By Cory Sklar
By Alee Karim
By Christina Li
By Dave Pehling
By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
Zen Guerrilla started finding its feet musically in the early '90s, so it created the indie label Insect to release its records, putting out a couple of singles, several EPs, and one LP between 1991 and 1995. Initially, the band's tours consisted of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and begging for burgers at fast-food joints, but, over time, Zen Guerrilla gained a reputation and high-profile tour partners like the Butthole Surfers, Jesus Lizard, Babes in Toyland, Hole, and Neurosis.
When Zen Guerrilla's members moved to San Francisco in 1995, Durant looked up Alternative Tentacles owner and punk icon Jello Biafra, who'd been giving Durant advice about running a small label since 1989. Biafra's label rereleased two Guerrilla EPs in 1997 and the album Positronic Raygunin 1998; Sub Pop picked up the act for 1999's Trance Stage in Tongues.
Trancewas a solid mix of sludged-out psychedelic riffage and soulful vocals, featuring an acid-soaked cover of Bowie's "Moonage Daydream." In order to support the album, the band toured all over the world, including a memorable stop at Spain's SerieB festival last September, when Zen Guerrilla filled in for headliners Limp Bizkit. "All the promoters were freaking out because they thought there was gonna be a riot," says Durant. "There were 20,000 people there and there wasn't proper security. We get onstage, and these people are throwing bottles of urine and yelling, "Where's our Bizkit?' We were in heaven, laughing our asses off, and everyone on the side stage was solemn. By the third song the crowd was enthusiastic. All of a sudden we made 20,000 [new] fans."
Zen Guerrilla's latest Sub Pop record, Shadows on the Sun, should make the group even more fans. From the amped-up back-porch jam of "Evening Sun" to the soul ballad "Fingers" to the acid rock instrumental "Subway Transmission," Shadows is the band's best album yet, fusing the blues and gospel fevers of Durant's youth with layers of heavy rock riffs like those of proto-metal acts Blue Cheer and the MC5.
As the band readies for another big tour, Durant discusses his recently shot Super 8 documentary Plasmic Tears and the Invisible City, which focuses on the plight of low-income and homeless men in the Tenderloin. "I can't help but look into the eyes of these guys and see my dad," Durant says. "San Francisco, for all its liberalism, definitely has its segregation neatly worked out. As rich as this city is, there's still people living on the streets."
For a moment, Durant sounds like one of the concerned preachers he listened to as a child. Then he switches over to talking about his true faith -- performing with Zen Guerrilla. "I get really caught up in the energy and the feedback of the crowd. It's really honest and it puts me in my own world. I try to give 100 percent [live] because I know the next day I won't be able to thank everybody for giving me that positive experience. It's a truly blissful, honest black magic that I'm very thankful for."