Chooglin' trombonist Zach Zins talks about playing Palmers and Europe


Chooglin' has accomplished a lot in five years. The seven-piece band has branched out from their hard rock/punk roots, expanding their repertoire into Memphis and R&B influenced rock, with ringleader Jesse Tomlinson emphasizing melodies along with the big riffs. After 2009's Sweet Time for Fat Possum subsidiary Big Legal Mess, the band is preparing to hit the studio for a follow-up. Before they can lay down any new tracks, however, Chooglin' has a run of four Saturday shows at Palmer's Bar and will follow that with a trip to France and Belgium in February.

Gimme Noise caught up with trombonist Zach Zins to talk about Palmer's, Norway, and being a rock'n'roll horn player.


City Pages: How is a residency gig like Palmer's different than a one-off show? Do you see a lot of the same people each week?

Zach Zins: Our approach isn't any different, because we always try to play as tight and as energetically as we can. But Palmer's is a bit different in that they treat us so well. The staff and ownership there does not fuck around when it comes to taking care of their bands. There are some spectacular humans over there. And the crowd is ideal for our music. Our tunes go pretty well with cheap whiskey, fine beer, and suspect bathrooms. Palmer's, as an old family friend of mine once put it, is a "professional's bar."--he wasn't talking about accountants. We definitely see a lot of the same craggy and beautiful faces, which is great. It reassures us that maybe we didn't suck the last time they saw us, and so they came back. There are always some new faces, though. We just hope they become familiar, too.

Following the Palmers shows, you're heading to Europe. How many times have you been there?

This will be our third trip to the motherland. We played the Down on the Farm Festival in Halden, Norway, back in August of 2009. Halden is a small, stunning town of great importance in Norway's history. The Norwegians repelled the Swedish hordes six different times during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries from atop the medieval fortress that overlooks Halden. They even whacked the Swedish king during one of the battles! We also played Bergenfest 2010 in Bergen, Norway last May. That was an unbelievable experience: Randy Newman, the Residents, the New York Dolls, Femi Kuti, Lou Reed, and Charlie fuckin' Watts all performed at the festival. We were like kids in a candy store running from venue to venue to watch all these great musicians.

Zach Zins and Jesse Tomlinson of Chooglin'

Zach Zins and Jesse Tomlinson of Chooglin'

Before you got there, did you have any idea you had a following in Norway?

We didn't know what to expect. The Norwegian festival promoters were alerted to us by Oyvind Pharo, who is a well-known rock critic in Norway. He was over here for the Deep Blues Festival in 2008 and saw us at a gig in the Entry. He really liked us, and he's been pimping us like crazy in Norway ever since. He's been a humongous help. And the fans in Norway have been unreal. They show up in droves; they show up with a buzz; and they dance like mad.

Guitars always get the most attention. What's the biggest challenge of being a rock horn player? Are there sound problems?

We're a big, loud band, so hearing ourselves is our biggest challenge. We rely heavily on sound guys to get us by. Personally, I also make sure not to knock my teeth out with my mouthpiece. I dance like a palsied Bill Cosby on crutches and crack, so my teeth--and my dignity--are in constant peril. And when all else fails, I'll stand around with my slide hand up my ass like Bill Wennington and watch Michael Jordan [Shawn Walker] play the drums.

How are you and the other horns involved in songwriting?

Sometimes Jesse shows up with fully formed horn parts, sometimes we flesh out a basic idea of his, sometimes we improvise until something sticks, and sometimes the horn players sit down and compose the horn parts from scratch. The latter is the most rewarding, of course, because you feel like you've really contributed. But I'm happy just to rock out with these guys, so I'll take what I can get.

Remaining Palmer's shows include: Saturday, January 15 with The Rockford Mules and Poverty Hash and Saturday, January 22 with The Millionth Word and Hamburger Help Me