Zoogma may be the most fitting band name I’ve ever heard. Based on the Greek word “zeug” meaning to join, it’s no wonder this band transcends all genres, eras, and locales. From the hill country blues region of Oxford, Mississippi, these four guys have combined the booming energy of jamtronica with the swagger of hip hop into something all its own. If you’ve seen Zoogma, you know the thrill. If not, prepare yourself. Guitarist Justin Hastings talks here about their roots and the 6AM farmhouse shows that got the whole thing rolling.
O&A: You mentioned you formed in Oxford, Mississippi. The EDM/hip-hop vibe that you guys put out had to have been pretty different for a town like.
HASTINGS: The drummer Matt and I played in some hill country blues bands around town. That’s the nostalgic genre of Mississippi. Freshman or sophomore year at Ole Miss, we started going to these festivals and were floored at some of the sounds we were hearing. We didn’t know there were actual bands playing this dance music.Things really took off for us in those early years when we would do post-bar shows at a farmhouse right outside the city limits. We’d start at midnight and play until 6AM or whenever the cops would tell us all to go home. The mix of people we got at these things was unreal.
O&A: How much effort goes into making sure you guys remain a band on stage as opposed to being a group of DJs?
HASTINGS: It’s pretty easy because we’re all constantly playing instruments at the same time. We have live drums, live bass, and two live guitars, but we also have our laptops up there. I use mine as a synth bank. Our bassist uses his for synth bass sounds that you normally wouldn’t be able to put out there, like those big oscillator sounds. Our other guitar player uses it for keyboard samples and triggering clips. Our drummer uses it for sequencing. We never just push buttons together. There’s always that organic sound inherent with us, but we’re always trying to straddle that line to execute different roles.
O&A: How do you find the balance between improv and structure within a set?
HASTINGS: We like to mix it up depending on our crowd.Our improv isn’t ever completely made up. A lot of our tunes, there’s a verse section, a chorus section, a middle section, and after that, there’s some space for us to go wherever we want. With most songs, there’s an endpoint where we all want to be once we’re done improvising. A lot of the fun comes in trying to reel it back in to the song.
O&A: How did Hotel Crunkifornia come about?
HASTINGS: Our drummer Matt and other guitar player Brock presented that one. It was my idea to put in that famous ‘Big Lebowski hates the Eagles’ quote at the end of it. You’ve got to try and not get so caught up in what you like or don’t like. Sometimes, it just sounds good and people respond to that.
O&A: Would The Dude approve?
HASTINGS: I don’t know, man. I doubt The Dude abides to much electronic music.
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O&A: With your music being such high energy, how do you handle a room that might be emptier thanyou had hoped for?HASTINGS: That’s inevitable. It happens a lot at festivals. I remember two years ago at Camp Bisco we started at 2AM right after the Disco Biscuits. We knew when we started, we wouldn’t have any people there, so we picked one of our spacier tracks to get loose. About three quarters of the way through the song, I look up from my pedals and making adjustments for the first time, and there’s 5,000-plus people there. Going from 6 or 7 people to that large a crowd without watching it grow was insane.
O&A: You guys also encourage collaboration. Why is it so important to have the support of your fellow musicians.
HASTINGS: Short, sweet, and rowdy DJ-sounding sets are fun, but in this hybrid scene of electronic and rock music, it’s equally as fun to bring somebody out and show people that we can really play. JamCruise was really special in that way. We had everybody from Joel Cummins (Umphrey’s McGee) to Adam Deitch (Lettuce, Break Science) to Brock Butler (Perpetual Groove) up there. It’s really cool to have people feel us out. It also makes it unforgettable for the crowd. Sometimes, this kind of stuff happens once in a lifetime. You never know when that particular person will be able to play with that band again. You saw this moment that doesn’t exist from night to night. For a band like us, it’s the perfect refresh button.
Photo: Zoogma Official