Return of the renegade fighters

Zed, from left, Andrew Lynch, Nathan King, Adrian Palmer and Ben Campbell are touring again....
Zed, from left, Andrew Lynch, Nathan King, Adrian Palmer and Ben Campbell are touring again. Photo: supplied
Getting Zed back together is not just about reliving the glory days, Nathan King tells Tom McKinlay.

Zed has remained a fixture on Kiwi music playlists, on daytime radio ... piped into the supermarket’s tinned food aisle.

Frontman Nathan King chuckles at the reality of it - the distance from the rock and roll tropes it represents.

"I’ve always said you’ve made it when they are playing your songs at the supermarket," he says without a hint of irony.

And indeed, the fondness with which Zed’s tunes are remembered is no mean achievement.

Back in the day - two decades ago now - they stormed out of Christchurch's Cashmere High School, earning the patronage of no lesser figure than Ray Columbus on their way to scaling the charts.

Their debut album, Silencer, released in 2000, reached No. 1 on the New Zealand albums chart. Follow-up This Little Empire made it to No. 3, while singles Glorafilia, supermarket staple Renegade Fighter and Hard to Find Her all climbed into the top 10.

Now they are back, with a new single, plans for further recording and gigs in Dunedin and Queenstown next weekend as part of a national tour.

King’s been more than a little humbled at the way in which the news has been received, the messages on social media.

"And just random people on the street," he says.

"For a lot of people, I think, we were one of the bands, if you were of a certain age, as a young teenager, we were one of the bands that were quite seminal."

Music you listen to then, in the transition period from child to adult, can be quite formative, quite significant, he says.

"So for us to be one of those bands, in that list for people, is something we don’t take lightly either."

It’s not like the band’s four members retreated into anonymity with the Zed split in 2004. Several later coalesced in the band Atlas - which also saw chart success - while King recorded two solo albums.

King also runs Hum Studios, in Auckland, with Zed bandmate Andy Lynch from where he’s been responsible for the likes of the Seven Sharp theme tune, among other things.

Neither has Zed been entirely absent from the stage, playing in front of a packed Eden Park back in 2017 when the Lions toured.

"A friend of ours was in charge of putting together the entertainment at halftime and he gave me a call and said ‘would you consider getting the band back together to play in front of 42,000 people’ or whatever it was. We thought ‘that would be too much fun’. A great honour obviously, to play at such a prestigious event but also in front of a captive audience like that, it would be a great time.

"So, we did that and it gave us the bug - we just got excited about playing again and enjoyed it so much thought, ‘we need to do this more’.

"So, pre-Covid we thought ‘let’s celebrate our 20th anniversary of our first record, Silencer’."

The change-up now is the release of new music and dancefloor-ready first single Future You demonstrates the band’s not going to be bound by what came before.

"We were really keen not to, I suppose, stay stuck 20 years ago with the sound," King says.

"Someone said, once you hit 27 you stop listening to new music, or something. But it certainly doesn’t apply to the guys in the band. I am always listening out for new music that moves me in some way."

There was no guarantee that the four of them would align again behind new directions, something they were aware of, King says.

"Initially we played some shows together and that was fun but that was almost the easy bit. There is no huge creative demand placed upon anybody and no-one needs to go out on any big limb."

Having done that, they had to negotiate the trickier business of turning up in the studio with new ideas to share with each other.

"Put it this way, when you are offering up or volunteering some new music, you are making yourself vulnerable in some respects. In that creative process you are going, ‘hey, here is something I think is cool’, or, ‘I like - do you like it?’. And if the answer is ‘no’, that hurts. Doesn’t matter how cemented you are in your thoughts of the quality you are producing, it can be a knock back.

"So, I think everyone was really conscious of keeping the process positive and looking after each other through that process and not creating situations where, I guess, it could be detrimental to the longevity of the band going forward.

"Because that was like starting again and all of us together, the four of us together going ‘hey, we had something - it is almost like a romantic relationship but without the romance - in that, ‘hey, we had something back then, do we still have it now’. In that respect it was a little bit terrifying for everyone, but we got through and collectively we were brave enough to go, let’s try this, and it paid off, we’re stoked."

King says they hope to have more new material ready for release next year.

Back in the day, Zed - with their hook-rich sensibilities and teen-zine marketability - were slated for big things. But King says this latest iteration isn’t about unfinished business.

They gave it everything, their best shot back then, he said.

"There were certainly disappointments and things that didn’t fall our way in the latter half of our careers, especially taking the huge punt to head overseas, getting signed to Interscope Records in the States, then the effort and heart you put into aiming for something like that is pretty massive. And for a variety of reasons it didn’t end up going the way we hoped, but I think we are probably all very realistic about how difficult/fickle/unpredictable the music industry is, in that you can make plans but you have to hold everything quite lightly and keep what you are doing at the forefront."

The emphasis now is on having fun - doing it for the right reasons.

"I think if our aim was to try to achieve global domination once again, chances are we would end up sorely disappointed."

Three of the four of them are now family men and they are all busy with businesses, so nothing particularly hangs on the reformation - except perhaps a little more cred in the eyes of their children.

"My daughter heard Future You and she looked at me a little surprised and said ‘Dad, that sounds like a real song, like a proper song’.

"She had probably heard me noodling around at home with either an acoustic guitar or a keyboard and messing about on the computer but not having put anything together to the point where it was fully formed."

To hear something finished, mixed and mastered, with all the boys’ input was something else.

The shows

Zed plays Errick's, Dunedin on Saturday, December 9 and Yonder, Queenstown Sunday, December 10.