Darkness and Hope
CoC chats with Jasun Tipton of Zero Hour
by: Jackie Smit
Given the spirit of the season (it is Chronicles of Chaos' thirteenth birthday after all), I'm going to get nostalgic for just a second. Looking back over the course of my five years with CoC -- which seems to have absolutely flown by -- I've been fortunate enough to meet well over eighty bands, many of whom I spent much of my wayward youth admiring from a place where I could never possibly imagine even being in the position where I'd be able to shake their hands. There have been a couple of surprises along the way; some very pleasant and some where the interviewee would have required a pneumatic drill to plumb any deeper the depths of their douche-baggery. A prime example of this was a conversation with one particular black metal "superstar", who shall remain nameless, that ended up not being published after over twenty questions were concluded in less than five minutes.

The good ones always make up for any glitches like that though, and speaking to Zero Hour's Jasun Tipton certainly qualifies, neatly summarized when he affably and determinedly states his band's reason for being: "I've played with a lot of guys who could only ever talk about getting laid and living the musician's lifestyle. It was never about music for them. Everyone in this band has a really deep love for music, whatever the style, and that's why we exist."

If you haven't given his band's latest, _Dark Deceiver_, a try, then hopefully that quip should inspire you to do so. Regardless, Tipton is a man who is fiercely passionate about his calling and I wasted no time in getting his thoughts on topics ranging from twin telepathy to the rapturous response his new record is enjoying. Oh, and for the record, this interview was cut short at just over three quarters of an hour, and it could have lasted a whole hell of a lot longer.

CoC: Looking at reviews for the new record, it's fairly apparent that the press and your fans are very impressed. As one of the men primarily responsible for creating _Dark Deceiver_, how do you feel about how it's been received?

Jasun Tipton: I really couldn't be happier right now. You always put out a record and hope that it will do well, but this album my brother [Troy, bass] and I wrote the hell out of. A lot of blood, sweat and tears were shed getting it made and when I listened through the finished product for the first time, I thought it was really strong. We set fairly lofty goals for ourselves -- we wanted to be darker and heavier and we wanted to cut back on the more exotic elements that we'd used on our previous records. For that last bit, we focused a lot more on layering different guitar parts and just doing a lot of different things with the vocals that we hadn't tried before. So, I'm just really pleased and the more that people enjoy it, the happier I am. This album is definitely getting the best press out of everything that we have done so far.

CoC: More recently, you've become a lot more active as a band, and I think that a lot of people don't realise that Zero Hour has actually been around since 1993. What was holding you back before?

JT: Well, there was a really tough period for metal music here in the States for a while and there was a label culture where they were not really signing anything that was even slightly different. So we were shopping around our stuff and we kept getting told to send our material to European labels instead. That definitely stunted our growth as a band, but musically as well, I'd say that it took us a good three years to decide on really what it is that we wanted to do; that we wanted to be more technical, heavier and more organic. As a result it took us a couple of tries cutting demos until we came up with something that we were satisfied with and that we were confident enough about to start shopping around to labels. The thing that was really important to us was that we wanted to have our own sound in the genre. We wanted to be dark, we wanted to be heavy, but we wanted to be much different to anything that was out there.

CoC: I'm sensing you're about to tell me about the next setback.

JT: Yeah, well what happened was that our previous vocalist, Eric -- his mom passed away from leukaemia. Now, I'm still very good friends with him, but he really needed to take some time away from music and just from everything related to that. So I still see Eric from time to time, and I spoke to just last week in fact, but we never want to be put in that position again. We're constantly writing and we just want to be able to jump on the material when it's there.

CoC: So, as far as the writing process is concerned, most of it takes place between you and your brother.

JT: Yeah.

CoC: So we've all heard about "twin telepathy" -- does it translate to the way that you and your brother work as musicians?

JT: <pauses> You know, I think it's kind of funny -- there are moments that are really hard to explain. It's like we're reading each other's minds and each one knows exactly what the other is thinking. It helps that we're also capable of interacting really well together, so if I come up with an idea he's immediately able to play it and vice versa. With _Dark Deceiver_, we did the lyrics for five of the songs together, and when he was stumped on something, I added a line, and when I was stuck, he'd take over. So there are definitely times when I could look at him and know exactly what he's thinking.

CoC: Like a heavy metal version of the Coen brothers?

JT: <laughs> Yeah, absolutely. I've read a couple of articles about those guys and how they make movies and it's a very similar situation to me and my brother. When we were in high school, we didn't want to make music together and he thought that I wasn't a serious musician. When we got to be about nineteen or twenty years old, that changed and now we're really close and this is what we love to do. It's great being able to play shows with your brother and one of your best buddies.

CoC: Listening to _Dark Deceiver_ it's very apparent that you and your brother come from a very musical background...

