Mesa's reggae/punk outfit Authority Zero has come a long way over the course of its nearly two-decade career. The band quickly moved up from intimate (often free) local shows to playing Warped Tour and, eventually, touring the world. Authority Zero is now a household name in the local scene, an Arizona trademark like Jimmy Eat World and the dearly departed Format.
Authority Zero's future looks even brighter now, as the group will release its sixth studio album, The Tipping Point, on Tuesday, April 2. The album is as fast and furious as ever, and frontman Jason Devore goes as far as to say he hasn't felt this way about an album since A Passage in Time was released. The album is full of energy, occasionally cooling down for mellow reggae songs, all the while emphasizing the band's "stand up for what you believe in and don't let anyone slow you down" ethos.
We had a lengthy phone conversation with Devore to discuss the new album, what keeps the band in Arizona, lineup changes, the local music scene, and how a bad relationship inspired one of the band's catchiest songs.
Jason Devore: The upcoming album is called The Tipping Point. It's a title based off of a Malcolm Gladwell book and [the album] is coming out April 2. It was recorded with Cameron Webb out of Maple Studios in Santa Barbara, and it's coming out on Hardline Entertainment.
Why did you name it after the Malcolm Gladwell book?
While we were trying to figure out the title and all that, we were coming up with some stupid, silly names and a buddy of mine actually gave me the book before we hit the road just after we recorded the album. Reading into it, it seemed like it made a lot of sense. The whole concept of it is based around little things making a big change and causing big epidemics to happen by those small little changes. It seemed to make sense given the history of the band and signing with everything.
What were some of the biggest inspirations and themes of this album?
With a lot of the other albums, it's more life experience and things that are going on within the band, as well in general. There wasn't a whole lot of musical inspiration with other bands and all of that. That's a question I've got before: What we were listening to, but you just try not to listen to a whole lot of music when recording to keep it as original as possible. Again, it was life experiences and things we went through on the road.
What about themes?
After looking back at it, the major themes are taking chances, doing what you feel is right in your heart and doing it to the fullest and pushing as hard as you can. If you want something to happen, you've gotta work for it and you've gotta keep on pushing for it.
I remember seeing you guys way back in the day playing free shows at Zia. It seemed like every time I saw you guys over the years, you had a larger and larger crowd, and now you're in video games and you're touring the world. How would you explain that explosion of popularity? How have people been finding you?
I don't even know, a lot of it's the Internet and little things like that with the video games. I've actually heard that a few times at shows, people are like, "I found you on this video game" with "Revolution," so it actually did do some kind of good. Like, "I'd never heard you guys until then." I'm like, "A video game?" [Laughs] That's pretty cool. It's one of those things when you first start doing that, you think it's kind of cool because it's Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and that's something that's kind of rad, anyways, but you never think that's actually going to reach that many people, especially abroad.
How have your overseas shows gone? What are some of your most memorable experiences?
I'd say there's two that stand out the most for me. The first time we ever went to Europe, it was in this little youth hostel kind of place. We didn't know what to expect, we'd never been here, we heard some feedback on Facebook about kids trying to get us over there, but there hasn't been a huge epidemic or anything like that. It was just a couple here and there, and the first time we went there and played a show in Belgium, it was like a 300-capacity room with the kids packed in.
They were drinking tons of Belgian beer, it was packed and they were pretty much giving it away. The kids just went apeshit. They were on stage just killing it, jumping off, being crazy. This is awesome, this is really cool -- these kids have so much heart. They're totally into it, they're like, "I've waited 10 years for you guys to come here," and I'm like, "Thanks for sticking around." You never know what's going to happen to the band after seven years when they first heard about you back in the early days, so it was pretty cool to see that.
The second was probably we played Groezrock [festival in Belgium] last year. [It is] one of the biggest festivals over there. We played at like 6 in the afternoon to like 10,000, people and it was insane. It was one of those really cool moments knowing that you were overseas and not just in your hometown or something close by and seeing that kind of reaction of those people. It was really cool.
18 years is a long time. What has kept Authority Zero going over the years? Just, honestly, it's a love of the music and a love of the energy and the fans in general. It's actually gotten to the point where people more than just us care about it as much as we care about it, if not more even at this point. Seeing the reactions, the e-mails, the interactions of the effects that we've somehow had on people like the bands I grew up listening to had on me. Kind of makes you think there's no other choice. You see how much interaction with the people you play with and talk to, you just want to keep up doing that for the fans and keep on coming out and playing for them as well as yourself.
Do you still live in Phoenix? Yeah, I'm in the South Tempe area.
