Living the (Zuhg) life

The reggae and roots troupe straight-up just makes the local scene better

Lead singer Bryan Nichols (left) and rest of Zuhg hanging out.

Lead singer Bryan Nichols (left) and rest of Zuhg hanging out.

Photo By Gabor Mereg

It’s a week of Zuhg parties:
First, on Saturday, November 12, the Zuhg Life Store celebrates its one-year anniversary with free performances by Lauren Lavin, Scott Bartenhagen, Cavewomen, Todd Morgan & the Emblems, Jesi Naomi, Not An Airplane, Zuhg (acoustic), Musical Charis, and James Cavern. 545 Downtown Plaza, upstairs near the food court; 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; No cover; all ages.
Later that same night, the Zuhg team will return for a set at Harlow’s with E-Squared and Monkey Flower, with master of ceremonies Blake Abbey. 2708 J Street; 9:30 p.m.; $10.
And on Sunday, November 13, Zuhg guitarist J.R. will celebrate his House of Hits practice studio’s 10th anniversary with an all-day festival. 2751 Academy Way, noon to 10 p.m., no cover.

Zuhg rhymes with “rug.” Or “nug” and “thug.” Easy, right? It only took four years to get the pronunciation down, even though the band—Bryan Nichols on vox and guitar, Mike Ruiz on drums, Jake Jarzemkoski doin’ bass, Bot groovin’ sax, J.R. Halliday on lead guitar and vocals, Jesi Naomi on vocals as well, Charlie on “mouth situation” (whatever that may be)—has become one of the most popular in the city. Yet after 48 months of Zuhgness, I had no clue what Zuhg even meant. So, I asked Zuhg leader Nichols, who gamely replied a 100-word answer. Anyway, here’s my fav sentence: “ZuhG is the belief that there is still so much to be discovered.” Cool, yeah? Anyway, kudos to the reggae/roots troupe and Nichols, whose Zuhg Life Store is the only local music, clothing and retail shop inside Downtown Plaza—and it will celebrate its one-year anniversary this Saturday, November 12, with a big free concert. Nichols chatted with SN&R via email this week on being chased by knife-wielding thugs, not wearing shoes, a new 2012 album and U.S. tour with Musical Charis, capitalization, and all things Zuhg.

Tell me a good on-the-road tour story.

One time while we were playing in Redondo Beach, Charlie and I got chased by some gangsters with knives. That was pretty nuts. We were kicking it on the beach before our show, and some guys were shining a laser light on us. Charlie looks over to me and says, “Let’s walk straight at them.” We go up to them and tell them to not do that and, as we walk away, they’re doing it again. Charlie ran out of boxers on this trip so he was rolling commando. So, as we walk away, Charlie lifts his shirt up and moons the guys! Ha, ha.

That’s rad.

But we didn’t know they were gangsters at this point. So we go hang out on the beach and, within minutes, we’re surrounded by like five guys talking shit to us and flashing knifes. We start running, which isn’t so easy to do in sand. Out of nowhere, another guy with a bandana across his face comes out of the side with a knife. We make it close to the bar we’re playing, and they disappear because there were too many people around. Our hearts were pounding the rest of the night, and the walk to the van later was scary.

Most businesses at Downtown Plaza don’t seem to make it, so congrats on Zuhg Life Store’s one-year anniversary.

Thanks! Yeah, a lot of stores have gone out of business at the mall, but I’m here to funk things up a bit and bring the mall back to life. I heard that most small and new businesses don’t make it past the first year, so I’m excited that we’re still alive.

And, perhaps most importantly, you can answer the question, “Where’s the best place to eat in the Plaza food court?”

Sadly, Panda Express.

I always see you barefoot when Zuhg gigs live. Do you ever wear shoes?

Sometimes, when it’s really cold, I wear socks.

When you broke your guitar during your performance at the Sammies, it was cool, but some people were saying, “Hey that ain’t right!” on Facebook.

I didn’t know people were saying that. Someone took that guitar after I smashed it, oh well. It’s not about being cool or not cool. Smashing a guitar is the highest feeling I’ve ever felt in my life, so I don’t think that’ll be the last smashed guitar. Who knows? I’m not trying to be wasteful, that guitar sucked and I didn’t want to play it anymore. Rock ’n’ roll!

You guys play a healthy amount of shows and still bring in a killer crowd every time and obviously are not “played-out.” That said, do you feel this city is an easy city to get “played-out” in?

Yeah, I think bands can get played-out by playing too many show in Sacramento. There’s a lot of value in making your fans wait and throwing one big Sacramento show every three months or so, instead of playing a different bar downtown every week.

It’s hard to say no to a show, however, so I understand. We’re selective about which shows we play nowadays; guess we have to be. California is small, so we go out almost every weekend and play somewhere on the coast. We do all right in Sacramento, but I want to do that good all over California and Oregon, also, so there’s not time for breaks.

I love it when Zuhg jams. What’s the longest jam you’ve busted out on stage?

Recently, we had a jam at a show that was over 20 minutes long. A little funk, jazz, hip-hop, blues, rock ’n’ roll. Mixed it all in there! That was fun. Our song “Plant for Tomorrow” has been long lately, too, with the dance contest we have in it. And if Downtown James Brown shows up, we get him on stage and the song ends up being about 15 minutes.

What is your Zuhg goal for next year, 2012?

Play a lot of festivals, travel, come out with our new CD Field Trip and sell [more than] 5,000 of those, open for some big bands and then have them take us on tour with them, and have fun. We’re doing a two-month U.S. tour with Musical Charis in March, so I hope that’s successful. (For more information, go to

Here at SN&R, our copy editors don’t allow us to capitalize the “G” in “Zuhg.” They say it’s because of AP Style journalism rules. That bums me out. Does it piss you off?

Oh, so that’s why you guys never capitalize the “G”! It’s all right, still pronounced the same. See if this passes AP Style journalism rules: “I, never thought; Stuff - LikE that matttttered. JouRnalists—should, be, able to prinT whateveR they wanT, Zuhg zuHg zuhG :).

Ha, yes, they’re going to hate that! Anyway, what’s your fav thing about the local music scene? What’s one thing would you like to see change, be added, improve?

All the people involved in it. Since we’ve had the Zuhg Life Store, I’ve met a good majority of local musicians, venue owners, bookers, etc. Everyone’s really cool and it feels like one big Sacramento-music-scene happy family. There are a lot of great bands and solo artists in Sacramento. We’re lucky to have that all at our fingertips.

If a fan wants to buy you a drink at a show, what should they get?

Gin and tonic, Jack and Coke or a Sierra Nevada.