Newport, R.I., is known for its Gilded Age mansions, beautiful coastline providing sailing, surfing ,and swimming, and its music scene, hosting events like the Newport Folk and Jazz festivals. Born out of the latter two features is surf rock power trio the Z Boys, who will be performing at the Ritz on Friday, June 29.
While surf rock is the tie that binds the band’s sound together, they draw from jazz, Latin, metal, funk, and even disco to create their unique style. Known for their high-energy live shows, they bounce from original songs to reinterpreted covers and improvisation in between.
The Z Boys formed in 2013 by chance. Bassist Amato Zinno and drummer Zigmund “Ziggy” Coffey had a residency in a bar where the rhythm section would host a different guest musician every week. One guest in particular, guitarist Greg Burgess, seemed to be a great fit. After that residency was over, they started playing sporadic gigs as a trio while they all had other projects going.
“After a while this project became our main focus,” recalled Amato of those early days. “I think we all knew the potential and where we could take it. We started playing a regular residency in 2014, and had enough material for an EP by 2016, so our process is pretty slow,” he laughs, “but by now we are actually sitting on another album’s worth of material.”
“When we started we had no material,” said Greg Burgess, “we were just winging it on the spot, so that made us get tight. It started gelling together, and a few years later we are playing all the time. Maybe Amato had a master plan, but from my perspective, it just kept happening.” Greg is a Massachusetts native who made his way to Rhode Island after joining rockabilly band the Amazing Crowns, which he toured with extensively for a couple years.
Their debut EP was recorded in a pretty astonishing one-day session at the Rocktorium Studio. “We do so much of our preproduction onstage, since we play out all the time,” Amato explained, “So we are always trying out different arrangements and whatnot. By the time we got to the studio, we knocked out six tunes in eight hours. We are a live band, so we wanted to capture the experience of seeing us live.”
“People ask me what it’s like to play with Greg and Ziggy,” Amato said, “and I tell them it’s like flying two kites in a hurricane. The best nights of playing shows are when people come up to us and say the music was like medicine. I love that. Music is the place where people can be relieved of their stress and leave it behind for a little while.”
Amato is a Cape Cod transplant who’s been a staple in the Rhode Island music scene for years, playing in bands ranging from indie rock to reggae. “That taught me a lot about groove,” he said; “as a bassist, if you’re playing reggae and people aren’t dancing, you’re doing something wrong!”
Ziggy is a third-generation drummer whose bombastic drum solos are always one of the highlights of a Z Boys show. He is also a music teacher.
The Z Boys have opened up for national acts ranging from hip-hop pioneer KRS-1 to indie rockers Deer Tick. They have also been venturing into new territories. “We are really enjoying getting out into New England and exploring the region,” explained Amato. “We’ve kind of set a goal to go out on a short tour before the end of the year. We would like to get to Nashville and back, and then hit the studio and try to have a new record ready for next year. I think to try to put out a record before then would be rushing it, and we want to make sure we take our time with this one. We want it to be great, and that takes time. We need to see if the compositions we have are representative of us as a group. There are just a lot of things to take into consideration.”
He said while the new material is still in the surf rock vein, they are expanding their sound. “Someone came up to us the other night after a show and was like, ‘What was that Steely Dan song you played?’ We told them it was actually one of our new songs, but that’s awesome because we love Steely Dan!”
Look for a packed dance floor Friday, June 29, as the Z Boys bring the surf rock groove from Newport to the Ritz. 10 pm. $5 cover charge.