SAME NAME, DIFFERENT GAME
A CONVERSATION WITH COLIN BLUNSTONE OF THE ZOMBIES
The Zombies are back and in a big way. They have a new album, Different Game, and a documentary, Hung Up On A Dream, both to be released in March, 2023. Although known primarily for their 1960s hits, they are not a retro band. Original members, and two of the original founders, Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent continue to write new and incredible music to add to their impressive and hugely successful catalogue.
“We discovered on our last album that we like to be in the studio playing at the same time” Blunstone said during our recent conversation. “There’s a different energy when you record like that as opposed to everyone during their part of the recording on their own, which is how it is done to a large degree nowadays. The thought did cross my mind, should we just give in and everyone has their own studio, so it would have been easy to do. But, we stayed strong.”
The Zombies were formed in 1962 when two groups joined forces. Rod Argent had a band with Hugh Grundy and Paul Atkinson. Colin Blunstone and Paul Arnold joined the three and The Zombies (or The Mustangs as they were initially known) were born.
In 1964 they had two massive hits when The British Invasion took over the charts and radio. The number one hit single “She’s Not There” and the top ten single “Tell Her No” clearly demonstrated that The Zombies were not one hit wonders and produced incredible music. Other hits followed, including the number one “Time Of The Season” but in 1969, the band decided to split so the members could produce their own solo work. Both Blunstone and Argent had very successful careers but in 2001 Blunstone and Argent joined forces, released a critically acclaimed and successful album (Out Of The Shadows), and the band was back. In 2019, The Zombies were inducted to The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. But again, this is not a band that is willing to rest on their laurels. Quite the opposite.
“Our last album was 2015, Still Got The Hunger, and we had been touring since then and we released time was ticking by, and we thought, do we have a collection of songs to get together to record? .. So we wanted to wait until we were all free to travel and that happened about a year ago. By then, Rod had had a couple of years to write the rest of the album.”
Blunstone wrote one new song for the album, “The Sun Will Rise Again”, the closing track for the album. And it is the perfect song to end the album.
“The Beatles used to do that, have a lovely song at the end. It is a song I wrote a little while ago, and it is a love song of sorts. It’s a love song of a parent to a child. That is the general idea. My daughter was going through a very difficult time, and these were the thoughts that came to me. I think all songs have a trigger. It doesn’t have to be literally line for line, but you need a starting point, and that was the starting point for me.”
“The album came together in a very natural way. I think a band sort of feels when it is time to record a new album, and we just got that feeling that it was time to get back in the studio.”
For Blunstone and the band, touring is something they need to do but more importantly, they want to do and enjoy.
“At this time in our lives, I don’t think we would be playing live if we didn’t really enjoy it. It is in our blood, we have been doing it all our lives. We really do enjoy performing. What gets tougher as you get older is the travel, that is difficult or challenging. It is when it is day after day after day, doing 500 miles a day. The sixth day it becomes a bit of a drudge.”
As much as Blunstone enjoys touring with The Zombies, he also appreciates the breaks. During the time between albums, Blunstone had a chance to rest and catch up with himself. While he did write, record and play some music, it was a chance for him to have some down time.
The band also has a documentary about to be released. Hung Up On A Dream is a film telling the story of The Zombies is long overdue and this is a project that fans of both the band and rock music are looking forward to seeing.
“A rough cut of the documentary arrived over the weekend,” recounted Blunstone. “I am not really good at looking at myself. I have to steal myself to make myself watch me. I need to do it properly after we finish this interview. I’ll make myself a cup of tea, or something stronger, and sit down and watch it,” laughed Blunstone.
“I’m not comparing myself to a movie star, but there are movie stars who don’t like to look at themselves. I am in that bracket.”
The documentary is directed by Robert Schwartzmann. He and his band Rooney toured alongside the group as the support act. And he has been given access to previously unreleased footage.
“The film came from him, really, although two or three people have tried to make documentaries on us. His idea was on a totally different level. He thought it was time to have a proper documentary on the band. We were really thrilled that he was interested and took the time to do it. Even if I am too scared to watch it.”
The Zombies have been clear, however, that although looking back with a documentary, they continue to function as a band and create new material .
“I think it is very important to us that we write and record new material. That is where we get our energy to stay committed to touring, because we are writing and recording new material. In fact, when Rod and I got back together again, it was 1999. It was a chance thing. I had a solo band, and I was touring. Rod was a studio musician, and he hadn’t toured for some time. I had a keyboard player who had a fatal weakness in that if anyone asked him to come to a Vicker’s tea party or a local coffee bar and play some of his own songs, he couldn’t resist. So it meant that I was turning up at concerts and didn’t have a keyboard player. I thought, what can I do? I thought I would phone up Rod, and I had six more concerts. He said, ‘sure I will do the six concerts, but I don’t want to get back on the road. Just six concerts.’ He loved it so much, that those six concerts have grown into 24 years.
“Then going on from there, we thought The Zombies were forgotten. We were immediately surprised by people’s interest in Zombies repertoire. When we got back together we toured as Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent, we didn’t call ourselves The Zombies. We hardly play any Zombie’s tunes. We each had our solo careers. Then we just realized people were asking for Zombie songs. We got together with the other surviving members and said, ‘look we are playing Zombie concerts, do you mind if we use the name The Zombies.’ It seemed more honest to do that, and they agreed and we started touring as The Zombies. We have released five albums since then and, this is a real thrill, we get as good a reaction to the new material as we do with the hits.”
At this stage, The Zombies continue to make incredible music, play live and gain new audiences. Their new album, Different Game is the next step forward for the band and even with a documentary, there is no indication they are slowing down. But the base of the band is their absolute love of what they do.
“We often talk about being real. We write from the heart, we perform from the heart. We give everything when we go out on the road. Some bands of our era are criticized for going through the motions, but we have never been like that. We give it everything we got. Rod and I often joke that there is more energy on stage now than there was in the 60s when we were teenagers. We really go for it”