After an ugly breakup and several robberies, Khaled Tabarra had a wealth of song-writing material.
"I was the victim of some violent crime and I was dealing with a lot of heartbreak," The Zou's lead singer explains. "That was good inspiration for a lot of songs. When I'm out and about, I'm just enjoying my life, but when I'm writing, it's usually kind of a therapy. So I write a lot when life is handing me terrible things."
The dark tinge to The Zou's artsy prog-rock comes from Tabarra's cathartic creative process, but the band's penchant for dramatic ebbs and flows is a product of each member's experience in theater, as well as a shared desire to draw afflatus from nontraditional sources.
"If you know your theater, you can hear it in our music," Tabarra says. "We like to get inspiration from non-rock-influenced rock. In other words, I don't like turning to rock songs for inspiration. I'd rather turn to other types of music, because you get kind of boring if you don't."
Depending on the song, The Zou can be a straightforward pop group or a flat-out jam band. It all depends on the lyrics. "The song will reflect the topic," Tabarra says. "If it's a complex topic like death or post-traumatic stress or something, we'll add layers. Or sometimes, we'll take a real melodic song and juxtapose it against more disgusting lyrics so you'll have people singing along to this song, not even realizing the ugly words they're saying."
Because of its sonic meanderings, it can be tempting to label The Zou as self-absorbed. But if you strip the songs down, they're all pop. "We describe our sound as pop music for artsy fuckers," Tabarra says. "There are bands out there who make us sound like John Denver or The Carpenters. But I think there needs to be somebody who can bridge that gap to where pop music fans can sing and dance to our songs and then their hipster friends will buy our CD."
With more musical ground to cover, The Zou's musical direction could be determined by who it plays with next. Each one of the hundreds of bands it's played with has rubbed off on The Zou and, for Tabarra, there's no better way for the band to grow. "We get truly inspired by the CDs we've gotten from the bands we've played with," Tabarra says. "When you're playing with young or upstart bands that don't have 900 people telling them what to sound like, it can keep you out of any kind of restrictive mold."
The Zou's next source of ingenuity could be Albuquerque, where the band will play an all-ages show on Thursday, Jan. 3, at The Cell Theatre with The Dirty Novels, Dear Oceana and Zagadka. It'll cost you seven bucks to get in.