Authority Zero – ‘If you can skate to it, it’s a good song’

Words: Miljan Milekić

I was never a huge fan of Authority Zero, up until the Summer of 2014. I knew about them, listen to some of their songs, but, somehow, never gave them the attention they deserved. So, what changed? Seeing them live for the first time when they just blew me away from the stage of Slovenia’s Punk Rock Holiday. Ever since they’ve been a staple on my playlists, and it’s easy to hear why. What’s weird, on the other hand, is that I only now got to do an interview with them, but nevertheless, the timing is perfect. Dig into their new album ‘Ollie Ollie Oxen Free,’ and check out the interview with singer Jason DeVore!

Photo: Jim Louvau

How are you, how you been this crazy past year or so?
Jason: The last year and a half, of the madness – of the Covid stuff, of politics and presidential things, and blah, blah, blah, it’s been a wild ride. But also, my wife and I have taken the time to be productive and find new things to do, the band wrote a new album, which was fantastic. I’ve been doing a lot of art, which has been fun. I’m just trying to keep positive, exercising, trying to stay healthy, get ready for touring again, so we can actually have energy when we get back out there.

Funny that you said that – I’ve seen you two times, both on Punk Rock Holiday in Slovenia, and both times I was blown away by your energy. But also, you give away a vibe that can only be seen from bands that practically live in a van and on tour. So how weird was it not to be able to do it for so long?
Jason: It was different, man. It really was different. It was difficult not being on the road because it’s an outlet, energy-wise, as well as mentally and physically. So it was an adjustment to do it. But also, it’s been kind of cool, oddly, that I’ve experienced new things and done things I’ve not been able to do for quite some time because I’m always on tour, you know? I mean, it was cool in that regard, but, obviously, negative in many ways. But we’re all excited to get back out and start playing some music again.

You just released your new record record ‘Ollie Ollie Oxen Free.’ Can you tell me more about it? How did the recording process go with all these travel restrictions and lockdowns?
A lot of the record was written by myself and our bass player, Mike Spero. He lives down the street from me, so it was not too difficult as far as that goes, but we also knew that we had more time to write and focus on the songs, rather than just put something together real quick. We had pretty much gone back and forth over the internet and stuff, he would also come to my place and we would still write together, scratch vocals on Garage Band, that kind of thing. We would pass them on to our drummer [Chris] Dalley, go back and forth with him on the percussion and everything, too. It was a nice process, honestly. We had tons of time to write, so it felt good. We feel great about the way this thing came out.

The record and the EP are your first releases with Eric Walsh. How challenging was it to connect with him in the studio considering he was separated from the rest of you most of the time?
So, the actual recording of the album, it was only me, Mike Spero, and Chris Dalley. So Mike, our bass player also played the guitars on this thing. So he didn’t make an appearance, unfortunately, on this one, but he is our new guitar player coming in right now. But yeah, Mike did all the guitars, the bass work, backup vocals, Chris also did some backup vocals, and I did my lead singer or whatever thing. (laughs) And Chris did all the drums. So it was the three of us. It was difficult because, again, it was a hard time, and we just had to make the best out of it. And I think that we really truly did.

On both EP and album you teamed up with Cameroon Web, who you worked with on ‘The Tipping Point.’ Why did you think he’s the best man for the job?
He’s a one-man army. He’s super-intelligent, super crafted, and he’s just a good friend, on top of that. It makes it easy that it’s not a big production, and we all got along with him in the past. So it felt like it was the right choice to make. We also enjoyed the way ‘The Tipping Point’ came out, the sound he got on that record, and we wanted that same sound as well. And it was close to home too. California is across the way, you know? (laughs)

