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I do love me a slightly self-loathing English keyboard player, so I was just delighted by Zulu Winter’s Dom Millard, as much as I was surprised by his DL attitude. London-based Zulu Winter has only existed for about a year, but the onslaught of praises for the quintet’s first double A-side last November set off a bidding war for the polished atmospheric rock of “Never Leave” and “Let’s Move Back to Front.” It’s nothing to be self-deprecating about.
Like Friendly Fires, but orchestral, like Coldplay, but syncopated, Zulu Winter pick up the baton of anthemic guitar-driven pop and run with it. Their debut album Language dropped last month to praises for its finely-crafted guitar pop, and they’ve already toured Europe opening for Foster the People.
They were in New York City on Tuesday to play Mercury Lounge for the first time when I caught up with Zulu Winter’s master of keys. Despite the fact that calling someone in downtown Manhattan on their UK cell phone is never a good idea, Dom’s awesomely caustic opinions came through loud and clear. The whiz behind Zulu Winters’ magical layers of organ and synth dropped some knowledge about the British rock tradition, and the cultural vacuum it all comes from. That, and he narrated a near-shoplifting experience, and watched a drunk guy getting thrown out of a Soho pharmacy.
So what are you doing in town?
We got in last night. We’re doing show at Mercury Lounge tonight, and then we’re making our way up [to Toronto] for NXNE. We were here just after we played in SXSW in March, but it’s the first time we’re doing our own show.
Where are you all from originally?
Just outside London, in Oxford.
Do you think there’s a rock tradition in Oxford you’re drawing from?
I don’t know about that. Everywhere we’re being brought up where we’re shit bored and there’s nothing to do. It’s very shit and boring. They just want to get together and make music. It just happened to be that one of the biggest bands in the world [Radiohead] come from Oxford. Life in Britain is quite boring, so kids in the country just get together and make music.
And you’re talking about the entire United Kingdom now.
The entire UK is rubbish. Youth turn to crime, or or turn to drugs, or join a band. That’s the easy way, out isn’t it?
How does America compare to you?
America is so large. You’ve got West coast and East coast, and massive land in the middle. It’s difficult to equate it. The only thing we’ve got in common is we speak English. I don’t think we don’t have anything else in common besides that. I feel more in common with people from Holland than America.
America feels foreign to you.
Especially New York. It’s strange because it should feel like home because everyone speaks in English. I was just in a drugstore on Lafayette St. and I don’t recognize any of the products!
You’re in a drugstore?
Yes, but don’t ask me what I’m buying.
Okay, it can be your secret. What is it about New York?
London’s spread out, New York is just really high. London is just fucking endless. New York is a really cool place. We can never get bored. Whereas Oxford is quite boring…I nearly walked out of a shop without paying for something.
Are you paying for it now?
Yeah, I am paying for it.
Now you have to tell me what you’re buying.
It’s a pair of reading spectacles for my tour manager. The tour manager lost his reading spectacles and I said that I’d go get him some new ones.
That’s nice of you!
Yeah, he’s a nice guy.
What do you think of comparisons of Zulu Winter to Coldplay?
I’m not entirely sure about that. I don’t suppose it matters. It doesn’t bother me. If people do than they do.
So you don’t have any special affinity for Coldplay?
Not particularly. I don’t mind them. It doesn’t bother me that we get compared. But it’s not something we’ve actively sought out and been attracted to. It came as a surprise to us. We could be compared to a lot worse bands.
What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
I used to listen to a lot of kraut rock: Kraftwerk, Neu!, Harmonia. Then, major rock bands like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones. You can’t really come from England without being a Beatles fan. And a bit of Radiohead as well, thrown in.
How did you get started?
We’d just been friends, we met at school, and we’ve been writing music for quite a while now. The way that they formulate the writing process, it instantly happens the right way or it might take a few years — and that’s absolutely what it was for our band. And we came out with a record people are interested in listening to.
What does each player bring to the band?
Guy, the drummer, he brings drums (laughs). Guy’s like an atypical drummer. He’s the most together of everybody, and in control. Henry, the guitar player — we make a lot of the sonics of the album. Will [Daunt]‘s got an amazing voice. All the chicks dig Iain [Locke], and he’s a good bass player.
What about you?
I just play keyboard. I use my original synthesizers that are old and heavy and my tour manager has to freight around the world. But he works for Aphex Twin and I think he understands the difference between the Godwin String Concert and the sound of a Korg on a Macbook Pro. Even though it’s a pain in the ass…This is the worst interview ever. I’m watching a guy get kicked out of the drugstore.
I think he was just drunk. Welcome to NY, eh?
Well, it is already 11 a.m.
Yes, time for elevenses (laughs).
What are you looking forward to on this tour?
I’m looking forward to Mercury tonight. We’re playing a show at 2am. We’re in America, just being here is really exciting. It’s better than being at Oxford. You’ve got to remember that Oxford is for super-bright kids and they’re kinda like, everyone is a bit stiff. I don’t have anything in common with them. You’ve got a lot of people that are into rowing and stuff like that. I don’t really see the fun in rowing a boat.
Why did you name your band Zulu winter? Is anyone Zulu?
I don’t remember why we decided to call the band Zulu winter. No one can really remember why, or even who came up with it. At first we thought it was strange, and now I really like it. It’s quite difficult to name a band. Like the Beatles is a great name, Rolling Stones. Hard to think of a band that’s got a really good name and the band is terrible.
Anything else you’d like to add?
No, I think that we’re alright. I think that I’ve made as big an ass of myself as I could have. So yeah, it’s good.