Smile Politely

Shazu defines “stoner rock” and talks latest release

What happens when three local musicians, all well-versed in the Champaign-Urbana music scene, decide to create “something heavier?” Shazu happens, and it’s not their first rodeo either. Brennin sat down over a couple of beers with Teddy Lerch and Sam Geneser to get the scoop on their brand new musical endeavor, which includes their group Shazu as well as their throw at an EP, Shazu.

Smile Politely: First off, what instrument does everyone play?

Teddy Lerch: Sam plays bass and Garrick Nelson plays drums. I play guitar, vocals, and cello on the first track of the album, “The Walk That Leads Nowhere.”

SP: Can you describe Shazu’s sound?

Lerch: I’ve always had a hard time describing it. The best thing that I can think of is post metal but that’s such a big umbrella term. There are other things that sort of fit, like “sludge,” “stoner metal,” and “stoner psychedelic.”

Sam Geneser: A lot of metal is based around the pentatonic scale, which is something we don’t do a lot of. So far, what we’ve written has kind of broken away from a lot of the typical scales and bluesy sounding stuff. We have a little bit more of a melodic sound.

SP: What exactly does “stoner” mean in reference to music?

Geneser: Stoner rock and stoner metal is kind of some newer terminology that people have just thrown on a bunch of stuff. A lot of doom and metal stuff gets labeled like that. Bands like Bongripper, Sleep, and Electric Wizard. There are so many terms out there and there’s not really hard lines — especially in metal. There are a million different sub-genres. When I think of what people have coined as “stoner rock,” they’re usually referring to bands like Foo Man Chu that were part of a desert rock scene started in the 90’s. Bands like that segway into other bands like Queens of the Stone Age, stuff that’s a little more mainstream. I feel like stoner metal refers to bands with a little bit of a heavier edge. Lower tunings, more aggressive vocals, that sort of thing.

Lerch: But still open and repetitive riffs that can almost be hypnotic. I feel like because we’re all so into different things, there’s no just “pure” — everything has a little taste of this and a taste of that mixed into it. A true sangria of metal.

In case you were curious, Urban Dictionary defines “stoner rock” as

“Stoner Rock is a loosely termed genre of music that has heavy guitar riffs that are somewhat repetitive and hypnotic. It’s closest relatives would be blues, rock, hard rock and metal (of all types). The music is choppy, bassy and almost always distorted to some degree with different types of vocals, mostly male, which tend to blend and harmonize with the music. The guitars are often tuned to D or open D to get that low sound of metal-like distortion that the standard E tuning doesn’t offer. The term “stoner rock” most likely comes from the perceived association of smoking marijuana and the fans of this music. However, smoking marijuana is not necessary to enjoy the music. These are some of the bands considered to be stoner rock: T-Rex, Kyuss, Monster Magnet, Wolfmother, Black Sabbath, Fu Manchu, QOTSA.”

SP: How is your sound “psychedelic?”

Lerch: Our long song structures and minimalist writing lends itself to going into some sort of trance, which is where the “psychedelic” would come in.

SP: Tell me about the self-titled album you’re releasing.

Lerch: The EP that we’re putting out right now has four songs and it’s the first four songs that we’ve written. To record, we used a lot of Garrick’s gear that’s going towards Bull & Dog, a recording studio in Champaign that he is working on opening.

Geneser: We recorded at my parent’s farmhouse in Argenta, IL. It was a good place to record because it’s on 120 acres, so you’re not going to piss anyone off. We basically knocked everything out in two days.

SP: What is the writing process for your songs?

Geneser: Ted does most of the writing. Garrick and I are kind of supporting members at this point. Most of the song ideas, Ted brought to the table. Ted has a tendency to write things in odd time signatures and quirky rhythms. Another part of our sound is just being crushingly loud. We also play down tune. There’s this kind of guttural feeling. The music hits you harder.

Lerch: I write the foundational riffs. Like if I have an idea, I write it. I get as much done as I can by myself, present it, and they can take it however they want. The best part about playing with other people is they play something I would never think to play, and that changes the song direction. Basically, our entire second song, “The Walk That Leads Nowhere,” is based off Sam just messing around playing bass and I just added on.

SP: Teddy, what inspires the lyrics you write for Shazu?

Lerch: My lyrics have a lot to do with out of body experiences, the psychedelic experience, and as recognizing yourself as more than a body. A lot of that stuff usually isn’t yelled at the top of your lungs. They’re very intense and passionate experiences that can be channeled through an intense and passionate war cry.

SP: How did Shazu begin?

Lerch: Sam and I have been writing and playing in bands together for a long time. Neither of us were playing in heavy projects, but we’d expressed the desire to over and over again. We had our first practice right before Christmas last year.

SP: How did Garrick become involved with the band?

Geneser: In one of Ted and I’s previous bands, we did the 2015 Great Cover-Up. We covered Slipknot and Garrick played with us. That’s really the first time we played together. Garrick kind of plays everything, I’m not even sure what his main instrument is. He kind of does everything, so we asked him to play in Shazu. I think it’s interesting that this has come together now when it has because, at the moment, there’s not really a lot of heavy bands in town.

Photo taken from Shazu’s Facebook.

SP: What music is Shazu influenced by?

Geneser: Definitely YOB. They were an influence to even start the band and could also be categorized as doom metal. Between their various albums, they cover a large variety of sounds, all for a heavy palate.

Lerch: Another one of my biggest influences is a band called Isis. Even down to the name. Isis’s name came from an Egyptian deity and Shazu is named after a Sumerian deity. Isis is all over the place, from very heavy to almost like synth rock at times. I like the way they can dance between genres like that.

SP: Tell me about your cassette release show.

Lerch: It’s a cassette and electronic release show for our four song EP, Shazu. The show is at Ghost Planet, formerly Dingbat Dungeon in Urbana. We’re playing with a local hardcore punk band called Dream Probe for their tour kick off and a band called Starlorde from Springfield. It should be the perfect show!

More details about Shazu’s release show can be found here.

Cover photo was taken by Veronica Mullen.

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