The Zombies talk new album Different Game, finding new fans, and surviving 60 years in music

In recent years, legendary UK rock band The Zombies have been enjoying something of a renaissance, culminating in the release of their acclaimed new album Different Game. Headliner caught up with singer Colin Blunstone and songwriter Rod Argent to talk new music, new fans, and why theirs is a story quite unlike any other…

Very little about The Zombies makes sense. At virtually every juncture in their career they’ve flown in opposition to their contemporaries, be it by accident or design. They’re the British Invasion band that was welcomed into the US without breaking stride yet is still trying to crack its domestic market over five decades later; the singer and songwriter duo at the heart of the band still actually like each other; perhaps most bizarrely of all, their biggest hit isn’t even a hit – arguably their most famous song, 1967’s Time Of The Season, has been released five times in the UK and has never even charted; and most pertinently, they are still making music with the same vigour and verve as when they first started out in the early 1960s.

Their latest album Different Game has been released to glowing reviews and marks the culmination of a period of renewed interest in the band. Prior to the pandemic, The Zombies were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2019 and had been playing to some of the biggest crowds they’d ever seen. Then everything came to a juddering halt.

“Leading up to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction, we all felt that the band had never sounded so good,” Rod Argent, The Zombies chief songwriter, tells Headliner. We’re sat round a table with him and singer Colin Blunstone in a plush terrace of a luxury London hotel on a sunny and balmy spring morning. The pair are as bright and warm as the surroundings. Argent, with a mane of silver hair and wearing a black leather biker jacket, looks every inch the veteran rocker. He’s affable and talkative, with an almost palpable excitement for all things Zombies. Blunstone, meanwhile, speaks slowly and thoughtfully with the same dreamy, hypnotic tones that define so much of The Zombies’ work. He's a calm, gentle foil to his sprightly, enthusiastic comrade.

“We’d done a lot of touring in the US and were on fire live, and we couldn’t wait to get back and start recording a new album,” Argent fills us in. “We wanted to capture some of the spirit we had onstage, and we wanted to record with all of us in the room playing together. And we did capture a bit of that magic. We got back and recorded two tracks immediately – Merry-Go-Round and Runaway – and we loved what we had. And then Covid hit, and we had to stop doing things that way. We didn’t want to do things remotely, so everything ground to a halt and we had to pick it up again two years later.”

“When we did pick it up the actual recording of the album was quite quick,” adds Blunstone. “Although it did give Rod this unlooked for advantage where he could spend some time writing songs, and he came up with some cracking songs during that period. But it was strange for things to come to a halt like that, because we are a band that tours a lot and it’s so important to us to be active. And our very first gig after the pandemic was a live broadcast from Abbey Road, which I have to admit I found quite overwhelming. One thing that sometimes slightly worries me is that because the band lives all over the place, before we go out on tour, we aren’t always able to rehearse. So sometimes we get to the venue early so we can have a really good run through!”

There is a mystique about the Zombies because we don’t seem to follow any normal trend. Colin Blunstone

The reception with which Different Game has been met is testament to the passion Argent brings to the songwriting process to this day. While it could be suggested that some artists of a similar vintage hurry new material together as a means simply to get back out on tour, Argent remains possessed of an ambition befitting a new artist readying their debut. His methods, however, are tried and tested.

“We always have the same process,” he states. “I’ll try to get something that strikes me as being interesting and I’ll work by myself, embarrass myself [laughs], and then I’ll do some almost automatic writing, which eventually turns into something that resonates. Then I’ll flesh it out into something more focused. There is a range of human emotions that are pretty common to most of us, and if it can hit one of those emotions and people can react in their own way, then that’s wonderful. That universality of feeling is something I always want to hit.”

“Once Rod has an initial idea for a song, because we live quite close to each other, he’ll then call me and we’ll sit around the keyboard, just the two of us, and we’ll just keep going over the song,” says Blunstone. “It’s a phase the song has to go through. Then we play it to the band, and they add their musicality to the idea and it develops a new layer. That’s always been the most exciting thing for me, seeing the spark of an idea. Who knows where it comes from. And then seeing it developed and worked on until you play it live to an audience. It’s great.”

There’s a certain sweetness in the image of these two old friends, nearly 60 years on, sitting side-by-side at a keyboard singing and exchanging ideas. It’s one that is inconceivable for so many other rock ‘n’ roll pairings: Mick and Keith, Liam and Noel, Ray and Dave, Roger and Pete. How do they do it?

“It’s disappointing isn’t it,” laughs Argent. “It’s extraordinary, but it’s been the same on the road, travelling vast distances together for many years. We know how to give each other space and be respectful. I spoke to a very famous artist who I won’t name, who said to me, ‘how do you stay friends after all these years? We can’t even stay in the same hotel, let alone the same floor’! Somehow that hasn’t happened with us. I don’t know why.”

“We are very careful about each other’s space, and everyone in the band is fairly laid back," says Blunstone. "It’s just our natures, really.”

The harmonious relationship that exists between Argent and Blunstone very much underpins The Zombies resurgence in recent decades, and indeed the quality of their new music. It’s hard to imagine that they’d have been able to make a record like Different Game without that shared love of making music together. Had they been content with trotting out mediocre material as an excuse to tour every few years, it’s highly unlikely they’d still be finding new fans, particularly on home soil, in the way that they have been of late.

We know how to give each other space and be respectful. Rod Argent

While heralded as a psychedelic pop masterpiece today and hailed by the likes of Dave Grohl and Paul Weller as one of the all-time great rock records, the band’s 1968 album Odessey And Oracle sank largely without trace in the UK upon release, though it did spawn the single Time Of The Season, which would fare well across the pond but failed to trouble the UK charts. Over time, however, extensive use in a variety of films, TV shows, and commercials has seen its, and in turn, the band’s, popularity soar during the ensuing years.

As for why it took so long for The Zombies to forge a significant domestic following, the band have their theories.

“It was a lot to do with how a band is first perceived, and that sticks with them for their whole career,” Blunstone notes. “And we were introduced to the public in a very strange way. We were very young, and Decca Records just wanted to create an image for us, and it was honestly about a 10-mintue conversation – what image are we going to give you? And we had a desperately poor image forced on us and some appalling photos. You’d think that’s all forgotten in six months, but it’s not, and it still comes up now. But in America, we didn’t get there until six months later, so we could take more control of that side of things. That helped us no end, and in every other country."

“In the ‘60s we only really had one moderately successful hit, which was She’s Not There,” adds Argent. “But even much later on, after Time Of The Season had been a hit in many other countries, it was released five time saint he UK and has never ever charted! And yet, all the kids, when we played Glastonbury a few years ago, went crazy when we played that song.”

“It’s films and commercials,” Blunstone asserts. “The Zombies repertoire is used a lot in film and commercials, so a lot of people started to think it was a hit, when it wasn’t. Not here at least. As Rod just touched on, the cross section of ages in our audience is quite vast. There are so many young people at the shows. And I think there is a bit of mystique about the Zombies because we don’t seem to follow any normal trend that a lot of other bands’ careers follow. So suddenly we are re-emerging in what we call the autumn of our careers and our audience is a real mixture of ages.

“There’s a lot of things about this resurgence of The Zombies that I don’t think we fully understand. All we’ve ever done is wrote the best songs we can, record them to the best of our ability, and tour them to the best of our ability. It’s very simple, and this is the result.”

Argent shrugs with a smile, “we’ve never been good at trying to analyse trends and get in on anything like that”.

While they are content sitting side-by-side at the piano, singing, and pouring their collective heart and soul into the music, they really don’t need to be.