To many Americans the Zombies always seemed so British, and British-sounding, the same way we think of the Kinks, or the Jam as being particularly British. Despite that, you were much more successful in the United States than you were in Britain. Why do you think that might have been?
I think if you got off on the wrong foot in the UK — remember that we were young — we’d just come out of school, 18 years-old when we first went to Decca Records. We went to the press department. People were so unaware of how important image was. We would have an hour in the press department at Decca Records. We had some incredibly bad photos taken, and those photos still follow us around now, 50 years later. This is a very important part of an artist. This is your image.
Then they started asking us, well what have you been doing. We’d just left school. So they started conjuring up some kind of image of us being academic geeks. That’s the kind of image that was put over in the UK. It’s so wrong. People like the Rolling Stones were happening and they were pirates and brigands, and we’re the academic geeks. We really got off to a very poor start in the UK. I don’t think we ever really recovered.
We had more big hit records in America. We only had three big hit records. We did sound quite English. I felt self-conscious if I tried to sing with an American accent. I know that on a lot of rock and blues songs, it’s almost impossible to sing them without an American accent. But I was very fortunate that we had two prolific and quite sophisticated writers in the Zombies. So I was singing their songs rather than blues and rhythm & blues classics. So I was free to sing them in their natural accent.
I’ve had a chance to re-listen to Odessey & Oracle and I’ve noticed the very English pronunciation of words. I felt self-conscious about singing them with an American accent so I would sing them in an English accent. I suppose it contributes to giving the tracks a very English feel.
Why add Chris White and Hugh Grundy back into the band now? Why weren’t they part of earlier revivals, other than the 2008 concerts in England?
Odessey & Oracle is all of our album. It’s not Rod and my album, it’s all of ours. The reason why they haven’t been involved in the past is because in 1967 when the band finished, Chris gave up playing the bass. He was a very successful writer and producer. He went into the record industry on the other side of the business. He’s now retired. But neither of them have been playing professionally. Rod and I, in 1999, decided to play six concerts. It wasn’t an option to ask them to join us because they weren’t playing. They haven’t played since 1967. Hugh would play in sort of a semi-pro band, but Chris hadn’t picked up a bass in all that time.
We decided to do six shows and we enjoyed it so much we just kept going. We didn’t realize that there was this huge interest in the Zombies repertoire. People were constantly asking us at concerts to play Zombies tunes. This didn’t start as a new incarnation of the Zombies, it just evolved organically. People asked us to play more Zombies tunes and eventually promoters started billing us as the Zombies, although contractually they were not supposed to do that.
It got to the point three or four years ago when we sat down with the other original members of the band and said, look, this is what’s happening. People are asking for more Zombies tunes. It just seems natural, and a very normal progression for us to start touring as the Zombies. This would give exposure not just to the well known songs but to quite obscure material. They were very supportive and said it sounded like a great idea. It was never our idea, when we first got together, to recreate the Zombies.
It has been reported that during the recording of Odessey & Oracle there was some tension in the studio, particularly with regard to the recording of “Time of the Season.”
We were under a lot of pressure when we recorded that album in that we had a very small recording budget. So we rehearsed all of the songs extensively outside of the studio so that we could go into the studio and record. We knew the arrangements and the harmonies. All we had to do is get a performance out of ourselves and to get that onto tape.
It happened that “Time of the Season” was the last song we recorded, the last song that was written for the album. It was actually finished in the morning before we recorded it. Rod and I had a misunderstanding. It had only just been written and I was struggling to get hold of the melody as we were recording it. The rest of the album had been rehearsed in depth and we knew exactly what was happening.
As I was standing there singing “Time of the Season,” Rod kept correcting me through the intercom in the control room. Maybe the phrasing wasn’t quite right, maybe I didn’t get the melody right. I didn’t know the song that well. It did start to get a little fiery, and it ended up with me saying listen, if you know the song so well, you come in here and sing it. He very correctly said to me, you’re the lead singer in this band, you stand there and get it right. I’m really glad that I did. Half an hour later it was all forgotten.