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Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.


By Kevin English
Scotch Plains, NJ, USA

Happy 2010, Stay Thirsty readers!

I can’t think of a better way to start off the New Year than sharing an interview with Wilder Zoby, lead singer and keyboardist of one of my favorite bands, CHIN CHIN. Wilder was already familiar with our publication and proceeded to school me on an interview posted by Editor in Chief Sarah L. Myers in the August 2009 issue.

Wilder Zoby: Do you know that guy Bob Log III?

THIRSTY: No, I don't.

WZ: There is this awesome interview with a strange dude that wears a motorcycle helmet with a microphone welded into the front of it. I have to say it definitely caught my attention. When you get a chance go and check it out.

Chin Chin
The Flashing and The Fancing

The core of CHIN CHIN consists of Wilder, his brother Torbitt Schwartz and bassist, Jeremy Wilms. Together they’ve created a collection of free spirited, throwback soul records unrivaled by any band today. Their most recent album, “The Flashing and The Fancing”, is a testament to their growing popularity and humble beginnings. 

THIRSTY: Where were you born and raised?

WZ: I was born in Louisville, Kentucky. This goes for both me and my brother Torbitt, the drummer of CHIN CHIN. My mom is a choreographer, and when our parents got divorced we moved up to New York City in 1985. We lived here until 1991 and then we both moved back to Kentucky to go to high school. When we graduated we moved back to NY. So it’s been like six years here and six years there.

THIRSTY: Did you both go to college here?

WZ: Both of us went to the New School for Jazz Performance. My brother studied a bunch of composition there and I did some [composition] too, but mainly performance. Strangely enough, I actually started as a drummer and finished as a Vocal Jazz major.

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THIRSTY: That's a big jump.

WZ: It was honestly all about the teacher. I didn’t necessarily find that teacher on drums at that school, but definitely found that teacher vocally. I still study with him today and I graduated back in 2003.

For Wilder, teachers appeared in his life in many forms, from vocal coach, Richard Harper to Def Jux co-founder, El-P.  His father also laid down the law in more ways than one. The lessons that he’d learn would contribute to his recent success on and off the stage.

THIRSTY: How has going to school for vocal performance helped you in the music business?

WZ: Umm…Good question. I don't know that it really did that much. (Chuckles) I mean there was a music business class that we were required to take…

(credit: Definitive Jux Records)

THIRSTY: …but it wasn't your favorite?

WZ: I didn't mind it actually. I thought it was interesting. Our father is a lawyer and both of our parents were huge supporters of the arts. I knew from him reiterating [to me] that it was important to learn the business side of things. That made that class more interesting.

THIRSTY: How did you get signed to Def Jux? [Def Jux was the first record label to create a digital download/physical media site back in 2006.]

WZ: About two years ago. That came about because I played keyboards with them on El-P’s latest record, "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead”.

THIRSTY: I really like what you did with the intro on Moog Liberation.

WZ: Thank you. When El-P dropped that record and was going on tour he didn’t want to just do it with a DJ. So for about two years I toured with him playing keyboards.


WZ: Oh my God it was so much fun. So that is how we got signed. Even though it didn’t make sense at face value because we are the only non hip hop group on Def Jux, it worked because El-P was a fan of the band, liked good music and wanted to help get it out there to the world.

THIRSTY: Can you explain what Moog Liberation is for those who don’t know?

WZ: Moog Liberation is my instrument of choice. And it is one of the first key-tars….so it’s a keyboard that you wear like a guitar with a long neck and a lot of controls on it. It came out in 1979 by a company that makes these amazing analog keyboards. It’s so big. You can't really wear it the whole show, so it’s funny that they would actually make something like that.

THIRSTY: Why did you choose that instrument above all others?

Moog Liberation

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THIRSTY: Is that when you knew you wanted to make music or were you making music before that?

WZ: I had been playing music for about two years. My brother started playing guitar and I had been doing a bunch of acting as a kid and I knew I wanted to stop that. I wanted to play music and I remember my brother saying, “Don’t play guitar, everybody plays guitar,” so I started playing drums. I had always been a listener of music and I always like the sound of a Fender Rhodes so I got really into that sound.

Studying the songs of jazz greats enabled Wilder to become familiar with the passions and pains that spoke to his generation. Picking up pieces of love songs, Bolero, and modern day backpack rap, Wilder trudged along tour after tour until finally meeting his muse, GG.

THIRSTY: Who are GG and The Boys?

WZ: We were on tour a long time ago in Atlanta when we came across this really janky club that unfortunately isn’t around anymore called The Villager. The kind of place where everyone ordered a 22 ounce of MGD…you probably could have bought a 40 ounce there.


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WZ: We found out at a later date that the club was closed and thought he was gone from our lives. Flash forward three years I’m on tour with EL-P in Atlanta in a strip mall and after we had done sound check I was walking around and saw a sign that said GG Productions. There were flyers in the window promoting his new CD. I ended up taking a photo with my phone, found him on MySpace and sent him the song. We explained that four or five years ago we had such an amazing time that we wrote a song about it. He wrote back with this glowing email saying how he loved the song and was deeply touched.

The catalog of the Brooklyn-based big band is already large enough to cover a lounge set from 10pm to 2am. My only hope is to catch their live show early on this year. There is something special about an act that still plays instruments and writes interesting lyrics.

THIRSTY: How many instruments have you ever recorded on one song?

WZ: I know there were some that got really out of hand. Both of the records that were recorded with Def Jux were produced by Torbitt and Jeremy who is the bassist. The two of them have a production company called “It’s The Sound”. They really do all of the recording and engineering so they would have a specific number.

(credit: Definitive Jux Records)

THIRSTY: When I see pictures of the band on stage there is a full blown horn section, keys...I mean the works. Do you guys always travel like that?

WZ: Good lord no. I wish. In New York it’s easy to do that because we have so many friends that are musicians but it’s too expensive to travel like that. In the city we do a nine piece (four horns, guitar, drums, keyboard and percussion). Sometimes we’ll throw in another vocalist. I believe we have gotten up to eleven people on stage at some point.

THIRSTY: What’s the hardest part of what you do?

WZ: Hmmm....making money.

As the financial crisis looms on Wall Street another concern affects the musicians on Greenwich Street. Record sales have been reduced to downloads that cost less than a dollar, but the true value of bands like CHIN CHIN cannot be measured in USD’s. Next time you come across their work do yourself a favor -- buy the album. I guarantee that you will get lost in the music and grow to love them as much as I have.



All opinions expressed by Kevin English are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.



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