01.06.2017 - Interview With Níl Patrik Zolymon / Young Astronauts Club

Robex Lundgren

Have any of you played in other bands?

Yes, all of the current and former members and contributors to Young Astronauts Club all have and still do play in other bands and sub-projects and make solo music, including The Poison Control Centre, Prize America, Zolymon, Junzilan, Pink Kaffir, Ov and many more.

How is it that you started playing music?

I grew up around it and started studying classical music when I was four years old.  I haven't stopped studying music since, even when I am writing it, I'm always trying to squeeze in time to hear the latest band, genre or whatever else there is going on, also delving into older music I'm not so acquainted with.  There's so much music now, there's a lot to study.

What are your names? / Who plays what?

The current Young Astronauts Club live band consists of myself (vocalist / guitarist / songwriter Níl Patrik Zolymon), bassist / electronicist Krs Kaffir Junzilan and drummer Amadeus Muir.  In the studio it is very different, there are as many as 7 musicians performing on some of the tracks from our latest studio album, 'Europa'.  It's always been this way, I like to change things up and there can be a huge difference between the live sound and the studio sound of the band.  However, we're now putting together a live show which better replicates some of the key studio material from our back catalog while simultaneously breaking new ground, so people who want something familiar won't be so alienated, and people who want something different won't feel like they're just watching a band parrot their albums.  There will certainly be spontaneous moments!  

Have you had other previous members?

Yes, many.  Too many to list here, most of them are now primarily focused on other bands or are solo artists.  Some of the former members of the live band are still contributors to the studio side of Young Astronauts Club, scheduling permitting.  I welcome any and all of them to contact me if they want to collaborate again.  It's an open door-type scenario - the more people involved, the better it usually ends up.  

Did you make music even when you were young?

Yes, I began studying when I was a little child, and began writing music at age eight.  I've gotten to the point where I can play several instruments competently, although I am by no means a multi-instrumentalist.  I'm primarily a guitarist.  I am just now discovering that I actually have an 11 octave vocal range, which is pretty much unheard of in our world of music.  I should be an opera singer or a Tuvan throat singer or something.  I can write on keyboard, write drum parts, bass, etc.  I can write on any instrument really, and can get by on a lot of them.  But a lot of these guys who think they can do everything well are just delusional.  I'm not one of those.  I know my strengths and my weaknesses.  I'd like to be a better harmonica player, for instance.

Where are you from?

I grew up all over the world, I was an American military brat.  I was born in Los Angeles, eventually settled in Boston at age 12 after living in Ireland, Brazil, Germany, England, Australia, Japan, South Africa, Canada, and various U.S. states.  The band played our first shows at little clubs in the northeast U.S. and Quebec, although we are now based in L.A.  We have homes all over the world.  I spend a lot of time living in Europe because I have an Irish passport as well as an American one, and the same goes for other members of the live and studio versions of Young Astronauts Club.  I spend a lot of time in Japan because I love it.  So I guess we're from Earth.

What year did the band form?

We started performing live in 1993 and released our first recordings in 1995.

What's your style or genre? 

We are influenced by many genres, although our style, I think, is post genre.  I guess if you wanted to hang a tag on it you could call it post rock, as it still uses traditional rock instruments, but with approaches that are very un-rock at times.  Also, we do incorporate other instruments and electronics, so we're not purely a rock band.  I'm more Kraftwerk than Buddy Holly, but I play guitar.  Your guess is as good as mine.  I came up with the tag 'naux' music, which I think might accurately apply to what we are trying to do.  It's now, it's new, it's an attempt at non-adherence to traditional approach while still remaining accessible at time.  I like the pop of the early Beatles, but I also like Sunn O))) or Swans or Henry Cowell.  It's all in there.

What inspires you?

Film, landscapes, artwork, destruction, war, the human condition.

How often and where do you rehearse?

It depends on how frequently we are touring.  When we are touring, we rehearse every day before the tour starts.

How have you developed since you started with the music?

We just incorporated more approaches into the music, which is what I always wanted to do anyway.  My songwriting has matured away from being more introspective and personal to being more a reflection of the world and my environment.

Do you have other interests of work outside the band?

Yes, I have several businesses.  I own several record labels, studios, real estate developments, web companies, I make, collect and sell art, write and publish books, grow wine, produce film and video, am learning to act, and a whole lot more.  I'm just generally very interested in life and what makes things work and understanding the world around me.  Naturally this leads to becoming involved in work that I develop interest in.  I hate to talk about money, but in terms of my net worth, music is just a small part of that.  With everything else I do, I'm worth billions of dollars, and only some of that is from music.

Are you looking for a booking agency, and what are your thoughts around that?

Well, we're always looking for people to work with.  The more competent people you have on your team, the greater the success for everyone.  We do have one, but if we can find someone who can do better, then that person is hired, and the person who currently does our booking can do something else if they want to.  Nothing is set in stone.

