Zipper Club is what happened when a punk rocker, Mason James, connected with pop singer (and former model) Lissy Trullie, giving James a chance to set aside his punk leanings for more melodic pop sounds while the duo combines to explore their inner New Order. The band is produced and championed by James Iha, of Smashing Pumpkins fame. We caught up with them after their set at Coachella in 2017.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): I noticed the male-female dynamic, and that you trade off vocals. Do you write songs together?
Mason James: It started as a bedroom project, and when me and Lissy met up, we started writing together and that's where the project really got its bones and solidified. And working with her, she's an amazing songwriter! I spend a lot of time focusing on synth sounds and trying to create a soundscape. I come from more of a film background in that regard.
So working with her, it shaped the record. It started with me, but her getting involved, it became a project.
Songfacts: So, Lissy, are you the primary lyrical writer for the group?
Lissy Trullie: No, I think it's pretty equal.
Mason: Once we started collaborating, it became a really back-and-forth thing. She's great at bringing hooks out. For example, a big chorus. She's the go-to lady. I find good songwriting happens when you don't try to one-up one another, so it's like a friendly, competitive battle. You need that second opinion to go in and kind of move the parts around and shapeshift it into an actual song people want to jam out to.
Lissy: But it's a nice change from writing by myself. I'm not a synth person - I'm more guitar based, and he's really good at keys. It's a nice complement, and something I couldn't bring to the table.
Mason: Yeah, I think we complement each other nicely. This is my first project not singing in punk bands.
Songfacts: It's a lot more pop for you.
Mason: It's way more pop for me (laughing).
Lissy: But a lot of punk music is pop.
Mason: I mean, look at The Clash.
Songfacts: If somebody asked, "What kind of music does Zipper Club play," what would you say?
Lissy: It's a hard question.
Mason: It's the hardest question. You don't want to pigeonhole yourself as a musician. You don't want to say, "We are this," because that's boring.
We're very '80s inspired, and we go back and we look at bands like New Order – who are playing here. Sonically, that's what turns me up. And then making that in a 21st century package, like, throwing in some weird trap drum beats. Getting weird with those '80s tools and turning it into a modern perspective and modern palette.
Songfacts: Lissy, do you appreciate New Order as much as Mason does?
Lissy: I love New Order!
Mason: I don't think anyone could love New Order as much as I do.
Songfacts: Were you a Joy Division guy?
Mason: That's where we come together. I'm New Order, she's Joy Division. Not that I don't like both.
Songfacts: What is it that draws you to New Order? What do you like about them?
Mason: It took a little while into my music consumption phase where I realized that going into a show with the perception of how you want a band to look is always going to be misleading and most of the time you're probably going to be disappointed. I'm always refreshed and happy when I come away from a show where they were entirely different than what I expected.
Songfacts: When it comes to songwriting, are there songwriters that have influenced the way you two write songs?
Lissy: I love Scott Walker. Todd Rundgren.
Mason: Even more recently, I'm a really big fan of Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse. I just love the way he delivers vocals. I look at it more as what is uniquely cool about each individual songwriter and I definitely gravitate to darker lyrics, and more of the double entendre and dark music with happy lyrics.
Songfacts: When you said that, The Cure always comes to mind. They have those upbeat, poppy sounds, but then when you dig in and you listen, you realize, Wow, this is really dark!
Mason: I think that's what we were going for with this project: trying to have a poppier sound in a good way, but also still have the meat to back it up.
Lissy: And we both like hip-hop, and we mix that in through the back door.
Songfacts: I want to talk about some specific songs. I noticed that you did "Tick-Tock" today. And a few of your songs mention time.
Mason: Time's a huge thing for us. Especially complex concepts. How do you wrap your head around it?
Yesterday was 4-20, and of course I was super stoned. We were watching TV, and it was my chameleon's birthday, so we were having a birthday party for my chameleon. We were watching Adult Swim, and a talking chameleon comes on the TV and says, "This is the oldest you've ever been, and the youngest you've ever been." And I don't know why, but for some reason the weed plus that time, I just went to "Tick-Tock" from there.
Songfacts: What are some of your songs you are most proud of or that fans often ask you about?
Mason: "Tick-Tock" is a perfect one because that's one of the first songs we started working on together. We were chilling in her friend's apartment in New York kind of threshing out a bass line and just staring out a window smoking cigarettes. And I think being in the space is such an important part in writing a good song.
It's about where we were at this time, being in a Lower East Side apartment in New York with our feet dangling off the fire escape playing bass and just kind of running through what our life was like at that time. We had just signed to Epic. It was a super whirlwind for us, in and out of crazy studios, and the "Tick-Tock" of the clock was nonstop.
Songfacts: What are some other songs? Are there songs that maybe your fans would be curious to know more about?
Mason: We just released "Regrets" today. That song, I'd just gotten a Juno, and I love that synthesizer so much! I have a home studio, so we did a lot of parts there, and then we took it to North Hollywood to flesh out properly with James Iha - he just makes things magic.
That song, if you listen to the stems you can hear my dog. My dog likes to curl up in my guitar case. You can hear my dog's collar rustling on 50 percent of the stems.
Songfacts: That's part of what makes it cool, right? That spontaneity. I was reading recently where Brian Eno was talking about how sometimes the mistakes are the best part.
Mason: For sure. People go out of their way to be in these soundproof rooms and shit like that, but when we're in the studio and we're just fucking around, that's where all the magic happens. Happy mistakes. I'll copy and paste something in the wrong place and it'll work. And you're, like, "That's not supposed to work," and it does. It's awesome.
Songfacts: You mentioned James Iha. Is there a story behind how you connected with him?
Mason: Yes. I met James in a basement in Brooklyn, working on a single for my previous project for Record Store Day. Like, way back. The studio we were in was super dingy, and it was a quick in and out, just bang-out-a-track kind of day. But there are certain producers that you work with where you can just tell they have it, and James just has it. After hanging out with him that day, it just solidified: This is the only person for this project. I started sending him some stuff, and he would send notes back. He was a very collaborative producer, which is what we were looking for.
Songfacts: A lot of people think about Smashing Pumpkins, but they don't think about him. How much of a part with Smashing Pumpkins do you think he played?
Lissy: He would pick up his guitar in the studio and say, "What do you think about this?" And we were just taken aback.
Mason: He would take out the EBow and just make it sing. He would be in the studio with just this huge EBow-y sound. I can't speak highly enough about James' musical abilities.
Songfacts: He believes in you guys so much. That's gotta be huge.
Mason: That was what got it all started, was him kind of pushing it. Pushing us musically, songwriting-wise, and just everything. He's been a huge part of being where we're at today.
June 12, 2017. Their website is zipperclub.com.