The singer for Canadian neo-metal band Pulse Ultra goes by Zo, which is short for Lorenzo. But his bandmates call him Zoloft, the name of a prescription medication for depression.
Perhaps they should be calling him Xan, as in the anxiety reliever Xanax.
Zo Vizza is the kind of guy who buzzes with nervous energy even when he's sleeping. Pulse Ultra's urgent, abrupt guitar passages, tumbling drumbeats and pain-stricken vocals are the bandmembers' reaction to the world that zips around them. Their music shudders with confusion, power and passion because the Montreal rockers react to the speedy flow of contemporary society with a mixture of awe and dread.
"The idea of Pulse Ultra comes from how everything nowadays is marketed in a crazy way as being ultra this or ultra that," Vizza said, vibrating with excitement. "We're trying to say how everything's so fast-paced nowadays and the human body can't keep up with it. You can picture an advertisement for anxiety problems: 'Pulse Ultra! Get a fast pulse! Get yourself an anxiety attack for $9.99.' "
Pulse Ultra's debut album, Headspace, comes out July 16, and the band will play the second stage of Ozzfest through the summer in addition to some off-dates with System of a Down, P.O.D and Meshuggah (see "System Of A Down, P.O.D. To Keep Rocking While Ozzy Sleeps"). The frenzied activity should keep the band too busy to feel too wired. And if the record takes off, maybe Tums Ultra will sponsor Pulse Ultra's next tour.
While Headspace swarms with swirling energy, the songs exhibit no lack of melody or dynamics. Tracks like "Finding My Place (Phase II)" and "Never the Culprit" echo with start-stop rhythms, unconventional meters and ripping guitars, though Vizza's vocals soar like those of Incubus' Brandon Boyd. If nü-metal is getting old, such bands as Pulse Ultra, Meshuggah and Shadows Fall are leading a crusade of new nü-metal that values technical proficiency as much as sheer aggression.
"I don't know if we're re-inventing any wheel or anything, but I hope that certain songs on the album are pushing the envelope a little bit," Vizza said. "We'd like to think that we're doing little things here and there that haven't been done before."
Pulse Ultra formed in 2000, though guitarist Dominic Cifarelli and bassist Jeff Feldman have been playing together for the past 10 years. In 1997 they hooked up with drummer Maxx Zinno. Vizza hopped onboard last, and his love for alternative and pop music nicely complemented his bandmates' eclectic vision.
"Dominic is heavily into Extreme, Van Halen and all the rockgod stars," Vizza said. "And we all like Rush and Tool. And Maxx is into Dream Theater. And I really like Björk and PJ Harvey. We listen to as much as we possibly can."
To date, Pulse Ultra have played only about 15 live shows in Canada because they didn't exactly bond with the country's music scene, and instead opted to spend their time in the practice room honing their sound. Their diligence paid off. The band recorded a well-produced demo, and one night after a show, Cifarelli handed the tape to Taproot's Mike DeWolf. The guitarist dug it so much he gave it to his management company Velvet Hammer, which also handles System of a Down. The organization signed on Pulse Ultra and soon landed them a record deal.
Aside from being musically challenging, Headspace features some salient lyrics that address such issues as isolation, paranoia and denial. On "Never the Culprit" Vizza confronts blame and xenophobia in the wake of Middle Eastern turmoil.
"It's about everyone blaming the other person," he explained. "We're never the culprit. Americans are never wrong. Afghanistan's never wrong. Iraq's never wrong. Whatever culture you're in, of course you're never wrong. In your own culture which you absorb like fish in water you don't see your hate for other cultures. For you, of course your actions are justified, but from an objective perspective it's not really justified because there's things that have been done wrong on both sides. And if you try to pull back and detach yourself emotionally from the situation, maybe you'll realize that everybody's a little bit wrong and a lot of lives will be saved. Because in a war, everybody's wrong."
The creation of Headspace should have been a blast for Vizza since the band got to work in Los Angeles and experience the glitter and glamour of Hollywood firsthand. But the singer was intimidated by the whirlwind of activity around him and stressed out by the work environment.
"When you're recording a record you're doing nothing for like eight hours a day," he explained. "You're just waiting in the lounge. So that gave me eight hours of thinking about all my problems. Because I'm the paranoid type or because I'm insecure about going in to do the vocals, that added even more anxiety."
Worst of all, six weeks into the writing process Vizza's father died unexpectedly of cancer. He flew back to Montreal for a month to be with his family, but the whole time he was there he felt the pressure of the unfinished album looming over his head. Then, when he returned to Los Angeles, he was emotionally drained and ridden with guilt.
"That's part of what 'Build Your Cages' is about," he said. "I wanted to be with my mom and my brother, but I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I couldn't f--- up. They were home dealing with all this while I was working, which was really rough. A lot of the tension and anxiety on the record probably stems from that whole experience."
A year has passed since Vizza's dad passed away, and in that time the singer has managed to cope with his pain and adapt to his new circumstances.
"I just finished reading 'The Count of Monte Cristo' [by Alexandre Dumas], and the point of the story is, if you've never been so low in your life, if you never wanted to die, then you don't know what life is about. So I'm good with things now. I'm accepting my past and I'm finally happy."