By the time the Zombies‘ landmark second album, Odessey and Oracle, broke in 1968, the group had already disbanded. It would be more than 20 years before the band would record again, and even that album (1990’s New World) featured minimal involvement from principal songwriter Rod Argent. In recent years, though, Argent and singer Colin Blunstone have made up for lost time. They released Breathe Out, Breathe In, their first album in seven years, in 2011 and have been steadily touring the U.S. and Europe.
Hip-hop has been one unlikely catalyst for the group’s enduring appeal, as the band’s signature song, “Time of the Season,” has been sampled by rappers from Miguel and ScHoolboy Q to Yelawolf. Now the track gets its highest profile sample on “Rhyme or Reason” from Eminem‘s The Marshall Mathers LP 2.
Co-produced by Eminem and Rick Rubin, the song acts as a response record to the original’s lyrical questions (“What’s your name?/Marshall/Who’s your daddy?/I don’t know him”). With Eminem singing a reworked version of the chorus, the track finds the rapper sounding off on his dysfunctional family and revisiting his 2000-era, rage-filled persona.
Rolling Stone caught up with Argent to get his thoughts on the track, the Zombies’ new material and The Walking Dead.
What did you think of Eminem using “Time of the Season” for “Rhyme or Reason”?
I actually loved it. I loved the way he takes words and phrases from the original record and then spins off of the particular phrases. It kicks him off onto an avalanche of funny wordplay and invention. It’s very amusing. It’s a waterfall of words, and the associations just keep coming. When he’s singing, “There’s no rhyme or no reason for nothing,” I love that it was almost identical in vowel sounds and mirrored the original, but at the same time completely inverted the sentiment of what was being said.
Were you skeptical about how it would be used?
I was supportive of the idea because I like things done in an inventive and creative way. I was excited when I heard he wanted to use it because I knew it would be a completely different spin on the song and it would turn into something else. In that respect, I really liked the Melanie Fiona record [“Give It to Me Right”] also.
Odessey and Oracle didn’t sell well when it was first released, right?
Yeah. It got great critical reviews, but it didn’t sell anywhere, even with “Time of the Season” on it. It’s never going to be The Dark Side of the Moon, but it sells more every year now than it did when it first came out.
You recorded the album at Abbey Road. Was there any Beatle involvement?
Indirectly, yes. There was no direct Beatle involvement, because they wandered out of the studio after recording Sgt. Pepper’s a few days before we wandered in. But they left quite a few instruments lying around the studio, one of which was John Lennon’s Mellotron. One of the reasons why Mellotron is all over Odessey and Oracle is because I suddenly had the riches of that. I didn’t ask anybody’s permission; I just used it. If John can hear me, I’m sorry, man.
You also played on three songs on the Who‘s Who’s Next. What do you remember from those sessions?
I had to get there at 11 in the morning and there’d be nobody from the Who there except Keith Moon, who would always be sober and on time. When the others didn’t turn up for an hour or two, he’d get really bored, go to the pub and get completely pissed. I only went once with him because we went to this rough pub and there were some huge bruisers playing pool in the bar. As Keith walked by this huge guy in this sleeveless T-shirt about to take a shot, he nudged his arm and said, “Oh, sorry, mate.” I thought, “Oh my God.” [Laughs] There was a lot of mumbling and looks in Keith’s direction and I thought, “I have to get out of here.” I never went to the pub with Keith Moon again.
Do you watch The Walking Dead?
I’ve never seen a zombie TV show or movie! [Laughs]
How is that possible?
Someone asked me and Colin on our last American tour, “What’s your favorite zombie movie of all time?” and we just looked at each other and said, “No.” [Laughs]
Not even Night of the Living Dead? Everyone’s seen that.
Nope. Never even seen that.
What’s the status of the new album?
I’ve written three songs for it and we’ve recorded one of them. So we’ve made a start. The first song was written about our experiences when we first came to America in 1964. It’s about 80 percent finished and features Colin on lead vocals. I’m not going to say the title yet, though, in case somebody else uses it.
We’re desperate to write and record and keep that going, because the last thing Colin and I ever wanted to do was be a nostalgia band and just look back. But we’re really happy to rediscover all the old stuff, some of which we never played live the first time around, because we’d broken up before Odessey and Oracle came out. I can only enjoy doing that personally within the context of feeling that we’re keeping ourselves creatively fit as well.
How would you describe the new songs?
Many of the songs that I write have a blues influence. Now, it might not be blues in the way Johnny Winter put something together, but the melodies to “She’s Not There” and “Time of the Season” are constructed around blues melodies. The new songs I’ve written so far also have those elements. Although I love to explore chord sequences and harmonies, and that’s something I’ve always done, too. There are other things we might do that are extremely melodic in a much more relaxed way as well. I still don’t know what shape the whole thing will take, but the goal is most definitely to release an album in 2014. Whether that happens or not is another matter. By the time the actual process is set in place, who knows if we’ll make it?