Zilla (l to r) Travis, Holstein, Janover
If you spend too much time thinking about the concept of something being infinitely big, it makes your head hurt. No one can grasp it, nor define where it ends, or even conceive of how to harness it. However, three friends from Colorado have blazed a trail to an entirely new breed of live experience that appears be have an infinite range of musical possibilities. Aaron Holstein (bass, guitar), Jamie Janover (hammered dulcimer, mini kit, sitar) and Michael Travis (drums, percussion, keyboards) have started a musical project the likes of which few have ever conceptualized. A 100% improvisational, live electronica trio that weaves a frenzy of sonic patterns and manipulations. The trio combines a myriad of beats that bump and pulsate, casting the listener into a euphoria that is always unique to that particular experience. This musical monster is known as Zilla, and as their website says, they are coming to take over your town. In a nice way, of course.


Zilla (l to r) Travis, Holstein, Janover
Zilla began quite differently than most bands begin their careers. Holstein remarks, "It happened backwards actually. A lot of bands get together, and write a bunch of songs, and then they get a gig, and go play a gig. And this band had gigs, and a tour, and a bus, and a whole bunch of plans and no idea of what we wanted to do musically. So we went out in the other direction. We went out as friends and figured out the music backwards."

Zilla actually began not as an idea, but rather as a savior. "Jamie and I were in a band called Zuvuya and Xander (Green - guitar) couldn't make a tour, so we scrambled together to find players. We knew Steve and Aaron really well, and we just said, 'Come be in our band for this gig,' and we played and then said, 'Well, that was fun. Let's just do this tour instead of canceling it - that'd be silly," says Travis about the first show.

The three members all have connections that tie them together long before the notions of Zilla even existed. "Before Zuvuya, Travis and Janover were housemates, and Dave Watts of The Motet had introduced them. And Jamie and I had lived together in Boston back in the early 90's, and we were pretty close with Watts too. So we had all these mutual friends that kept leading around to each other, and our friendship was created from a long time of happen stances," recalls Holstein. "I was in a band called Boogie Shoes from Chicago, and we would come through and stay at Travis's house in Bolder."

Michael Travis with Zilla :: Jam Cruise
At that point, with two new members (Holstein on guitar and bass, and former keyboardist Steve Vadaic), Zilla had quite a task ahead of them. They had an entire tour booked and billed as Janover and Travis's other project Zuvuya and were now showing up with a completely different band. Janover speaks of the decision to go through with the tour, "Basically, Travis and I went to salvage what was already booked with these other guys, so we had to book it and bill it as Zuvuya: Featuring their new formation, known as Zilla, featuring MICHAEL TRAVIS OF THE STRING CHEESE INCIDENT. It was so contrived. Zilla is this tiny little part of the flyer, Travis's name is huge, and SCI's is even bigger. I'm so glad we went through with it though, because now we've amassed something larger than we could have ever predicted."

The tour itself was interesting. Ultimately, there were enough moments to make the members realize that this could be a project worth pursuing. But as a whole, Zilla went through a lot of changes before it got to the sound that it currently creates today. "We had so many different identity crises as a band. I remember at one point we sat down to figure out what cover songs to do, but that was when we had two full drum kits and Travis on guitar or bass for thirty to forty percent of the show," quips Holstein.

"The paradigm was essentially. [It was like] Wow. Here's a fun band where we get to do whatever we want, so we might as well play all of the different instruments we can play. It's so fun. And then we realized, when we were playing our main instruments, when Travis was playing his drum kit, when I was playing hammered dulcimer, when Aaron was playing either guitar or bass, we just sounded a lot more pro, as well as a lot more developed and evolved than the other paradigm," remarks Janover of the transition.

Jamie Janover with Zilla by Tobin Voggesser
Another key aspect to the evolution of the current Zilla sound was the downsizing of the group from a quartet to a trio. Losing keyboardist Steve Vadaic near the start of this year provided new challenges for Zilla sonically. Taking the keyboards away from an electronically based band seems a near impossible task. Oftentimes, Vadaic would be creating a huge mood scheme while playing a melody or a bass line at the same time. "I could honestly take forty-five seconds when I was on stage when Steve would be sending up this huge vortex of sounds, and it was awesome. We were all so free with Steve playing. And now, everyone has to be on their game the whole night. Anything that lingers on two bars too far in any direction feels like way too long with this band," says Holstein. Janover adds, "Each one of us has a huge responsibility for holding the whole thing together, on the fly, with the audience watching. Everything that you could imagine is going on, and we don't have the slightest clue what is going to happen a nanosecond ahead of time."

Be sure to keep an eye on JamBase as this is only a taste of what we have in store for Zilla. Full feature to hit later this month...

Tanner Wyer
JamBase | San Francisco
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[Published on: 7/14/05]

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screaminniemann starstarstarstarstar Fri 7/15/2005 12:13PM
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Way to go Tanner. You continue to wow and amaze me with your insightful articles. - Niemann

TennJedEye starstarstarstarstar Mon 7/18/2005 08:32AM
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I saw these guys in Denver after the Cheese show this past March, wow!!! This is an accurate article. Go see Zilla!

lorena starstarstarstarstar Mon 7/18/2005 01:37PM
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i saw zilla on jc3 and fell in love w/ them right away. not only amazing in their music but as people too. check out jamie's site- (can you tell i'm infatuated?) thanks to jambase and tanner for such a great article!