British Zutons poised for American breakthrough

Jon Dieringer

The Zutons, performed at House of Blues Cleveland Tuesday night. The performance was at a sold-out show.

Credit: Beth Rankin

Commercial success isn’t always proportional to the size of a band’s tour bus.

Just ask The Zutons, who have received popular and critical acclaim in their native Liverpool, England on the strength of their first album, Who Killed The Zutons?, but are now touring the states for the first time as the supporting act for Keane.

Bassist Russell Pritchard said the band has enjoyed a bigger, better bus, one which contains all the amenities of a major-label band on the verge of a major breakthrough, but that doesn’t necessarily make navigating the ins-and-outs of the music industry any easier.

“It’s so big over here,” Pritchard said. “It must be really hard for an American band to break into America, let alone an English band.”

But Pritchard’s not holding a grudge against the country. The Zutons’ sound is very much rooted in American music, from jazz and funk to punk and country, all coming together seamlessly as what can simply be called rock ‘n’ roll.

“People say America’s got no culture, people say Hollywood is America’s culture, but I think that’s wrong,” Pritchard said. “I think American culture is music. . . . There are so many different people here from different parts of the world, so the music is the new culture.”

But unlike other bands who play their influences almost to the note — singer David McCabe snarled “Jet” with a blank expression at this suggestion — The Zutons’ sound is distinctly their own.

“That’s the reason we’ve been successful in Britain, because our song’s on the radio so people hear our music. And they like the music for the music, not because they see pictures of you all the time and read interviews,” Pritchard said.

And there are also the live shows.

“Gigging and stuff, we really enjoy that,” Pritchard said. “And people say that we’re kind of really

good at it.”

That’s a modest assessment. Tuesday night at House of Blues Cleveland, The Zutons were everything a supporting band shouldn’t be: the highlight of the night, a band that managed to raise more enthusiasm for the crowd than the main act.

When Keane played, the audience patiently waited for the between-song breaks to shout for the hit single “Somewhere Only We Know.” But when The Zutons played, the audience shouted for more.

They looked like a band having fun, like a bunch of friends who know each other well enough to read each other’s signals and play a tight set throughout.

Each member has his or her own distinct stage presence, which is especially true of quirky, charismatic saxophonist Abi Harding, who, when not attacking her instrument with all the ferocity of the boys with loud guitars, danced excitedly to the music.

The Zutons plan to spend the rest of the year touring Europe with R.E.M. and working on a new album.

“We’re just doing demos and stuff right now,” said Pritchard. “We’re trying to take our time, but we haven’t really had much time to do it.”

As for what the album will sound like, the band is as unsure as anyone. McCabe said he expects it to sound similar, but it depends on what they listen to.

He said it’s been The Coasters, Bobby Cohn, James Brown–and Public Enemy lately.

Is a Zutons rap in the works?

“Maybe!” McCabe and Pritchard both cracked at the same time.

“I mean, if we did it in the same style, I think we would get bored really quick,” McCabe said. “Keane does things in a lot of the same style, and good on them for keeping it up because, personally, I just can’t do that because it gets boring. You never know until you’ve gone in and done it, and that’s what’s exciting, really, about doing it.”

Contact pop arts reporter Jon Dieringer at [email protected].