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The Zambonis

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Hockey Rock masters score hat trick on new LP

What started as a fun 'what if?' proposition has evolved into a joyous and celebrated institution. More than 20 years after forming, The Zambonis, the world's foremost purveyors of Hockey Rock, have returned with their best album to date, 'Five Minute Major (in D Minor).'

Hockey fans are as passionate about the sport as rock fans are about the music, and The Zambonis have offered the best of both worlds over seven hockey-themed albums.

'Five Minute Major' faces off with 'Brass Bonanza' the theme for the band's beloved Hartford Whalers for more than 20 years. The Zambonis' version combines surf guitar and drums, horns and even an electric sitar to form the definitive rendition of the happy, catchy tune which continues to be played during games in the band's home state of Connecticut.

The Zambonis' musical diversity has never been more impressive than on the new album. From the hard rocking 'Fight on the Ice' to 'I Got a Concussion (when I fell for you)' - which sounds like a long-lost 45 by Ronny and the Daytonas of 'Little GTO' fame - to the sweet 'Hockey Mom,' a tribute to the devoted mothers who cart their little Gordie Howes to rinks throughout the land. We even get a taste of The Zambonis recorded live with the harmony-rich, Tin Pan Alley-esque 'Happy When We're Winning.'

With 15 tracks each completely different in style from the last there is a lot to like on the new record. For me, the standout tracks are the rockabilly rave-up 'I'm a Puck' with its ultra-tasty James Burton/Brian Setzer-like guitar leads and the record's two musical nods to NRBQ, a band who define the term 'critically celebrated but commercially underappreciated.'

Last week, just before The Zambonis caught a plane to Lake Placid, N.Y. to perform at the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals, I caught up with Zambonis captain, founder, guitarist and vocalist Dave Schneider to talk about the band's history, the new album, life, love and hockey.

Dow: The new album has brought you even more fans. Did you think you'd still be a Zamboni after more than 20 years?

Schneider: The joy of being in this band is when we hear people say, 'I thought you guys were going to be really horrible but you are really good!' When people first hear the idea of a Hockey Rock band, they just expect the band to flat-out suck until they actually hear us. We take this music very seriously even when we perform it in hockey gear. The sweet spot is when we have fellow musicians tell us they like our band. This is a fun way to go about making music.

Dow: You and your wife had a baby a while back. What's it like to have a little Zamboni running around?

Schneider: Unfortunately, he's making me hate the new record because he only wants to hear three songs from it. He says 'Again, again, again!' My favorite song on the new record is called 'Captain' and man, do I hate it (laughing). 'Again! Cap'n! Cap'n! Cap'n!'

(Note: My conversation with Dave took place shortly before the Black Bears took on Boston University in the Hockey East semi-finals last Friday night in Boston).

Dow: UMaine and BU on Friday night in the semi-final - will Maine take it?

Schneider: I can guarantee Maine will take it.

Dow: Excellent.

(He was right. Maine beat Boston University 5-3)

Schneider: Unless of course, they lose.

Dow: (laughing) If I remember correctly, The Zambonis have played at UMaine before. We need to have you come back.

Schneider: That was a cool place. We played at Alfond Arena with Guster. At a lot of our gigs, people just wear their normal clothes, but at that Maine show, all of the fans showed up wearing UMaine hockey jerseys. It was very cool it felt like we were playing Canada. My Levees will play in Portland in December. (Schneider's other band, The Levees is a group devoted to indie-pop rockin' Hanukah songs. The group also includes Adam Gardner of Guster who writes the tunes with Dave). Adam is Jewish, like myself, and when we first got together, he said, 'Hey, let's write cool songs about being Jewish,' so we came up with three songs and got a record deal with Warner Brothers. I love hockey and I'm especially a fan of Jewish hockey players. The Levees are still together and we have a show coming up at Kent State University in Ohio on April 2. The Levees record has a big spot in both of our hearts.

Dow: What else would you like our readers to know about 'Five Minute Major' (in D Minor)? Aside from the fact that it's a great record.

Schneider: Well, that would be the first thing. It's family friendly but it still rocks. It's music that will last forever. It's timeless and it's about hockey. But it's also about life and love. It's the least pretentious record you'll hear all year!

Dow: You once shared the bill with Jewel and Five for Fighting during an All Star Game. Did you consider trying to recruit Jewel for The Zambonis?

Schneider: The other guys might have considered that, but I was more interested in her dog. I'm a dog guy, so I was busy playing with her dog while the rest of the Zambonis were trying to talk to Jewel. Recently, the Sound Tigers had a doggie day where you bring your dog to the game. It was the best day I've had there in 12 and a half years (laughing). (The Bridgeport Sound Tigers are the top minor league affiliate of the NHL's New York Islanders. Dave keeps thousands of fans entertained as the team's on-the-ice master of ceremonies).

Dow: Have you ever had a 'Spinal Tap' moment in The Zambonis?

