Nearly five years ago to the day, I walked on stage at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, New Jersey to introduce the opening band.
The band was fronted by longtime Pop Break staff member Joe Zorzi. Originally dubbed “The Joe Zorzi Project,” the band was called Modern Chemistry, and they were going to play their first official show as a band for us.
Right before I took the mic Joe tapped my shoulder and said, “Thanks again for this man — outside of me this all these guys first live show ever.” He laughed, and as I began to introduce them I had this feeling of dread. First show ever? Oh this was going to be terrible.
Surprisingly, the band comprised of Zorzi, Brendan Hourican, and Jesse Slachman, despite only knowing three songs one of which was a legit 15 minute cover of The Outfield’s “Your Love,” played a fun show.
From there, I have had the privilege of seeing my former writer, former intern, and my friend and his band go from “Hey, we’re a college band!” to quickly becoming one of the most in-demand original acts in the state. Every time I saw them, they got exponentially better. Their stage presence went from nervous energy to commanders of the crowd. Their songs went from raucous youth to refined, thoughtful, and explosive epics. They weren’t just a band my friend was in; they became a band I, like many others, knew were destined for big things.
Sometimes you just know. Sometimes you hear a band and you know they have something special. But, with Modern Chemistry it wasn’t just one song — it was watching them hustle, watching them tour, watching them leave jobs behind, and most importantly, watching them chase and achieve their dreams.
I sat down with Joe Zorzi, and we talked about the band’s ascension from New Brunswick basement show heroes to a band that we (fans and the press alike) feel is destined for something golden.
Five years ago you were one of probably 10 million college students who decided they wanted to start a band. How did you guys go from being just another college band who played a handful of basement shows to getting songs premiered by major publications, and are opening up for Taking Back Sunday?
(Laughs). That is literally everything in one question.
It’s a one question interview, Joe.
(Laughs). I think there’s a lot of luck involved. For us, we never considered ourselves “just another college band.” We knew we could be something great. We believed, and believe in ourselves. I never thought of myself as a guy in a local band, even though we were local band. I think that mindset internally made us push further. We also happened to meet some of the right people who believed in us as well. Things slowly aligned, and it’s been an amazing build. Things are falling into place. It’s been a lot of luck, and a lot of stuff behind the scenes, like working on ourselves, and getting better [as a band], and not getting complacent.
When does that confidence set in, and where does it come from?
I don’t know where it comes from. Once I started playing guitar, I always saw myself as musician, it’s what I aligned myself with. So I don’t remember where it comes from, nor I do remember when it started.
We didn’t have a plan, outside of recording two songs professionally. We wanted to start off showing people we were a real band, even before we really were. We tried our hardest to look as real as we could from the beginning. We didn’t release any demos, we went straight for full quality recordings. We played a lot of local basement shows [predominantly in New Brunswick].
I remember when we would work on our stuff, and write songs it was the most important thing in the world. I wasn’t just writing these songs for me and my friends, I was writing it for a bigger audience. I think maybe instead of confidence, we treated everything with more importance.
Speaking of basement shows. How important were those to you guys in the early days?
In the beginning, we knew had to play basement shows. We thought we’d be so lucky if we could get on a basement show, and say we were a part of it. Once we found a few bands, and houses that were into our music, [we became regulars]. They were some of the most exciting shows to be involved in. It was a pure adrenaline rush, pure energy. Everyone was having the best time. We’ll never forget those nights. It was great, but it also might have hindered us a little bit. It took us a long time to get used to playing on a stage. We were so used to playing on a floor, and screaming in people’s faces. Now you’re on a stage, and away from the crowd. You have to have a performance now. We had to learn to play better, and not break our strings on our guitars.
Which was your MO for a long time.
I’ve gotten a lot better with that [laughs].
When I first met you said to me, “Two things I wanna do — I wanna be in a band, and interview Taking Back Sunday.” It’s no secret you were fan of Taking Back Sunday growing up, and now you’ve not only opened for them, but Adam Lazarra has produced your EP, and you’re opening up for them on a national tour. How does this even happen?
I definitely don’t take any of that for granted, because it is unbelievable. They were always one of my favorite bands. What happened was when we were starting out we would tweet at all those bands to check out our music. We would hit up bands that were regionally known to national acts like the Foo Fighters. We were a small, local band — what did we have to lose? They probably weren’t going to see it anyway, but we gave it a shot. One day it just so happened that Taking Back Sunday’s manager heard us, and things worked out that we actually got to play a show with them.
So the first time you met them was at a show, or did you actually meet with them before that?
No, the first time we met them was at a show in Baltimore, MD at a venue called Power Planet Live. To this day, that’s still the biggest crowd we’ve ever played in front of live.
Take me through what’s going through mind on that night. You’re going to meet one of your favorite bands, and you’re playing in front of the biggest crowd in your band’s history.
It was a wild day for all us. It was the biggest show we ever played, and we could literally see Taking Back Sunday watching our set. So in my head I knew I was playing for them, and for the audience. I had something like 4,000 people looking at me, and I had to play. It was one of those shows where it was all adrenaline, and I sort of blacked out during it, and woke up after. We were so nervous getting on the stage, but we knew we had to do it. The feeling afterwards was unbelievable.
