Tucked under Union Hall, music bleeds from the vents at around midnight, occasionally interrupted by screams of scarfies. The stage is filled by six band members, belting out reggae-rock-R&B fusion. The energy is electric, with booze flowing and everyone letting loose.
Sons of Zion has been on the scene for nine years, and recently finished an international tour, travelling the States, and are finishing up their domestic tour. They’re known for kiwi classics, such as “Drift Away” and “Fill Me Up”. They’re well known here, as well as in Hawaii, where they have a large following.
I talked to Matt Sadgrove, the bassist, songwriter, and producer for Sons of Zion, after their set, looking to get some insight on the release of the new album “Vantage Point,” and just to get a feel for the band in general.
The audience had all left, with only the bands and the bar staff remaining, but the energy was still running high. Laughter echoed through the band room and everyone was talking, splayed on couches and leaning against guitar cases and equipment. Matt peeled himself away from the praise and gratitude of one of the musicians who had played earlier, which he accepted humbly. We pulled up a bar stool and got started.
He immediately gave off comforting vibes and made sure I was at ease before we began. I asked about how he would define Sons of Zion’s sound. He made it clear to me that it’s not exactly what it used to be.
“I think for the last album we did, Vantage Point, we let go of our expectations of staying in the market. We like to describe it as ‘fearless music’. Basically, we wrote what we wanted and hoped that other people would like it, that’s why we don’t sound the same as we did.”
Sadgrove spoke about the band’s newfound maturity and how him and other band mates becoming fathers had really changed their perspective on touring, giving them a greater appreciation of their music and their fans. When I asked him what it was like touring with kids he laughed and said, “it’s like punishment, like beautiful torture”.
“We don’t take our support lightly, every fan that comes to a show, every person that is willing to pay for a ticket, and you know, that’s a lot of money. I think having kids and getting older, we’re more appreciative and focus on giving people their money’s worth, hoping that we’ll connect with more people than we did before.”
We began discussing the band’s writing style, and the response to some of their new songs, ‘Drift Away,’ as an example. Particularly about how the song “has potential to be a pop record,” and how it “wasn’t produced enough”. Sadgrove doesn’t seem interested in making the pop songs that the industry may be expecting.
“What we’re trying to make now is the songs that stand the test of time. It’s instant gratification music now, people just move on. They hear a single, they move on to the next single and never listen to it again. We want to make a song like John Lennon’s ‘Imagine,’ which will never be an old song, every generation at some point will feel that song. I want to make that song.”
I asked about any big influences for the latest album, to which the answer was no. The band all comes from musical families, he is inspired by his grandparents. Drummer Sam’s dad is a famous Māori singer. Music is quite literally in their blood. In terms of musicality, their influences are eclectic.
“We listen to the most crazy styles of music in the van. Anything from death metal to hip-hop, gangster rap to the Eagles, James Taylor and Eric Clapton. No one style of music, but the crazy thing is we don’t listen to reggae, which I think is why the music has changed.”
Despite the rhythmic allure of reggae, there is a lot of importance placed on the lyrics of their songs. In terms of song writing, his biggest inspirations are the Eagles, the Beatles, and Ed Sheeran. He describes himself as “lyric focused,” and feels like a song has to say something. He leaves Easter eggs in some of the songs, just for the die-hard fans, and the people listening a little more carefully.
“When we first did ‘Stuck on Stupid’ and I was scared because I’d never done a reggae song before, I put in ‘look at the picture you’ve painted, it ain’t no Monet babe’. Most people who listened to the song think we’re saying money, and it’s not. I mean I’d just finished art history, and everyone just sings it without any thought. It’s cool, like little things we have, like ‘Fill Me Up’ a song about a toxic relationship, which people think is about alcohol. I feel like we did that the whole album, like tried to put in more depth than we usually do.”
The last question I asked him was if there’s anything the band regretted. Sadgrove has only been a part of the band for about four years, so he called over Rio, one of the original members, to answer my question. Rio shared the laid-back, comfortable attitude that seemed to be contagious and after a moment of thought, told me there were no regrets.
“If we didn’t do the things we’ve done we wouldn’t be where we are. It’s all learning and there probably are things we could have done better but then.. it’s not regrets, it’s all unknowns. We could have done something and ended up worse off.”
Sadgrove nodded, and Rio went back to packing up assorted equipment. The main thing the band thinks they could improve on is their social media, but that doesn’t seem to be up their alley: “I don’t want to know what Rio’s eating every second of the day”.
Sons of Zion’s diverse fusion of genre gives them something unique, and their intimate connection with the crowd leaves people wanting more. They’re set to release new music in the coming months, and are looking to tour more in the future. Their authenticity and down-to earth personalities shine on stage and makes their shows and songs something to be revisited. With a song to fit any mood, we can only await their next classic.