Zelda and the Unibrows is a collective of artists based in Detroit, U.S.A. The project has existed as music, videography, sketch comedy, cartoons, and a zine since the founders Joseph C. Krause and Paul Szewczyk began making home recordings in middle school, and is joined today by Jeff Jimison, Christopher Holt, and a constellation of other talented former-auto-workers-turned-chamber-musicians.
Paul and Joe meet in Mrs. Yarborough’s class and spend recess drawing cartoons, flip books and new levels for Super Mario 3.
Joe, Paul and others make terrible home recordings in the format of a radio show called WDUM. Between original sketches, Joe plays Weird Al songs and Paul plays Beethoven. Joe produces a Weird Al tribute album called “Prosthetic Lips”, with contributors from the newsgroup alt.music.weird-al. Joe meets Chris Holt, who plays the piano on a cover of Weird Al’s “School Cafeteria”, the first music track Zatu ever releases. Paul and his siblings create many amazing home movies, viewable in this playlist.
Paul begins composing music and Joe begins producing it and the bulk of the “Neves-eatnouT” album is created, released on home-dubbed cassette at first with poetry by Kristin Sammons. Joe publishes 14 issues of a photocopied zine called “Waiting For Lunch Magazine”, with contributions from Kristin, Paul and Chris Holt. The last issue of the zine is released with a compilation of comedy music called “Binge and Purge”, including tracks by Zatu as well as other obscure comedy artists.
Recording “Neves-eatnouT”. Kristin is inside a fort made out of couch cushions.
Joe co-founds and performs in an improv comedy group called Mr. Rogers’ Sweatshop, affording him a performance on the Second City stage. We record demos of a musical called “Obsidian”, which is never released. Paul secretly writes a requiem, of which 10% has been released. Joe records demos for friends’ band Chinese Happy in exchange for them performing Zatu music.
Neves-eatnouT is revised and released on CD. It gets scattered radio play, culminating with repeated plays on the CBC-2 show Brave New Waves. Joe heads to Chillicothe Ohio to learn how to work in a studio at Recording Workshop, meeting Jon Zingale who plays most of the instruments on “Major Klepto Hoedown”. Paul studies Buddhism extensively and Joe collaborates with Jesse Barnes on a noisy side project initially called “Action Sound Super Band” that ended up as a Zatu release called “The Inconceivable Excursions of Captain Spacerocket in the 24th Century”.
Zatu appears on a second Weird Al tribute album called “Me, Myself and I”, this time covering “I Remember Larry” with Chrystal Starr singing the lead.
Joe finds a 1978 home recording of a stranger’s family at a thrift store and Paul begins writing the music that turns it into the album “Happy Tape”. “Spacerocket” and “Happy Tape” are released together on a CD called “Greens“, which featured a golf pencil in the little plastic CD spine. “Greens” wins “Best Experimental Song” and “Best Experimental Album” awards from the Just Plain Folks website and is played on WDET, Detroit’s NPR affiliate. Joe and Jason Sterle co-engineer Chinese Happy’s first major CD “Apathy Is Worse Than Hatred”.
Joe produces a side project with Tim Rath and Jerry DiFranco called “The Mangler“. The audio-based sketch comedy series tells the story of an infant-devouring superhero who is convinced that every baby consumed would have grown up to become a criminal mastermind, a concept for which there is little evidence. Nine episodes are produced. Joe plays accordion on stage in a musical called “Manny in the Mirror”.
Joe and Paul make the “City Kids” video, which gets the attention of The Detroit Free Press. Joe records and performs on two albums for friend Andrew J. Baillargeon, “Devil’s Cake Mix” and “Knowing What Birds Know”, and mixes a self-titled EP for local band The Pizazz. Joe graduates from Wayne State University with a degree in Media Arts.
We hadn’t met Jeff Jimison yet, but he and collaborator Ben Hastings were busy making “John Cue” at this time. Still in high school, they submitted a script about John DeLancie, a regular as “Q” on Star Trek: The Next Generation, to DeLancie himself. He flew to Michigan and starred in Jimison and Hastings’ high school short. Can you believe that happened?