Are you looking for a label, and what are your thoughts around that?

Short answer:  record labels can be useful, and they can be problematic.  We are always willing to talk to and work labels who are genuinely interested in what we're doing and understand the band, which means exclusive contracts with labels, for us, are almost always out of the question, unless someone is going to offer us a ridiculous amount of money for a set period of work.  We could accept that kind of offer, but we'd need to have creative freedom, to at least some extent.  That, for us, have never happened.  We've always remained independent and non-exclusively contracted to a label.  We make our music on our own label, with our own budget, and then license it to other companies.  But yeah, if, say, Sony wanted to offer YAC millions of dollars to work for them for the next while, I'd probably say yes to it.  We could keep our freedom and still do that probably.  Plus we're better now at what we do than we ever have been, so it could probably work.

What made you decide to make this music?

With our recent album, for me, it was not really an option.  Just before I really started working on it, I was in a near-fatal car accident in New York.  A drunk bus driver crashed into a studio collaborator and I while we were returning from recording, so I could not tour or do any other work.  Studio work can be hard, but when there's literally nothing else you are physically able to do, it's all you do, naturally.  That was the case for me this time around.  I could literally do nothing else.  So I just did it.

What are your songs about?

There are so many songs about so many different things.  On the new album, LINES IN THE SKY is about the intentional destruction of our environment and ruination of public health for the sake of population control which, I think, doesn't really need to happen.  I believe it would be fine if they, whoever they are, did not spray chemtrails.  I don't know what they are so afraid of.  ALL ALONE AGAIN is more personal, it's about being tempted by the trappings of success and realizing that that is just what they are:  a trap.  Then you realize that the only thing you can do to move forward in your life is to leave it all alone, and to keep doing so.  Figuratively and literally, you have to keep taking the garbage out.  And there is a lot of it at times.  HOME is, for me, about the loss of privacy that we, as Americans, have experienced in recent history.  I remember a time when you could be more sure that the NSA weren't spying on your via your phone or webcam or drones or whatever else they use now, because nobody had phones or webcams.  It's about not feeling at home, even when you are at home, because you have no privacy and because your personal freedoms have been eroded or even taken away.  Home is where you can feel okay about being who you are and not feel like you're being monitored by some big brother-type agency who is watching your every move.  I'm looking forward to a time when that sort of thing ends completely, and we can call feel like we're more 'at home'.

Who does the composing and writes the lyrics?

I do most of it.

Do you start with the music or the lyrics?

They're done separately and put together.  I write music like a composer would, and I write lyrics like a novelist or short story teller would, or like someone like Charles Bukowski or Henry Rollins would write his poems.  Then I put them together. Neither one necessarily comes before the other, they are generally separate processes that can occur before or after each other.  There are rare occasions when both happen at the same time.  I like doing both, I consider myself, on one hand a music composer and on the other a word-writer.  I'm not necessarily a natural songwriter, I think that is a really pretentious term.  But then the 20th century was full of pretense and we are still suffering a hangover from that.  I hope that in this century, a person can be both a music composer and a writer, or even just one or the other, and not feel like they have to combine the two into the trite format or label of 'songs' or 'being a songwriter'.  People are much more interesting than that.  For instance, Bob Dylan is a great writer, but a horrible musician.  However, if he didn't combine his writing with music, nobody would have cared about his work.  Nobody should have to do that.  The Beatles were great studio musicians and composers, but, let's be honest, 'I am the egg man'?  Come on.  It's ridiculous.  People only listened to their music because they had lyrics.  Why can't people appreciate good music and good linguistic writing as distinct things?  Most 'songwriters' are either musicians who are forced to become writers or writers who are forced to become musicians.  Pretty much nobody is both.

Do you compose in a certain environment?

I write and / or compose wherever I happen to be.  Sometimes that has had a bearing on the end result, but, at this point, I am well-able to get into a zone where I can not let my environment impact what I'm trying to get across.  That used to happen when I was younger.  However, I discovered personal meditation a long time ago, and it's helped me to have greater focus on the work I am internally compelled to do rather than let my work become a product of environment.  So I could be in a bad environment and it just becomes an inconvenience to me rather than the focal point of anything.

Have you done any covers live?

Yeah, we've played a few.  But we're not and never have been a cover band.  In fact, if we do cover anything, we usually try to, essentially, murder the song.  I like taking something that was, for instance, an 'important' piece of pop culture and thoroughly defacing or destroying it.

What language do you sing in?

English, sadly.  The language of our colonial oppressors.  I am trying to learn more Irish and 'native American' languages.

What are the least and most people to attend one of your gigs?

We've played for literally ourselves and a cat.  Literally, there was the band and a cat in the audience.  We've also played in front of 30,000 people.  I'm not sure which I preferred, I tend to like cats more than people, honestly.  Unless it's 30,000 really, really cool people.  That is hard  to find in any one geographic location.

