The most gushed-about current British band sounds absolutely nothing like a band from the U.K. Or anywhere in Europe, for that matter. In fact, if you gave them a listen, you’d probably pick up some New Orleans boogie — a la Dr. John — and some Southern-fried guitar rock, kinda like Lynyrd Skynyrd. With maybe a little bit of Californian psychedelia thrown in for good measure.
Meet the Zutons: the greatest American rock and roll band from Liverpool, England.
“I also like a lot of the hip-hop stuff. Like the Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication, I think that’s sort of a pinnacle of doing whatever you want in music,” said drummer Sean Payne. “And the same with Beck. They all seem to do whatever they want, and you know it’s them doing it, whatever the style it is.”
“Which is strange, because in the U.K., we get lumped in with the Strokes and the Libertines, bands like that,” added bassist Russell Pritchard. “But we don’t have a ‘look,’ so often we’ll be doing a photo shoot and they’ll be like, ‘You have to look good for this one.’ And we’re really uncomfortable with that.”
That discomfort shouldn’t be surprising. In person, the Zutons look nothing like the Strokes; they’re more shaggy hair and hemp necklaces than vintage suits and white belts. And they lack the volatile, drug-addled lunacy of the Libertines: The most scandalous thing about the Zutons happened last month, when they were forced to cancel their U.K. tour because Payne fell ill. They’re essentially four slightly unkempt, somewhat geeky, supremely nice lads (and one lass, saxophonist Abi Harding) who don’t really fit in anywhere.
And that’s abundantly clear on their debut album, Who Killed The Zutons?, an ode to the swampy, sweaty, voodoo rock and roll that populated the airwaves in the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s got red-hot sax playing, plenty of mentions of hard-lovin’ women and hard-workin’ men, and even a song called “Zuton Fever” that features the lyric, “Oh doctor, doctor help and let me know/ If you can find a cure or antidote.” In short, it’s a silly, unabashed good time.
“Music should be fun! Chuck Berry was just about the most fun thing going,” Pritchard said.
“Even stuff like Nirvana, even though it’s a down kind of thing, it’s still fun,” Payne added. “You listen to it and say ‘Okay, we can jump about to this and mosh to it.’ It’s got a lot of energy. And after you listen to it, you’re buzzin’ off it.”
That attitude, coupled with their retro leanings and geographic location, is party of the reason that the Zutons are often mentioned in the same breath as fellow Liverpudlians like the Coral and the Stands. They’re all slightly skewered, left-of-center pop oddities, and while 99 percent of all acts chafe at the phrase “being part of a scene,” the Zutes actually don’t seem to mind the comparisons. In fact, they seem to find strength in numbers.
“In Liverpool, most 16-year-olds with a guitar, they get their Jimi Hendrix, their Pink Floyd and the Who, and then they discover Captain Beefheart, and they just go totally that way for a while,” Pritchard said. “And with bands like us, the Stands and the Coral, we were all around at the same time, and that’s what we did.”
“I think we’re all united by the love of diversity and pushing away the mainstream,” Payne added. “Everyone says they hate pop music and never listen to the radio, so it’s all about finding the weirdest kind of music you can be into.”