Interview By: Gus Bernadicou
Paul Zone, with his brothers, created a brand of power pop and dance music that is instantly recognizable and addicting, yet catchy. He started out in the ‘New York Punk Scene’ and has played with nearly everyone from Max’s Kansas City, and CBGB’s. He grew up, as did the music that inspired him, and in the 80’s he was in the band Man 2 Man that had number one hits in numerous countries. He currently is on tour with the photos he took in the early 70’s.
Punk Globe: Thanks so much for the interview Paul. Can you give the readers some background on yourself?
Paul Zone: I came of age as a fan of Glam Rock and that propelled into wanting to become a musician. I had two older brothers and it was easy to follow them around. They were 13 and 14 and had bands, and then I would go with them to see the New York Dolls’ first few gigs at the Mercer Art Center in the 70’s. I was completely moved, and I became part of the scene in 75/76.
Punk Globe: You have mentioned that your mother was the main supporter of the concept of you and your brothers becoming rock stars, could you explain how she helped you get started?
Paul Zone: She gave us money [laughs], she would help us buy equipment and clothes. I mean that whole era was based on a style, glam rock. We needed equipment, and she was our funding source.
Punk Globe: Is it true that Debbie Harry and Chris Stein convinced your brothers to let you join the band and become the lead singer?
Paul Zone: Oh yeah Debbie, Chris and Lance Loud were the ones who threw out the suggestion. The band was Mikki and Mandy and they started out on the scene with Blondie and the Ramones (74-75), both those bands were both just forming at that point. I mean, I would go to the music store with my brother and we would see Dee Dee and Johnny, they knew us from the Fast, they were developing in other bands at that time; Joey was in Sniper. Sniper played with my brothers early in ’75. Lance convinced them to let me be the lead singer; I was young and cute I guess.
Punk Globe: You were one of the first New York acts to get signed, could you give the details on how your stint with Private Stock Records happened and then fell through?
Paul Zone: It was Richard Gottehrer, he produced our first few singles and then we worked with Bobby Orlando. We were supposed to record with Ritchie Cordell from Tommy James and the Shondells, but we never recorded anything with him and it eventually fell through. With Gottehrer it was going to be more, commercially, pop. All the bands in New York were so diverse, everyone was doing something different. We were just doing what we wanted and loved. The bands in London were all the same, they all were cut from the same cookie cutter, and all went for that hard punky sound. John Holmstrom admitted to me he wasn’t really ever a fan of the Fast, but he said looking back at it, it is strange how ahead of their time the Fast were; we shoulda been in the 80’s or something. But then again, Television never did become the biggest band from New York, Blondie was, but it was the bands like the Ramones, that never sold millions of records, that are commonly regarded as influences.
Punk Globe: With Jayne County, you were one of the DJs at Max’s. What records did you constantly spin?
Paul Zone: I played music that was the ‘nuggets’ of the 60’s, the girl groups, the music that influenced the people who played there. Glam was big in 76/77, but before that there was no new music to play. I had been a DJ before, and music from the 60’s was the agreed genre to play, their was no corporate 70’s music to play, the lack of music is what made most of us start our own bands.
Punk Globe: You recorded two studio albums with the Fast, bands often sound completely different in a live setting, do you think your studio work was a fair representation of the sound you were trying to capture?
Paul Zone: Our first album was a compilation of basically our first 2 and ½ years of recorded singles, and other studio sessions; but we sounded the same live. We went into a 4-piece band and we were very pop oriented. Rick Ocasek produced most of the first album. Our second album was recorded like how we played live, our ‘rhythmic, raw’ touring we were doing in America shaped the sound of the album. I have always been pleased with our recording, the producers gave us the experience we did not have, and really helped us go places we could never go.
Punk Globe: What are some of your favorite studio and live bands?
Paul Zone: I liked the New York bands, and everything from the Beach Boys to Ravonettes, Ramones, and Blondie. If someone were to play my iPod they think it was some schizophrenic nightmare, the random songs I have. Bowie had the biggest influence on me. I was 12 or 13, and I loved Hunky Dory. Being that age and seeing the Dolls live is what made music exciting. Hardly anyone knew about them accept for the 50 kids in the club, and those people who saw them knew what they were witnessing. It’s like watching the Beatles at the Cavern Club or something; a band no one knew about. Being at the beginning is what made it special. We knew about Bowie before glitter, we knew Space Oddity, and Hunky Dory and loved it! Before Bowie was glitter, there was Marc Bolan. Bowie progressed and so did we. We would go to Max’s with Blondie and then go to Club 54, everything was a progression; several different things were going on. Depeche Mode was glam and dance; it was a clear progression. I mean Bondie covered Donna Summers in 75/76.
Punk Globe: After the residency you had at Max’s, did you ever play CBGBs?
Paul Zone: We played CBs throughout our stint at Max’s (76-77), with the Ramones. Most bands played both, it wasn’t like you could only play one. When you look back it seems like it was so long, but in retrospect it was only of couple years, months, whatever. I mean it was the whole “Dark Period” of rock, when punk was becoming glam and visa versa. I mean, it was metamorphing really, I travel all over Europe showing my photographs from that era 72-76, I haven’t shown them in New York yet, but it’s funny because people actually know what was going on.
Punk Globe: How did the Fast adapt and change with the passing of your brother?
