ENUFF Z’NUFF’s Chip Z’Nuff – on Brainwashed Generation

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Facebook and Twitter are bustling with opinions, theories and propaganda.  From the handling of the coronavirus to protests and looting to the upcoming Presidential election, you can find about as many opinions as you can people espousing on these and numerous other topics.  Instagram, Tik-Tok and Snapchat are populated with pictures of lunch, silly videos and friends staying in touch with each other, even though they may be in the same room.  One thing that the different platforms do, is depending on one’s age and platform of choice, is to highlight differences in generational values.  While 40 and 50 year olds are busy debating the validity of masks, 20 and 30 year olds are occupied with social justice causes and general goofiness.  Chip Z’Nuff, founding member and primary vocalist and songwriter of the power pop quartet Enuff Z’nuff, which bears his name, shares his thoughts on the inspiration for the group’s latest release, Brainwashed Generation available now from Frontiers Music SRL.

The meaning of the title could conceivably be construed as having a different meaning depending on who is being asked.  If you were to ask a college aged young adult, they might tell you it is their parents’ generation that is brainwashed.  They listen to corrupt politicians and strive for the almighty dollar.  Ask a baby boomer and you will probably receive a dissertation on Generation X and Millennials and how spoiled they are and how easy they have it.  After all, baby boomers didn’t grow up with video games, computers, cell phones and access to information at the touch of a screen.  Ask a member of the Greatest Generation and you might be told that all of those groups are brainwashed.  Many of them didn’t even have television in their childhoods.  Regardless of who you ask, there are probably some peccadillos which each group may share uniquely, and no generation is exempt.

Photo Credit: Dave Stekert

When looking at young people specifically,  and their seeming disconnection from social conventions Z’Nuff states, “There’s a lot of fodder out there.  Not only do we have cell phones and computers and social media, one look at the album cover and it pretty much illustrates it.  Kids are on their phones or hanging out and nobody’s really paying attention, like in the old days, where we would have dinner at five o’clock with the family at the kitchen table. There was no TV on, there were no phones, none of that.  It was about spending quality time with the ones that you loved, whether it be friends or family.  I think that’s one of the things we are missing in this day and age.”  Not that the youngest among us are the only ones to engender this affliction, he continues, “All the generations have their little warts, scars and tattoos that we carry as a country.

Brainwashed Generation is a ten song collective of very catchy tunes that are in Z’Nuff’s words, “a lot of songs that have to do with what’s happening in the world right now.  Whether it’s All in Vain or Broken Love, which is the first single on the record.”  While he is very up front about the inspiration for the songs, he is also very adamant bout not determining their meaning,  ” I don’t want to tell anybody what the songs are about, because how one song might be interpreted by one person will be different from another.  So in Sesame Street terms, it’s a record that focuses on what’s happening in the world today.”   The record, being completely listenable, is filled with mostly feel good pop with an edge, is not typical of many records where you have a few standout tracks and the rest is throw away.  Many times, a conversation about a record will contain discussion of each track and what it is about.  Z’Nuff, having already expressed his desire to not define the significance of each track explains, “I want people to hear this with an open mind.”

Photo Credit: Sami Khantache

Although the genesis of its conception is clear, “I had the title Brainwashed Generation last year when I started writing the record.”  The implementation of the record was not so clear cut. “What I was doing during the time of making this record is that I second guessed myself, which I normally don’t do on a record.  But, you’re always concerned about making sure that it’s the right voicing for the songs and making sure the subject matter is what’s happening today.  I recorded a double record by the way, and I figured I’d just take the ten that I feel would fit what was happening right now in the world and use those songs as the novel for this record for Enuff Z’Nuff.  So there wasn’t so much information, you’d be bogged down.  A lot of the old records  were very autobiographical and for this one, I really looked at what was happening in the landscape of the world right now.”

Z’Nuff enlisted the help of some rock n’ roll heavyweights for contributions on this record.  In addition to the current incarnation of the band, with Z’Nuff on bass and vocals, Tory Stoffregen and Alex Kane on guitars and Dan Hill on drums, there are three notable performances on the record, even if one isn’t really audible (more on the later).  “I went out and found great musicians to sit in with the band om the record.  That’s one  of the things that sets it apart from a lot of rock records out there.  I found some great musicians who would come on down and lend their magnificent talents to the record.  I got guys from Cheap Trick, Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater and Winery Dogs, Ace Frehley.  This record is a juggernaut and you just put it on and let it play.  It’s a perfect record to get stoned to or to just fuck to.”

