Life is the art of drawing without an eraser – which means that Authority Zero frontman Jason DeVore has gone through more than a few pencils since the volcanic rockers kicked things off in 1994.
The band began their explosive musical journey when DeVore was an all-knowing 14-year-old. So it should come as no surprise that the positively ancient musician knows a thing or two after fronting Zero for the last two decades.
And after chatting with DeVore about his remarkable 20-year career, it seems that even with five studio albums under their belt – including their outstanding 2013 release “The Tipping Point” – Authority Zero is just getting started.
Spending time with the youthful bandleader, it was difficult to believe that he was fronting the punkers before he could drive. “I was 14 years old when this band started and became an idea,” offered DeVore.
“I lived in Wyoming with my parents. My parents had separated, so my mom lived in Wyoming with my stepdad and my dad still lived in Phoenix. So during the summer times, I’d go visit him on occasion.”
“And one of the summers, I met a kid in my same complex that happened to know all the other guys that ended up being in the group from high school. When I met them, we started this band up as a bunch of kids just having fun and just messing around.”
“This many years later, a lot of the guys aren’t here anymore, now with families and older. We’re going on 34, 35 years old now and some have mortgages and all that going on. But the drive for the music and the touring and the traveling and the kids and all that, it’s still there.”
Over 20 years of their storied career, Authority Zero has seen their fair share of ups and downs. After original guitarist and longtime friend Bill Marcks left the band in 2008, members have seemed to come and go. But the band and their music have carried on.
After the release of 2010’s “Stories of Survival,” guitarist Zach Vogel departed the band to return to his home in Wisconsin for more family time. And shortly after that long-time drummer Jim Wilcox left to pursue other endeavors.
Most bands would have collapsed under the pressure of lineup changes and setbacks, but Zero carried on by inviting Brandon Landelius on guitar along with legendary punk drummer, Sean Sellers. Most recently, Jeremy Wood stepped down as bassist for the second time, citing personal differences, replaced by Mike Spero.
Even DeVore confessed to a bit of uncertainty over the years. “Honestly, my own drive ever since then has been to play music or to do something that was not a normal type job – any way to make a living doing what I wasn’t supposed to be doing. Just doing something creative was always my drive – whether it be skateboarding or music or whatever.”
“The only times it ever got to the point where I thought maybe it’s time to ‘call it’ with this band is probably within the last three or four years when people were coming and going. It just got to be a pretty heavy load to take on by myself. I was like, ‘Where’s the integrity? What’s left of this? Am I being foolish by carrying it on? Is it worth it to keep on going out and touring?’”
“And then finally this past year when everything came together with all the guys that are in the group now – and just realizing that there was a reason for all that to go down – it seemed to keep it together for a better reason. Now I've got all the guys working collectively and working toward the same goal. It’s made it all very, very worth it.”
Notwithstanding the group’s accord as of late, dealing with the musical revolving door has been challenging for DeVore.
“Yeah, because one of the things I always said when I was younger was, ‘If this band ever becomes that band where it’s not the same thing that it has been for so many years…’And I remember the moment it happened in Denver, when things went head to head between a couple of members. It caused an ultimatum, almost like, ‘Make a band choice. He goes or I go.’ And I was like, ‘What the hell just happened? Everything has just completely changed.’”
“It’s been a rollercoaster ever since that. People were coming and going so quickly. Just to keep going – our bass player (Wood) left the first time – we had our friend ‘Ralphie’ (Josh Schneider) who was on the road with us and he played bass. So the next night we threw him on stage. We’re like, ‘Hey, we’ve got a tour to do. Let’s keep going, man. You have tonight to learn this many songs.’ It was interesting.”
“But like I say, people were coming and going so quickly that there wasn’t a lot of time to adjust. It was more just keeping the flow of it going and keeping it alive. It was difficult at the time because with new band members also comes new girlfriends and new drama.”
“And my wife, it’s an adjustment for her as well to deal with these new girls coming in that are suddenly the band member’s girlfriend and getting attitudes. That whole thing has been interesting. It’s been a wild ride, man.”
“But I'm glad to be where we’re at now. It’s a very good place, a very positive place. With the album, you can hear it. It’s really clicking. And on stage, people are going to see the energy and the chemistry going on – they might have been lacking that for the past couple of few years – more of just keep together, play your ass off and what you’re here for, you know?”
It’s clear from listening to “The Tipping Point” that the band is making the most of the harmony. Initially their goal was simple; create a sound that pays tribute to their punk rock forefathers without constraining it by the musical barriers that typically bind the genre together. The latest album does just that, expanding their musical boundaries into unconventional reggae and rock tinges beyond the typical punk rock aesthetics.
“It’s actually one of my favorites,” declared DeVore. “Not just to promote it, but it’s one of my favorite albums because it is more of that clarity that we haven’t had for a couple of years now. The last couple of albums, people have been thinking about leaving for this and that and there’s been a lot of push and pull.”
“This one, it’s just a more focused album. We have more focused members. It’s more of an image of what you wanted whereas the past ones, it was so scattered and ‘Let’s hope this works out.’”
