Concert Preview: Citizen Zero
Detroit-based Citizen Zero will stop by Newport Music Hall on Saturday night, supporting their first major label release, State of Mind. The set’s lead single “Go (Let Me Save You)” gives a firm nod to fellow rockers Foo Fighters and Shinedown with its melodic urgency – complementary comparisons given the entire album’s consistently polished production and cohesive soundscape. Vocalist Josh LeMay’s performances are impressive, and his pipes prove they have agility to spare as he easily vaults the tight instrumentation of band mates Sammy Boller (lead guitar), John Dudley (drums), and Sam Collins (bass).
Since the release of their first independent EP Life Explodes in 2012, the band has played alongside heavyweights such as Kid Rock, ZZ Top, Halestorm, Royal Blood, P.O.D., and Highly Suspect, among others. Life Explodes earned them a Detroit Music Award for “Outstanding Rock/Pop Recording” in 2013. As their profile rose regionally, they signed to Wind-up Records in early 2016.
Their Newport gig this weekend is one of over thirty dates on the calendar through July – a tour fit for a band that is quickly gaining national recognition for their craft. Amidst their hectic schedule, LeMay and Boller were able to spend a few moments with me to discuss their feelings about taking State of Mind on the road.
I came across your Spotify playlist of “tour tunes” as I was researching questions for this interview, and there’s quite a bit of diversity there. What are some influences each of you bring to the table when you write and record?
“Thanks! We all love a lot of different styles of music, and we definitely try to bring them all to the table when we’re writing. That’s what is so cool about writing collaboratively: everybody draws from different experiences and influences. We grew up wanting to be Van Halen and Stone Temple Pilots, but after years of writing and performing, we developed our own sound. I think that if you take the favorite parts of each of your favorite artists and you really dig deep enough and do it your own way, you’ll find your sound. I’d like to think that’s what we did.”
You recently signed with Wind-Up Records. What’s changed the most for you as a band now that you’re not releasing music independently?
“Putting this record out completely changed everything for us. It pulled us into the national spotlight and opened up a lot of doors for us very quickly. We work with such a great team of people now and it’s such an honor. We feel like it’s only the beginning.”
Josh, your voice is a really compelling instrument and it’s so rich. When did you first discover you had that talent, and how do you maintain it when you’re touring regularly?
“I started at a young age playing drums. It became hard to air drum and pretend to perform on stages as a kid in the shower and in the backseat of cars and wherever else. Guitar and singing fit that mold a little better. Then I stuck with it. I guess I started singing the way everyone does — one shower at a time from about 12 years old on. As far as the road goes, I’ve been fortunate with getting away with a lot of mistreatment of my voice. I drink a ton of water and tea during the day and try to stay quite. Then evening comes and vocal warm-ups start. Lots of folks do goofy things and make weird noises and whatnot, but for me, I just sing along to my favorite tracks prior to the show. Throw on some Alter Bridge or Stone Temple Pilots and sing along, just like back in the day when I first got into this.”
I really love “Go (Let Me Save You)”‘s hook. I think it’s a great choice for your first single for a lot of reasons, but would love to hear what stood out about it for you.
“‘Go’ has always been a very special song to us. I remember hearing the completed demo for the first time and getting chills. It’s just one of those things that doesn’t happen that often. When it was decided that it was going to be the first single, we were all thrilled. I’ll never forget hearing it on the 101.1 WRIF in Detroit for the first time, almost three years after it was initially written. It was one of the most surreal moments of my life. When a song means so much to you, and you hold it close for so long, hearing it on the radio airwaves is a really crazy experience.”
Al Sutton produced this album, as well as your previous EP – and his portfolio is astounding. How has having his hands on the controls helped to shape the work you do in the studio?
“Al took a chance on us when we were really young. The biggest thing for us is that he gave us 24-hour access to his studio – Rustbelt Studios in Detroit. There were countless nights when we would write songs and work on demos all night. When the sun would come up, we’d sleep for a couple hours at the studio and wake up and go at it again. ‘Applause and Fame’ and ‘Come Away’ were written that way. I really appreciate that time more than ever now, because it is such a rare thing for a young band.”
Your PR materials refer to your music as “homespun.” What does that mean to you as a band from Detroit?
“Growing up around Detroit, we really learned to put the songs first. Detroit has an incredible history of musicians and songwriters. We know we have a lot to live up to. We just want to make the city proud.”
How does it feel to be out on the road supporting your first major release?
“We’ve been on the road since August, and we’ve loved every second of it. There are ups and downs like anything, but getting on stage is the ultimate payoff. We’re out supporting Steel Panther, and the shows have been incredible so far. Going on tour and playing music is something we always dreamed of, and we’re going to keep rolling as long as we possibly can. We’re in this for life now.”
Citizen Zero will take the stage this Saturday, April 15, 7 p.m. at Newport Music Hall, 1722 N. High St. in the University District. Tickets are $27.50 plus applicable taxes and fees (general admission, standing room), and available through Ticketmaster.