Paul Zone: It changed into a different unit, we became more edgy. No keyboard player, we got a new bass player and drummer. We were more edgy and punky. “Punk” means nothing, it was damnized by the British bands who used cookie cutters to form new bands. It so hard to put a name on bands, so they came up with the term “New Wave.” Punk is going against something, it’s not a sound. Blink182, Green Day, Nirvana, “the year punk broke,” punk has become so over used, it is time to find a new word. Suicide in 1972 had posters saying “Punk Music,” I mean there was that band Street Punks, they weren’t punk. Every year the definition of punk changes, New Wave in 2011, it’s for the audience to decide.
Punk Globe: Your first gigs in front of 40,000 plus were when you were opening for the Cars, did you prefer the Arena venues or the humbling New York clubs?
Paul Zone: It was great to play Arenas, it was fun and exciting that we didn’t get booed off the stage! With Man 2 Man we were playing in front of thousands of people, we had hits in England. It was something, we went through so many years of working so hard and achieving nothing, Mikki and I said that we didn’t want to quit, so we just took a 360 and made something new. We loved Sparks, they did electronic, we wanted to do that but not in a certain way. We were still calling ourselves the Fast, but in new clubs all over, like Toronto, we were transforming.
Punk Globe: Did you consider combining all the genres into one album, like Blondie’s “Auto American?”
Paul Zone: We never really had that opportunity, we figured the best thing to do would be to make a 12” single, get promoters, and start over. We still loved what we did, but the fans of the Fast didn’t. Fans went to our shows expecting to see the Fast, but they were disappointed but we were happy, and that’s what mattered the most.
Punk Globe: You have worked with some New York rockers in the studio (Cherry Vanilla, Jayne County, and Donna Destri) besides looking beautiful and laying great vocal tracks, did they contribute anything new to the tracks they worked on?
Paul Zone: No, it was more the thing where they were around and our friends. Donna Destri still remains a close friend and I talk to her all the time, she sang on a lot of the Man 2 Man stuff.
Punk Globe: The opening riff on the song “Ride on the Wild Side” borrows from The Heartbreakers song “Chinese Rocks,” what is your attitude on artists borrowing from other artists such as David Bowie?
Paul Zone: New York players tried to copy from Johnny. I lived in London around the same time as Johnny, and it was during one of his low times. He would always say, “Why don’t you give me some money?” He said stuff like, “You would be no where without me…” I would see Stiv Bators too, and he would say, “I saw you on TV, but I wasn’t sure if it was you or not…” There was really no press about us in the beginning when we were on Top of the Pops, but then it got out “New York Punk Band the Fast,” we didn’t change our name at first but new people came.
Punk Globe: You then of course sold over 300,000 records with your new group Man 2 Man, was the song “Kids Just Wanna Dance” a hint at your new sound?
Paul Zone: It’s funny because when we first started out we wanted to make pop music that people could dance too. All the Fast’s songs were danceable with drum machines etc.
Punk Globe: What were some of the initial responses to your new sound; it divided a lot of fans didn’t it?
Paul Zone: “Unisex Haircut” was a few years before Man 2 Man. 82-83; we were just changing. We were rock and pop, transitioning and trying to make our niche. We wanted to be popular, but we weren’t. We wanted to be famous, and people were starting to pay more attention to our changes, our new music was easier to promote. No fans stuck with us, but our friends did. We were tired of beating a dead horse.
Punk Globe: Which one of your groups do you think best reflected your personality? Which one are you most proud of?
Paul Zone: Man 2 Man because of the success. The Fast was there for our development because there wouldn’t have been Man 2 Man without the Fast. With Man 2 Man we controlled everything, we produced, we controlled the sound. When I play the Fast songs I think, “I wish the drums sounded more like…” and stuff like that. The Fast was controlled by the people of the scene and our managers. We were all over the place and had no experience. Mikki and I always disapproved with the singles released, and the ways the albums were mixed, we weren’t a part of the process. We became studio musicians and worked in New York and gained experience.
Punk Globe: Did you prefer gigging around Europe playing dance music or playing power-pop/rock/punk in America?
Paul Zone: You want to play in front of an audience that loves you! We wanted to get a hit and not have to record again, or tour again. We were done with traveling in vans with strangers that we picked up for one tour. We’ll preform if we have to with our backing track, that was the way to go. We learned how to be famous.
Punk Globe: You are showing your photographs all over Europe and America, could you explain your new project?
Paul Zone: For 2 years I have traveled Europe and showed my photographs in art galleries in all the major cities, Rome, Berlin, Barcelona, etc., in front of 500 people with slide shows and everything. I like being treated like a rock star, I don’t like preforming in front of 50 people. The music industry has completely changed, it is no longer records it is recordings.
Punk Globe: AIDS awareness is constantly supported by many celebrities, do you believe the world now deals with the virus, or is the understanding of the disease different?
Paul Zone: Of course I am glad for the breakthrough, and I believe if it weren’t for Reagan possibly more lives would have been saved. We fight in Iraq, when people are starving in Detroit. We are trying to rebuild other countries but we can’t rebuild ourselves. That’s the horrible story about the world.
Punk Globe: Any advice you would like to give the readers of Punk Globe?
Paul Zone: Keep reading and writing, and realize how lucky you all are to have every answer at your fingertips, imagine finding a book without amazon.com!
Punk Globe would like to thank the fabulous Paul Zone for the great interview with Gus.
Contact Gus Bernadicou at gus@punkglobe.com