What keeps you here? A lot of people pack up and leave and try to make it in New York or Los Angeles or whatever, but you're still here.
I've been asked this before too -- [whether] we ever contemplated moving to Los Angeles to try to break out. We're like, "No, we never considered that." We like it here. We're kind of a weird band: We weren't a punk band, we weren't a rock band, we weren't anything, really we were our own band, and I think that helped us stand out a little bit.
The end result was better than being one of those bands that move to try to make it big or whatever. We really had no rhyme or reason for what we're doing; we're just doing it. We love it and we just have fun with it. Things change over the years, obviously. People grow up and have gotten older and things have gotten a little more serious and whatever, but ultimately that was never really the idea to go out and try to make it big.I've had friends who live in other parts of the country get excited that I live in Arizona because of bands like Jimmy Eat World and Authority Zero, so I'm glad you guys are still a significant part of the local music scene.
Me, too. I think that's cool. You don't see a lot of bands really come out of Arizona and I think it's cool that we're hopefully helping put Arizona on the map by being a part of that.
I feel like the music scene has grown a bit in the last few years, too.
I think so, too. I think there was a really stagnant area for a while there, we were on the road a lot, but I did see with my buddies' bands playing out in this part of town that it seems like it's sort of coming back around. Kids are helping each other out and realizing that you need to work together to make this a scene.
Why do you play so many solo shows?
I just love it. I have so much fun, it's a totally different dynamic than we do Authority shows, it's almost the yin and yang of . . . What we do with Authority, it's just one instrument. It's different. It's a different style of music and I've got a lot of buddies out here and we have a great time doing it. I've got friends that come out and play with me sometimes and again with that little block of time that I am home, I try to fit in as many as I can before I take off on the road again because you never know when you're actually going to be back. I just try to spread it out throughout the West Valley and East Valley, and they're just a lot of fun.
So, there's a lot of music in your life.
There is. When I'm not with Authority, I'm doing music otherwise or I'll be writing and trying to be creative.
What do you think you'd be doing if you weren't in a band?
I don't know, all I ever wanted to do before I got into playing music was professionally skate or snowboard. That was kind of what tied me into punk rock and music in general. It kind of came with the territory. I don't know what I'd do, honestly. My only goal and dream really at that point was to do that and then start playing music and . . . If it wasn't with Authority, I'd still be doing acoustic stuff or playing music with someone else.
One thing I noticed about this album is the punk and reggae songs were more separated from each other than previous works. Did you set out to do that?
It truly worked out like that. We've got new members, so it's no big surprise that those individual members are bringing in their personal tastes of music. It's the first time it's ever been so different that they make things stand out and make sense in a weird way, if that makes sense. We were somewhat consciously not trying to the same route we had in the past, and try to do something different with it. It's a little more thought through, I guess.
Like, "Here's this weird chucka-chucka guitar beat kind of thing." We tried to get a little more groovy with it and try something weird compared to what we've done before. Ultimately, we got done and we were like, "What just happened, what did we just do? I don't even know if it was good or bad." Okay, that's cool, I get it. It didn't make sense at the beginning, but now it kind of makes sense.I know the album comes out in April and I saw you guys recently posted an in the studio video. Did you finish the album pretty recently?
Yeah, we got done with the album, what was it . . . It was after the month of September. We got done before the New Year. We backtracked the studio blogs to kind of spread it out. We were out there for about a month, a month and a half at most and we got it all finished up last year.
Did it all come together pretty fast? I remember reading a quote about how you can quickly write songs in a couple of minutes.
Yeah, I do, but it's a lot more with the solo stuff because there's no outside opinion. There's a lot of times where I'm feeling completely 100 percent, there's a lot of honesty involved with the guys. They've got their own opinions and their own take on stuff, so it takes a little more time. It's cool, it makes it more eclectic and gives it more variety and gives it some more perspective in a weird way. But, yeah, it takes a little bit of time, but the ideas behind the songs were coming pretty naturally and perfect.
Authority Zero recently had a couple of longtime members leave. What happened and how have you adjusted since?
Bill took off -- he was the original guitar player. We started this band together back in the day and that was one of the hardest initial shocks for me, to be honest with you. Jeremy [Wood] left the band for about two years and then in 2008, Bill [Marcks] decided . . . He had a family starting off and he got a place in town.
We don't make a lot of money doing this. It's not real rock star stuff; you do it for the love and passion of it, and unfortunately after a while, once you've got a family coming in and you're not making a lot of money doing this, you have to reassess. Obviously, he chose family. He did that, and we got some new guitar members. Over time, a couple different guys.
