Artist Interview - John Zambetti (October 14, 1999)
by Jeannie Novak
Formed in 1964 by John Zambetti and his high school friend, Walter Egan, The Malibooz has a unique history as an "indie" group -- beginning with their self-released EP, the single "Goin' to Malibu," and a New York World's Fair performance while Zambetti and Egan were still in high school. The team continued to collaborate on projects over the years -- including the Walter Egan Band (known for Egan's hit 1978 single, "Magnet and Steel" -- recently heard on the Boogie Nights soundtrack) and the Johnny Z Band (which released Bring Back the Night on Cypress Records in 1987). John Zambetti and Walter Egan co-produced The Malibooz's first CD release, Malibooz Rule! in 1981, followed by A Malibu Kind of Christmas (1992). [Scott Monahan, who continues to play keyboards for the group, also played with the classic rock band Spirit (another Kspace artist at http://kspace.com/spirit)]. The Malibooz's 1999 release, Living Water (The Surfer's Mass), combines two classic forms -- the guitar-based, harmonically-rich genre of surf music and the complicated structure of the traditional mass.
Living Water: Origins . . .
The idea for Living Water (The Surfer's Mass) came to John during a church service at Our Lady of Malibu. He got immediate response from the first tune, "Lamb of God (Sanctus)" – so he decided to do an entire album project in the same vein. The project really took on a life of its own. John soon found out how challenging it is to write in the traditional format of a mass. The songs must be in a certain order and must have a certain lyrical content. The songs are actually prayers. There's no meter, and no rhyme. The challenge is to make it seamless for the listener. One of the attractions to writing a mass is discipline.
Surfing - A Biblical Link? . . .
"After I wrote a couple of the tunes, played it for someone in clergy at Our Lady of Malibu [the church John attends] to make sure they weren't ticked off. The response was overwhelming. One interim pastor at the church was a theologian – an exorcist for the County of Los Angeles. He flipped out over it. . . . He pointed out passages in the Old Testament that are very environmentally-based. There's actually a section stating that God created dolphins to have man make spirit in waves. Another passage dealt with aspects of dolphins and oceans. This became the opening piece for Living Water. There are lots of references to the "living water" term. It is recognized as the origin of life, but also as something that gave life. 'Mary' is the Hebrew word for "ocean." The literal translation is "bitter water." [This is also the title of my favorite track from the album. The MP3 download is available at http://mp3-space.com] "The idea of bitter water was a very powerful image to me. Salt water. Ocean is the origin of life, but it can't sustain human life. Mary is the origin of Christian life, but it can't sustain his life."
Another Hand at the Mix?. . .
"We were mixing the album, and there was one tune ("Holy Holy") that wasn't coming out as nice. We mixed on 4 8-track ADATS (32 rack). We were going to move on to another piece, but I decided to give it one more shot. Three of the machines locked up, but the fourth one initially did not – but it locked up 8 bars later. It contained the rhythm and bass tracks. Very odd chords were created by R&B tracks being off by 6 bars. It was as if, metaphysically, 'if you guys can't figure this out, I'm going to mix it for you.' We figured out an arrangement based on crazy mix."
Surf Music + Classical Mass = Radio-Friendly?
"I wanted to take surf music to a new level – make it more contemporary. Often, surf music is not seen as contemporary, but only associated with a particular era -- like the '60s. Labeling music is ridiculous. You either enjoy music or you don't. Tunes are tunes." This is the age-old problem with radio formats – and what often plagues the independent artist community, especially those who aren't trying to follow a formula and cater to the industry. One advantage of having huge archives of music on the Internet -- with all sorts of styles and genres represented -- is that listeners can choose whatever they want, without worrying about the format it fits into.
Malibu Christmas TV Show . . .
The Malibooz has finished taping their television show, Malibu Christmas, which will be shown this December. They have secured deals with Discovery and BBC overseas. The show will be a 1-hour variety special hosted by Carmen Elektra, and John is the executive producer. Four songs are performed by The Malibooz; they include "It's Just Not Christmas" from A Malibu Kind of Christmas and "Gloria" from Living Water. Other bands on the program include the Sandals (performing the theme from Endless Summer), the Chanteys (performing "Pipeline"), and the Aquavelvets. There will be a total of 13 Malibooz tunes on the show.
Besides the musical performances, Malibu Christmas will also include: a surfing santa, parade of woodies [traditional surfers' cars], scenes from the boat parade at the Marina del Rey, and a blessing of surfboards. "Christmas specials normally use the same old 'schtick' -- snow, pine trees, traditional songs like 'Jingle Bells' and 'White Christmas.' We're doing something totally different with songs that no one's heard before. The scene is in sunny California. Why not? The first Christmas was in the desert -- not snow. Hey, if Baywatch can be the #1 TV show in the world, Malibu Christmas should be a success!"
Also in December, watch for 32 Malibooz tracks showcased on The Surf Channel, which is broadcast via satellite to 93 countries.
Advice for Indie Artists . . .
"If you're always trying to do what's in vogue, by the time you sound like [the next big thing, they're] a has-been. Be true to yourself, play the music you want to play, and be out there. You've got to really enjoy what you're doing . . . the music."