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Ali Tabatabaee and Adrian Estrella of Zebrahead

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  1. Melody Bot

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    A lot has changed in the world of Zebrahead since I last connected with Ali Tabatabaee. The band recently announced that longtime guitarist and front-man, Matty Lewis, had left the band, the pandemic rocked these road veterans touring plans, and the punk rockers were looking for a way to pick up the pieces in searching for their next lead singer of Zebrahead. Enter Adrian Estrella (front-man of Assuming We Survive) to take the coveted reins of the band as they begin their third chapter. In this interview, Ali and Adrian discuss the circumstances that led to Matty Lewis leaving Zebrahead, why the band chose Adrian to move forward with the recording of their new album and upcoming touring plans, as well as what they both think the future holds in store for this latest exciting version of the band.

    Thank you, Ali and Adrian for connecting with me today! Ali, can you tell me the backstory and how Adrian got involved with Zebrahead and making him now the third lead singer of the band?

    Ali: Yeah, for sure. So let me go back, I guess to our last tour, before the pandemic and everything. We were in Europe, with Sum 41 and that was pretty much our last tour with Matty. And he, at the time, really seemed super excited because the tour had gone so well. And one of the last conversations I had with him was about how excited he was about the next album, going home, finishing the album, and being able to get back on tour and stuff. Anyway, when we got home, we started sending ideas, like song ideas to each other because Matty doesn’t live in California. And then the pandemic happened, right? And everything kind of shut down. And everybody kind of took a minute to figure out what’s going on. And so we didn’t talk for a long time. And then we kept sending him ideas, and then realized he wasn’t really responding. And then one day, we got a text from him saying that he’s officially leaving the band. And that was it. And so I was talking to Ben right after that happened, and I was like, “Dude, I don’t know…what you want to do? I don’t want to stop. How do you feel about that? Looking for somebody else?” And then Ben was like, “Yeah, I’d love to, but it’s gonna be really difficult.” And, I was like, “Do you have anybody <singers> that you could think of?” And Ben said, “You know what, many years ago our manager was looking at a band, and I went and met with them with him. And the singer always stood out to me. That dude is a rock star! His voice was amazing!” And for whatever reason, it didn’t work out with our management. But he remembered Adrian, and said his name is Adrian Estrella. And we’re hanging out with Dan, our guitar player. And Dan said, “Um, I’m friends with Adrian. He used to come into a bar that I’ve worked at, so I’ve seen him play. He’s an amazing musician and singer.” And so we said, let’s call him! And so Dan ended up calling Adrian. And we didn’t even need to audition, and we didn’t audition anybody else. We didn’t talk to anybody else, and we just met with Adrian. And luckily for us, he was into it. And so we just started writing music with him, and it was seamless. And he’s really great to work with. He’s super talented. And we’re really, really lucky to have him be part of this. He’s Zebrahead family now.

    That’s great. And welcome to the band officially, Adrian, and it’s great to have you part of this great community that Zebrahead has much formed over the years. So, you’re now the third lead singer of the band since they formed. What expectations do you set for yourself as you venture into this legendary bands’ discography? And also, what do you think you bring into the fold for this band?

    Adrian: I think my expectations is definitely to make sure that this next chapter is the best chapter yet. You know, there’s definitely a lot of…I wouldn’t say pressure but high expectations not only from the fans, but from the band themselves. Like they’re such workaholics and such great dudes, and I just want to make sure that I’m the best version that it possibly can be not only for the future of Zebrahead, but also the past songs that have been written that we will be performing. I just want to make sure that I play them flawlessly, and I bring this new energy because I’m a very energetic person. Very hyper, and live is where I thrive, like to say. I love playing live shows. So I think what I bring to the table is just a whole new set of energy and basically keeping, and staying true to those Zebrahead roots, and not straying too far off the path, but also bringing in what my influences in music. Those are punk rock influences, but I also love metal, and R&B, and stuff like that. So, bringing my whole dynamic without changing the band too drastically. I feel like the songs that we have written we basically catch you to that. I mean, I definitely know how Ali said iit before. It’s kind of all over the spectrum, which is really cool. And there’s a lot of new things that we’re trying, which is fine, and the guys have been so easy in the studio. It’s been so fun to work with everybody and happy like you know from day one. It’s just been a team effort. And everybody helps each other out. And we bounce ideas back and forth until we’re all stoked on the idea. And it’s been a really cool process. So pretty excited about it.

