Since forming in Orange County in 1995, punk rock quintet Zebrahead have released 12 studio albums, two compilation albums, 30 singles, 37 music videos, four video albums and three EPs. Phew – it makes us tired just thinking about it.
During that time, they've also weathered a number of line-up changes, battled their fair share of inter-band drama and rallied against record label pressures in the face of shifting musical trends, staying true to themselves and their trademark sound over 20+ years in the music business. They've also built themselves a strong and dedicated global fanbase, who only grow bigger with each release.
To mark the release of new album Brain Invaders – released on March 8 via MFZB Records – we sat down with bassist Ben Osmundson and got him to do what no musician should ever have to do: rank each of their 12 studio albums from worst to best.
12) Playmate Of The Year (2000)
"So there is probably a lot of people that will disagree with me placing this last – Maybe? – but here goes… It was a really tough time for the band. Personally, I got kicked out of the studio mid-album, by the producer, for telling everyone that everything sucked. Weird internal battles were going on with the band, and honestly, it was just a miserable experience. I listen to the album, and I hear a band that really isn’t sure what they want to be doing or what they want to be playing. Hence, live it is very rare for us to play any of these songs. Also, this was at a time when Pro Tools was just becoming a thing… and we went a little overboard in my opinion."
11) Get Nice! (2011)
"We recorded this album in our own studio so that we could be more comfortable and take our time – big mistake! We became too comfortable and ended up not really pushing ourselves hard enough. I rarely listen to albums after they are mixed and mastered, because I have heard the songs over a million times by then, but when I hear these songs, I personally hear tons of potential that was never quite reached. It bums me out, actually. Songs like Blackout and Ricky Bobby are great to me. I even enjoy Get Nice and Nothing To Lose, but others, for sure could have been taken to the next level. Not saying we had some global hit on this that never happened. Just saying, that in Zebrahead’s world, there are a few songs here that with a little work could have been much better."
10) Panty Raid (2009)
"The only other album recorded in our studio. This album is fun listening, and we had tons of fun making it. It was hilarious going through all the different cover song options and trying to decide on the final ones. For those who don’t know, this is a cover album of all-female artists. What’s not fun about that? Pop artists. Some of these turned out great, in my eyes, and others not so great. But I don’t lose sight of what this is: Zebrahead having some serious fun. I am using the word fun way too much here. We weren't feeling much pressure, and we laughed a lot while recording this album. Would love to do another one of these sometime in the future. It is seriously good for the soul to play in a cover band sometimes."
9) The Early Years – Revisited (2015)
"I am including this in here for one reason: I want people to know how challenging it is to go and record old songs people are in love with and try to capture the same exact sounds the original recordings had. Times had changed when we did this, but we went and got the sounds and mixes pretty damn close to all the originals. Whether they were good sounds or bad sounds, we recaptured them. And it was the biggest pain in the ass ever. Try it some time. Go try and match a guitar sound or a snare sound from years and years earlier. It's fun, but insanely difficult!"
8) Self-Titled 'The Yellow' (1998)
"This is basically a bunch of demos that we recorded live. We set up in a recording studio, in Orange, California, and basically just played the songs live a few times and took the best ones as final. They were never supposed to be released – just for us to listen and adjust things we didn’t like. Our producer at the time had just bought a record label and asked if he could just release the songs as an album. So, we said, 'Why not?' So when listening to songs like Song 10, it really doesn’t even have real lyrics. This has kinda become a running joke online with people asking when we will release the lyrics to that song.
"Looking back, I am super happy we decided to release these demos as an album. With our next album Waste Of Mind, we actually re-recorded some of these. And listening back there is something really cool about the demo versions, there are a few I like better than the re-recorded versions. This honestly was a really exciting time for the band. We had all played in bands for years and years and years, and all of a sudden people were paying attention to what we did. We were five guys who didn't have any industry connections and basically didn’t know anyone, and got lucky with the right people hearing these demos. Right place at the right time and dumb luck sometimes count in life."
7) Call Your Friends (2013)
"Now is where it gets really tough for me. There are things I like a lot about all the remaining albums. Do I think these things are masterpieces? Hell no! But are they close to the best five guys from our little world can do? Maybe. I pick this album because we had just gotten a new guitar player (Dan). We decided to scrap almost all the old music we were working on and start entirely new. When you do something like that there is a lot of pressure. Because of that pressure, my memory of this album isn’t as great as other albums. Hell, it has some of my favourite songs that we have recorded like Call Your Friends, Sirens and I’m Just Here For The Free Beer. The solos are great, and we were finally recording songs at a speed closer to where we would play them live (don’t get me started there, that is a whole new topic). But I really like this album, and it was really a good time recording it... but I hate pressure. Final note, Dan stepped up and killed the guitars."
