I was walking into a bar called Left Field one January night in 2017, when I first noticed Brooklyn’s Back From Zero.
Arriving an hour early for a mutual friend’s set, this relatively unknown band is setting up to play.
I can see them from the window outside as I enter, then moments later I hear this riff…
It’s the first ten seconds of the song, and that ten second moment right there solidified the entire credibility of this band’s raw musical fortitude.
If the first two measures of a song doesn’t grip a listener’s ear like a catholic school nun when your attention isn’t front and center, you’ve failed as a writer. Truth. However way it’s done, it’s just like any other kind of attraction: the terms need to be outlined right away. Otherwise, it’s apparent that both parties are clueless. You don’t have to be a musical virtuoso. Hell, you don’t even have to be that good, but musically, Goddamnit for sure you’d better be CAPTIVATING!
I can’t emphasize the word musically enough, because in 2017 everybody’s a “musician.”
These guys, Back From Zero, EVERY song is the first two measures. From that point on, the groove just locks you. Don’t believe me? Good. I’ve posted four videos below from a live broadcast of one of their sessions, for your doubtful asses. Play the first two bars of each song. You owe me two rounds if what I just said is not a fact.
Let that one riff right below sink in. You’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
We’ll talk a little more about it later. For now, press play and watch how the groove resonates:
You know what type of groove I’m talking about…
The guitarist – Austin Collins – is playing that riff like there’s a 44 Magnum hidden somewhere under his shirt.
It almost makes me want to assume the role of Sheriff of the five boroughs right then and there.
Stephen King is somewhere nodding his head to that riff, as he creates the arc of a story-line in the newest edition of The Dark Tower series that the world has yet to experience. You can’t tell me this isn’t what you’re hearing.
This is the sound of Back From Zero.
It’s vindication music. Liberation music.
Back From Zero establishes a very prevailing, resolute groove in each song. Their groove has the thump of a mercenary’s beating heart as he prowls, seeking his mark. It’s Shaft and Starky & Hutch in pursuit of the same perp, in the same episode of a hybrid spin-off crime series. It’s the stomping strut of a dueling family’s victorious reprisal, as they march away from the last enemy laid to rest.
Their sound is like hard-boiled fiction literature meets what would be considered neo-noir western fiction, communicated through sheet music. Huggy Bear is somewhere, with his eyes on Pam Grier… Tom Selleck is standing in front of his bathroom mirror in Southern California present day, admiring his moustache, reminiscing about Quigley Down Under. Timothy Olyphant is pondering on where his next ideal leading role will come from, while Severed plays in the background of a whiskey saloon somewhere in Kentucky. Elmore Leonard is looking down fondly, smiling at all that’s happening. That’s the music.
1:47 to about 2:20 in the clip below: a very enthralling, pictorial groove right there.
Close your eyes and see it with your good eye open:
Everyone respects the groove. It’s an unspoken language that says “HELL YES” every time.
Groove and rhythm go hand in hand, but the two are not identical. You can have rhythm, and still have no groove, but everything in the world can be explained with groove. With rhythm, you can flow. With groove, you can mold, sculpt, and manipulate. The groove is what you take from the rhythm to make your own signature motion. That’s the difference.
A restaurant kitchen will be a world of chaos trying to serve food, if they’re working without rhythm. The line cook’ll chop a finger off by mistake if the sous chef isn’t swift when he turns around with a scalding pot of beef stock.
RHYTHM makes it work.
A skilled enough habitual speeder will eventually develop a cloak of invisibility. I’ll explain how the groove does that. This driver will figure out over time how to use certain reference points – such as where wide corners and bends begin, and even large trucks on the road – as visibility shields. Theses little tricks will become clockwork after a while, allowing a driver to manipulate the road without aggravating the existing traffic pattern. Ultimately, the skill of effortlessly diverting attention to themselves as law-breaking speeders will be perfected. It subsequently begins to feel like vehicular choreography.
A demonstrative application of groove in automotive performance at a street capacity.
GROOVE creates trademark patterns.
Although the groove typically has universal applicability, don’t go trying to Tokyo drift down the Grand Central Parkway for the groove’s sake. Baby steps.