Joe records two more albums for Chinese Happy, “Rampage” and “Bear Hands”, followed by demos for “Brunch: The Musical”. The “Unreason” album is recorded, and Jeff Jimison, fresh out of high school and looking remarkably like Harry Potter, enters the scene with a terrific contrabassoon performance.
Joe befriends electronic musician Psilodump, aka Simon Rahm, who lives in Sweden. They collaborate over Skype and make vocal appearances on each other’s albums. Joe has a cameo on the “Psilodumputer” album at the beginning of the track “Ensam” and can be heard sneezing in the bonus track.
“Unreason” is released. This time it’s not only played on CBC-2’s late-night experimental show “Brave New Waves”, but also makes it onto “Disc Drive” with Jurgen Gothe – an afternoon classical show. Zatu gets free reign over radio station WPHS and creates a one-hour radio special for the occasion. A Zatu podcast is launched, but fizzles after a handful of episodes.
Joe works in the locations department and in post-production on “The Job“, a film featuring Ron Perlman and Joey Pantoliano. The film wins “best screenplay” at the San Diego film festival but fails to garner theatrical distribution. Joe along with most of Chinese Happy appears on stage briefly in the film. Joe joins “The Michigan Epic Orchestral Ensemble”, a large group of musicians that exists for precisely four rehearsals.
“Happy Tape” and “Captain Spacerocket” are released separately for the first time and with bonus tracks. Chris Holt records “Silent Night”, released as a single. Paul, Jeff and Joe embark on making a short film using the music from the “Unreason” album as score and create an expensive and complex short that isn’t finished until 2010. Among other things, the production involved a 50 pounds of whole walnuts shooting out of a pipe
“How I Lost My Body” released as a single. “Silent Night” gets a music video directed by Jeff. It takes half of the time and money compared to “Unreason” and may even be funnier. Jeff Jablonski and Casey Gardiner provide animation and graphics. Georgian artist Lado Darakhvelidze entices us to form a temporary band to perform over Skype for the art project “Museum TV Station”, beginning a new long-term collaboration.
The “Blissful Cessation” EP is released. Lado calls on us again for another Skype performance and this time grad student and conductor Indervir Singh takes notice. Within a few days, Indervir assembles an orchestra and arranges and conducts Paul’s Requiem piece “Recordare” and Joe’s “Pluffart”. Jeff joins to recite text from “Happy Tape” and to strike the tam tam.
Paul’s composition written to commemorate Detroit’s poorly-designed monorail system, “The People Mover” is chosen by Brooklyn’s Open Spark Project for performance on musical Tesla Coils. Lisa Raschiatore performs clarinet on the backing tracks and we make a video about the whole thing. Lado invites Joe to New York where he sings “I Like Food” and “How I Lost My Body” live at The Kitchen gallery in Chelsea after an interview on Yvonne Szymczak’s crazy music show on WFMU.
They Might Be Giants holds a contest to make a music video for their song “Am I Awake?“. Out of 150 entries, Zatu’s entry makes the finals but does not win. Jeff directs, Joe produces, and dancer Tara Corrado stars. It’s our most efficient production so far, taking only one month from concept to completion.
Joe co-founds Erie Canal Theatre and writes the theme music to their first show, “Switchboard Infinity”. Zatu contributes other music to the various shows, including a parody of music from Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos”, and other musical score for original productions. 18 episodes of “Switchboard” are created, six episodes of a retro-80s noir comedy called “Laughageddon”, and an old-timey radio drama Halloween special called “The Thing on the Fourble Board”.
Joe visits Psilodump at his studio in Stockholm, Sweden and delivers to him a dumptruck full of Zatu samples spanning 20 years, which are still being reconfigured into an elaborate new track on a future Psilodump release.
The “Museum TV Station” EP is released, featuring live performances with a rock band and orchestra.
Joe creates original sound design for “Playing With Dolls” by Academy Award Nominated animator Gary Schwartz.