ZIBRA (RUSS HARLEY, SAM BATTLE, AND BEN EVEREST) IN LONDON, SEPTEMBER 2015. PHOTOS: BENJAMIN TIETGE. STYLING: ALEXANDRA WINSTON. GROOMING: SARAH JO PALMER USING KIEHL’S.
If you’re already familiar with Years & Years and Børns, then Zibra should be next on your radar. After opening for these contemporary counterparts, the London-based trio is quickly gaining recognition overseas. They played at this summer’s Glastonburry Festival and were included in Versace’s runway soundtrack, with Dontella singing along to every word. Here, we’re pleased to premiere the band’s video for “Wasted Days,” the first single following this year’s release of EP 2000 (a successor to EP 1000).
When frontman Sam Battle moved to London from his hometown of Peterborough five years ago, he lived in a squat making life as cheap as possible. “Because I made my living so cheap, I didn’t really have to work,” he says. “I ended up wasting most of my time, trying to write songs and be productive but ending up having too many beers and falling asleep, not getting anything done.”
The result of this time is “Wasted Days,” which, through its lyrics and fusion of electro-pop and ’80s synths, addresses just what Battle explains. In the video, Battle and bandmates Russ Harley and Ben Everest are joined by actress Caroline English, among others, in an old school bowling alley, where they play connect four and billiards, as well as hop, skip, and jump around in a way that makes the viewer slightly uncomfortable. Unlike the majority of Zibra’s previous videos, “Wasted Days” was filmed digitally, yet it retains highly retro elements through warm color tones, the Word Art-esque font, and thrifted clothing.
“I’ve had to find different ways of listening to music, because the internet is a bit of a bummer,” Battle continues over the phone. “It’s either radio or going to the record shop.”
NAMES: Sam Battle (vocals, guitar), Russ Harley (synths), Ben Everest (bass)
COMING TOGETHER: It started just over two years ago. I was putting demos up on the internet and people liked them, so I figured I should start turning this into a band. I didn’t want to do it by myself, because it’s quite lonely being a solo artist I can imagine. Going to shows and you’re like, “Oh, uh, I need to go find some friends.” So then I met Russ because a guy I knew said, “I know this guy who’s looking for a band and he’s got the same synths as you, he really wants to write with somebody else.” So Russ came along, and as the idea became more fully fledged, Ben came along. I’ve known him for a few years and I figured, “Yeah, get him on bass.”
I FIRST BECAME INTERESTED IN MUSIC… like most people, when you’re younger and driving around in the back of your parents’ cars. I always thought it depends on how loud they play the music, how much you’re listening to it, and how much you’re analyzing it. My mom and dad used to blare it quite a lot and there was a lot of Human League and Michael Jackson, so I came up with that stuff. They also introduced me to stuff like Nirvana—I think that was actually my first CD that I bought with my own pocket money, Nirvana Nevermind, which is great. I’m kind of glad it wasn’t something like Backstreet Boys; I was into that before. So then I really just wanted to learn an instrument and my sister had an old acoustic guitar that she never used, so I started to play that. I think I was 12 when I started playing music and ever since then it’s been my maiden name, entirely consuming. I don’t really think about much else.
“WASTED DAYS”: Basically, we had a more stuck-together idea about “Wasted Days.” Within the sound, we pushed it to a more polished angle. It’s still a retro-esque kind of video; it’s stylized into an era that’s somewhere between the ’70s and early ’80s. I don’t think it would have suited a VHS look and I don’t really want to get pigeonholed in that. We were initially like, “Let’s go crazy, get loads of washing machines that are going to fall off places and smash and stuff, maybe with googly eyes”—that idea got a bit silly, so we thought we’d go with a fresh idea. Somebody suggested that we go to a bowling alley and do a bit of bowling. There’s a few good bowling films that everybody really likes in the band. We’ve all got these jackets that have the big logo on the back and your name on the side, so we wanted to bring that cheesy thing into it.
HANDY MAN: When I started playing music I started trying to fix broken amplifiers or make guitar effects pedals. That built into building synthesizers. It’s, in a way, a computer; it’s a large modular synth and it keeps on growing and you keep on learning how to build. It teaches you more about sound, so it’s getting a more in-depth understanding of music and sound and how it works with people’s brains. Pretty much since I left my hometown, I was able to get a load of junk and start taking it apart. I think that was the main thing that really started giving me the ability to make new instruments out of electronics.
LIVING IN SQUATS: When I first moved to London I lived in an old people’s home. It was an abandoned old people’s home and I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was an absolute dive. I remember walking in and there were loads of these hippie guys and they were like, “Hey, it’s the new guy.” It was a very strange experience. There was a week of not really shutting my eyes because I didn’t whether I really trusted anybody in that building because they were all a bit like scoundrels. I had to live there because it was cheap, but it let me be creative because I had so much room to make noise. There were no old people anymore so there was no one to complain. [laughs] It was creepy, it was. [But] I love that kind of living so much that I’m now in an old college; I live in a classroom. I’m used to it.
SECOND LIFE AS A BMX RIDER: When I was younger I had a few competitions, I was doing well, getting paid, and getting some free gear here and there. So I did that, but I couldn’t carry on because I broke my wrist and I broke my cheek on different occasions. It was just getting a bit silly. That was probably about five or six years ago.
INSPIRATION: Boring, mundane parts of life are the main things I like writing about, like having a job, or being bored, or not particularly liking the place that you’re at at the minute, or going on holiday and thinking, “This isn’t what I thought it was going to be like, I thought it was going to be all magical.” I just like the mundane normal life, really. “Chlorine” is about swimming pools and having a lovely nostalgia about these chlorine smelling places, that loads of people are swimming in it and when you think about it, it’s quite a strange place, a swimming pool. There’s another song on EP about buying a flat in a suburb of London called “Flats in Dagenham,” and it’s just a place in Dagenham.
A FULL ALBUM: It’s coming alone. We’re working on it. I don’t think we’ll ever fully finish it because you never fully finish anything. It’s going to be quite some work still, but it’s coming along and I hope some time early next year we’ll see something like that.