The Zeros were punk when most people didn't know what punk was. The L.A.-by-way-of-Chula Vista band released their first single on legendary Bomp! Records in 1977, that magical year when punk exploded.
The folks involved in their early days reads like a who's who of L.A. music. Their first show was with the Weirdos and the Germs, put on by the Nerves' and the Plimsouls' Peter Case. After a series of riotous shows, the band faded out in the early '80s. They moved to San Francisco and Austin, then back home. Now, they rarely record and only occasionally tour. The band has been both marginalized (as the “Mexican Ramones”) and celebrated (as the first Chicano punks), both descriptions of which fail to capture their essence.
Zeros frontman Javier Esocvedo comes from a family of musical Escovedos, including brothers Alejandro, Coke, Mario and Pete, brother-in-law El Vez, and niece Sheila E. Ahead of the band's show at the Troubadour tonight, we talked with Escovedo about punk rock, politics, and, y'know, the kids.
So, you guys are just touring every other year now?
Well the year before last, we got around quite a bit, we did SXSW, NXNE…we don't really want to hang around all the time. We gave people a chance to see us and wanted to give them a break.
Well, you guys are one of the few bands of your era still doing anything.
It has been so long, it's like people don't remember a lot of the old punk bands.
Maybe. But a lot of you old guys don't have that one definitive album you can point to.
What's funny, when you're talking about a lot of the bands at that time, like the Zeros…I mean for us to think that we were gonna make an album, was kinda far fetched really. Y'know? It was kinda few and far between, of the bands that were the first generation. The Dills didn't have an album, we didn't really have an album — it [was] just singles plus demos. The Weirdos didn't have an album until much later. It's just the way it was back then, which is why it took a lot longer for a lot of us to get famous. With the internet it's a lot easier to get recognition. That's probably why the Zeros pack them in nowadays — because we've got a video on YouTube.
The situation is probably worse now than when we started — there aren't as many record labels as there used to be. There are a lot of independent labels, though, and bands are putting out a lot of their own stuff now.
Are you listening to any new punk these days?
I hear about bands through NME and stuff. There's that band The View — I wouldn't call them punk, but they've got that attitude — they don't give a shit. I don't go to a lot of shows or see a lot of bands. Actually, the last show I went to was Mala Rodriguez, she's Spanish hip hop. She's great.
Isn't hip-hop now more like punk rock was back then?
Oh, yeah. Even hip-hop back then was crazy. One of the best shows I went to was Run-DMC in Austin when they first came out. It was so exciting. It was like the Sex Pistols, y'know? Everytime you have that burst of something new — there's [excitement].
And you guys came up in one of the biggest of those explosions, in 1977.
Yeah, I feel very lucky that we came out at that time. Things happened really fast for us. We got together, played our first show, and things went really fast. That's what it was like at that time — everything sort of exploded. If we had come out in 1974, who knows what would have happened?
So, what's it like being an old punk dude having seen where all that stuff went, how much it grew?
I think it will go on forever. At least I hope it will.
Even with the whole “noise” thing? It's scary to think what will terrify the noise kids in 30 years.
[laughs] Well, I hope that there's still something with a four piece band.
As long as there's something or someone to rail against.
That's the thing, the Zeros were never political, though. We left that to the Sex Pistols and the Clash.
But they put a lot of politics on you guys, though — calling you “Chicano Punks” and all that.
Funny thing is, I never saw us that way. I never noticed it until someone else pointed it out. People always said, “How did you do it, being four Latino guys doing punk — four Chicanos?” We just wanted to play and go as far as we could doing it. It never occurred to us. It's like that Van Halen video “Hot for Teacher”: “You're tardy!” “Funny, I don't feel tardy!” But yeah, Tomata Du Plenty was the first one to call us the Mexican Ramones in Slash magazine — and I never got it.
Yeah, there's nothing that sounds Latin-influenced in anything the Zeros do.
No. Not really even the Ramones. Well maybe a little bit. We did like the Ramones. We were more into the New York Dolls — that's who we listened to the most, them and the Standells. But Robert [Lopez, aka El Vez] and Baba [Chenelle] were really into Kiss. [chuckles] Not me, though. But they were.
So what's up with El Vez?
He's just doing his own thing and it's very lucrative for him, so he doesn't have time for the Zeros. He's my brother-in-law, so everything's cool with us. Fortunately, we've got the fabulous Mario Escovedo on guitar now.
Must be a jerk with a last name like that?
[Laughs] Yeah, you never know what you're gonna get with him.
The Zeros play the Troubadour tonight with The Muffs and The Flytraps