“Beer commercials, car commercials, and Cobra Kai.”
I straight up thought that legendary drummer Mark Zonder’s reference point for his new band would have been Toto or Journey. There aren’t really any sonic similarities between them and A-Z, but they all share these very key traits: at their core, they’re expertly-written, hook-saturated pop songs performed by an absurdly skilled cast of musicians. Their self-titled debut oozes 80s AOR as interpreted by a bunch of prog-metal and shred vets, with only trace amounts of cheese – the gouda stuff, not any of that Velveeta shit – adorning key moments. Even the Hugh Syme-designed logo bears a striking resemblance to the Asia logo.
As it happens, those similarities were inevitable, but circumstantial. “I did not want to hear things like, ‘I don’t hear a single,” Zonder says. “It would have some sophisticated music parts, but the big hook was the main priority.” That sophistication would come courtesy of some serious heavy-hitters: French keyboard monster Viven Lalu, his onetime guitarist Joop Wolters, and Steve Vai’s bassist Philip Bynoe. Most notably, A-Z sees Zonder performing together with his former Fates Warning bandmate Ray Alder. Together, these guys have created a lively serving of the most direct, to the point songs in their collective discographies. Heavy but not crushing, complex but not overpowering, A-Z is perhaps the most logical continuation of the aforementioned Asia ethos: simple and memorable structures buttressed by just enough instrumental badassery to keep prog snobs and woodshedders happy.
Zonder and Alder were good enough to join Sonic Perspectives Texas Bureau Chief Gonzalo Pozo to talk A-Z, and the two were so deeply engrossed in reminiscing on both the album’s creation and their lengthy history together that they needed almost zero prodding. Watch or listen to them babbling below, and remember that for more interviews and other daily content, make sure to follow Sonic Perspectives on Facebook, Flipboard and Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified about new interviews and contents we publish on a daily basis.