Obviously, it went well. How did Taking Back Sunday react?
Honestly, they were super nice and told us we played well. They just treated us very friendly from the get-go. They gave us a few tips about owning the stage. It was awesome. They invited us to perform with us again. Then Adam Lazzara produced our EP [laughs].
Check out Pop Break’s gallery of photos from Modern Chemistry at Power Planet Live courtesy of Keeyahtay Lewis & Deadbolt Photos.
So take me through that. Does he just out of the blue say he’s going to produce you guys, or was this something you all worked together on?
We had a few songs we demoed out, and we sent them to various producers. Our manager gave them to Adam. After we played the second holiday show at Starland [with Taking Back Sunday], and Adam stopped us before we headed out. He said he had never done it [producing] before, but he’d like to produce some music with us, and that he could offer a cool angle. He said if we were interested to hit him up, but if not, no worries. We said, of course we were interested. Timing wise it worked out that we had enough songs for an EP with Adam, and then a full length with someone else. I texted him, and we went down to North Carolina to record.
You had a legit full-time gig in New York City at one point. You were making fairly decent money for a recent college graduate. However, you decided to leave for the band. It’s a move not a lot of people can make it. How and why do you make that decision?
It was a timing thing. We got an offer to do a tour with Frank Iero. It was coming at a time where I couldn’t do a two-hour commute everyday to New York City, pick up for this month long tour, and then go back to work. It wasn’t realistic. I made the decision that it was time to be in the band full-time. That tour was the reason why I fully quit.
How did your family react?
Our parents have all been so supportive since day one. They had been watching it come together and they knew this opportunity was not be taken lightly. They were excited for us, and they said if we were ever going to follow our dreams now would be the time, and why would they stop us?
You guys do a lot of touring, and you do it on your own dime. Have you figured out the art of touring yet?
Every tour we figure it out more. You learn how much you can, and can’t spend. You learn from other bands. Some nights you sleep in a nice place, other times it’s in a Walmart parking lot. We’re winging it.
Is it awesome or hell on earth?
[Laughs] It depends on who you’re asking and on what day. It’s an incredible experience. We’re seeing all these cities and towns I’d never be in. Just seeing the way people in different places act is so cool. At times its exhausting. Sometimes you’re broke, tired, and don’t want to sleep on a van bench. But, in retrospect it’s some of the coolest times we can have.
Speaking of touring, where was the first place you saw someone, outside the greater New York/New Jersey/Philly area, really get into your music?
It was the third of tour with Frank Iero. There was a girl in the crowd singing the words to every song. I thought, ‘Wait…how do you know anything of this?” That was The Middle East in Massachusetts. It was crazy because none of us are from the area. This person checked us out online, and liked us enough to know all the worlds.
Everything in Gold is officially out. How do you feel you guys have evolved from a sonic perspective from the earlier days of those first few EPs.
We’re always learning, and always figuring out new sounds we want. We always want to feel like we’re growing. In the beginning, we cared about them as we writing them, but we really cared about all the cool bands in New Brunswick and New Jersey were going to like us. Now that we’ve traveled, and we knew were going to do this full-time, we wanted to determine who we were, and what we wanted to bring to the table. We can sound anyway we want, now we’re a lot better at channeling our influences. We worked for a long time on these songs, and it took a while where everything was coming together. It took a while for us
Has you perspectives in terms of songwriting changed with age and experience?
Brendan wrote part of everything “Everything in Gold” with me, and we’ve written a lot of this record together. We’ve both gotten older, and our perspective has changed. Lyrically we’ve always written about human interaction. Now, our lyrics are more about hope, and things can become better. Even our sad songs might are about even if something sucks but there’s still a sense of triumph, and ‘we’ve got this.’
Now headlining own show on July 8 at House of Independents in Asbury Park, NJ…this is your biggest as a solo headliner?
It definitely is. It’s incredibly exciting. It’s big because we’re debuting a lot of the new songs from the album. We’re showing everyone the next iteration of our band, and it feels like the start of it all.
Can you talk about your opening acts?
I’ve always been a huge fan of Colton Kayser. I believe I met him when hanging out with Deal Casino. He’s got an incredible knack for songwriting. He’s totally different from us, and we all thought he’d be great to have on the show. I’ve never seen him with a full band so that’s exciting. Wyland is a great band. Not many bands around here have a frontman who plays piano, and I’m a huge sucker for that. Lowlight is incredible. Renee Maskin has an unbelievable voice. It’s a super eclectic line-up.
Final question. You’ve got a lot of major publications premiering songs for you, and heaping praise upon you. You’ve got support from Taking Back Sunday. Where does that put you guys? Are you guys feeling like you’re bound to conquer the world or is it head down and get tow work?
Both. We’ve got big goals, and big dreams — but we’re keeping ourselves grounded in reality. We’re taking things step-by-step.
Modern Chemistry’s new album Everything in Gold is currently available on all streaming platforms, and for sale.
They also perform at House of Independents for their record release party along with Colton Kayser, Wyland, and Lowlight on Saturday. Tickets are available here.