    And I understand you guys have your new single coming out at the end of this month, July 30th, right?

    Ali/Adrian: Yeah. Yeah.

    What is the vibe of that song? Any early indications? I haven’t actually had a chance to hear it yet…

    I would say that the only thing I can say about it is we’ve tested it with, like, I think about 500 people. And 495 of them had their faces melted off. Yeah, it’s gonna, there’s a good chance it’s gonna melt your face.

    Awesome. Looking forward to my future face melting! (Laughter) And I understand the record’s done at this point, right?

    Ali: Uhh…we’re still writing. Yeah, I don’t think I don’t think we’ve called it quits yet.

    Adrian: Even today, once we’re done with this interview, I’m going to be working on a new idea. And so we’re constantly writing, which is cool, I think. As much pressure as there is to have a record, I think that at the same time, we all kind of discussed, that we’re going to keep on running until we know that every song on this new record is just like the best possible song that’s going to fit the record. So yeah, we’re still writing and, and we’re close, but no cigar.

    So how have the practice sessions been leading up to the announcement of introducing Adrian as the next frontman of the band?

    Adrian: To be fair, we literally have not rehearsed yet. I think that with everything that happened, the main focus was writing songs, and making sure that we have something to come out swinging with. Whether it would have been just the single or if we’re doing now a full length record. So we’re doing the Slam Dunk Festival, hopefully, coming up in September. I know that we’re about to start rehearsals and be very meticulous, because like I said, I want this to be and I feel like we all want this to be the best version of Zebrahead yet. So yeah, I’m looking forward to rehearsal.

    So Ali, can you speak a little bit to the recording process for this one?

    Ali: Yeah, sure. We kind of were still in parts of the pandemic, and it was the near end of it, but getting together <physically> was still problematic. So we did do a lot of sending each other song ideas through Dropbox and stuff. And then once we felt like, “Okay, I think we have the structure, and I think we’re pretty good to go.” We went in, and we would spend, I don’t know, like two weeks recording a set of songs, and put all the vocals in. And then once we felt like we’re pretty close to being done with those, we’ve set those aside, and went back and started sending each other song ideas again. And once people started getting vaccinated, we were able to actually hang out in the same space. We used to go to Ben’s house a lot of the time because he’s got a pretty dope backyard with a pool and stuff. So he’s set up his recording stuff out there. And we just go over there and kind of come up with ideas. And then we are recording the album with Paul Minor, at his studio in Orange County. So when we had the songs far enough, we went over there, and we tracked drums and put everything together. So it was kind of a “mix and match” style of recording this time. We weren’t together the whole time. We were together about half the time. And then the other half we were writing at home. So it was pretty interesting. And I think we kind of had to do it that way. But it forced us to kind of flex different writing muscles. Like, how good are you at working by yourself for three or four days, and then meeting with the guys and working for three or four days. So it was definitely interesting. And I think like Adrian said, once we feel like we’re done with the album we’re going to get into the studio and start just going over all the songs and getting ready for Slam Dunk, which is coming up in September. So yeah, we’ve got a lot. We’ve got a lot we’re looking forward to.

    Yeah, so I understand you guys are getting ready to get back on the road, as you mentioned. So how do you both feel the live shows are going to go with Adrian at the helm now?

    Ali: I’m pretty damn excited! I’ve seen him play before, and he goes off. So I think that the shows are going to be even higher energy with Adrian. I feel like Adrian is going to be like climbing on things and jumping into the crowd constantly. So, I think there’s gonna be times where I’m like, “Where did he go?” (Laughter) I’m really excited. I think the fans are going to be really stoked when they see how energetic and how great his voice sounds. So it’s gonna be pretty rad.

    Cool! Adrian, what are you most looking forward to?

    Adrian: I mean, playing live is all I’ve ever wanted to do. So, I’m definitely excited. And you know, it’s funny cuz I was talking to the guys like when we’re in the studio, and when we have written songs in the studio and it was like I would have a crazy idea in my head. And we would just be like, “Okay, let’s try this!” And we came up with these awesome songs on the spot, which I thought was so fun. I’ll mimic playing guitar and what I would do live and like, “Okay, this bucket works.” And then same thing with live, is I spend hours and hours listening to the songs, and then picturing how I would perform them live without going back and forth. And when Ali has his parts, and I’m not playing that riff, I’m going to be screaming his lines in people’s faces now. And it’s just gonna be a really fun process. I think this is a fresh start that carries a lot of new energy. And I’m just looking so forward to performing with all the dudes, and just showing the fans what chapter three of Zebrahead is all about.

