By: Joanna Hunkin
On a warm summer’s night in 2001, four Kiwi boys took the stage at Hollywood’s infamous Viper Room on Sunset Boulevard, performing to a room full of record executives and music media.
It was Zed’s first American gig, as they set out to crack the elusive US market.
Back in New Zealand, the photogenic foursome had captured hearts and ears with the radio-friendly pop rock of their debut album Silencer – which topped the charts and spawned six hit singles, including Glorafilia, Renegade Fighter and Oh! Daisy.
Hopes were high that America would embrace their sound with a similar enthusiasm and things were looking good following that first showcase in June.
But then everything changed.
“September 11 just really killed dead any excitement or positivity,” recalls frontman Nathan King. “It had an effect because emails stopped, everyone’s focus just shifted and we found it really hard to even communicate with the label.”
The band persisted but the landscape had changed. After two years of back-and-forth, the band finished recording their second album, This Little Empire, but the process had left them drained. They had battled with a producer who didn’t entirely get their vibe and the result was less-than-perfect.
“We gave it everything,” says King. “We gave it 100 per cent of our focus. For Zed, having had a lot of hype and a lot of excitement around that first record, going into release a second record that just didn’t have the same excitement factor because it wasn’t that fresh new thing, it made it trickier.”
That record ended up being Zed’s last as the group disbanded in 2004.
Bassist Ben Campbell recalls it was a difficult time. His father had fallen ill and passed away while they were working on the release. After three years of living overseas and touring the world, the band needed a break.
“We’d been together for 8 or 9 years, working on it full time for six years,” explains Campbell. “I think we felt like we’d given it a really good push. We’d had successes in New Zealand, we’d done a lot of touring through Australia, through Europe, spent a lot of time in the States.
“Very much the priority that was being driven from management and ourselves and the label was to break into an international market. We gave it a really good push and didn’t get the success we were hoping for. It just got to a point where we were ready for a change as individuals and as a band.”
Looking back, both Campbell and King say it was a whirlwind ride. Having formed at high school, the band’s first single Oh! Daisy was actually written as a sixth form music assignment and went on to become a Top 20 hit.
“We didn’t really know life any different as adults other than to step in this surreal environment between tour vans and studios and gigs and interviews. That lasted for several years. It was a weird thing to come down from afterward, I’ll tell you that.”
Campbell went on to experience more success, founding a new band Atlas, along with American songwriter Sean Cunningham, Joe McCallum and fellow Zed alumnae Andy Lynch.
Their second single Crawl became a number one hit, dominating the charts for seven weeks.
In 2008, they parted ways and Campbell continues to work in the industry as a music producer and manager, based in Christchurch.
King went on to record as a solo artist, releasing The Crowd in 2008. Three years later, he formed a new band Paper Plane, before reuniting with former Zed bandmate Lynch to form Twin Cities.
But despite their best efforts, none has managed to replicate the success and fandom of Zed.
“It’s always been really difficult to make money from music and to have a sustainable career from it,” says Campbell. “It comes in waves. It’s feast or famine. It was back then and it probably is still now. There’s multiple new revenue streams – with YouTube and Spotify – if you’re smart, you can generate some income from that. The live thing is still there.
“We were lucky with Zed, it blew up so big that I was a 20-year-old boy and was earning a big income from it. But it was something that was only sustainable through those years. You get to the back end of it and go ‘what now?’ Got to get a real job.”
Nearly two decades on, the band are still friends, recently reuniting to play a special show at the final test of the Lions Tour in July.
“It was nice to bring the boys back together and have a barbecue and talk about the old times and play some of the old songs,” says Campbell. “It does reaffirm how strong those relationships were and the experiences we went through.”
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