By ALAN SCULLEY
ZZ Top with Brent James & the Contraband
Tuesday, October 9
625 S. 4th St.
$32.50-/492.50; 7:30 p.m.
It would appear that one word Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top has learned when it comes to work on the long-awaited new album by the band, La Futura, is patience.
The project had taken several years to complete, and plenty of fans are eager to hear what the “Li’l Ol’ Band from Texas” has been up to in the studio all this time. They now have that chance with the Sept. 11 release of La Futura.
But Gibbons has been fully on board with the album’s producer, Rick Rubin, and his exacting standards. “Rick is in no hurry to allow any recorded work that he’s associated with to hit the streets prematurely,” Gibbons said is a recent phone interview. “I think that there have been a couple of artists that got a little too impatient and left the fold. They said ‘Gee whiz, this takes too long’. What can’t be overlooked is the intensity that hides behind Rick’s casual appearance. He doesn’t get flustered. He doesn’t allow these things to ruffle his feathers.”
“That’s what I like and it’s also what a lot of people find kind of aggravating,” he said. (Bands say) ‘Gee whiz, we’ve already finished this.’ And he says well, ‘Maybe.’ Then you stop and think about it for a second, and you say maybe is the word. So with that in mind, I enjoy the process and I particularly, I just treasure the moments that Rick and I get to hang out together. We’ve been pals for 25 years.”
As Gibbons sees it, Rubin’s approach is for the artist’s own good. “He’s providing a really great service to the artist,” Gibbons said. “It is tempting to want to rush right out and show the world what you’ve got. But it’s also a great value to have another opinion in the mix.”
The opinion sharing and analyzing of the tracks recorded for the album came to a conclusion as ZZ Top just a few weeks before the band’s current headlining tour. ZZ Top’s show will feature plenty of fan favorites, and the band may dust off a couple of older tunes that haven’t been performed lately, “Vincent Price Blues” off of the 1996 album, Rhythmeen, and “Heaven, Hell Or Houston,” the ninth track on El Loco, the 1981 album by the band, which includes singer/guitarist Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard. The group also plans to play to start adding more songs off of La Futura to its live set.
The process of making the new album began roughly four years ago when Rubin, engineer Dave Sardy and the band went into the studio for some initial recording. “We assembled about 20 rough song ideas from those sessions,” Gibbons said. “We (the band) pulled stakes to hit the touring trail, and I was able to drag those rough ideas along as we made our way through Europe. When I returned, I met Rick in Santa Monica, and we were enjoying an evening walk down on the Santa Monica Pier, and he encouraged me to take the rough ideas and reassemble the band and he wanted me to go ahead and produce whatever we could sift out of the original song ideas.”
So Gibbons took the band into the studio and produced another session in which the song ideas were developed further and recorded with ZZ Top’s long-time engineering team of Joe Hardy and G.L. Moon serving as engineers. “So I produced 18 tracks and from those 18, I went back in the studio with Rick,” Gibbons said. “I think we’ve gotten it down to a more manageable number. I think there are 12 tracks that have risen to the top out of 20.”
Gibbons said the task of narrowing the selection of songs and refining the winners was a demanding and very detail-oriented process. “The scariest part is when you completely tear a song down and are nearly starting it over,” Gibbons said. “We had done some rewriting. A lot of the lyrics were massaged into place. Even some of the guitar tracks enjoyed getting a chance to try a different direction. So it’s been a real labor of love with, and I like that word, a dedicated focus. It can be challenging to sit and listen to a song, the same song, for two hours and then you say ‘Gee whiz, let me sing that top to bottom. I want to go sing it again.’ Then you do that and then you say ‘Gee whiz, would this word be better here? Let me sing it again.’ After a full day, you’re just toast.”
Gibbons didn’t want to offer much in the way of his thoughts on how La Futura compares to other ZZ Top albums. The band’s catalog numbers 14 studio albums and features such hit releases as 1973’s Tres Hombres, 1975’s Fandango and 1983’s Eliminator, which saw the group blending synthesizer and other poppier modern sounds with its patented blues rock sound and becoming one of the world’s biggest bands behind hits like “Legs,” “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Gimme All Your Lovin’” and the sly and sexy videos that accompanied those songs.
But his hints that the music would be raw and down and dirty – but with some modern touches – sounds right on point now that the album is out. La Futura is very much a guitar album, and it’s also striking that live drums – not programmed rhythms – primarily power the songs. And yes, the album does sound raw and gritty. Gibbons’ guitars have a sting to them, and songs like “Heartache in Blue,” “I Gotsta Get Paid” and “Lose Lose You.” Stylistically, La Futura ismore rooted in the bluesy boogie of ZZ Top’s early albums than in the more pop inflected albums of the ‘80s. There’s even a song, “Chartreuse,” that borrows the guitar riff from the band’s mid-70s hit, “Tush.’
Between touring and other promotional duties, Gibbons’ services may also be required for further appearances on the Fox television series, “Bones,” in which he plays the very cool but intimidating father of Angela Montenegro. “The creator, Hart Hanson, is a genuine music fan,” Gibbons said. “He has managed to enjoy platforming his TV show with various cameo appearances on occasion. I think he thought it would be novel just to have me show up, shake a hand, and that was seven years ago, if you can believe that. And he says ‘Gee whiz, the guy can act. We’ve got to get this guy back.’ So once a season I’m the bad dad. But we’ve all gotten along famously, and everyone seems to enjoy the day when the bearded boy shows up. It’s pretty funny.”