The Zombies in Ojai: Back From the Undead

By Steven Libowitz   |   July 26, 2022
The Zombies have withstood the test of time and are coming to the Libbey Bowl along with a new album (photo by Alex Lake)

It’s one of those strange quirks in rock ‘n’ roll history that The Zombies had already broken up by the time their second studio album, the Beach Boys/Beatles-influenced psychedelic-chamber pop classic, Odessey and Oracle, became a big bestseller on the back of the hit “Time of the Season” in 1968. They’d scored before with the British Invasion-style “Tell Her No” and jazz-tinged “She’s Not There,” but were disenchanted with how their old-school producer handled their ambitious songs, and when the new record initially tanked, it cemented the choice to split up. 

In fact, Odessey and Oracle represented a dramatic departure because keyboardist-songwriter-vocalist Rod Argent and bassist/singer-songwriter Chris White made the decision to take matters into their own hands by self-producing the album for posterity if not pop hits. Of course, it didn’t hurt that The Zombies recorded the album at Abbey Road right after the Beatles had finishedmaking Sgt. Pepper’s, with the same engineers, and using the Mellotron and percussion instruments the Beatles left behind. 

In the end, of course, The Zombies got both – Odessey and Oracle is considered one of the greatest albums of all time, the band was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 50 years to the day that “Time of the Season” reached No. 1 in the U.S. (just the second British band to do so), and while the members had gone their separate ways in solo work for years, they’ve also come back together on and off, permanently again in 2000. 

The Zombies, who fittingly opened for Brian Wilson at the Arlington as part of their post-induction tour in 2019, headline July 22 at Ojai’s Libbey Bowl, with a new record proudly in the can, and the two principals sharing their 77th year on the planet. Argent dug deep for an hour-long interview earlier this week. A few excerpts follow. 

Q. What were the ingredients that made Odessey and Oracle so revolutionary?

A. It didn’t really feel that way to us. We were knocked out by [the Beach Boys’] Pet Sounds and Brian Wilson’s concept of taking what was already in his music and expanding the musical vocabulary to get at what he heard in his head. The idea was to take the things we loved in our own music – the classical influence, the blues, and jazz – and push them further, with Chris and I producing. We were very prepared and rehearsed but we also had lots of space for spontaneity to get the sound we wanted because John Lennon had also secured an eight-track mixing board, the first in the U.K. That meant that we could try things on the overdubs, which is how I could do those multiple Mellotron tracks all over the album, and let me experiment with the idea of the claps and the (breath sounds) on “Time of the Season” to alter the rhythms, or swapping harmonies like on “A Rose for Emily.” 

What did it mean to you to get inducted into the Hall of Fame, and get that recognition from your peers?

It was our fourth time being nominated, and even though we could feel things growing in that period, with people like Don Henley and Tom Petty and Graham Nash telling us how much we influenced them, we didn’t think we’d get in. At the concert, The Cure came up and told us what we’d meant to them, which I never would have imagined, and Bryan Ferry asked us to join them (Roxy Music) for the last jam of the show. That acceptance really meant a lot to us.

I hear you are particularly proud of the new album. What makes it special? 

Because of the pandemic, I got to spend a lot of time in my home studio writing songs and even orchestrating some of the parts for a string section. The album has four very energized songs with real grooves, and some beautiful ballads, which I think makes for a great contrast, something I’ve always loved. Musicians always say this about their latest albums, but I really do think it’s some of the best songs that I’ve ever written, and I’m still writing them for Colin’s voice. It’s changed, of course, but he’s singing as well as he ever has, and more powerfully. My voice is much stronger too because I’ve worked on it over the years, and we still sing everything in the original keys. Even though we’re in our 70s, we are better players now than we were then.  


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