Up, Up and Away With ZLP

When Prince passed away – an event in music that seems to have occurred mere moments ago – it felt as though something had been irrevocably lost. Whom some referred to both affectionately and reverently as The Purple One was an unequivocal and indelible force in music history. Not only was his musicianship unparalleled, but his patent refusal to adhere to gender norms – both in attire and vocal affectation – was unprecedented. Frankly, nothing like Prince had happened in music before, but it is comforting to know that his influence lives on, notably in local R&B band The Zach Longoria Project, or ZLP.

“There were so many names,” says Longoria, lead singer and songwriter for the band, with chagrin. “It was just the one that stuck. I’m sure people think I’m really conceited, but it’s not like that.” I press him by making a joke regarding Fleetwood Mac’s storied troubles that lead to the creation of their celebrated “Rumours” album. “No, nothing like that!” laughs Longoria.

New Cd-page-001It’s difficult to describe how exactly, but looking at Longoria, it’s easy to arrive at the conclusion that he’s not only a singer but the frontman for a band. There’s an aura of coolness about him, but he also maintains an approachable demeanor, both essential qualities for serving as the face of a massive band. He also has that rare quality to his speaking voice that indicates that it has some mileage of passionate singing on it or maybe a cigarette or two. Probably both.

“I went to South Oldham, which has great music and band programs,” offers Longoria. “At the time, I was really into Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Prince.”

It is easy to hear these early influences in the band’s music now, especially since Longoria is ZLP’s primary songwriter. “When I first started, I went the folksy singer-songwriter route,” says Longoria, claiming that his music was akin more to that of John Mayer than anything else. Longoria continued down this path, using the opportunity to hone his skills in singing, songwriting and overall musicianship, even going so far as to win some songwriting competitions.

“The band sort of came together on its own,” explains Longoria. “It all came together, and we already had some original music. Everyone expected me to keep doing this singer-songwriter thing, so I decided to do the complete opposite.”

Longoria delivered on that promise in spades. ZLP is huge. It consists of Longoria on lead vocals, Gina C as lead and backup vocals, Paul Pickard on bass, Josh Anna on drums, Luis De Leon on percussion (bongos, timbales, etc.), Chris Grzech on keys, Aaron Cummins on lead guitar and Rick Benedetto, Thomaz Souza and Joseph Hannah on horns. Together, the band has played several notable functions including Attorney General Andy Beshear’s victory party, Actors Theatre’s Anniversary Gala and several events for Mayor Fischer.

ZLP will celebrate the release of their new album, “Up, Up and Away,” with an album release party on June 4 at 8 p.m. at Headliners. They describe themselves as “Kentucky Fried Soul,” and as I was given an advance copy of their album to listen to, I can say with an educated opinion that I agree with that assessment.

Their sound is reminiscent of Longoria’s early idols as well as indicative of more recent indie rock offerings such as My Morning Jacket. There’s a little bit of everything in this soup, but surprisingly, there is no compromise in quality. Standout songs include the title track “Up, Up and Away,” an anthem whose themes really show off Longoria’s writing chops. Next is “Heaven,” a composition that not only illustrates the ability and emotion behind his voice but also the incredible skill in the rest of the band. “That’s the song I’m most eager for people to hear at the release party,” attests Longoria.

Many artists argue over what an album is. Some say that it should be unified by theme or concept. Others’ aspirations are less lofty, merely wishing to create a collection of songs. “I wanted to make some songs to show where we are now, at the moment. No theme or pretense,” says Longoria. Give ZLP a chance, and you will be treated to some thoughtful music that pays homage to Prince and other greats. You’ll also hear some sounds that can only be described as distinct ZLP. A big album such as this one is usually an indicator for better things to come, and I have no trouble believing that sooner rather than later, ZLP’s career will be taken “Up, Up and Away.” VT