An interview with vocalist Dean Kesler and bassist Chris Franczek of Zeroed Hero
by Mike Huberty
Vocalist Dean Kesler and bassist Chris Franczek are long-time collaborators and musicians in the Madison scene. Their latest project, ZEROED HERO, adds Alison Margaret on keyboards and vocals and Tony Kille on drums. The band’s new album Love Letters To A Mannequin is guitar-driven alt-rock that ranges from the crunchy (“Precipice”) to the Americana-flavored (“Read Just Like My Heart”) to the metallic (“Dog Years”). Many of the songs have a tight riff-y sound from a careful interlocking of the rock n’ roll standard guitar, bass, and drums, but that’s important because it exposes the lyrics before they open into powerful and dramatic choruses. Kesler’s voice is sweetened by Margaret’s female harmonies that add a certain melancholy to the songs. Local axeslinger Dain Di Mattia (from MICHAEL ALEXANDER & BIG WHISKEY) handled much of the guitar work on the record, but Steve Truesdell will be handling the duties live. File Love Letters under Modern Power Pop that blends the earnest conviction of 70s rock with the precise sonic power of late 90s alternative.
We talked with Dean and Chris about their album and their release party at The Frequency on April 13th with THE GERMAN ART STUDENTS and SMALL MEDIUMS.
MI: Why’d you call yourselves ZEROED HERO?
ZH: Historically for us, coming up with band names has been a mixed bag. The process is often a rollercoaster where you come up with a name you’re really excited about and then, after some research, realize its unusable for various reasons, often because it’s being used by somebody else. You generally have very little information about the band to base the name on and then you’re essentially stuck with it forever. Over time, you can change nearly everything about a band except the name so it makes sense that bands tend to “grow into” their names over time. The short, mundane story is that Zeroed Hero resonated with us for a couple reasons: 1) it’s not being used by another band, 2) it’s unique and has a catchy sound, and 3) it hints at our ethos of sort of a “blue collar” person who does what needs to get done and is reliable and relatively humble but doesn’t get much in the way of recognition for it - like a mechanic or a nurse or a special ed teacher an everyday sort of person. Kind of the antithesis of the oft-overused “hero”.
MI: What’s the single off Love Letters?
ZH: “Til I Begin” is a reasonable place to start, though there’s not a single song on this album that’s thoroughly indicative of our sound. We trusted the songs while writing and intentionally didn’t try to fit everything in to a specific sub-genre or genre. If you listened to that one, “Precipice”, “Pen to Paper”, and “Read Just Like My Heart”, you’d have a solid lap around the perimeter of Love Letters to a Mannequin’s range.
“Til I Begin” has elements that are common to the rest of the record: it’s got a big chorus, plenty of texture, harmonies, and dynamics. Like most of these tracks, there’s plenty of driving guitars. Topically, it leans toward introspection and coming to grips with your circumstances but that’s not to say it’s dark or brooding. With all of these songs, there’s plenty there to think about and often times a reason to be hopeful.
MI: What does Love Letters to a Mannequin refer to? It’s not based on the movie with Kim Cattral, right?
ZH: After a particularly rough patch of significant loss, Dean (Kesler, our primary lyricist) turned to writing letters as a means to process the disarray. Never intended to be sent, these one-way communications became metaphorically referred to as “love letters to a mannequin”. The idea of trying to communicate with someone or something no longer available provided an interesting creative vehicle. Some of the topics in those letters became songs or parts of songs on the album. Most, thankfully, did not.
MI: What are the through-lines that tie the record together?
ZH: There are no rugs, but, musically, it’s pretty guitar-driven throughout, there’s a common emphasis on rhythm being central to each song’s “signature”, and there are a lot of backing vocals and vocal harmonies. Collaboration is another common thread; Dean & Chris collaborated on the music for each song and eight of the eleven songs feature at least one guest artist, very few of which are known as rock musicians. It was enlightening and a ton of fun working with so many different musicians.
MI: So, what’s the release party going to be like?
ZH: Like the album, our five-piece band is built from a pretty diverse set of badass musicians. We’re a rock band, but we’re offering a fresh take and bringing a lot more to the party than voluminous riffage. There’s enough of that staple guitar-driven sound to satisfy rock fans but we’re also bringing great harmonies, keyboards for additional texture, and most importantly, interesting songs.
CD: Love Letters To A Mannequin