Shortly after 2012, Jim [Wilcox] left the band to go do new things. It's one of those things -- he had done it for so many years, and some people just want to do something different. It was really hard to keep everything together keeping the music going, keeping it positive, and keeping it real with different members coming in and keeping them happy and stoked after the changes, but once you get out there it's all good [laughs]. You start playing the shows, you adjust, it takes a little bit of time to feel comfortable on stage with new people and for them to feel comfortable too, it's like starting a new family. It's been pretty consistent.
From what I've seen online, Authority Zero only has one show in the works right now. Are you planning any sort of local album release show?
Yeah, we've got something coming up. We're talking about Zia Records. We try to do that the best we can with them in the local scene. We're going to probably do something pretty big. We're talking about doing something around March so people can come down and actually hear the record, and then we're going to do something the day of the release, I think possibly an instore live performance at Zia Records, so that's all being worked out. Then we hit the road the day after and we play Russia.
Wow, have you been there before?
No, it's our first time, so we're excited. It's going to be a lot of new European stops like Italy and we're doing Spain a couple nights out there with Pennywise and A Wilhelm Scream, so it's going to be a good tour, a good first tour of the year.
Upon finishing the album, you said you haven't felt this way since A Passage in Time came out. What makes you feel that way?
So much hard work went into it and a couple of members don't live here, so they had gone out of their way to fly out here and live on my floor and be away from their loved ones for a long time, even when we were just writing the album before we went out to California for a month to record it. There's so much excitement going into it, and just the development of it was really cool to see.
At first I didn't know what we had, we had been working on songs a lot, we had been rearranging and rewriting and tearing things apart and then in the end, working with a new producer with Cameron and everything, it was a different experience in general, and that was one of the exciting things about it. It's about trying new experiences and it was the first time I'd done that in awhile, being a producer. Just the energy of the whole thing seemed really, really good. Everybody was excited, we were listening to it in the studio just rocking out, like 'man this is awesome,' we were freaking out.
Just that idea, feeling like it's your favorite album that came out this year and knowing that it's not just you individually that feels that when everyone else is stoked on it, it's got the energy up. It makes you feel like you're not starting over again, but it was a fresh, new turn around, especially just before the New Year, it was really exciting. I'm still excited.
Passage in Time is over 10 years old. How do you feel about it today?
I feel old. About the album in general, I'm still as stoked on it now as I was back then. It still encompasses everything that we're about and that we've been doing, all the things we still believe in and care about. It was produce differently, there was a big, open sound with a lot of different elements in it and a different way of recording, I just love it. i still do, it's still my favorite sometimes.What inspired "Super Bitch?"
"Super Bitch" was inspired by an ex-girlfriend of mine who . . . I was 17, and I was dating this girl and I was head over heels for her, pretty much. I had to drive her out to her house in Glendale one night after we were partying pretty hardcore in Mesa and she just had to go home that night around 3 o'clock in the morning. [I said,] "I can't take you home right now, this is not going to happen -- it's not good, it's not safe, it's just stupid."
She insisted pretty much, so I had to drive her to Glendale and I got pulled over. I ended up getting arrested that night with a DUI. After I got released, she still insisted I drive her the rest of the way to her house and after that, I asked if I could spend the night there and she said no, so after that, I had to drive all the way back home and the next day she broke up with me, so I wrote a little song about her and I think many men and many women can relate to that story.
Yeah, definitely. I had no idea it was that involved.
That was a bad one [laughs], I shouldn't talk about it, but that's what it is.
At least bad experiences make for good art.
Don't drink and drive and don't trust anyone.
Tell me a little bit about the song "For the Kids."
The concept behind that, because one of them was actually...I wrote it acoustic, it was going to be another solo song because it was really organic and acoustic, I thought this might sound good if we put it to full production and added guitars and all of that, and we did, and it's all about the past members, it's pretty much about being young and all of the time and energy that everyone put into it and the love and the heart and the sacrifice, and all of the kids that were there along the way and have been along the way, and they have kids now. It's very much paying homage to the history of the band and the history of the band. It's pretty much thanking everybody for everything, all of it.
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How do you decide what becomes a solo song or an Authority Zero song? Most of my solo stuff is a little more sing-y, it's just different. That's what I did in the first place, like, "Eh, I could see us playing this song, but it's a little too whatever." It wouldn't be a full on high-energy style, it's a little more influenced by acoustic artists and things like that, but you just kind of know when you know. Songs pop up and you're like, I could see that on stage with Authority kind of deal. You separate them pretty easily.
Jason Devore is scheduled to perform a solo show at Joe's Grotto on Friday, February 15.