Thursday, 06 July 2017 10:22

Garden Party: The Zannies step out of the dive bars and into the sun

Written by  Eric Mitts
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When the members of Grand Rapids’ The Zannies found out they would get to play as part of this summer’s Tuesday Evening Music Club at Frederik Meijer Gardens, the show came as a complete surprise.

“We’re more used to playing venues like Mulligan’s,” vocalist/bassist Ben Steer said, of course referring to the legendary Eastown pub known for its hard-hitting drinks and even harder-hitting music. 

Still relatively new on the Grand Rapids music scene, The Zannies feel right at home playing in dirty bars. The band turned in one of its most memorable performances for the one of the last-known shows at the infamous underground house venue The Free Clinic in Kalamazoo, and don’t mind playing until last call — even on a weeknight.

So when the members had a chance encounter with Meijer Gardens’ Ted Bufkin after a show at Rockford Brewing this past March, they were completely blown away to be offered the opportunity to play on one of the largest outdoor stages in our area. 

In addition to playing as part of Meijer Gardens’ season-long showcase of local music, The Zannies also plan to release its new album, Espejos Mexicanos, that same night. The name translates to “Mexican Mirrors,” and it’s a clear reflection of the band’s expansive new sound. 

“Our last record was more balls-to-the-wall rock ‘n’ roll, and this record is much more eclectic,” rhythm guitarist Peter Slack said. “We’ve got 12-bar blues, some Spanish vibes, and we’ve also got psychedelic rock infused into it.”

Described by beloved Cowpie Music Festival founder “Farmer” John Crissman as sounding like Primus mixed with Frank Zappa, The Zannies take influence from artists as diverse as Arctic Monkeys, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Ween, Rise Against and Incubus.  

All four members are graduates of Forest Hills Northern High School, but The Zannies didn’t start until after Steer graduated in 2013. With a basement-recorded solo album in hand, he met Slack and lead guitarist Eric Satterlee at a graduation party, where they invited him to play bass during one of their jam sessions.

“It allowed me to study a lot harder, focus on learning a new instrument, and figure out who my inspirations were and what kind of techniques I wanted to explore,” Steer said.

Prior to The Zannies, Steer had studied classical guitar since the age of 12. He took to bass quickly, picking up on the slap and funk techniques of venerable bassists like Victor Wooten and Les Claypool while adding his own signature touch.

“I usually do a lot more weird stuff on the bass when I’m playing live,” Steer said. “A couple people have told me that I remind them of Les Claypool just because of my stage presence, because I have this weird energy and I think I give people funny looks when we’re playing.”

Getting ready for the album’s release and the show at Meijer Gardens, the band isn’t afraid of its sarcastic lyrics or genre-bending antics getting lost on the slightly older, less rowdy Tuesday Evening Music Club crowd.

“Our music does appeal to an older generation because we sound so much like a throwback style band,” Steer said. “The new album has all these tracks that are like dancey, which is good for playing outdoors. And we’re going to push really hard to bring all of our younger friends too, so I think it’s just going to be a sweet party and a great way for us to get out this new material.”


The Zannies Espejos Mexicanos Album Release

Frederik Meijer Gardens, 1000 East Beltline Ave. NE, Grand Rapids

July 11, 7 p.m., $12, (616) 957-1580

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