“It’s parallel to the excitement that I had with the first album we released – when it was a brand new band – because in a sense it really truly is almost a new band with the same history and energy that we’ve had in the past. But it’s actually a band again. It’s like something that has really come together.”
“The kids, they have expectations. They’ll see if you’ve still got it or if you can pull it off, or whatever you want to say, because it is a new group of people. So there’s probably that nervousness and anticipation with them as well, wondering what the hell it’s gonna sound like. ‘Is it going to be the same band? Is it going to be the same sound?’”
“That’s always the goal with the band – to try and do something that will connect. That’s why we’ve always incorporated so many styles of music – to keep it interesting and keep on trying new things and elements.”
“What I hear mostly about this album when I talk to kids at shows, they’re like, ‘I really like the new album. It’s really good, but it’s different.’ And they can’t explain why it’s different. They just know it’s different, but it’s good. Well, ‘Cool, that’s what we want to hear man.’”
Given the tumult over the last two decades, DeVore might describe the band’s current state as “really good, but different.” But amidst the chaos, the talented artist has learned invaluable lessons.
“The one thing I’ve learned is persistence. I'm obviously a very persistent guy. As far as recording goes, it’s just always to try new things and not be afraid to experiment and branch out and give something else a chance. That goes with the history of this group whether it be members, sounds, styles of music, producers, labels – always give everything a shot, but just be smart about it.”
As evidenced by musical diversity on “The Tipping Point,” DeVore also learned to be comfortable working in different genres.
“I am. I really am. Even after all these years, the different styles of music we’ve played, I've just kind of gotten so used to that – I mean with the slower stuff like ‘Struggle.’ I've done a lot of acoustic slower stuff over the years too, since like 2006.”
“‘Struggle’ was actually a solo song and it’s a funny story. We were recording the album and we were staying at Ken’s (manager Seaton) house. We were hanging out one night after a recording session with Sean and Brandon.”
“And Sean – we were just drinking beers and hanging out – he’s like, ‘Man, you’ve got to give us the ‘Jason stuff,’ man.’ He’s like, ‘We’re a band, dude.’ And I was like, ‘Alright man, well I've got this song.’ The next day we were in the studio and we recorded ‘Struggle.’”
“It was really organic the way it came together with that stuff. It’s just kind of fun. We’ve added new elements to the show as well, bringing out the acoustic guitar and just making it more of a show to embrace those elements – rather than being afraid of playing the hardest hitting ‘21st Century Break Out’ and then going right into ‘Struggle.’”
Not only has Authority Zero’s music evolved over the past 20 years, but the gifted DeVore has developed as a songwriter as well.
“I've changed dramatically, man. Back when we first started, I just had a knack for a hook, I guess, more so than lyrical development. And over the years, one of the things I've really embraced more is the lyrical side of things.”
“I've always got melodies going on in my head. That’s just one of those natural things that happens to me still. It’s just you keep doing it and you get better at it and it comes more naturally to you. It’s just like skateboarding and tricks and all that.”
It’s ironic that the still-youthful “skateboarder” often finds himself in a position to mentor “kids” that are the same age as he was when he began his musical career. Not surprisingly, DeVore takes the responsibility seriously.
“I'm honest with them, man, a hundred percent. And that’s one of the coolest things. That’s one thing I love about it so much, the actual interaction with the kids. That’s why I got into it, you know? That’s exactly why I got into it.”
“My first show ever was Joy Killer in Salt Lake City, Utah. Me and my friends from Wyoming snuck out, crossed the border, and went to the show. I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never been to a punk show in my life.”
“So we went there and Jack (Grisham) from T.S.O.L. is the front man for Joy Killer. I didn’t know this at the time, but we went to the show in the basement and I saw this singer just getting nuts – took his pants off onstage and was freaking out. And I was like, ‘That’s amazing. That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. This guy’s gonna be sh**.’ You know, throwing friends over the pit coming out bloody noses.”
“End of the show, I see the singer. I see Jack walking around. I walk up to him and find some garbage on the floor and I walked up to him and was like, ‘Hey man, can you sign this for me?’ He’s like, ‘Oh, yeah. You don’t have any stickers or anything?’ I'm like, ‘I don’t have any money man, I'm sorry.’ He said, ‘Well, hold on a second.’
“He goes back stage. I just hang out there in the club. He comes back with three stickers and has one of them signed and says, ‘Here you go, man.’ I was like, ‘That is the guy I want to be. If I ever do anything worth a damn, I want to be that guy for kids.’ When kids do come up, I gotta be honest with them.”
“I'm like, ‘Here, this is what’s gonna happen. It’s gonna change your life for the good and the bad. You’re gonna be 35 years later. If you love it that much and you’re going for it and believe in it that much, there’s gonna be ups and downs. But if you believe in it, just go for it and give it a hundred percent. Don’t do it for fame and fortune. You’ve got to do it for the passion and for the love of it.’”
As long as Jason DeVore and his Authority Zero bandmates feel that way, they’ll be blistering the airwaves for the next 20 years.