In the past, you worked with a bunch of different record labels, and for this record, you decided to release it yourselves. What was the thinking behind the decision, and what was the main motivation to keep everything in-house?
Jason: I mean, we had a great time with all the labels we’ve worked with they’ve been friends throughout the years. The first record label we signed to, Lava Records, is a major label, we did two records with them. Since then, it’s been friends we’ve known, and teammates we’ve worked with that have started labels just to help us put records out, you know? We kinda got sick of the idea of jumping labels, it was always like a one-record kind of thing. So we just started putting records out ourselves, a lot of bands have done that, and that’s smart. So, why not? It’s a different time, a different age, a different era. And it’s really been beneficial, at least in knowing you have control of everything, your writing, playing, your recording, your merch, you’re whatever. It became a necessary thing, a survival tactic in some regards. (laughs)

The album was preceded by an EP called ‘The Back Nine,’ with four songs of the record. What was the idea behind this, instead of the classic single-album approach?
Jason: Yeah, plenty of bands do the one song a month kind of thing, and then put the full album out. But it had been such a hard year for everybody, so it was nice to just be like – “Here’s some music we’ve been working on.” It was nice to give, not just this one song or whatever, but an actual EP. And then, we have the full-length with eight more songs. We just wanted to get people excited, help them feel good again, ’cause it’s just been a hard year for everybody.

So, I tried to find a nicer way to ask you this next one, but I think I’ll just shoot – what the fuck is going on on the artwork?
Jason: Yeah, it’s a lot! (laughs) So the idea started specifically from ‘Andiamo,’ our second album. There’s a Norman Rockwell piece, that’s where the idea initiated from, the kids running with the flag and the masks, which is weird because now it’s been more of a masks kind of situation for the last year and a half. It just, kind of, rang true with the time and day and time and age. So we had something completely different lined up as far as incorporating those three dudes from ‘No Swimming,’ which is the name of the piece Norman Rockwell did.

And from that, from that super basic thing, we pass it on to a friend, Jake Stevens, and he reincorporated this entirety of this last year and a half. The chaos, the separation, the kids must deal with going to school with masks, you know, everything that has happened. Not even just here in the States, around the entire world. It was like an epiphany like – “So this is, kind of, what they’re seeing and that’s how they got to grow up. It’s like starting right here. And it’s chaos. It was absolute chaos.” And then the flamingos, it’s like the light part. Beach life and flamingos, it’s peace and calm. (laughs)

And the idea of the ‘Ollie Ollie Oxen Free,’ the title is “come out, come out wherever you are.” It’s an old game, from back in the day, obviously. It’s a matter of letting people feel free. They’ve been locked inside themselves, locked inside their houses, locked inside, their countries, states, you name it. And it’s a matter of – Come up and feel free, and hopefully, we can all get along again and feel comfortable in our own skin as well as around each other.

That kind of goes along with my next question. One recurring theme in all of your music is a certain sense of optimism, no matter how dark and heavy a subject you may have tackled at the time. Would you say it was the conscious decision to always offer a glimpse of hope in your music, or is it just a reflection of who you are as a person?
I think a little bit of both, really. A lot of the songs I’ve written throughout the years have been through my own personal hardships and observations around the world. We’ve been touring for 27 years, so we see a lot of problems. You see a lot of people hurt and broken or whatever, like I, myself, have also been throughout the years. So it’s one of those things that you always try, and I’ll always try to find the light at the end of the tunnel. It always shines in the songs. I write about how this sucks, but there’s still hope. And there is, clearly, because we’re still here. It’s just a matter of letting people know that we all go through it, even myself personally, and you got to try and find some kind of hope. It’s not just complaining about some shit – it’s about knowing that there is some shit, and then figuring out that shit and working through it.

In the past Authority Zero had quite a few lineup changes. How hard was it to have so many people in and out of the picture, and yep keep the same vibe you had from the start?
It’s been difficult for sure, there’s no lie about that. It’s been like 20 different people coming in and out over the 20 years. (laughs) It’s a matter of keeping your head straight as much as you can, but, obviously, there’ve been ups and downs. Everyone’s pretty much left on their own accord, which is good for people to know, it was never like a firing kind of thing. People got older and had different things they wanted to do. So, once again, you stay positive, you forge forward.

