INTERVIEW WITH ZEN FROM MARS / BANG TANGO GUITARIST DREW FORTIER
Date: August 16, 2016
Photos: Danielle Brunke (photos 1 to 3)
AT THE BEGINNING OF AUGUST, THE WORLD WAS MADE PRIVY TO A NEW “SUPERGROUP” CONSISTING OF STEPHEN SHAREAUX (VOCALS), DRUMMER MIKE HELLER (FEAR FACTORY), BASSIST CHIP Z’NUFF (ENUFF Z’NUFF), GUITARISTS DREW FORTIER (BANG TANGO) AND BRYNN ARENS (FLIPP), AND KEYBOARDIST KATE CATALINA (THE SHOWGIRL OF ROCK). SLEAZE ROXX CAUGHT UP WITH THE ALWAYS AFFABLE FORTIER TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ZEN FROM MARS AND MANY MORE THINGS INCLUDING WHAT’S THE STATUS OF BANG TANGO’S NEW ALBUM.
Sleaze Roxx: Zen From Mars have been introduced as a “supergroup” of sorts. Angels In Vein specifically rejected the “supergroup” moniker. What do you think about the “supergroup” description for Zen From Mars?
Drew Fortier: Good question! First off, I love Stacey Blades. He’s genuinely an incredible talent and great human and I love his new band, I think they’re great! As far as “supergroup” goes, I’m “super” fortunate to be in a “group” with such “super” players. After all, we are in a “group,” so in that regard I’m not offended by the cliché term of “supergroup” one bit, but personally I’d love to take a humble approach and just call us a “rock band with a past” [laughs]. None of us have any cool “super” powers, although I think Mike [Heller], our drummer, has a “super”human ability to play drums the way he does lol.
Sleaze Roxx: You and Kik Tracee frontman Stephen Shareaux were the catalysts for Zen From Mars. How did you go about finding and/or recruiting the other band members?
Drew Fortier: It all came together very serendipitous! Stephen, I got to know through myself pursuing a Kik Tracee documentary. We just hit it off famously. Mike, same thing — connected with him through pursuing a Fear Factory documentary and hit it off famously [laughs]. Both documentaries are still up in the air at the moment. Chip & Kate — I have been friends with for years. I had met Chip through doing the Bang Tango Movie and had remained close friends — same with Kate. Brynn has known Stephen for a very very long time and he very very quickly became one of my most favorite people in the whole world. Nobody makes me smile like Brynn does. Now what makes my heart extremely wild about this whole project is that Kik Tracee, Fear Factory, Enuff Z’Nuff & Flipp have always been some of my most favorite bands of all time growing up and to this day and with how wacky fate is, it all came together incredibly.
I was in a situation after I made the Bang Tango Movie and after I had joined Bang Tango to demo songs for something that never came to fruition. I had about five or six fully structured instrumental acoustic demos that I was super proud of. So I texted Stephen one day saying “Hey man! Check these out. Let me know if it’s something you’d be interested in singing on.” Next thing I know, he sends me back the first demo which turned out to be “New Leaf.” It was an absolutely magical moment. The acoustic demo of the song still gives me chills and I would love to show you some day.
Sleaze Roxx: Me too! Let’s make that happen [laughs]!
Drew Fortier: But from there, I knew we had something special, and the more we collaborated, the more I knew we had to do some serious recording, so I called up Chip. He was all for it. I called up Kate and she was all for it. And Mike pretty much elected himself as the drummer for the band before I could even ask [laughs]. And Brynn came a little bit later, actually a week before we did the “New Leaf” video shoot. We sent him one of our songs to add a solo to, a song called “Downtown” which is pretty much Mo-town meets Metallica [laughs]. And so he sent it back and my jaw dropped. I told Stephen, “Dude! We need Brynn in this band! Can he meet up with everybody in Chicago next week?!” and sure enough, he came. And we all had the most amazing time. Pure magic. We shot three music videos that weekend too.
Sleaze Roxx: How long have you known each Zen From Mars band member?
Drew Fortier: I’ve known Stephen for a year and a half now, Chip, I’ve known for over five years. Kate, about two years. Mike, I’ve known for two or three years, and Brynn, I’ve known for about a year. Also, everybody in this band is my family. Absolutely no doubt about that. I love each one of these people so much, as humans, and as creative talents. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sleaze Roxx: You gave me the privilege of letting me listen to a few additional songs from Zen From Mars. To me, the songs that I heard incorporate a fresh sound with some elements of past eras — and sound sort of like a cross between Black Sabbath and grunge. Do you agree to disagree, and why?