    Yeah, it sounds like it’s gonna work. I mean, from just the vibe that you guys are putting off right now, to both what I understand from seeing Zebrahead live several times over my life, I think it’s definitely gonna work. I think you guys are going to be great. So I wish you the best.

    Ali: Thanks, man, for that.

    So, Ali, your band has been incredibly well received internationally, especially in Japan. So what advice do you give, or will you give, to Adrian about the community that you’ve built up with Zebrahead around the world?

    Ali: And I think that this is inherent to Adrian already, but I could tell because of the way he is with his friends and the community that he has around him. That Zebrahead is just a big family. We’ve been touring for so long, and like you said, overseas. So, when we go to Japan, for example, a lot of the people there that I met through Zebrahead, I consider like my good friends, and I’ve seen them for the last 25 years. I have met their kids now, and so it’s like this huge family. And everywhere you go, you get to spend time with people. And this time, it’s going to be really crazy, because we haven’t been touring for a year and a half. And Adrian is going to experience meeting all these people for the first time. And I think he’s just going to be really stoked to see how welcoming they are and how supportive they are. And I think he’s just going to feed off of that, because I think he already has that with his community of friends and family. And I think it’s just going to expand that for him. So I’m really excited to see how much he enjoys being a part of the Zebrahead family.

    That’s great. So I understand you guys are doing a meet and greet virtually on July 7, coming up for introducing Adrian on Instagram Live. How’s that gonna work?

    Adrian: So basically, we’re just going to get together, and we’re going to do an Instagram Live, and we’re going to answer questions where we talk a little bit more in depth, maybe about certain things, and just having a good time. And, going back to the Zebrahead family and what I’ve met so far, everybody has been…I expected a lot more hate, honestly. It’s gonna happen, and I’m sure I’m the “new guys” even have been such a staple that the members that have left the band have been in the band for extended periods of time, and so I have really big shoes to fill, and I expect some of the hate. But, so far, everybody has been so welcoming, and so sweet. And you’re not taking the time to try to write to every single person that’s written on whatever platform it was, whether it’s Facebook, that community group on Facebook, or Instagram, or Twitter. And that’s something that I’ve always done as a musician. I’ve always, if I play a show, I literally try to meet every single person after the show, whether they’re there for my band or not. Whatever it is, to try to high five everybody around. So it’s one of those things that everybody’s been so sweet. The community has been so great, and it kind of helps that there was like an ongoing joke about my legs and my feet for the longest time. (Laughter) To the point where we even made a shirt. And so it’s been really great. And I cannot wait to meet the whole family.

    I assume it really was your legs, right? (Laughter)

    Adrian: It definitely was. (Laughter)

    Ali: And can I bring up one other point? His fans are going to be really stoked because a lot of places we go, when we play outside of the U.S. a lot…Adrian is fluent in German and Spanish. So he’s awesome! You know all of our friends over there.

    That’s amazing. So how would you both describe the direction of the new material for the upcoming record? We talked about this a little bit, but can you go into more depth about what type of song structures you’re working off of, and how it fits with your discography?

    Ali: I feel like when our fans get to hear these new songs, I don’t think they’re going to be like, “Wow, all of a sudden, they are playing country music or something. I think it’s obviously going to be rock music but it’s definitely on another level because of Adrian’s abilities, his melodies, and just his voice itself and his energy in the songs. It’s actually really inspired the rest of us in the band to step up our game. So it’s, I guess, Zebrahead on crack. (Laughter)

    Perfect for the little hype sticker on the center of the record!

    Adrian: Yeah…(Laughter) I’m such a music nerd as well. Like, I love guitars, I love bass lines. And I’m also a drum nerd. Like, if I’m listening to music, nine times out of 10…I’m air drumming. So that was a fun process working with Ed, and we’ve really worked hard on making every aspect of the song, whether it’s drums, the bass guitar, the vocals, stick out in a unique way. And that it would be very interesting, without being too complex, because of my metal background too, can get kind of gnarly time signatures and stuff. But stay tuned to see what I mean. Working with Ed was awesome. And I think in the teaser video, you see me in the room with Ed and we’re working on coming up with drum parts and ideas. And I think that alone helps the direction of how these songs have evolved a little bit of the band and come up with something different. But while still staying true to roots, and there’s a little bit of everything for everyone. You know, there’s some heavy stuff, there’s some pop punk stuff. There’s some punk rock stuff. But it’s elevated. Yeah, I think everybody’s face is gonna melt like Ali said.

