Squirrel Nut Zippers Announce First Album In 18 Years: Listen to New Song 'Karnival Joe (From Kokomo)'
It's been 18 years since Squirrel Nut Zippers' last album, and group leader Jimbo Mathus saw no need to reinvent the proverbial wheel for Beasts Of Burgundy, which comes out March 23 and whose "Karnival Joe (From Kokomo)" is premiering exclusively below.
"There's kind of a template there for (the band), that kind of New Orleans hot jazz, cabaret, vaudeville era," Mathus tells Billboard. "We work with early 1900s, old American weirdness, y'know? I didn't want to break the mood of that template. You can fit a lot in there, for sure. I just wanted to make the best Zippers record that ever has been made. I think that's what we've done."
Mathus says a new album was not a foregone conclusion when he reactivated SNZ during 2016, after a six-year hiatus. But after touring with the current lineup, a hot group of virtuosos recruited mostly from around New Orleans, it became clear that the goods were there to take the group into the studio once again. "I wanted to use the strengths of the cast, the gentlemen and ladies I have in the group now, which is a lot of talent," says Mathus, who co-produced the album with fiddle player Dr. Sick, recording in Nappy's Dugout studio with longtime engineer Mike Napolitano. "Everybody’s just very talented, and I was able to really bring them in and get something more than I could've before, by myself. I wanted the record to be real New Orleans-centric, especially the old New Orleans."
Beasts Of Burgundy gets started with "Karnival Joe," which follows the introductory "Conglomeration of Curios," a track that pays tribute to Mathus' fascination with carnivals and circuses. "That was probably the first one I did," Mathus recalls. "I get a lot of inspiration from literature, and I was readying about this thing called Cayetano's Circus of New Orleans, a Cuban circus back at the turn of the (20th) century. I was thinking about carnivals and circus life which is a perfect them for the Zippers to address; It fits into the overall weird New Orleans theme I'm going for. We needed something with at a breakneck tempo and it's got the guy-girl thing in it and a great arrangement, and Kokomo is such a fun name for a town."
Mathus and SNZ "didn't really have a plan" going into the making of the album. "We were touring a lot, so we just grabbed days here and there," he says of the process. "I wrote it all within a few months, two summers ago in July when we had a little time off, and the writing popped out pretty fast and I said, 'We've got to record.' So we scraped some money together and got in the studio and knocked it when we could. It was pretty exciting."
Touring, of course, remains SNZ's main focus, and the group is on the road now and has dates booked until the end of March, with more coming. "We've got an incredible agent that's behind us, and I told 'em we want to go to work," Mathus says. "We want to promote this (album), so we're just slam-booking and we'll be doing constant touring to spread the word and take the revival to the people. I'm really proud of (the album) and proud of the band. The talent is unbelievable; I don't see anything out there right now that's like it, so we want to play as much as we can, and it seems like people really want to see it."
The full track list for Beasts Of Burgundy includes:
1 - Conglomeration of Curios
2 - Karnival Joe (from Kokomo)
3 - Pay Me Now (or Pay Me Later!)
4 - Beasts of Burgundy
5 - Hey Shango!
6 - Something Wicked (pt.2)
7 - West of Zanzibar
8 - Rusty Trombone
9 - Use What Mama Gave You
10 - Axman Jazz (Don't Scare Me Papa)
11 - Something Wicked (pt.1)
12 - Fade