’ve been fantastic. And then to have Madonna would have been amazing too just cause I was in love with Madonna growing up. So that would have been nice to have her out and play maybe a love interest. (laughs)
Alex Obert: Getting back into ZO2, what direction would you have been looking to take with a fourth album?
David Z: Definitely a more modern direction. We definitely were getting more into radio-friendly kind of songs. And I know when I say that, it brings a bad stigma to it. I don’t mean “selling out” or anything like that. These are songs that we’ve had, a lot of songs that we’ve wrote throughout the years of ZO2 that never made it to a record strictly because they were a little too poppy or a little too radio-friendly. The idea, when you’re a beginning band, you wanna have a sound and you wanna kind of stick with that sound so you don’t confuse people, so you don’t hear one song that sounds like it’s from a hard rock band and then the next song, it sounds like it’s from Bruno Mars or something. But going forward, we were like, “You know what? We’ve done three records that basically had the same kind of vibe, it’s a very rock n’ roll heavy and groovy kind of sound. And it’s time to spread out a little bit and maybe take some of those poppier songs and radio-friendly songs and see if we can get something to hit on the radio. Rock and roll for the most part is a very, very difficult field to be in cause there’s not a huge demographic for it and there’s not a lot of avenues you can go down. Radio doesn’t really play a lot of new rock bands. So for us, it was, “Let’s take a chance at a lot of the songs that we said no to on previous records.” There’s a lot of songs we have that are definitely hookier in nature and a lot more friendly to someone who isn’t just a regular rock and roll fan, somebody who likes music in general. There was a song that we started playing live called Live Today that was getting a lot of attention. I don’t think we released it or even finished recording it. But even just playing it live, you could tell the difference. People were responding to it and saying, “What was that song you played? Yeah! That one was great!” And you can tell what a quote, unquote hit would be versus songs that are just really good and just really groovy, which was the realm we were living in prior to that. So we definitely were thinking more about hits than that mentality.
Alex Obert: With all the years spent in ZO2, what life lessons did you take out of it?
David Z: It confirmed what I believed prior to going into ZO2 which was if you want something, you work hard at it, and eventually, you will get there. Growing up, we shot for the stars. In our minds, we wanted to be super famous. We wanted to not be able to walk down the street without getting stopped a million times. I would imagine anybody whose in this kind of field whose looking for that stardom and that notoriety is dreaming the same way. You wanna be The Beatles. And I think it grounded me in a very humbling way. To be able to have success that we’ve had and yet, in comparison to real big, big bands, Rolling Stones and U2, it’s like, “No, we’re nowhere near that!” However, you have to be happy with the things that you have and the success that you’ve accomplished. And we have three CDs that we’ve funded ourselves and that we put out. We toured with Kiss. We’ve toured with bands that we grew up loving. We have two seasons of a TV show that was all ours. You look at that stuff and you go, “That’s impressive! That’s amazing!” So I think the lesson that I took out is be grateful for what you have. Go for the gold, don’t stop trying to achieve the success and the heights that you wanted to when you originally dreamed up your dream. But don’t take away from it and say, “Well, I didn’t reach it. Well, I didn’t make my goal.” Yeah, you did. Be happy for the things that you got. I did more than the person who didn’t do these things did. So I think it was definitely a humbling experience and an amazing one all in one. And it afforded me to actually be able to say I’m a professional musician as in that’s all I do for a living, that’s how I make my money and how I make my career.
Alex Obert: Would you be open to a ZO2 reunion show down the road?
David Z: Oh, absolutely! We tell a lot of people this wasn’t a breakup, per se. Nothing happened, nothing went wrong where there was a falling out where we said, “Ah, that’s it! We’re done! Never wanna see you again.” First of all, Paulie’s my brother and Joey, we’re still very tight with. Basically what happened was you got down to the point where the train wasn’t moving forward, but it wasn’t moving backward, it was sort of at a station. And it was just parked there. We felt there was no more steam. It wasn’t moving in a direction we felt was worth continuing at this moment. And there were a lot of opportunities outside of ZO2 that were getting our attention, individually speaking. So we kind of said, “Well, how about this, let’s go and explore doing individual things so we don’t have the stress of “We’ve gotta keep doing ZO2! We’ve gotta keep doing ZO2 to push forward!”” That’s a very difficult thing and a very, very big burden to have when you don’t have a record label or you don’t have investors behind you when you’re doing everything on your own. So we said, “Let’s lighten the load. Let’s get rid of that burden. Let’s venture off, do our own thing.” And you never know, down the line, absolutely. We’ll get together for a show or for a run of shows or just get back together in general. Absolutely. A hundred percent. I would love that.
Alex Obert: Favorite line on Z Rock?
David Z: “We won’t do it half-assed, we’ll do it full-assed.” (laughs) It just so happens to be mine! Ah, ah, hem! Thank you very much! (laughs)
Alex Obert: Song you wish ZO2 covered live?
David Z: It would have never worked, but Human Nature by Michael Jackson.
Alex Obert: Favorite eighties song?
David Z: We play ’em all every week! (laughs) I’ll say Footlose, strictly because the amazing bassline in it.
Alex Obert: Favorite Rubix Kube outfit you wear on stage?
David Z: Nice! Probably my purple spandex with my half cut off shirt.
Alex Obert: Favorite frontman?
David Z: Paul Stanley.
Alex Obert: Favorite bassline?
David Z: Probably YYZ.
Alex Obert: Favorite TSO song?
David Z: Figaro.
Alex Obert: Do you have any sites to plug or any appearances to promote?
David Z: The Rubix Kube site is RubixKube.com. And for Facebook, it’s facebook.com/RubixKubeBand, and same with Twitter.
And also to mention, I did a European tour last year with Jeff Scott Soto. He sings with TSO, he was the singer for Journey for a while, and he sang for Yngwie Malmsteen. This year, I’m gonna be doing shows with him in Europe. But it’s definitely gonna be an exciting thing.
Alex Obert: I’d like to thank you very much for your time.
David Z: Cool, brotha! Excellent, man! Thank you so much!