By Juliet De Rose
The Absolute Zeros are familiar with change. Since British frontman, Kelvin Cochrane, and North Philly percussionist, Sabu Rex, formed the group in 2007, they’ve experienced quite a few lineup changes. After the unexpected death of Sabu in 2008, they decided to keep going in his memory. Today, several members and switched positions later, the guys are still going strong. With a fresh lineup courtesy of new drummer, Doug Holton, and new music on the horizon, The Absolute Zeros are about to experience their best year ever.
Origivation: You’ve had many different lineup changes. How has that affected your sound?
Kelvin: It’s been bit of an arduous journey from the very beginning. The three of us here, Steve (La Monica), Bill (Rose) and myself have been the core. It started with a five piece. One of the members was inconsiderate enough to die and the other one left for Washington D.C. We had to shuffle around and replace people. This is our third round: drummer number three, guitar player number two.
Bill: Our sound definitely changes. For every lineup, we’ve evolved. It’s kind of nice because it keeps us fresh. The songs keep reinventing themselves.
Steve: Some of the songs we were playing three years ago have taken on a completely new life.
Bill: Everyone new adds their personal touch to it. It keeps it fun.
Kelvin: But we’ve still remained just a plain old rock band.
O: So, who came up with the name?
Kelvin: That was me. Because of my name, Kelvin. Do you get that connection? So it was kind of “Kelvin and the Absolute Zeros.”
Bill: Then we kind of scraped the whole “Kelvin” part.
O: I get it. I like it even though I think I failed chemistry in high school.
Kelvin: At least you were at school.
O: Throughout everything, the name stuck?
Kelvin: That was the name of me and Sabu. We were a two piece for about a year. The original Absolute Zeros. Then we looked for about a year and found Steve and Bill was in Steve’s old band. We kind of poached the whole thing there. Then, Austin the first lead guitarist went to school with Bill. After a year of Sabu and I just playing around and practicing the songs, all of these guys just came along really quick.
O: You’re a rock band but you also incorporate many different genres and influences.
Kelvin: Yeah, I guess so. But Rock is the final progression of all of that: soul and blues and funk. It’s all of that mixed into one thing. People say we have a lot of soul and blues and funk in our music but it’s just modern music really. How it’s progressed.
Bill: Definitely with the different individual members too. Like I have a more bluesy style guitar, Kelvin has a very soulful voice and Doug’s a very rock-oriented drummer. All those things mold into one. Steve’s got the funk. But everyone’s got everything. We’re all versatile. We try not to put ourselves into one genre.
Doug: I try to avoid the “Band’s that influence us” conversation with you guys because you’ll kick me out.
O: So what’s your answer to that? What bands influence you?
Doug: Most of the stuff they list as they like and talk about all the time I just cringe and turn the other way. Like anything from the 70s.
Kelvin: Well, I like anything.
Doug: I know. I have an appreciation for a lot of great music, just not a love for it.
Steve: It makes us versatile because we all have difference influences. We’ll play shows where it’s like a flat-out, in your face rock show and then we’ll play another show that’s very acoustic and mellow. We can adapt to a lot of different situations and a lot of different venues.
Kelvin: We do have a lot of material so there’s a lot of variety there.
O: How often do you play live?
Steve: In Philly, we try to keep it to one big show, maybe two a month. Lately, we’ve been playing at the Tin Angel a lot. We’ve done well the last couple of years there.
Bill: When we were starting out, the World Cafe helped us out a lot with open mic nights and everything.
O: What are you guys drinking tonight?
Steve: Southern Tier. The official beer of The Absolute Zeros.
Kelvin: Steve’s a beer snob.
Doug: It was nice to find that mutual passion. I gave him shit for drinking Miller Light from a can on New Year’s Day, though.
Steve: Bill had a whole suitcase of it!
Doug: I don’t care. You walk somewhere to get better beer.
Kelvin: It’s all alcohol. However it comes.
O: Any plans to record an LP anytime soon?
Steve: We’ve always had enough material to record a full length album but now I think we’re at a place where we have a steady lineup and getting better paying gigs. We have the time and the money to go to a studio and record a proper, full length album.
Bill: We’re looking forward to the real thing. It’s going to be a little more produced. We’re really going to put a lot of time into it. But the chemistry with Doug, everything’s starting to come together now. Maybe in a couple months we’ll start recording.
Steve: Doug brings something we’ve really been lacking. He has a great voice to do backing vocals so we can start layering the vocals during recording. He brings a whole new dimension and a new perspective.
Kelvin: We have a lot of great original material. That’s the beauty of a song, it’s just a collection of chords and words and melodies but how it’s played by different people and how it’s expressed can make it a completely different feeling song. I’m looking forward to having a fixed lineup that can actually take the time to make this happen.
Doug: Me joining the band was sort of serendipitous. I hadn’t been behind a [drum] kit reguarly in about a year and a half. I started playing open mics and singing and writing for a bit. I walked into Lickity Split and Kelvin was hosting the open mic he told me they were auditioning for a drummer. Bill sent me songs and we were scheduled to play a couple weeks after. Then I got an e-mail from Bill and he was like “I know it’s Tuesday but do you want to come out Wednesday and play these songs you just got?”
Bill: He came in and played the songs better than anyone who I sent the songs to weeks prior.
Steve: He first played with us the night before Thanksgiving which was good because everyone was drunk. Including the band.
Bill: It’s fun. Even now, working out the kinks and getting tight. Everyone just laughs it off.
Kelvin: There’s never been a lot of tension in this band.
O: Who contributes to the writing?
Kelvin: It’s me and an acoustic guitar. The meoldies and the chords are there then I throw it out to these guys. I say it’s all me but it really isn’t. A lot of the songs I wrote before the rest of the guys joined I wrote with a friend of mine. Bill contributed to some of the new songs.
Bill: He has the basic outline for the songs and we all come in with our little parts. Even with the arrangement.
Steve: It’s very rare where Kelvin is like, “This is what I wrote and you have to do it this way.”
Bill: Every Monday night we do acoustic practices. We meet without the drum set and the electric guitars. We get the parts down and the structure and it’s a good environment. It might take a couple weeks to perfect it but it’s exciting.
Kelvin: As far as music goes, that kind of just comes out. The hardest thing and for me, the most important thing about any song, is the lyrical content. Basically, it’s really hard to write songs because you’re trying to get very big ideas and fit them down into a very small package: three verses and a chorus and it has to mean something. A song usually portrays an emotion or a feeling. Lyrics are the difference between a good band and a great band.
O: How has the Philly music scene contributed to your growth as a band?
Kelvin: I really love the grassroot music scene in Philly and in America in general. I came here in 2004 and from the begninig of that century in England, you can see the decline of live music. It’s a lot cheaper to get a fucking karaoke machine or a DJ so club owners didn’t have to get all those licenses. In Europe, live music was a dying breed. So to come from over there and see the different levels of live music and have people willing to come out and see a band like us who can pack a hundred people into a bar… We’re on that level that people are willing to come out an see original live music they might not have heard otherwise. There’s music clubs here for that purpose.
Steve: The live music scene is also a really close-knit community here. A lot of our shows are fellow musicians who come out and see us and vice versa.
Doug: You really have to earn it in Philly. That’s the thing. There is no built in crowd.
Bill: We’ve met so many good people. No one’s out to get anyone, everyone’s helping each other out. We’re lucky to have this environment because it’s kept us going for the past four years.
Kelvin: I still feel like we haven’t reached our full potential, either. 2011 is the year to blow shit up.