Hearts of rock ‘n’ roll
S.F.’s Zodiac Death Valley parties like it’s 1969
I was told ahead of time about the members of Zodiac Death Valley’s penchant for good ol’-fashioned rock ’n’ roll hedonism. Then I was right in the middle of it, seated at a booth next to guitarist/vocalist Nic Abodeely and bassist Dan Burns at Portland’s Kenton Club sipping whiskey as they talked about their new record and the “rigors” of life on the road.
“We like to live,” explained Burns without going into too much detail. “We like the things that people should like. We get a bad rap, but we have big-ass hearts. We fall in love with every town we go to.”
Abodeely and Burns might be familiar to Chico oldsters. A decade ago they ran together in the Durham Rockers and V, and Burns played bass in Damelo while Abodeely was the OG drummer in Chico noise-poppers Cowboy and circus-rockers MeYow (later Experimental Dental School). Burns and Abodeely made the move to San Francisco soon after and have been there ever since.
ZDV didn’t come together until late 2009. Abodeely had been playing solo acoustic shows around the Bay Area before finally getting Burns on board and filling out the lineup with keyboardist Nate Ricker, drummer Landon Cisneros and lead-guitarist Jordan Villa. The band carried on with a rather fuck-all approach until someone from S.F. label Omega Records caught a ZDV performance in Oakland. The band signed on and released its self-titled debut in November of last year.
It’s easy to see what Omega saw in these five rawk and rollers. At their Portland gig Abodeely—clad head to toe in denim—looked like a cross between Springsteen and Iggy Pop. Even the singer for the openers was anxious to see what was in store: “I’m curious to hear what a band called Zodiac Death Valley sounds like.”
ZDV’s immediate influences are difficult to track. Their back-alley blues is an unholy union of all that is right in rock music—loose, fun and noisy in all the right places, reaching as far back as Muddy Waters and landing on something resembling the Doors making sweet, sweet love to, well, Love. First single “The Room” begins with charred guitars that give way to a loping piano line, Abodeely’s vocals dripping swagger throughout. And organ slithers around fractured guitars (always pushed to the red) on druggy blues burners “Jail” and “Bad Girls.”
Zodiac Death Valley’s scorching live sets are the talk of their town (a town that includes bands like Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees). ZDV have been making their way up and down the West Coast, and now they find themselves in full rock mode.
“We just wanna be on the road,” said Burns. He admits to finding some comfort in a cramped tour van with four smelly dudes. “I feel endangered when I’m outside the van—it’s like being swaddled by a baby’s blanket of rock ’n’ roll.”
I got the impression he was only half-joking. And while the members are lapping up the good times, there’s also a newfound dedication to the band. “That’s one thing about Zodiac Death Valley,” Burns said. “There’s never too much work.”
Sex, drugs, work and rock ’n’ roll? It has a certain ring to it.