Schneider: Oh yeah tons of them. We were doing an NHL gig once for about 3,000 people in the Washington Capitals arena. We were on a high stage and this little kid is pointing up at me saying, 'Can you sign this? Can you sign this?' and I said, 'Sure' and reached down when our bass player tapped me to turn around. This huge Capitals eagle mascot was standing behind me. The kid actually wanted the eagle's signature (laughing).

Five years ago, I met Dave and his wife Kate, while standing in line for the first of two shows which turned out to be the final concerts performed by the original NRBQ. We initially bonded over a mutual love for that band and decided to share a table inside the venue for an unforgettable show and, for me, a night of laughter courtesy of Dave.

Dow: The new album features two salutes to 'The Q' - 'Skating with Monk, NRBQ, a Spampinato and a Duck' and 'Wild Hockey Weekend.' What was it like to actually have Johnny Spampinato (guitarist for NRBQ for 13 years) play on those songs?

Schneider: Everyone in The Zambonis loves NRBQ. Johnny is a master guitar player. He showed up and we just goofed around in the studio for about three hours. He brought this really weird baritone guitar that John Sebastian gave him and did some stuff with that. I edited the track and mixed it up and it really works. We're not NRBQ and we're not (Thelonious) Monk but if they had tried to write a song about hockey, it might have sounded like that song.

Dow: It's mostly an instrumental but we do hear an occasional voice commenting through that track. Who is that?

Schneider: That's Johnny sitting in front of a mic after we finished recording it. He just closed his eyes and said things that came to him while he was listening to it in his headphones. It was done in one take.

Dow: 'Hockey Mom' is a great song. It's kind of amazing that you hadn't yet devoted a song to hockey moms before the seventh album.

Schneider: I wrote a song called 'Hockey Mom' about 12 years ago and it sucked. We're music fans - we take the music seriously and you've got to get it right. This one is right. It's got a great feel, a great kind of Keith Richards flow on the guitar but it's also touching a true story. That's my mom and it's a lot of moms. It's got a great intro and it even has a mellotron on it. We have a real mellotron in our studio. It's tricky to have all of this vintage analogue gear around and at the same time, there's a mellotron app on the iPhone that is perfect right now. Not a lot of hockey bands use a real mellotron on their songs anymore.

Dow: I read some internet scuttlebutt that you're working on a documentary called 'We are the Zambonis.' What sorts of career highlights will be featured?

Schneider: The NHL-affiliated stuff, the All Star Games we played at (2002 and 2011) our Colorado show (the band played in Denver in 1997 at an Avalanche pre-playoff game) was the first time when we said, 'Wait, there might be something here.' We didn't start the band with the idea of 'We could totally get linked up with the NHL,' we started it because we wanted to write a song about Wendell Clark (Toronto Maple Leafs) we wanted to write songs about hockey. It was a goofy idea. It's hard to do something that no one else has ever done and it's still going on 21 years later.

Career highlights? Definitely playing in an arena, sitting in a backstage room asking Patrick Roy and Mario Lemieux to please move over so we can get out and go play at the All Star game. Walking by the entire USA Hockey team and the NHL All Stars at the time, including Gretzkyto carry our guitars past those guys was just a surreal, bizarre moment. Another one is the time we played Latvia in a punk rock club called 'Saxophone' and having 150 Latvians sing our songs 'Breakaway' and 'Johnny Got Suspended' and knowing every word.

Dow: How did you end up going to Latvia?

Schneider: That happened during the NHL lockout (2005). We had a Latvian fan who had a connection with the Latvian president and they invited us over. At that time, a bunch of NHL guys were touring Europe during the lockout playing various teams, and they played Latvia. We played four gigs, including one at the arena, which was the coolest, weirdest barn in the old school sense of 'hockey barns' and we played other gigs around that. We played a gig there at a rock club called 'La Rocca.' We got off the plane and played a show at the mall Anson Carter and a bunch of NHL guys were there then we were carted off to Latvian MTV. We had a translator who was asking us questions and I thought it would be a good idea to promote our show at 'La Rocca.' As soon as I said, 'Be sure to check out our show tomorrow at 'La Rocca,' they were all waving their hands behind the camera, 'No! No! No!' so I thought I was mispronouncing the name of the club. I said, 'At La Roke!' and they are waving their arms 'No! No! NO!' and then cut to the next video. After the cameras are off, they tell me that 'La Rocca' is a Russian-owned casino and a house of ill-repute. I didn't realize I was promoting a gig at this horribly shady venue. It turned out to be an almost unbelievably wild place. A bunch of NHL guys were there with us it was a scary place but also beautiful. It was a very fancy casino and they put on a million dollar spread for us with a carved pig and fish. The NHL guys came to us and said, 'Zambonis, let's get out of here, man,' and we're like, 'We're with you,' so we played the gig and all went out and had an unbelievable time that night just dancing until 5 in the morning. We were so glad to get out of that club alive, and we just danced all night.

'Five Minute Major' (in D Minor) is available on CD and as a digital download at www.TheZambonis.com. 'Captain' is available as a free immediate download.

Mike Dow is part of 'The Mike and Mike Show' airing each morning on Kiss 94.5. Check him out at www.Facebook.com/MikeandMike and www.MikeDow.net.

Last modified on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 12:09

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