Of course Ace Frehley, being one of the founding members of KISS and having a pretty successful subsequent solo career is quite a catch to perform on your record.  If you are wondering how he made that happen, “Well, Ace and I go back a long way, 30 years.  I had gotten a call from him some time ago and he asked me to come out on tour with him.  He was giving us food off his bus because we were travelling in a van with our equipment, we had a very small budget.  He and his sound guy would come over and give us cupcakes and sandwiches and whatever he could just so we could survive on that tour.  He also gave us booze by the way, that was really nice of him.  Fast forward to December of last year.  He calls us to play a show together in Detroit.  I walk over to his dressing room, here comes Ace with a big hug and I told him I would love for him to play on a new Enuff Z’Nuff record.  Z’Nuff relays in his best Frehley voice, ‘I’d be glad to play on it, send me a track!'”  Now those who purchase the record will notice that Frehley is credited with lead guitar on a track called Drugland Weekend.  “When they sent me back the tape, I couldn’t hear any guitar.  I called them and asked if he could redo it and send it back to me.  Ace was tied up with other matters at the time, and they asked if he could play on the next record.  We already had the artwork and everything, so I rushed into the studio and I did my best impression of Ace Frehley in five minutes and laid down the solo.  Ace Frehley will be on the next Enuff Z’Nuff album, I promise you.”

Photo Credit: Sami Khantache

The second of the three notable musicians to help out on four tracks is Daxx Nielsen, the touring drummer for Cheap Trick and son of founder Rick Nielsen.  Z’Nuff hailing from Chicago and Cheap Trick heralded as the pride of nearby Rockford, Illinois, it comes as no surprise that Z’Nuff and the boys who put Budokan on the map are acquainted.  ” I reached out to Daxx and asked him if he would be kind enough to come down and play on a track or two.  He said, ‘send me whatever you want.’  I sent him five songs, he would have played on the whole record if he could have, but I wanted my guy, Dan Hill, the drummer in the band to play on the record.”  This isn’t the first time a member of Cheap Trick has played with Z’Nuff, ” We’ve always come full circle with Cheap Trick. I had Robin (Zander) on some of my earlier stuff, on my solo record.  Rick Nielsen with Billy Corgan and J.Y. (James Young) from Styx, and now we got Daxx playing on Brainwashed Generation.  The only one I got to get now is Tom Petersson to play 12-string bass on a song.  I’m going to try to bamboozle him to get on a song in the future, we’ll see what happens.”

The last of the superstar guests to make an appearance on this album is Dream Theater founder and current…errr, let’s just say he is the drummer for a lot of bands, Mike Portnoy.  “That guy should be in the Guiness Book of World Records.  The guy is a race car driver, a wonderful car salesman, he can sing, he plays guitar, bass, keyboards as well as drums.  He’s a chef, a dog trainer, the list goes on and on.  He’s like a 20 trick pony!  He just happens to be my wife’s cousin and we go back a long ways.  Boy did he do a great job, one take. One take!  He set up his Beatles drum kit, bashed the song out one time, and goes, ‘What do you think?’, and I go, ‘Done!’  He played on this track called All In Vain, which is one of my favorite songs on the record.”

Photo Credit: Adam Kennedy

Speaking of things going on in the world right now, Enuff Z’Nuff had a tour scheduled to begin in September with Faster Pussycat, which has since been rescheduled for June of 2021.  Unfortunately there is a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty surrounding not only the world in general, but the music scene, somewhat disproportionately.  With concerts being inherently places where people congregate close together, there is difficulty in bringing off live, in-person shows.  “Well, that’s life.  In anything, there’s a risk in what we do in life.  I just go with the guidelines that they provide us.  Even if you don’t agree with them, you wear the mask if you’re going into a place.  I really believe that there’s something else that’s happening too, that this is all a distraction from something else.  I don’t know what that is and I couldn’t tell you without getting into politics.”

It may seem like Z’Nuff is a bit jaded about the younger generation.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, it seems that he has great hope and a lot of admiration for the young adults and teens of today.  “I have a radio station on DX Radio and I talk nothing but hard rock and heavy metal and play the best songs there are, and it’s a celebration of life.  We’re definitely in unprecedented times right now, but the kids out there, I talk to them all the time, they love music.  They’re good people out there.”  Clearly, we are in unprecedented times and life has a certain set of challenges presently.  Those challenges are different from person to person, but he shares his final thought about our future, “I believe that we are going to get through this together, we’re a resilient nation.  And a little discipline, my grandfather would say, never hurt anybody,” he laughs.  That might just be some wise words that are fitting for everyone, regardless of with which generation you identify.

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