For now, start with just the music of Back From Zero and let the groove guide you.
Whew! Ok, now that I’ve managed to contain myself a bit from my passion for groove and rhythm (somewhat)…
I’m a huge fan of the Old West, so after the initial rush I got from that gunslinger groove in Grind, several thoughts went through my head. First, the music has me feeling like I just walked onto the set of a new season of Justified, and there should be a rocks glass of Bulleit Rye waiting for me at the end of the bar. Next, I was almost instantly reminded of Chris Cornell’s musical writing style with Soundgarden, and also Audioslave’s early musical style (collectively). Those two bands have one man in common: Chris Cornell.
It’s not because he just died that I’m saying this, or because he happens to be my favorite artist.
I know. It’s a very bold statement to say that anyone resembles Chris Cornell musically, but a good enough ear knows what I mean.
Chris had a sound. You’ll hear it, and remember it as I explain the lineage. This sound, like many others of similar genres, such as Doom and Stoner Rock, can usually be traced back to Black Sabbath, fundamentally. I don’t think there’s a single living breathing rock musician who can’t tell me they weren’t influenced by Tony Iommi in one way or another. You are, even if you don’t know it. Don’t be a dumb-ass. Black Sabbath ushered in an everlasting climate of dark, menacing, sinister overcast in anything involving a guitar. Prove me wrong.
Listen to Austin’s guitar… As Chris Cornell was leaving us, he knew he had to pass down his legacy unto certain individuals capable enough to understand it, and innovative enough to make it their own. Austin Collins was one of these people. That’s a big responsibility to honor. He’s doing a good job so far though. We’ve got to do our best in humanity to preserve such a sound. Chris Cornell was the closest thing we had to music like Black Sabbath, for example, who’s music essentially put them in their own genre of rock music. He wasn’t just “grunge.” He transcended beyond that genre to create his own groove over his career, from what he favored in Sabbath, among other music as well. He wouldn’t have been able to do that without establishing a signature groove of his own.
Austin’s grappling grooves are complimented by Steven Castania’s minacious basslines – like he’s cuing in a coroner – while Erik Samuelsen’s high-noon drum rolls introduce a gunfight about to ensue. Everyone’s gettin’ ready for a show-down.
What else can you do over that type of composition except VINDICATE? That’s exactly what vocalist Dean Bonsignore brings. This is the type of cadence Chris Cornell used to display. Chris would give sermons! Rise up and BELIEVE! The deaf shall hear! The blind shall bear witness! You too, will testify to this Rock n’ Roll homily once you witness Back From Zero live in person!
While Chris Cornell had a sound that was recognizable primarily due to his voice, his songwriting shouldn’t be overshadowed by his vocals. His work with Audioslave had harmonious synchronicity as well, and those musicians were also part of the DNA that resulted in a band like Back From Zero. There are more DNA strands, of course. You can definitely hear Clutch within Back From Zero as well, except that Neil Fallon’s vocals are a little more aggressive, while Back From Zero’s Dean Bonsignore adds more of an honest country-western, softer, subdued quality to the sound.
Don’t get me wrong, Back From Zero still has enough of that hard-line menacing impact in their music, it’s just a bit more gentlemanly. Like how a quick-draw gunman in the Old West would politely challenge another to a duel, showing common manners and decency before unloading his chamber into his opponent, shooting to kill. This is most displayed in Breaking The Know. In case you happened to have not been following with my two-measure theory, you need to stop where you are, scroll up and play Breaking The Know. And don’t blame me if out of nowhere at any point in listening to these tracks, you feel compelled to crack open a bottle of Evan Williams and search eBay for a “replica” .36 caliber Paterson long barrel.
That “gentlemanly” thing I mentioned before was seen in most projects Chris Cornell had to do with. It’s an honesty thing, I feel. When someone is so open, and uninhibited about the sentiments they need to convey, the volume will speak loudly, even when the tone is meant to be soft and subdued. This is why I love Back From Zero so much. Too many bands are preoccupied playing costume-dress-up, while their music isn’t saying a word. That’s a problem. While image IS almost a necessary element of this industry, it cannot supersede the music. That’s where many bands fail. If you’re not saying anything, your music is pretty much background filler in its entirety. Nobody will remember a word of it, because none of it meant a word.
