Zoa gets their rocks off

Later this night, the band and crew of Zoa will take me out for a night on the town. It will be revealed that the bass player's real name is Billy and that he becomes bad boy "Fenwick" when he blacks out; that the band does indeed like to drink; and that their sauced-up camaraderie is enough to keep a writer out until 5 a.m. on a school night. For now, though, it's a couch, a martini and a group of guys that are extremely difficult to pin down.

"We want to make music for girls to strip to. Supreme success would be to walk into a strip bar and see one of the girls spinning from a pole to one of our new songs," muses Fenwick. Two stipulations: "She's gotta have all of her teeth, and she's gotta have augmented boobs."

In a matter of liquored moments, the ambition of these local glam grinders starts to crystallize. Couched in a corner of The Peacock Room, four of the five band members (Fenwick, bass; Peter Lee, drums; Johnny James, guitar; and Todd Thane Wolfe, vocals -- the other guitarist, Nate Regal, is out of town) cut strange figures, indeed.

Cowboy hats, hair products and bandanas smack of a messy amalgam of gimmicks, falling perhaps just short of the Whiskey a Go-Go. But beneath the Sunset Strip posturing -- in both their music and their unexpectedly professional drive -- is a welcome sense of calculation devoid of obvious pretense. They've studied their rock-star handbooks, but they're also a simple band of brothers chasing the same moonage daydream.

"There's a rumor going around that we like to take showers together," winks Fenwick.

Hot off a successful tenure as the backup band in the phenomenal local production of John Cameron Mitchell's drag opus, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," Zoa seems poised for a local rock overthrow, if only because of the creative posturing such a bizarre gig allows. The band had already been around for a couple of years, shifting lineups and styles; "Hedwig" was just the inch they needed to take.

"I remember when 'Hedwig' `the film` came out at the Enzian -- I was Todd's roommate at the time, and I went with these guys," recalls latecomer to the band Fenwick, who was then doing sound for Zoa. "When we walked out, there was this feeling that 'This is what we're gonna do.' That was the genesis of the whole stage persona."

That persona -- one of debauched flamboyance tempered with a snarl of ironic indifference -- has won Zoa a devout following, scoring them opening rites for such notables as L.A. Guns and Faster Pussycat. ("Our goal is to open up for The Darkness," says Fenwick. "I can't believe the music industry allowed that!") They're not terribly easy to categorize as metal, glam, pop or punk, but that seems to be the idea.

"We get a lot of Manson/Ziggy Stardust comparisons," says Fenwick. "I think it's heavier than Ziggy and lighter than Manson. If we feel like dressing up, then we will. Everything is so miserable. All these bands have become nü-metal or mall metal, and everybody has these father issues. Everything sucks? I don't wanna hear about it."

Instead, Zoa has carved out another niche of rattled rock, based as much on the Rock Experience as it is on the increasingly apparent musical friction within the band.

"Pete and I, when we first started out, we wanted to do something really emotional, and do it in a pop form," says Wolfe. "I like what we did a couple of years ago, but it seems to be, I don't want to say a 'downer,' but live, it's a lot more fun to play songs that kind of have a humorous edge."

For a taste of said edge, look no further than the band's website, www.zoabackstage.com, for their most recent MP3, a jugular-grabbing concoction called "Pop Song." Coupling biting words of music-industry contempt with an almost tragic longing for said exploitation, the track slaps sense from nonsense and presses frustration into a droning chorus: If it weren't for the girls, the drugs, the money, I wouldn't be in rock & roll.

Fenwick has worked for Trans Continental for the past five years, assisting the likes of Mandy Moore, LFO, and 'N Sync through their manufactured manipulations, and seems to be all the more bitter for it. ("We entered TransCon with bottles of Jack Daniels and we desecrated a boy band," he says of their recording process at the Pearlman complex.) Embittering as it may be, doing time at TransCon has bestowed a bit of tech experience the band might otherwise be missing.

"Our goal, when I started it, was to make something that was completely anti-pop but could be swallowed almost like a pop pill," says Wolfe. "I felt like it was a radio song but an anti-radio song at the same time. I've been so distraught by the music industry and working it. I see a lot of people that don't have talent make it."

Influences and projections, satire and heart, hard rock and pop: They've got it all fantastically, distastefully covered.

"And we all shower together, too," adds Fenwick, clearly unclear. Genius.

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