THE ZEROS: ONE OF MY PROUDEST MOMENTS EVER
Stream: The Zeros “Don’t Push Me Around”
The Zeros were practically one of L.A.’s first punk bands, even though they lived in San Diego—they played the Germs’ first show and the Masque’s first re-opening (and famous 1978 benefit) and had one of the first independent singles in the state thanks to Greg Shaw’s Bomp. They re-unite this month with all four original members (including El Vez) for their first shows since the early ‘90s. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
What five records did you have to have in 1975 if you were going to be in a punk band in 1977?
Javier Escovedo (guitar/vocals): The Velvet Underground and Nico, the New York Dolls first album—I would say the Stooges Raw Power. Was Patti Smith’s album out yet? Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust record and Lou Reed’s Transformer. Take out the Patti Smith—it’s not out yet.
And your very first show was a teen dance in Mexico?
We used to always go down there for vacation and all summer we’d be down ther—swimming, bodysurfing and hanging out. Any kind of vacations my dad would get off we’d be down there, so we bought a house instead of paying hotels. My sister ended up joining Escaramuza—it’s like a horse-riding club—and so they would show up at charreada—like a rodeo—and to raise money for Escaramuza they would put on events. So they put on a dance at the city hall and they got us to open. On our Myspace page there’s a picture of that night. We were real young and just starting. I don’t know how many originals we played that night but we played ‘Waiting For The Man’ by the Velvet Underground really fast. We probably did ‘Pipeline.’ The other band was a band called La Cruz from Tijuana and I used to always go see them—they were a really cool band to see. They would do like Humble Pie rocking the Fillmore type of stuff. They were a working band so I thought they were cool. They loaned us their equipment and there was nobody there that understood what we were trying to do—but they dug it.
Did your cousin Sheila E. ever come see the Zeros?
She didn’t come see the Zeros until we did our reunion stuff in the ‘90s. She came down to Raji’s and she loved it. She wanted to jam with us. She really loved it fast. She wanted to play on ‘Wild Weekend’
You told the L.A. Times that your mom would have been upset if everyone in the family hadn’t become musicians—why?
My whole family is musicians. It seems that if I’m not doing music my mom’s like, ‘What are you doing? What’s going on?’ It’s really funny because when I don’t do music they think something’s wrong. I think because my brother’s Pete and Coke were musicians and they were always around it—that’s not to say they didn’t know it was a hard life or had the same concerns as parents, but once I started playing and playing out, they were proud. And they knew I loved it and they just wanted me to be happy.
And on trips to L.A., the Zeros stayed at the beautiful Tropicana Motor Inn?
We stayed there a lot. It’s been around for a long time. It’s on Santa Monica Blvd. It wasn’t so luxurious but it was a really cool place to stay and a lot of bands stayed there— the Ramones, Blondie… Tom Waits was living there for a period. I guess he dug our shoes and supposedly he was overheard saying, ‘Oh, those Mexican kids with the pointy shoes.’ We would see the Ramones there—everybody would be out by the pool and all the New York people would be like, ‘Ooh, the sun!’ and run out to the pool.
What’s it like to see the Ramones in bathing suits?
I saw Joey lounging out there with a bathing suit on and it’s kind of like, ‘Oh my God.’ It was really funny—one time we had gotten this review and I don’t know if they called us ‘the Mexican Ramones,’ but it said that we were like them and we left the magazine by the pool on accident. And I was really worried that the Ramones were going to read that and think we were trying to rip them off—which we weren’t at all—so I said, ‘Go get that magazine!’ We were running to sound check, and either Robert or Baba went to go get it and Joey was reading it! He goes, ‘Oh, that’s our magazine’ and Joey said, ‘You guys have a really original sound.’ Or something that the magazine had said!
Did you ever ask the Ramones what it was like to be the caucasoid Zeros?
We talked to the Ramones because the Nuns had a relationship with them. Their singer, Richie, was an original member of the Ramones. Then the Ramones became friends with the Nuns right off because they already had that history. When they came to San Diego we went down and met them all and they were really nice and really cool to us.
How did the Zeros fit in to L.A. punk? You had to commute!
Two of us lived in Chula Vista and two of us lived in National City so we were basically a San Diego, band but there was nothing going on in San Diego. We tried—we put on some shows and it was us, the Crawdaddys and the Dils. There were a lot of people there but the scene just wouldn’t take off. Nothing would happen. To play a club in San Diego you had to do covers for four hours or you had to be a touring band with a record out and we were neither and so we couldn’t get anything going here. The Dils had already moved to San Francisco so there was nobody to play with. The Hitmakers and the Crawdaddys were more retro—‘60s Rolling Stones-type bands. We had to go to L.A. and, boom, the scene was taking off and growing day-by-day! So we got booked there but we were never considered an L.A. band—we were always a San Deigo band. Then in 1978, we moved to San Francisco. If you look at the books that come out, there’s really no book about the San Diego punk scene because there wasn’t one in ’77. But in the San Francisco books, we’re an L.A. band because we played there a lot. So we basically don’t have a home.
Greg Shaw asked you to make a Bomp album in 1977 and you said no—what would that lost Zeros album have been like?
It would probably have been like the singles that we recorded then. It would have been a lot like the second single.
Do you feel you lost out on anything by not recording?
I just think that that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We’re just growing all the time and evolving and writing hopefully better stuff and keeping it moving.
What’s the story behind that clip of the Zeros on Sun Up San Diego?
Robert’s father worked at Channel 8 as a floor director. He said, ‘You guys should come on down to this morning show’ and we had that show at Adams coming up so we said, ‘Sure, let’s do it.’ Funny story my mom tells—that morning it’s really early and I’m out there throwing stuff in the car and she’s like, ‘Where are you going?’ I said ‘I’m going to be on TV.’ But I hadn’t even mentioned it to anybody—I thought that was the funniest thing in the world.
What happened when the cameras stopped?
They didn’t want me to wear sunglasses and we couldn’t play live—it was synced. I was really mad. I was 18 or 19 and had a ‘Don’t tell me what to do!’ kind of thing going on. I was really mad that they wouldn’t let me wear sunglasses and I was mad that we had to fake it. I thought this was selling out and it wasn’t artistically OK for me to be lip-syncing.
Who was the scariest person you met in L.A.?
Johnny Thunders. I’d say he was the most intimidating person. I actually didn’t meet him until years later when I lived in New York and was introduced to him and he was really cool and really nice. In the punk days, my wife got his autograph in San Francisco and he was really nice. But he was someone that—I just thought the world of him. He was the coolest guy around as far as I was concerned, so I was very intimidated by him. Back in the punk days I didn’t really go up and talk to bands like I did later. I saw the Heartbreakers play at the Whisky and it was disappointing. We drove from San Diego and it was like, ‘This is terrible.’ I didn’t even stay for the second set. But later when I lived in San Francisco, I saw five shows in San Francisco and five shows in L.A. and I still didn’t talk to him. There was a girl who was my brother Alejandro’s girlfriend who knew me and the Dils and the Zeros and everybody—she was like, ‘Ooh you gotta meet Johnny!’ And so we did that night. He said I was a ‘cool kid’—and that was one of my proudest moments ever.
THE ZEROS WITH THE MUFFS AND PRIMADONNA ON THUR., JULY 16, AT THE TROUBADOUR, 9081 SANTA MONICA BLVD., WEST HOLLYWOOD. 8 PM / $15 / ALL AGES. TROUBADOUR.COM. VISIT THE ZEROS AT MYSPACE.COM/THEZEROS77.