I strongly believe Cornell’s legacy needs to be immortalized through others. His death is particularly meaningful to me, because not only did I lose my musical idol this past May, but I also lost my dad almost instantly – yet very aggressively – two weeks after Chris had passed. My dad became hospitalized the same week of his death, and it was almost eerie how his death foreshadowed my father’s fate.
I intend to arrange benefit shows and theme events in the future, centered around Chris’s life and music- to highlight awareness on depression, substance abuse, suicide, and alternate treatments of these conditions besides other pharmaceutical substances. The first band that came to mind when I thought of this idea was Back From Zero. I thought back to that one night in January and decided I needed to resurrect my magazine, my dad’s honor, and Chris’s memorable sound.
I began to write a book, honoring the life and music of Chris Cornell, set to be printed and released at the end of this month (August). The book is a tribute to the life and music of Chris Cornell, and how it propelled me to successfully destroy my father’s stage-4 cancer, yet still lose him to something else entirely, while doing so.
Music at times can really serve as a soundtrack for essentially becoming superhuman: going far beyond your own capabilities, driven solely by the encouragement of the music’s spirit. Breaking the law, and or virtually re-writing it at will, becoming tirelessly productive and efficient, improvisational problem solving- whatever. Music will sometimes be that catalyst, and I explain it in the book. If you enjoy any of this, Back From Zero, and Chris Cornell, you’ll definitely appreciate the book. Especially if you’re a musician. Stay on the lookout.
Oh, and I know I promised you only four videos in the beginning of this article. Consider this 5th one like the secret hidden route in Nintendo DS Mario Kart. It’s a bonus hidden track. I like the humble little arpeggio thing Austin does throughout the beginning. It’s a subtle display of versatility in their staple texture. Don’t sleep on those backing vocals either. Bassist Steve Castania does good in his vocal support. Remember, the complete sound of Alice In Chains for example, was not just Layne Stayley. That sound that they had wouldn’t have the same effect without Jerry Cantrell in the back reinforcing it.
I wish these boys here lots of fortune. They’re all passionate multi-instrumentalists, honest musicians, and most importantly, they’ve got some memorable tunes. New York’s a good breeding ground for this sort of thing I guess. It’s the sort of place where a lone wolf guitarist can randomly connect with two longtime friends, and utilize the internet to instantly secure a missing link bass player to form a band with a genuine sound. Bull’s-eye.
I haven’t had the honor to check out any of their finalized recorded material yet. Though judging from the sound of their raw impact, I can imagine with a little “technology magic” found in today’s gear, and good production aka “studio magic” – as far as engineering/recording – and little playing around here and there with panning, levels, flanger, etc, these guys could take the reins from Audioslave. Easily. Mutt Lange did it for Def Leppard and ACDC. You know that one album uhh, what’s it called… You know it, right? Back In Black? Yeah. The rest is history. Point proven. These guys have the sound, they have the music, they have the authenticity- all they need is one more creative ear in the studio and they’ll wave goodbye to yesterday forever. This band is Rick Rubin’s untouched ground.
Maybe I’ll follow up with an in-depth live interview of the boys for any questions you might have. They’re currently in the works with a 20 something song catalog, but I’m not at liberty to leak anything out. Keep your ears perked and your eyes on deviatormagazine.com
Also, lots of thanks to BRIDGESIDE PRODUCTIONS for attaining high-quality footage of these guys in action. Awesome work.
I don’t have an over-active Facebook like most people, but as a recreational photographer, I have an Instagram account that offers some pretty interesting things there. I’m a man of cars, design, groove and class. Follow me @lex_pistols to stay in touch. Sorry that we’ve been away for too long. The Sheriff’s back in town though… Some tables need a turnin’, there’s a tab or two left unpaid, and a rocks glass of Tullamore Dew with one finger left in it. I smell gunpowder… See ya around, partner.