Zoo Story Biography
Randy Coleman - vocals, guitar
Carlos Rivera - guitar
Nick Sample -bass
Kevin Shepard - drums
Geographically, they come from Central America, Los Angeles and New York. Musically, they hail from jazz, classical, rock and theater backgrounds. They bring Master's degrees, awards and accolades to their music, but most importantly, they come with rock 'n' roll souls. And together in Zoo Story, the combination is an unforgettable meshing of musical spirits, a penetrating blend of pop-rock styles into one cohesive musical whole. The Los Angeles-based lineup's 3:33 Music Group/Universal Records self-titled debut, with its edgy, ardent first single, "Mantaray," is like the band itself--difficult to pigeonhole and impossible to ignore. From the instantly familiar, melancholic yet soaring "She Don't Care," to the percussive yet graceful "Nothing Changes" to dynamic, crisp "No Apologies," Zoo Story, who take their name from the emotionally charged Edward Albee play, are a band with a story to tell.
However, explains band founder/vocalist/guitarist and L.A. native Randy Coleman, "our music is there for you on any level you choose to hear it. We start in one place and go to another, led only by what's truly in our hearts. Separately, as musicians, we can do cool stuff, but together it's simply amazing. We cross different genres on this record, with influences from Queen to Jeff Buckley to Led Zeppelin to U2. I grew up listening to bands where you knew who all the members were; you knew their names, what instrument they played and their astrological signs. It was very intimate. They were heroes to me and still are. I like to think that in our own way we're brining the element of 'band' back into rock 'n' roll."
Unlike many modern bands, Zoo Story are rooted in the song, the careful craftsmanship of both the songs and sonics of their debut kin to the great songwriters and albums of the '70s, delivered with a flair that's both modern and timeless. Zoo Story's 12 tracks, much like a record by U2 or the Eagles, for instance, possesses something hauntingly familiar and evocative within the musical layers, each song creating a different mood and visual for the listener. And, like the band members themselves, Zoo Story is emotional, yet hard-hitting when the moment calls for it. The songs, based around the dynamic of the lyric, are created with a close attention to melody and the way things move, the sinuous melodies woven by the guitars, keyboards and vocals anchored by the fluid yet commanding interplay of the rhythm section.
Though the lineup has only been together about a year, there's a lot of history poured into the timeless songs so deftly captured by producer Gavin MacKillop of Toad the Wet Sprocket and Goo Goo Dolls fame. For veteran drummer Kevin Shepard, Zoo Story is a refreshing new beginning. "Getting Zoo Story together and making our record has been such a beautiful experience; our relationships are unbelievable," enthuses Shepard. "It's what it should be." He should know. As a member of the hits-heavy band Tonic, Shepard, an L.A. native who began playing in punk bands in his early teens, found success, but not necessarily satisfaction. "In 1998 I was still in Tonic," recalls Shepard, when I got a call to do a record for Randy's then titled solo project, Paperback (Shepard and Coleman have known each other since the two were in elementary school) It was such a great feeling. I felt like I'd come full circle to what got me interested in music in the first place."
The other band members had similar musical epiphanies that led to the formation of Zoo Story in early 2000. "There's a lot of the Divine leading this band," believes Coleman. "I mean, Carlos should have been in New York... and through odd circumstances I ended up at Cal Arts getting a Masters in theater, which is where I met his friend who introduced me to Carlos. It's all been about serendipity."
Indeed. The aforementioned Carlos Rivera, born in Washington, D.C., to a Cuban father and a Guatemalan mother, grew up in Virginia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama before settling in Miami in his late teens. "I grew up listening to the music of my parent's heritage, along with the imported North-American and European Rock music my older brothers loved. I have been very fortunate to experience many eclectic styles of folk-oriented music in Central America, and that has revealed itself in various ways, even in Zoo Story." Rivera might have stayed in Miami, playing in bands, had fate not intervened: the guitarist's gear was stolen. "It was a definite sign for me," he recalls. "And I'd been training classically in music for five years. So I moved to L.A. in 1997 and went to USC to pursue a Master's Degree in musical composition." Rivera has also taught music at 'SC, composed works for Sony Classical and Naxos labels, and received a BMI and two ASCAP Young Composer Awards. "Yet I'm not the main songwriter for Zoo Story," adds Rivera, "which is fine. I feel my schooling and knack for musical form aids in shaping these songs and completing our vision."
Bassist Nick Sample, too, brings fascinating experiences to Zoo Story. The son of Joe Sample, legendary jazz pianist from The Crusaders, Nick grew up thinking he'd play jazz or blues. "It wasn't until I heard 'Rock the Casbah' by the Clash that I realized it could groove and rock at the same time," he recalls. Playing the clubs in funky and ultra-musical Los Angeles rock bands, Sample eventually studied at Berklee before returning to Hollywood and snagging a gig at respected club The Mint. He met Shepard on the local scene, the drummer hooking the bassist up his pal Coleman. "I heard the CD Randy did right before the band became Zoo Story and was impressed with the songwriting," Sample recalls. The bassist aced the audition and completed the lineup in February, 1999, noting, "this has been the been the best experience I've had in music."
And Zoo Story is proof-positive. Each member of Zoo Story added his own flavor and touch to the layered songs, the tunes and band sound growing steadily and organically, with producer MacKillop helping the tunes 'rise to the occasion'. "Being schooled in music was not my thing, which gives the band and our debut a great balance, because I've got some amazingly schooled musicians in this band," emphasizes Coleman. "In the past, I'd wanted to make a more sensitive statement, like a Sarah MacLachlan record as a man! But it was too linear. With this band, and the guiding influence of Gavin MacKillop, there's no chance of that happening. This band lit a fire in me, encouraging me to write more aggressively without losing my introspective edge. This record has the fire and water. It's what I've always dreamed in my heart."
Despite the polished sound of Zoo Story and the group's heady individual musical histories, it's still a tale that's just beginning. And a story that will grow along with the young record label they signed with. "3:33 was formed by three guys who love music, had a dream to start their own label. We had a dream to start a band, and we're a part of each other's dream," Coleman observes. "The label came at us with a pure love for the music. Their openness mirrored ours. We're excited to begin our journey with this CD, which is a journey in itself," notes Coleman, echoing the sentiments of his bandmates as he concludes, "I'm just honored to be part of this musical experience."