Make all the jokes you want about Tom Dobrzanski living in his parents' basement, but he doesn't care - the arrangement is working out very nicely for the Vancouver musician. Dobrzanski, one half of the indie band The Zolas (Zachary Gray is the other half), also works in that basement, in a recording studio he constructed while studying business at the University of British Columbia. It started off as a hobby, but now his company, Vertical Studios, has turned into a full-time gig, with bands such as Hey Ocean! and Said the Whale recording there.
His living/working scheme really came together when the Zolas themselves recorded much of their debut CD at Dobrzanski's home. He could roll out of bed each morning - wakened by Howard Redekopp, who produced the album - and be at work minutes later. Properly clothed, though; Dobrzanski draws the line at crossing the hall and entering the studio in anything he wouldn't wear outside.
The resulting CD, Tic Toc Tic - a smart, complex and infectious indie-prog-rock find - is being released this week.
Gray and Dobrzanski are fully ensconced in the Vancouver music scene. The opening song on Tic Toc Tic references local uber-indie venue The Biltmore (where they will kick off their upcoming tour with a CD release party on Jan. 27). Gray's roommate is Tyler Bancroft from Said the Whale. The Zolas just opened a gig for Hey Ocean! at The Vogue in Vancouver, and Dan Mangan stopped by the sound check to say hey. Ali Siadat, from the band Mother Mother, played drums on Tic Toc Tic. The album was produced by Redekopp, who has also produced The New Pornographers and Tegan and Sara. You get the idea.
Gray and Dobrzanski, both 27, have so much history together that, hanging out backstage before a gig, they finish each other's sentences and relate odd facts about each other (Gray claims Dobrzanski can tell the colour of an M&M by taste alone). They have teamed up musically before, starting when they were 14 and their parents car-pooled them together to the B.C. Boys Choir. At one point they formed the band Lotus Child.
But the new band is a much more organic, casual creation, something they started simply because they wanted to have some fun playing music.
"We've had a lot more luck with this [project] this hasn't had such a serious strategy mentality as other things we've been in," says Dobrzanski. "Before it was like, 'Who's going to be [at the show]and who should we make sure comes and sees us? And who do we need to shake hands with after,' and all that bullshit. The band works really well right now. And maybe that's the secret: to treat it like you're not doing it for the money." Breaking even was the duo's first goal, jokes Gray, and so far, they've accomplished that.
Gray, who moved out of his own parents' basement last year (located a couple of blocks away from the Dobrzanski household), has a second career, in theatre. After the Zolas tour, he'll spend a couple of weeks in Saskatoon and later return to Vancouver for a run of the performing in Billy Bishop Goes to War, about the First World War Canadian flying ace. The play was written by John Gray, his father John Gray. "It's kind of like going into the family business in a way," Gray jokes.
Coming even more full circle, Gray is performing the show with Ryan Beil, an old friend with whom he first saw Billy Bishop Goes to War - starring Gray's father and the play's cocreator Eric Peterson - when they were teenagers.
Beil (as Bishop) and Gray (as the accompanying musician) did the show last year and received excellent reviews. But theatre is not where Gray's ambition lies. "I like the music scene," he says. "I like the people in music more than I like the people in theatre, I think. I don't know that many people in theatre. But actors are catty, really catty. As they progress, they become backstabbier and backstabbier." Gray says the Vancouver indie crowd is tightly knit, nurturing and fun. "We all evolve in our own independent clusters, and then get together and decide, 'Wait a second - we could be rivals.' But most of us aren't going to make a living at this anyway," he adds, "so why don't we have a good time while we're doing this? We're all friends. The Vancouver music scene is blossoming like crazy because of that feeling. It's sort of like the story you want to tell when you're older."
The Zolas begin their tour of Western Canada at The Biltmore in Vancouver on Jan. 27 ( myspace.com/thezolas). Billy Bishop Goes to War is at the Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon from March 3-17 and at The Arts Club's Granville Island Stage in Vancouver March 25-April 17.