Local band Petting Zoo: Gearing up for bigger things

They’re from the zoo, but you can’t pet them

I walked into one of the Puffton Village Apartments late one Friday afternoon where I was greeted by the friendly college upperclassmen who make up the Petting Zoo.

The room was covered in miscellaneous decor including band posters, the house rules of Kings, and empty liquor bottles, all creating a friendly, hipster college band vibe.

Petting Zoo is a four-piece local band out of Amherst that released their debut album Good Evening this past May. They describe their sound as “indie-psych”, and are all very happy and invested in both each other and the band.

The members of Petting Zoo assembled on the couch and introduced themselves: Joey Distasio (drums), Christian Hegland (vocals, guitar, some piano), Tim Zoidis (bass), and Zach Ballard (keyboard, backing vocals, some guitar).

All come together into one tightly knit group with each person bringing their own individual quirks.

They couldn’t quite come up with a genre or quick explanation for what they would classify their music as. They list some of their influences as Animal Collective, Tame Impala, XTC, Pixies, and Radiohead.

After a few minutes of friendly discussion, they settled with “indie-psych”, though Christian added, “I wish we could just say rock. I just want everything to be rock because I think these genre titles like ‘neo-psychedelia’ sound a little bit silly, but, that’s just me.”

Zach and Joey went to high school together while Christian and Tim met in Sunday School as kids. When they were freshmen, Christian and Zach were assigned as random roommates, bringing the pairs together. The following year when Tim came to UMass as a freshman, he was offered a spot in the band. The four have been making music together ever since.

“It was pretty chill. We needed a bassist and we were like, ‘Yo, Tim, do you wanna be in the band?’ and he was like, ‘yea,'” said Zach.

“We originally started practicing in Baker, the dorm, like, full volume,” said Joey. “We kept a few people up. They let it slide for two months. Eventually the RAs were like, ‘we’ve been getting complaints about you guys for the past two months’ and then we got written up.”

Since their days jamming in Baker Hall, the guys have lived in different places, and have now settled in the Puffton Village Apartments. Joey, Zach, and Christian are currently seniors and Tim is a junior. Since the band’s beginning, the players have worked hard to write and record their first album, Good Evening.

“The reason I’m proud of Good Evening is because it’s sort of eclectic in terms of vibes. It’s a lot of different songs that we wrote over the whole time we’ve been a band so some of the stuff on the album is from the first couple months and some was written in the last couple weeks before we started recording.

“I think that somehow comes off in the song variation. That’s the way I like to think about it. Maybe we’re all too close to it to get a sense of some uniform vibe. None of which I’ve stated! Just that they exist,” said Christian, in his attempt to sum up the album.

If all goes according to plan, new music can be expected as soon as January

“We’re going into the studio with Converse. They have this thing called Rubber Tracks and they get local musicians and big names to come into their studios.

“We were invited to come and record in their studio in Boston. So, we’re gonna go in one day and knock a bunch of tracks out. Instrumentals we record – then we’re gonna bring them back here and record vocals. And then release it,” explained Joey.

“We usually nail the instrumentals before we have the lyrics,” he continued. “In terms of writing there’s two main methods. There’s the jamming method and the one where one of us brings in an idea. Like, a single instrument set up. Then we take that ‘skeleton’ piece and we all add our own parts and embellishments towards it. I’d say that’s the most common way we write.”

The lyrics are written by vocalist Christian, though he doesn’t really try to achieve meaning as much as he does sound: “The lyrics get written last minute on a pizza box. Not really, but basically.

“I love writing vocals and melodies, and even sounds like vowels and stuff like that. Words are very, um, I don’t really like writing the words and the meaning and stuff so that’s kind of a struggle for me. It a last minute thing.”

Joey interjected: “You usually hear him at practice just going like, ‘Ahh, Ohhh, eee eee, EHH’, like it sounds good but it may not mean anything.”

“The lyrics have meaning eventually, it just takes a while. Like usually I have an idea of what it’s about, but just picking out the actual words, for me, it’s really scary to commit. I like topics that are sort of trivial and silly because I’m just afraid of taking myself too seriously.

“I don’t think that I’m good enough to write about ‘my pain’ so usually I approach it from an angle that’s a little more playful and see if I can get any meaning out of it. It’s convenient if people can find their own meaning from the words,” Christian added.

“We all have a pretty big stake in the final product and I’m not sure our aims are quite the same, but I guess at the heart it’s just about finding sounds that we put together,” said Zach.

The Converse gig is a huge step for Petting Zoo.

“We play mostly house parties. We’ve played a couple shows on campus for SALT and we also played a few times at the Fire Water Yoga Studio downtown. Most of the shows we play aren’t actual events until like a week maybe two in advance,” said Christian.

“We’ve got stuff in the works but nothing is set. We are trying to play a show with Calico Blue,” added Tim.

When asked about social media and contact info, Facebook was their number one answer, but soon the four guys began talking about accounts they have but don’t use, accounts they should get, and their lack of social media promotion.

The final consensus was to like their Facebook page, and check there for updates about shows and new music. Also, check them out on Bandcamp to hear (and download for free) Good Evening and all of the neo-indie-psychedelia it has to offer.

As I was leaving, the guys made sure to add, “We were very excited about this interview,” then promptly proceeded to jam the fuck out.

And it sounded awesome.

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