    Awesome! So Ali, the last time you and I spoke, it was about the Fear No Empire project. Are there any plans to revive that project at a different time? Or is your focus purely on Zebrahead for the foreseeable future?

    Ali: I mean, right now, definitely it’s all Zebrahead. We are trying to make sure this album is the best that it can be. And so me, Dan, Ben, and I have really kind of set it aside, for now, to try to focus on this album. And then I think once we’re done with this album, and we’re happy with it, we’re gonna maybe revisit Fear No Empire and start working on some of those songs again. But for right now, yeah, 100% Zebrahead. Until this album is finished.

    So, talking about just the scene in general, a lot has changed since the band originally formed in the late 90s as you’re aware. But where do you think is the band’s secret for its longevity? And where do you think Zebrahead fits in the current landscape of all these punk rock artists that are coming out?

    Ali: Well, I think again, like for us, it’s our fan base that’s allowed us to continue on for so long. And that’s why they’re like our family, honestly. And if it wasn’t for their support, their continued support through lineup changes, through like different styles that we’ve gone through, they’ve always supported us. And I think that honestly, they are our secret to our longevity. And as far as an artist, and I’m sure Adrian agrees with me, it’s just to be in the moment and to be honest with your music, and try to continue to create stuff that you’re really proud of, and then continue to tour on that. And touring is a huge thing because we’re on tour constantly, and before the pandemic, we were always on tour. So I think you got to work really hard, and you’ve got to put the time in. Touring and meeting your fans, like Adrian was saying he does. And as far as you know, our music, the way we relate to music now, it’s really interesting to see pop punk music starting to have a revival again, and I think we’re because of our fan base, and because of our long career, I think we’re poised to hopefully do really well with his next album, and I think people are going to be really stoked on the songs. And I think the songs are going to stand up on their own.

    That’s great. So any last words from you Adrian about anything else in general?

    Adrian: You know, coming from a Warped Tour scene and seeing pop punk bands and where the scene is moving, it’s so cool to see. You have so many big hip hop artists now diving into the pop punk world, and I think the secret, from an outside perspective, looking at Zebrahead…it is such a unique band, because you have Ali, that dynamic of clean punk rock and pop punk vocals mixed with his rapping and it’s something that stands out. And, you know, it’s stood the test of time. But also their work ethic, like I said, the constant touring and I’ve seen it throughout the years, I was like, “Damn, these guys are so freaking busy!” And I love that because I’m a workaholic as well. And I think that staying true to that work ethic and being humble and hungry, and always working hard and all those things. Plus, you know, where the music scene is now and how you do have these rap artists diving into pop pop. And I think that we’re right where we need to be right now.

    Yeah, and it seems like people or bands are trying to emulate that sound that you guys went for, the general Zebrahead sound. And it seems like it works well for some people…and it doesn’t work well for other people that try to not be authentic with who they are. But the thing I’ve always appreciated about Zebrahead is you guys are always 100% authentic with the music you want to create. Nobody’s telling you that you have to make this single, and you have to do that. So that’s what I’ve always appreciated about this band. I think, Adrian, you’ll come to love it too. If you haven’t already.

    Adrian: I definitely do. And I did have this fantasy for so many years. So it’s pretty rad now being able to perform with the boys and write songs with a band that I love. So it’s pretty cool!

    I look forward to your guys’ meet and greet, and especially the new music coming out. I can’t wait to get a taste of it!

    Ali: Thank you, Adam. Thank you for taking time to do this. We really appreciate it.


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  2. Fox83


    Love Zebrahead. I think they were due for a change though, and having a new singer is something I'm looking forward to seeing play out. Thanks for the interview!
    StoJa9 and paythetab like this.
  3. 333 GANG


    The fact that Matty left Zebrahead to become a super shitty country artist is hysterical to me.

    Looking forward to hearing the new single!
    manoverboard679, paythetab and Fox83 like this.
  4. manoverboard679

    If you have to ask, you can't afford it

    "I feel like when our fans get to hear these new songs, I don’t think they’re going to be like, “Wow, all of a sudden, they are playing country music or something"

    No way that wasn't on purpose
    ZacJ, Fox83, BradBradley and 3 others like this.
  5. 333 GANG


    Thought the exact same thing haha
    paythetab likes this.