Drew Fortier: Thank you so much! I can’t wait to show you more! Each song is so different from one another. What each member brings to the table is absolutely amazing. It works so perfect. “New Leaf” is a big rock song with a positive message. It’s a great track. But diving into the other material that we have… it gives me chills. I love it. We have a song called “Aflame” that sounds like if Wicked Game by Chris Isaak made love to the music of “Waterfalls” by TLC while Type O Negative watches [laughs]. Another song we have, that you might be hearing sooner than you think… it’s called “Inner Mission.” It’s absolutely crushing. Definitely Rammstein meets Black Sabbath. We also have this song called “Poppy” that’s just this other worldly power pop song. All these songs paint a glorious picture together. It’s all a part of “The Ultra Head Frequency”.
Sleaze Roxx: When can we expect Zen From Mars’ debut album to be released?
Drew Fortier: We are hoping to finish everything up within the next few months and hope to get it out by the end of the year.
Sleaze Roxx: I understand that Zen From Mars — or more like you since you are the video editor — have some ambitious plans in terms of videos for the songs on the upcoming album. Can you advise what your plans are?
Drew Fortier: All I can say is that every song on this record will have a music video. We have 14 songs, but will be putting 10 on the record.
Sleaze Roxx: Given that each of you in Zen From Mars has other projects going on and taking into account that I understand that each of you recorded your album parts apart from each other in different cities, is there any chance that you guys will play a few shows at some point?
Drew Fortier: Shows are 100% a possibility but a very exclusive possibility. The bitter sweet thing about that is that this band is 100% a live band. We have rehearsed before and we are a collective audio and visual beast! When that musical threshold opens, you never know when it’s gonna close with us. We just go off.
Sleaze Roxx: Switching topics for a little bit, you decided a while back to release your documentary ‘Attack Of Life: The Bang Tango Movie’ for free on YouTube? Now that’s it done, are you happy with your decision and why?
Drew Fortier: I am relieved that it’s finally out there. I guess I’m happy about it too. I either have to live with it or let it haunt me so I chose to live with it lol. Spent a long time making that thing [laughs]. But it will always be a part of me and I’m totally at peace with everything surrounding that movie. It came down to clearing the song rights for the film. Universal Music kept on giving me the run around and it would have ended up costing $10,000 to $15,000. Then one day, I just put it up on YouTube for free and never looked back. Nobody can come after me if I’m not making any money off of it, you know? People seem to really enjoy it and that makes it all worthwhile to me. The fact people are liking it is worth more than any dollar amount in my eyes, and I’ll always be proud of the film.
Drew Fortier: Thom Hazaert, the A&R guy for David Ellefson’s EMP label, manages Bang Tango now. I love Thom with all my heart. We hit it off amazingly and he quickly have become one of my best buds. He’s going to be flying to Phoenix soon to be working with Joe and Rowan on the new Bang Tango record. Those three together in a room is going to be absolutely dangerous and I know it’s going to absolutely crush. Aside from that, that’s all I got!
Sleaze Roxx: I always find it odd that the cover photo on Bang Tango’s Facebook page only has four of the five current Bang Tango members with you being the excluded one. When is that going to be changed [laughs]?
Drew Fortier: [Laughs] Good question! We should probably have an updated band photo right? I always tell people I’m actually in the photo, just off in the cartoon background wandering around [laughs]. Whenever people ask me to sign stuff, I always feel weird because I’m not in any of the pictures, so I just awkwardly and haphazardly draw myself in [laughs]. But hopefully they’ll make me “band photo” official soon! Also, I love being in Bang Tango. Those guys have always been there for me as friends whenever I needed them. They got me through a lot of emotionally rough times in my life. Honoured to know those fellas, let alone be in a band with them. Thank you Bang Tango. You’re the reason I am able to do what I do.
Sleaze Roxx: You recently did your acting debut in a video by Green Denim. How did it go and is this an avenue that you will be pursuing in the future?
Drew Fortier: Oh man, that was so much fun! I had a great time doing that! Acting is definitely an avenue I would love to pursue.
Sleaze Roxx: Any parting words for the Sleaze Roxx readers?
Drew Fortier: Thank you so much for taking any kind of interest in this weirdo kid from Chicago with wacky ideas that included making a movie on Bang Tango, joining Bang Tango and putting a band together with the most random and amazingly talented people in the world. It means a lot! I love you all!