Perfectly Weird

Happily, Zmrzlina's members aren't sure what their own music sounds like

Nowhere is this more evident than in a new song the band is practicing called "Supermarket Radio." Rich and densely layered with grooves, the song is liable to remind one of a dozen different groups or genres of music, without really sounding quite like anything you've heard before.

Listening to the band describe the song is almost as much fun as hearing them play it -- and certainly, it's just as challenging to keep up. "It's basically about the music you hear on the supermarket radio," begins Ray, who works at Rainbow Grocery. "It's about an old star who ends up in Vegas. I went to Community Thrift and got all these Engelbert Humperdinck albums, all this cheesy stuff, and then I went over to Sean's, and we sampled the stuff and got it on the keyboard. So then Sean hops on the bass, while Mark is on the keyboard, the Chaos Pad, he's coming up with where to put it -- "

"Then Tracy jumps on guitar," adds Frischman.

"No -- I'm on violin," says Hankins, "but I'm on your rig with a delay."

"See," says Snider, "since he was on the keyboard, she went and plugged her violin into his guitar effects."

"I had a whole new set of pedals to work with," says Hankins, "and it actually opened up a whole new set of sounds on the violin."

"Sean puts in this rippin', Black Sabbath kind of bass part," says Ray, "and they go off each other, and then we have a long jam and I put on the wah-wah thing, and so it turns into a disco groove -- "

"And the idea," concludes Frischman, "is that it would not quite be right, but it would have this reference to kind of like Muzak and to bad '80s disco. But at the same time, no one who hears the song is ever going to recognize it as Muzak samples."

"Let's hope not," says Snider.

The product of this sort of open collaboration is a song that starts out, true to form, with a Curtis Mayfield-like groove, spurred by Dorn's bass and Snider snapping on the high-hat cymbal; Ray introduces an atmospheric guitar riff, and suddenly the song explodes into a dense, vintage Pavement-like cacophony, as Ray belts out the lyrics in his distinct, nasal voice.

The collaboration also produced a debut album that, despite being recorded in bits and pieces over two-plus years by Goldring in San Francisco and Myles Boisen in the East Bay, sounds remarkably cohesive, even as it ranges from the quirky, pretty ballad "Fantasy" to the high-powered country rawk of "Wonderland" and "Hiptown" to the utterly indescribable "Psychedelic Bluegrass." Ray says the band has had some indie label interest, but remains unsigned for now.

Asked how he deals with Zmrzlina's unique approach as a producer, Goldring says, "First thing is to try and stop everybody talking at once, so I can actually find out what they're going on about. They're excitable but everybody in that band has something they're really good at. You know, Sean is brilliant -- you could put some weird analog synthesizer in front of him, and in a matter of seconds he's come up with some brilliant part. And everybody has their roles.

"I like dealing with them," he adds, "'cause their music's quite skewed. I can't use my regular aesthetic for dealing with rock music that I'm used to dealing with in the studio. It's exciting, it's definitely not like any other band I've had to deal with. It's a wrestling match, you know? But not an unpleasant one."

The open, collaborative spirit of Zmrzlina extends to the music community as a whole. Not only does the group delight in writing songs about its favorite local bands, like Fantasy and 50 Million, but it also frequently works with members of other bands and organizes thematic shows. When Ray read about the impending eviction of the St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church in SF Weekly, he immediately set about organizing a benefit concert, which will be held March 15 at Bimbo's, featuring the Broun Fellinis and the Coltrane church band.

While he laments the closing of clubs such as Star Cleaners and the Chameleon, and admits that the current situation in the Mission is "disheartening," Ray says, "At least we're trying. There's something I started called the Mission Creek Music Festival, and it happens every year at El Rio." The festival, which will be in June this year depending on the band's tour schedule, pulls in musicians of every sort, most of whom live in the Mission, like Carney, Beth Lisick, Virginia Dare, and Tom Armstrong. "The festival has become a big annual event for musicians in the Mission," says Frischman. "It unifies the community. It's like a music community event."

That's rare enough in a town that increasingly seems more likely to host a Web designers' convention than a music festival. But that's the kind of band Zmrzlina is -- sincere, optimistic, and, as Carney says, mixing the ice cream metaphor somewhat, "like Almond Joy -- indescribably delicious."

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