Squirrel Nut Zippers are headed for a big and busy year, sliding between its present and its past — and even both at the same time in the case of the re-recorded version of “Wash Jones” from their first album, premiering on Billboard today (Feb. 19).
This year marks the 25th anniversary of SNZ’s debut album The Inevitable, which introduced the world to its hot blend of jazz, blues, swing and other genres — a blend that combusted into success its sophomore album, 1996’s Hot, and its Top 15 hit “Hell.” To commemorate, SNZ is releasing an anniversary edition of the album on Record Store Day, April 18, and will be playing The Inevitable in its entirety during their upcoming spring tour.
In addition to that, the current incarnation of SNZ has recorded a new album, the follow-up to 2018’s Beasts of Burgundy, that the group plans to have out in the fall.
“It’s all pretty exciting,” SNZ co-founder James “Jimbo” Mathus tells Billboard. “I thought that this thing was built to last and there’s nothing like it out there way back then, but I wanted to prove that to myself as well as everyone else. It’s unique — in music, in culture, in society. I think that’s a big reason it’s still going like it is today.”
Mathus says he feels every minute of the 25 years since The Inevitable came out, though he considers it a lifetime ago. He put the group together in North Carolina with his then-wife Katharine Whalen and some other like-minded musicians, and Mathus particularly recalls how much SNZ stuck out before it found a home in the burgeoning, if short-lived, mid-90s swing boom.
“Up to that time we had been doing all kinds of different genres, everything from Appalachian music to gospel and blues,” Mathus remembers. “We really decided what kind of band we were gonna be right before that record, and we picked the material that we thought would be most interesting. As far as thinking that two years later we’d have a million-selling record, never.”
Mathus adds that he was moved to re-record “Wash Jones” — which will be released on Feb. 28 — as a tribute to the current SNZ lineup, a troupe of mostly New Orleans-based players he feels has elevated the group’s repertoire since Mathus put it together nearly four years ago. “Twenty-five years ago we were rank novices in creating this new kind of music,” he says. “All that skill that’s been learned since then, all the i’s are dotted, and the t’s are crossed. The Zippers band now, a lot of them grew up listening to the Zippers. They’re 10 and 12 years younger than me.
“They were in high school when ‘Hell’ came out, or junior high, even. It’s exciting to hear what they do with the [old] music.”
Mathus adds that he’s just as stoked about the upcoming Lost Songs of Doc Souchon, the title an homage to the late New Orleans jazz guitarist and music historian. “He was, like, the original kind of folklorist dude. He really kept alive a lot of the traditional vaudeville and blues and jazz before even the folk revival brought it back,” Mathus says. The album, recorded last year in New Orleans, follows in that spirit. “It’s very cool, quirky, very tight and even more far-reaching than the jazz and swing we’ve ever done,” Mathus says. “It’s our best record yet — I really feel that.”
Listen to “Wash Jones” below.
Squirrel Nut Zippers’ upcoming The Inevitable 25th anniversary tour dates include:
3/5/20 — Alexandria, VA @ Birchmere
3/6/20 — New York, NY @ Symphony Space
3/7/20 — Brookvale, NY @ Tilles PAC
3/8/20 — Philadelphia, PA @ World Cafe Live
3/10/20 — Warrendale, PA @ Jergel’s
3/11/20 — Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom
3/12/20 — Ferndale, MI @ Magic Bag
3/13/20 — Chicago, IL @ City Winery
3/14/20 — Hopkins, MN @ Hopkins PAC
3/25/20 — Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom
3/26/20 — Tucson, AZ @ Rialto
3/27/20 — San Diego, CA @ Music Box
3/28/20 — Los Angeles, CA @ Teragram Ballroom
3/29/20 — Berkeley, CA @ Freight & Salvage
3/30/20 — Petaluma, CA @ Mystic Theatre
4/1/20 — Eugene, OR @ Jaqua Concert Hall
4/2/20 — Portland, OR @ Aladdin Theater
4/3/20 — Seattle, WA @ Triple Door
4/4/20 — Seattle, WA @ Triple Door