And it’s typically just friends coming in, or friends of friends of friends, throughout touring experiences, which brings us back to Eric Walsh. He was a guitar player for a band called Pour Habit from California. We toured together over the years, and he’s just always been a great guitar player, a great personality, great dude. All those guys are our friends. We pretty much found out they had dispersed, for the time being, at least, so we pulled him up. We did rehearsals, we did a whole thing with, you know, people signing up to try off the guitar playing spot, but Eric was always in the back of my mind, hugely. He’s great, well-rounded, he’s been on tour, you know? So, he came out, we jammed and we’re all like – Yep! He’s gonna be full of energy on stage, and that’s what I like about him I’m, too. He’s got so much charisma, and he’s a shredder.

Your combination of punk rock, ska, and reggae makes your music a perfect soundtrack for skateboarding. Are you involved in the skate culture yourself at this point, and how do you feel about the connection your band has with the skateboarding community?
I’m glad you brought that up! That’s awesome because, it means everything to me, actually. I grew up a skateboarder, I wanted to be a pro snowboarder, and music just happened to come along with it. That’s been my drive personally, as a singer and I guess, as a writer. I’ve always said – “If you can skate to it, it’s a good song.” That’s it. If you can skate to it, if you can snowboard to it, it’s a good song. Or at least, invigorating yourself, you know?

And so, that never happened [becoming a pro] because I broke my Achilles tendon, I broke my ankles, I broke everything else along the way with a skateboard. So music just happened to take over, oddly. And so here we are, many years later, it’s still my driving force, giving people excitability and drive to get out there and do things. I recently started a skate company called Earth Skateboards. We have been doing lyric boards, we have a skate team that’s going on as well, with Jeromy Green and Eli Reams. It’s been on and on and on rad. It’s been really cool. So we’ve been trying to incorporate the music with the skateboarding as well, on top of that.

Wow, I actually know for the company, I follow it on Instagram but had no idea it was you. Although I did see you showing some boards a couple of weeks ago.
Jason: Yeah. You know, Jesse Michaels from Operation Ivy, did an actual individual art piece for one of the boards. So it’s cool, to incorporate different artists and we keep it with the arts on top of that. It’s a lot of fun!

So, there’s Authority Zero, Earth Skateboards, you also released solo records, with a bit different sound and approach. How important was it for you to have a different outlet for the other side of your personality, and do you feel like by doing one you can fuel the energy for the other?
Jason: Absolutely. I mean, all the music starts pretty much in this office right here. And then a lot of times I just pick up my acoustic guitar and I get to work on it. And it does, it gets you invigorated and excited to just write your music for any project. I’ve done another side project called The Deady‘s, which is like an Irish folk-ish band with my friend, Keith [Walker] out of Dublin, he lives here for quite some time. And you never know, you start writing a song, and you’re like – “Well, this could be a great Authority Zero song,” or “This could be a great solo song.” So, it really does get you fired up.

This will be my last one for today – with the release of ‘The Back Nine’ EP, you offered special packages including golf balls. I believe it was the first time I saw a band offering that, and I’ve seen people freaking out on the internet about them (laughs). So, what’s the story there?
Jason: It’s funny because ‘The Back Nine’ is the song and the EP title. And also, it’s the back nine holes in golf. You know, we’ve all gotten older, we’re in our forties now, and we like playing golf, drinking beer, and riding in golf carts, and being idiots. It’s half of the fun! (laughs) And “the back nine” is also referencing the back half of your life. It’s like the second half of your life in a sense. So the first nine holes, are to 40, the next nine holes are to thank God, hopefully… (laughs) So, the idea was to try to have fun with it, and then put the golf balls out of the Tees. ‘Cause, we like golf. (laughs) You know, it’s not nunchucks, it’s golf balls! (laughs)

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