JT: Oh yeah, we've been doing music for a very long time. I remember being in the jazz band when I was in elementary school, playing all sorts of instruments like trumpets, saxophones, piano, French horn, baritone. I was reading all the music and I was catching on to things really quick. My brother started off with the drums and then really found his way on the bass. His buddy was a bass player, and he borrowed it for a couple of days and then rest is history, you know. My grandparents actually are really good musicians. My grandmother was a lounge singer who sang with Sinatra. My grandfather was a bass player in a big band, who was travelling all over the place. My father and his sister didn't really do anything in music, but between my grandmother and my grandfather there was definitely music in the family. Plus, you know, my mom and dad would play all sorts of different styles of music in the house all time. There was always something in the background. My dad loved the old stuff -- The Beatles, Elvis and the Stones. My mom was into Pink Floyd, Earth Wind & Fire, George Benson; she was all over the place. At the start, I thought that her music taste was just weird but then eventually that stuff started making a lot of sense and started getting really interesting to us. We were especially into a guy called Pat Metheny, and we loved how he would do much longer and more cinematic compositions, and we started thinking that it would be really cool to do that in a metal sense. The thing that we've both always really loved about progressive metal music is how free it is. You can add a jazz chord to something, or a classic piece. You can do long compositions. It's music that doesn't have any boundaries and that's why it's so exciting.

CoC: You mentioned being involved in your school jazz band, and I'm curious to know whether your interest in metal came before or after that?

JT: That's a good question. I was into metal first, I've got to say. Jazz was being played in our house a lot, but when I heard Rainbow that was -the- band as far as I was concerned. The first show me and my brother ever went to was Rainbow. From there we started getting into heavier stuff like Iron Maiden, but we were also always into stuff like Pink Floyd and King Crimson. So I developed an interest in jazz later on, but to be honest with you, there's so much music out there that I was just looking for something that inspired me. I didn't really care what style of music it was.

CoC: If it was a deliberate decision to a darker and more aggressive record, why take your music in that direction?

JT: I've just always loved heavy stuff, and with every album I've always wanted to make our music heavier. I mean, we've done some more exotic stuff, but particularly over the last couple of years my brother and I have been going to a lot of live shows and you know what it's like -- the chunky guitar parts just bounce off your chest and you can't help but love that. So to be able to recreate that feeling in our own band and layer it on top of the progressive stuff that we like; that just sort of feels like what we should do, you know? I want the next record to be even heavier. It could change in the process of writing the next one of course, but we're pretty clear on what we want to do with this band.

CoC: So, in terms of plans for this band, you're coming off the crest of a lot of hype around your new album; how do you plan to capitalize on it over the next twelve months?

JT: Well, we have a few shows planned and we have a few festivals coming up. We're going to support a band called Liquid Tension Experiment at the Bay Area Rock Fest. So, we have a few things like that in the pipeline. We want to go to Europe as well and we're going to do a couple of festivals there and we'll also see if we can do a couple more dates. We definitely want to try and play some shows in the UK, in Germany, in Iceland. Obviously we'll need to see how these festivals play on my brother's arm first. He has really bad tendonitis and he's just now starting to play actively again, after taking about three months off.

CoC: I never knew about that.

JT: Yeah, he's got really bad tendonitis that affects his ulnar nerve and he's seen a bunch of doctors about it. It really became a problem the last time we played a show in Germany and we came back and then after sixteen hours of flying, he had to go into the studio and track a couple of parts. He did that fine, and then he told me that his arm was really beat up and he needed to take some time off. I mean, the thing is that he plays in such a technical way and does so many pull-offs and hammer-ons and whatever else that especially when we play live, it gets really tough. There are things that he's started doing to help ease the problem like getting acupuncture and physiotherapy.

CoC: Has any of this helped him?

JT: A little bit. The only thing that's really helped has been this sonic release tool he got, where you rub this gel on your hand and then it gets the waves going that break up the scar tissue. But the problem is that he has it in the nerve area and if they ended up doing surgery, the best he would be able to come back to is about 80% of what he was capable. So he doesn't want to go down that route whatsoever. Basically the idea is to rest it whenever possible, do these shows and see how it goes and then decide what we do from there. I think it's best that he takes a good eight months off from playing, before it gets to the point where he can't continue at all.

CoC: Well, Jasun -- on that note, I'd like to thank you for your time.

JT: No man, thank you. I hope we get to see everyone out on the road at some point soon. As I mentioned before, we can't play as actively as we'd like to at this stage, but if we're in your town, come out and see us.

(article submitted 1/9/2008)

9/1/2008 J Smit 8.5 Zero Hour - Dark Deceiver
1/28/2007 J Smit 8 Zero Hour - Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond
10/19/2001 B Meloon 7 Zero Hour - The Towers of Avarice
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