It's the day after a big-ass February snowstorm, and Zombie Season's bassist/vocalist Abby Faulkner and singer/guitarist Ali Jaafar are tucked inside a lovely white Victorian home in south Minneapolis. A quick climb over an enormous snow bank, through a little metal gate, and up to the door of the gingerbread wood-crafted house finds this interviewer greeted by Faulkner, who is wearing a pair of flowered ballet house slippers. She leads me inside to a big, cushy couch and offers me tea; both she and Jaafar seem charmingly nervous.
We are assembled to talk about Zombie Season's debut full-length album, Our Living Funeral, which was released last fall. This lush recording is filled with tales of longing, frustration, and a why-don't-you-love-me-style sorrow. Many of the songs are created as vignettes, painted in sepia tones, and given life through characters created by Jaafar. This unique approach to songwriting is born from Jaafar and Faulkner's literary backgrounds: Jaafar served as the editor-in-chief of the U of M's alternative magazine, The Wake, and Faulkner has a BA in creative writing from Macalester.
Jaafar says he takes his lyrical cues from novels or news stories, explores the emotions expressed, and distills them down to their very essence, like a perfect sauce.
"What will always inspire me is characters in weird situations, bizarre scenarios, things like old medical practices—and then placing myself in the story. What if I were the doctor?" Jaafar explains. "One of our songs ['The Reach'] is about a woman who promises her dying husband that she'll wait for him to re-animate after his death. Then he comes back as a zombie and finds out that she cheated on him! And he kills her!"
I ask Jaafar if his lyrics are ever autobiographical. "Yeah, they are personal in that I identify with the situation somehow," he says, "but I would gravitate towards writing a song about a nomadic group dying out rather than saying, 'I am sad.'" The nomads he speaks of show up in "Desert Moon," where Jaafar sings: "We'll make this wasteland our only home/We'll comb the outskirts for some kind of warmth/We'll find the vestments of our brother's corpse/Keep as protection from something worse."
Jaafar's voice is black-velvet smooth, alternatively infused with an aching whisper, a frustrated tremble, and an epic roar. Zombie Season's songs are reminiscent of DeVotchKa in both vocal quality and the hybrid nature of the music—there is an old-time Western jangle in their songs, along with strains of Joy Division.
Jaafar and Faulkner have a natural camaraderie. When crafting songs, Jaafar first creates the structure and then works with Faulkner on the melodies before they bring the piece to the rest of the band.
Their alliance is strongly felt in the song "Big Casino," as they sing together like a sideshow huckster with a handlebar moustache harmonizing with his ratty sequined leotard- and feather headdress-clad assistant. But these songs, mystically infused with smoke and shadow, contrast with Jaafar and Faulkner's warm and goofy personalities.
Formerly a three-piece, Zombie Season is now a five-piece, with Ryan Dodge on drums, Patrick Larkin on guitar, and Matthew Byrnes on organ. Live, the band members have a natural cohesiveness and frenetic energy. Their sound is rich, with Byrnes's keyboards creating a grandiose feel.
"We are working more on dynamics rather than just playing loud all the time," says Faulkner. "It used to be fun to just be really loud, but now it is more technical."
After the interview, Jaafar shows me his '70s Kimball organ, its keyboard in perfect condition, with cool under-lighting and rainbow-colored keys. He found this organ in a "free stuff" ad on Craig's List and picked it up at a house on an unlit street in Apple Valley from a man Jaafar describes as both "creepy" and "non-verbal."
It turns out many of Zombie Season's instruments were obtained this way.
"I wanted a hollow-body guitar, and I had wanted one for a long time, but I wanted a cheap one. I found this really cool and nice one on Craig's List and went to pick it up in a weird suburb at an antique store I remember being called something like Annie's Backdoor," Jaafar says, laughing. "I got the owner (presumably Annie) to trade 75 percent of the cost of the guitar for an old banjo I had, which I had originally traded some speakers for. Oh no—wait, now you are going to get an angry email from Annie—'Hey! It's not called Annie's Backdoor, it's called Annie's Upperdeck!'"
ZOMBIE SEASON play with Bouncer Fighter and Junkyard Empire on SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 28, at the BEDLAM THEATRE; 612.341.1038