"The Chimeras are an underdog band," says guitarist Pete Milner, "and we're lucky to be alive."
Lead singer Lawrence Zubia can hardly disagree. "There's been a lot of shit that could have sank any sane person into getting a day job and quitting the whole thing."
Quitting is one thing the Chimeras haven't done. At Rosita's, a central Phoenix Mexican restaurant that's been a favorite of Zubia and his brother and bandmate Mark since childhood, the air over the table is filled with the overlapping chatter of Chimeras members. Bassist Scott Andrews is animatedly describing the previous night's hectic Green Day concert, which he witnessed from backstage. Drummer Gary Smith is talking about his recent stint as a juror in a child-abuse trial, and Milner is rehashing that day's final exam at ASU.
Suddenly, Mark Zubia pulls the plug on the conversation.
"Wait, wait, wait," he says. There's a mariachi song playing over the restaurant speakers. "Listen to how this changes ... right ... here."
The Zubias grew up listening to their father, Raoul, who played mariachi almost every weekend. Lawrence and his father performed together at KZON's annual Christmas show in December 1994.
The musicians all listen to the song on the radio, utter a collective "hmmm," and then fall back to their earlier conversations.
Right now is a good time for the Chimeras, and they probably know the difference between good times and bad better than any other Valley band. The group recently released its first album, Mistaken for Granted, and is closing in on a record deal. A West Coast tour with Dead Hot Workshop is planned for the near future.
The band was born early in 1993. The Zubia brothers--fresh from dismantling their former band, Live Nudes--teamed up with bassist Scott Andrews, drummer Mark Riggs and original Gin Blossoms guitarist Doug Hopkins, and quickly became known for a style that combined Hopkins' three-minute-pop brilliance with the Zubias' soulful, blues-influenced rock. According to Mark Zubia, they took the name "Chimeras" from a Greek word that described a "she-woman fire-breathing beast, with the head of a lion, body of a goat and tail of a serpent."
The Chimeras rocketed onto the music scene. Just a few weeks after the band materialized, it became one of the most-booked and best-recognized ensembles in Tempe. The band's first gig was before a capacity crowd at the now-defunct Edcel's Attic. In record time, rumors were bouncing off the barroom walls that the Chimeras would be the next band signed out of Tempe.
But the Chimeras seemed to fall apart as quickly as they came together. Hopkins abruptly left the band after a discouraging performance at a music festival in April 1993. Riggs quit because of personal problems. Bookings plummeted and dragged the band's morale down with them.
"We went through five months without another guitarist," remembers Mark Zubia. "We were very depressed. Pete [Milner] has told me how depressed we looked when we played."
"For four months, we paid for our rehearsal shed out of our own pockets," adds Andrews. "And then we'd all just go there and sit looking at each other."
After six months of limbo, Milner filled the hole that Hopkins left. The band members collectively cajoled Gary Smith--who was playing with Swamp Cooler--into sliding behind the drums.
The reconstituted Chimeras quickly started writing new material, and within weeks the band once again was a staple ofclub listings. New Times named the Chimeras Best Alternative Band of 1993.
In December of that year, however, the bad times returned with a vengeance. After suffering through several years of alcohol abuse and severe depression, Doug Hopkins killed himself. Hopkins had remained friends with the band, even after leaving. It was Lawrence Zubia who discovered Hopkins' body in the guitarist's apartment early one Sunday afternoon.
Performing was no escape from grief. Hopkins had written a large portion of the Chimeras' material, and every set the band played brought poignant reminders of his suicide.
Then, after years of his own excessive drug and alcohol use, Lawrence finally arrived at what he terms "the crossroads." He found himself fighting the same problems that caused Hopkins to shoot himself.
"I could not go any further," Lawrence says. "It came to a decision of whether I was going to continue my life like this or not continue my life at all.
"Now I look back and think, 'How did I do all of the mathematics?' Like, it would be a Thursday; I'd think, 'I gotta play tomorrow. It's midnight. Okay, I can take 14 of these pills, and then by six o'clock tomorrow evening, I'll start feeling somewhat okay. I'll drink four beers. I can play.'"