6) Waste Of Mind (1998)
"This was the ultimate exciting time of our career. The little band that knew no one, who had zero pull, somehow got a major label to pay attention and want to put out their album. Yes, we were younger and far more naive thinking a major label was the perfect place to be – but once again, that is another tangent that we will get back to at a later date. The record label at the time put us up in Hollywood, and we recorded in the Hollywood Hills. We were immature and doing tons of stupid things, and that was fun and amazing. I look back at this time and love it! We re-recorded some songs from The Yellow and started traveling around the world. Are there things I would change about all these songs? Yes, but, when I listen back to these songs, most still feel great to me. Is it nostalgia? Not sure."
5) Walk The Plank (2015)
"It was super hard for me to put this album this low. And I honestly think if this album were released earlier in our career, it would be a huge fan favourite. Nostalgia and time and place in life have everything to do with how we all enjoy music. I really like the mix of heavy vs. melody on this album. Also, I think Paul Miner did a fantastic job producing, and Kyle Black killed the mix. The way this album sonically sounds is what I wish all our past records could sound like. I am saying too many positive things about this one. But to be honest, it was a great recording experience also. No drama and just a good time. I listen back to songs Running With Wolves, Save Your Breath and Keep It To Myself and smile."
4) Phoenix (2008)
"This album might have been a bit long-winded. If we had cut a few songs, it would have been a bit stronger to me. Our band is basically the ultimate democracy – if enough guys vote for it, then it happens. And this time around people wanted more songs on the album. Hell, why not? Otherwise, they disappear into the vortex of lost B-sides for a long, long time. Mike Dexter, The Juggernauts and Hell Yeah! are the standouts for me. Our sound is so all over the place that we have always had a tough time narrowing down the number of tracks to the industry 10-12 format. That could be a good thing... or a bad thing."
3) MFZB (2003)
"This album would have probably been a notch higher for me had there not been so much insane drama at the time. If you listen to the lyrics to songs like Falling Apart, Rescue Me and Hello Tomorrow, [they] were the real state of affairs in our band. We worked super hard during this period and wrote songs for a few years straight, and that is probably why more than a few of these are played live at the shows and will continue to be played as long as we exist. We were struggling with a singer that wanted us to change completely, and sound like The Killers (and also wanted to be the only vocalist). The rest of us didn’t want to turn our backs on the Zebrahead sound and stuck to our guns. After this album came out, and we toured a bit, Justin eventually left to go in a different musical direction. One other thing on this record is once again too many songs. A few could have easily been cut, in my opinion."
2) Broadcast To The World (2006)
"Before writing this album, our record label at the time, in our most important market, told us we should just quit. That our singer had left, and we would have a tough time moving forward. We tried out new people for so long, I almost started to believe it. But when Matty walked in and jammed with us, we instantly knew there was a reason we had stuck to it.
"We began writing songs immediately and made a demo tape with four songs, one of them being Anthem. The same record label that told us to quit sent a new and better deal than they were offering us before. And to be honest, when Matty joined, making music became super fun again. The good times had been lost in the drama and constant fighting over the direction of the band. So not only do I like this album, but I have great memories of this time in the band's career. The excitement of finding Matty, sticking to our guns, not changing our sound and having labels come back to us was pretty amazing.
"We haven't talked about it much over the years and avoid interview questions getting too deep into the politics of inter-band relations, but if we had changed and sounded like The Killers or whatever was new and hip at the time, I still think it would have been an absolute embarrassment and trainwreck. Chasing what's popular, for any music, is a bad move and completely see-through. It's important to us – and in general in music, art, and life – to be authentic. So, we have always played what we want to play and not what others tell us we should play. So, this moment in time stands out for me and makes me pretty proud."
1) Brain Invaders (2019)
"Yep! It's our new album. Yep! I just put it first. 'Cause I want you to go listen to it and see where you think it fits in yourself. I love this album as every band does when their new album comes out. But to be honest… I really love this album. It feels a little MFZB and a little Broadcast To The World mixed together. Pretty proud of ourselves self-releasing and doing everything ourselves outside of Japan. And over 20 years later, I couldn't imagine doing anything else. So: go check it out and decide for yourself..."
Brain Invaders is out now via MFZB Records, and Zebrahead head out on tour later this month. Find full dates below.
Apr 24: Brisbane, Crowbar, AU
Apr 25: Southport, Vinnie’s Dive Bar, AU
Apr 26: Newcastle, Hamilton Station, AU
Apr 27: Narabeen, Narabeen RSL, AU
Apr 28: Sydney, Crowbar, AU
Apr 30: Canberra, Transit Bar, AU
May 02: Adelaide, Crown & Anchor, AU
May 03: Melbourne, Bendigo Hotel, AU
May 25: Kronach, Die Festung Rockt, DE
Jun 14-16: Download Festival, UK
Jun 14-16: Greenfield Festival, CH
Jun 21-23: Hurricane Festival, DE
Jun 21-23: Southside Festival, DE