What ages are most of your concert attendants?

They're all ages.  In fact, when we started out, we used to play a lot of all-ages shows, because our music is for everyone.

Do you always play the same songs live, or do you vary?

At this point we have a lot to choose from, so yes, it varies.  Some songs are better in certain locations and venues.  It depends on that mostly.

Do you have a regular place you play live often?

No, we play wherever people want to hear us and are willing to buy a ticket.  That could be anywhere.

What was your first gig like?

Horrible.  My guitar broke during the first song, so I had to just be the singer for most of the show.  I had never sung in front of people before, so I was terrified.

What was your latest gig?

30,000 people in Lagos, Nigeria.  It was awesome.

Where have you played live this year?

We've been in the studio all of this year.  I've been still recovering from that car accident I mentioned earlier, so we decided not to play live until I'm 100% recovered from that.  I'm almost there.

Where do you plan to gig the coming year?

Anywhere and everywhere people are willing to buy a ticket.

When did you start to sell merchandise, and what do you have for sale?

I started NOTACORP, the company which oversees all of our merchandising brands in 1995, so at this point we have a great deal of Young Astronauts Club-related products available.  We have music on c.d., record, cassette, download, etc.  We have t-shirts.  We have jackets.  We have hats.  We have stickers.  We're working on some very interesting things, like our own line of left-handed guitars.  I'm left handed, so it's hard to find decent guitars, I decided to design some of my own.  I'm hoping to build them in the future, for myself and for other lefties.

Where can people buy your merchandise?

Your favorite internet search engine will be able to give you a list of all of the places where you can purchase our wares.  That changes, so to keep up-to-date, it's best to use our official websites and portals.  Those change also.

What do you think about people downloading music instead of buying records now a days?

It's great.  I mean, it gives millions and millions of people an opportunity to hear and experience things that there's just no other infrastructure for right now, and it gives people a way to share their work with a huge audience and connect with people.  That's really what it's about - getting heard.  If you're in this industry for the money, then you're in it for the wrong reasons and you are part of the problem.  The internet is the current solution for things like that, it keeps music more pure and its motives and intent more honest.  I mean really, music is not even really supposed to be a business.  It's expression and communication.  The moment we turn that into a commodity is the moment we are crossing into a realm and method of doing things that is not really how things are supposed to be.  I understand that people need to survive and live so they can keep working, believe me, nobody understands that more than I do probably, but a lot of people have obviously been only doing it for the money for a very long time.  That needs to go away, that way of doing things needs to be destroyed.  I'm happy to be part of that, which is why I have always been a huge advocate and proponent of the internet.  For instance, Young Astronauts Club was literally the first band on MySpace.  We were happy to be a part of something like that.  Go get our music from torrent sites for free before the greedy music 'industry' shuts them all down.

How do you think the music industry have changed because of this?

The 'industry' is dying.  This is fine.  People who rely on the 'industry' as an exclusive means of making a living are really just in music for all the wrong reasons and should be stopped from doing so anyway.  Hopefully some of these guys will get real jobs and actually do something worthwhile for society.

What do you think of my work?

Good questions, though-provoking and relevant to the times we live in.  Very refreshing.

Why do you think idols exist?

Idols exist because people need to work on themselves and become who they are supposed to be rather than wishing they could be someone else.  I don't have idols.  There are certainly people who have influenced me to become theperson I am.  But I wouldn't call any of those role models either.

Is it easier to find inspiration from older bands, or bands that are more active today?

I like what's going on in music right now.  Websites like Bandcamp are proof of the fact that there is a huge amount of music being made outside of the traditional approach.  This, to me, is proof that music is alive and well and healthy.  Although the 'mainstream' is completely ignoring it.  Too bad for the mainstream.

What have been your biggest obstacles?

Avoiding dishonesty.  The temptation in the music industry is to become something you are not.  I've never done that.  I'm not an actor.  My work is generally a reflection of a real person and a real human being.  I am learning that this is actually a rare thing.

What advice would you give other bands or artists?

Don't care so much about what anyone thinks of what you want to do.  It doesn't matter.

How do you get psyched for a gig?

It's not hard, we just love performing live and it's always a good time.

Do you have any new material?

We have so much new material and works in progress that we will never finish all of it.

What are your web sites?

Those change from time to time, so it's best just to use a search engine to find Young Astronauts Club.

How can people reach you?

Our official sites and pages usually have current contact information.

What are your plans for the future?

Really just to continue to find ways to do what we love doing, which is music...writing, recording, performing, etc. while remaining true to ourselves as human beings.  You won't find us doing charity gigs for the U.N. or whatever.

Do you have something to add?

Thanks for being interested in what we're doing!  I can't wait to actually meet you some day.