INVASION OF THE ZATOPEKS
They formed back in 2001, more as a novelty side-project running parallel to their imaginatively-named 3½ Inch Floppy band than anything else. Over the years however, Zatopeks became their main focus, and what started out as a joke, has taken Sebby Zatopek, Will DeNiro, Sammie the Giant, Pete Sematary and Spider on an exciting journey around their native Britain as well as to several other countries, the most recent being Malta when the band performs at the Rock The South 2015 festival. MICHAEL BUGEJA tunes in to their self-styled pop-punk sound and find out all about ZATOPEKS.
What sparked off the idea to get together and form a band?
Sebby: I met Will in a pub in Birmingham back in our Uni days. We were the only people there wearing punk band T-shirts, which got us talking and, being into the same music, we decided to form a band together. I think I was surprised someone who would let me play guitar in a band, and he was surprised someone would let him sing. It's quite likely we all actually ended up meeting each other through whatever punk band T-shirts we were wearing at the time.
How much did your previous band 3½ Inch Floppy influence Zatopeks?
Will: 3½ Inch Floppy was the first band we formed, and it evolved pretty quickly from Screeching Weasel-style punk rock into a band in which we did whatever we wanted, with folk elements, trombone and violin. Zatopeks started as a joke and was originally all affectionate parodies of Ramones-clone bands. Eventually, we got bored with that and the band just diversified into singing about whatever we felt like and creating our own sound, absorbing various literary and musical influences. In that sense, there's continuity between the two bands.
The inevitable question... what exactly is a Zatopek and is the name linked to the athlete Emil Zatopek?
Will: Yes. we’re named after the legendary Czech athlete. He died around the time we were forming the band, and I was reading newspaper articles about his famously 'ugly' running style and how he suffered for speaking out against the Soviet invasion of Prague in 1968. There are also lots of wonderful anecdotes about him and by all accounts he was an incredible person. We needed a name so we thought we’d honour him. I hope he’d see it like that, anyway!
Pete: For some reason the fact he was mocked for his style, yet he kept doing it regardless as it worked for him, and this somehow seemed to resonate with us.
You've released 3 albums and 1 EP in 13 years. Would you say you prefer live gigs than the studio?
Sebby: The main obstacle is that we all live in different places (Sebby and Pete live in the UK, the rest in Berlin) which makes getting together regularly all the more difficult. We do also like to take our time, but speaking personally, I do prefer the stage to the studio anyway, playing live is more fun.
Will: I love the recording process, but it would be pointless to release a bunch of albums with similar themes and sounds. Our three albums are all quite distinct in their colour and temperament, and that's because of they were recorded so far apart and represent different life circumstances, experiences and ideas.
From your experiences, how does the punk scene now compare with when you started out?
Sebby: When we first started playing, particularly in Birmingham where we first met, it was pretty difficult. The gigs weren't that well-attended, and it seemed that people were only interested in seeing the latest big American bands, so the DIY scene was kind of struggling. Over the years it's got a lot better in the UK. There are lots of great bands and promoters around, bands get treated better than they used to, and gigs tend to be busier.
Spider: Living in Berlin we're pretty spoilt for choice when it comes to punk shows really. You could go to a different punk show every night of the week as there's so much going on here. In Berlin DIY gigs outweigh commercial gigs as a rule, so you can see some pretty amazing bands in small places for not much money, which is great. This also gives us the opportunity to organise decent shows ourselves if friends' bands need help getting a show, or if we want to put on a show for Zatopeks or our other bands.
Will: I think internet and social media have made a massive difference. In the late 1990s we were pretty much dependent on word-of-mouth or personal encounters, whereas now you can find bands or promoters anywhere online. Maybe the punk scene back then also felt more isolated because there was less contact and less information about what was going on elsewhere. So that's definitely been a positive development, although of course some of the romance of finding kindred spirits in the cultural wilderness is lost when you can just Google them or hook up on Facebook.
What's been the band's high point so far?
Sebby: The best thing has been getting to visit so many interesting places and make good friends all over the world, but personally I'd say it was getting to support Marky Ramone in 2012, since Ramones have been one of the biggest influences on us since we started. Another high point was our 24-date European tour with the Copyrights in 2008, which is the longest tour we've ever done.
Spider: To be honest, every time we get together to play shows is a highlight as we don't get to do it that often anymore. I think we all love touring with bands that we like and that we're good friends with, such as the 20 Belows, Apers, Copyrights and DeeCracks for example, and I know for a fact we all like seeing new places and experiencing a bit of the culture and brewing traditions of other countries.
Pete: Apparently it's good for you to have fun, see friends and get out of the house every now and then - so it's always a bonus!
It's two years since you released About Bloody Time. How far into the next album are you?
Sebby: Next year will be our 15th year together as a band, so we want to do something special to celebrate that. We've been thinking of a 'B-sides' compilation with all the songs we've put out on 7" records and compilations (some of which are now out of print) plus some covers, demos and one previously unreleased song.
Will: I’m currently writing new songs for our fourth album, which I hope we’ll get around to recording and releasing in 2016.
A few words ahead of your upcoming performance in Malta...
Sebby: Being half-Maltese, I've been coming to Malta regularly ever since I can remember, so I'm very excited to be finally playing here. I've seen some great Maltese bands over the years, the first being Dripht and so I'm looking forward to seeing them again, along with others like BNI, Sempliciment tat-Triq and Fuzzhoneys, who I've heard a lot of good things about.
Spider: I've never been to Malta before and I can't wait! I've heard it's a beautiful place so I'm coming a couple of days earlier to check it out. Our show will be a barrel of laughs catapulted from a slingshot of mayhem into the lovely faces of the Maltese people. Hopefully no one will get hurt.
Will: When I was 9 years old, a Maltese writer called Saviour Pirotta came to our school and read us his stories, which were kids’ adventures set on Malta. I loved his books and that's been my main frame of reference for your country for many years. Based on that I am expecting pirates, ghosts and lots of lost treasure at Rock the South.
Sam: Sebby told me Malta has some fantastic archaeological sites, so I really want to check them out. It'll be really nice to have a few days just exploring....maybe jump into the sea and act like kids for a bit too!
Pete: My expectations are the same as for the show; excitement and fun!
Zatopeks will be performing at Rock The South on Sunday, April 12.
An edited version of this article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta (29 March 2015)