Waste of Mind, Zebrahead's debut album for Columbia Records, is a thirteen-song collection that spans the modern-music lexicon, fusing punk- edged rock and hip-hop in exciting new ways. The band employs two vocalists -- singer Justin "Goldtoof" Mauriello and rapper Ali Tabatabaee -- whose distinct and powerful styles give Zebrahead a unique and wonderful sound.
"Me and Ben and Ed started practicing together a couple years ago," say Justin. "And then Greg came in. And we were thinking how great it would be to not just have regular singing, but to have someone rapping, as well.
"Ali, who we all went to High School with, came on in and we tried to get a new sound going, just get a different edge. Once we tried it out we all left our other bands. It's got the best of both worlds."
Waste of Mind was recorded over two months in early 1998 in Sherman Oaks, CA, and was produced by veteran studio ace Howard Benson, who's also teamed in the past with Sepultura and Motorhead, and mixed by legendary engineer Chris Lord-Alge, whose resume includes everyone from Green Day to 10,000 Maniacs.
"There's so much talent in the band it just amazes me," says Justin. "Everybody has such diverse influences, and when we all put in our parts it turns out to be something pretty unique, and pretty special."
"Everybody brings in their own influences to the music," adds Ali. "I was always more into the rap stuff. I used to listen to N.W.A, Ice Cube, A Tribe Called Quest. But once I started hanging out with these guys I started also listening to a lot of new stuff, like Superchunk."
"My taste ranges," adds Justin, "but I'm always a sucker for a good melody. I was really into punk as a kid, bands like Descendents and Green Day, that were punk yet had good melodies. It had a big effect on me and my writing."
It didn't take long, once they had a few blowout club shows under their belts, For Zebrahead to get noticed, both by O.C. kids and by the record industry. A 10-song self-titled recording (known as the "Yellow" album) was released in early 1998 by Orange County indie label Dr. Dream Records, and contains early versions of some of the songs found on Waste of Mind, as well as some live tunes.
One of the early believers in the band was Alanis Morissette's producer, Glenn Ballard, who cast the guys in his upcoming "Clubland" film. Their high-energy song "Check" will also be featured on the Java/Capital Records soundtrack.
"Glenn's been great from the beginning," says Ali. "He saw us play a show at the Viper Room in L.A., and he really dug our music. He got us into the movie, had us filming for it and everything, playing in front of a hired crowd. None of us had done anything like that before."
"'Check'" was actually the first song we ever wrote together as a band," recalls Justin. "We started out with that killer bass line, then wrote the music around it. The chorus actually started out as 'take a bath, kid.' It sounded pretty good, but that song has come a long way since then."
Another component that sets Zebrahead apart from most other groups is the Overall positive attitude that's extolled in their melodic songs. "We try to have a positive outlook on life," says Ali. "I notice that a lot of the music that's out there lately is focused on the negative, and that's one of the things about Zebrahead that I like. It's OK to be happy, and to look on the positive side."
Among the highlights of Zebrahead's young career are slots on the Warped Tour in the U.S., and of course the the guest appearance on Waste of Mind by by one of their biggest fans, porno legend Ron Jeremy.
"I've always found the guy to be quite fascinating," laughs Justin. After one of our LA shows he came backstage to eat the free pizza with us and we decided to have a get- to-know-Ron session. We plan on calling the next album "Ron's Greatest Hits."