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Iron-willed indies 

Zelazowa show dedication to the road

They've got a case of road burn to rival James Brown in his heyday. For their '06-'07 tour, Philadelphia-based rockers Zelazowa covered 47 states and 10 countries, doing more than 400 shows in just over a year. "It translates roughly to 'iron will,'" Zelazowa guitarist Kyle Weber says of the band's name.

Zelazowa's members are dedicated road warriors, but the band's iron will seems to be growing some rust on it in places. "I want to kill myself almost every day," drummer Terry Sharkey admits on the band's documentary chronicling their life on the road, What They Want Us To Be We Can't Always Be...

"He was just joking around," Weber says, "but there are certain times when it wears on you, being away from home for a long time, not having a comfortable place to stay every single night." Without a label, sponsor, manager or booking agent, the band's DIY setup has no room for a hotel budget, so the band depends on fans and new friends to put them up on the road. "The desire to get the music out there is very high," Weber says, "and there's no other way of getting your music out other than touring, so you just make the best of the situation."

The band conducts most of their business at the most basic grass roots level. These guys don't carry laptops, preferring instead to get their online needs taken care of in a communal setting, "mingling with the bums at the public library," bassist Ian Sharkey reveals on the documentary.

Even though they rub elbows with the common man on a daily basis, the band is not unfamiliar with loftier musical realms. Zelazowa is the town in Poland where Fredrick Chopin was born. But this band has nothing in common, sound-wise, with Chopin. "When people ask me to describe it, I usually say Soundgarden and Alice in Chains meets Neil Young," Weber says

Some swear they hear the ghost of Nirvana grunging away in the band's sound, trying for a resurrection, but Weber says while that music may have had some influence on the band's sound, that sound is not what they're going for. Zelazowa's sound can be a heavy metal guitar attack at times, but their two- and three-part vocal harmonies are often as pretty as you'll find in old time music.

Still, they remain labeless. An indie label in Paris has shown some interest, but the band will continue to pound out their message throughout this country and abroad. Weber says they'll even consider hiring a booking agent. "It's a matter of meeting that person that is as driven and has the desire that we do."

For now, Weber takes care of that, even setting up showcases for the band. It's done a bit differently than it used to be when the suits from the record company summoned you to perform for them in a sterile setting. "You book a show in a major city where these labels are located and it'll just be a regular show -- especially nowadays -- they want to know how you're drawing," Weber explains. "They don't want to just have you come and play for them and have them sit and take notes and judge you on your performance. Half the reason they want to sign you is because they know that people like what you're doing, so they want to come and see a show."

But Weber has learned a few industry tricks from his relentless touring and hands-on management style. Your band may be fiercely independent, but you still have to bend a bit to get the attention you want to get where you want to be. "You just need to cater the show a little differently, rather than play a Friday night in one of your strong markets, you play a Tuesday night and you play a little earlier like at eight o'clock rather than at ten. Those guys get off work, go home, get dinner, check out the show, then they go home," Weber says. "You don't want to inconvenience them, give them any incentive not to come out."

Meanwhile the band is busy bolstering its iron will link by link. Currently, they're charting in 15 to 20 college radio markets. "You tell people you tour the nation, tell 'em you're touring Europe, their opinion of you goes up a little bit," Weber says. "They hear your song on the radio, it goes up a little more. You have a documentary, all those things add up, make people think higher of you," the guitarist says. "We're not going away any time soon."

Zelazowa play Feb. 13 at Snug Harbor with the Sex Idiots. Showtime is 10 p.m.

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