"The first time I saw Charlie Looker, I felt bad for the dude. Here he was with his band Zs, playing Philly for the first time, pouring every ounce of energy and spirit into the performance. I was a young buck, only 16, smoking cigarettes outside and waiting for headliners
Les Georges Leningrad to come on when my friend sent me a stern text from the belly of the beast: “Dude. Come in.” So I curiously re-entered my favorite church basement to find six airtight musicians blasting away with horrible symmetry, squawky sax shards playing against dissonant guitar chords and wonderfully unpredictable rhythmic cells. To put it simply, Zs took me to the nether regions of musical abstraction and I never looked back. Unfortunately, the majority of the crowd was less receptive. Between songs the young band endured some pretty brutal mockery. If anything, I think that response was a good indicator of how forward-thinking, how much musicians’ musicians Zs truly were. And hey, all’s well that ends well: Several years and performances later, Zs had attained legendary status in the New York avant-community, playing some of the most mind-altering new music ever laid to space, with balls to boot. How many new music ensembles have you seen where the drummer breaks his bass drum playing too hard?
Charlie Looker was a founding member of that band “back in 2001 when I was just a tiny shoot,” as he put it to me. As a student at Wesleyan during Zs’ formative years he would commute down to New York for rehearsals, the rest of his band being enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music. He even traveled to the Czech Republic for a music conference with members of Zs. As Charlie once told me, “we were really up in each others’ heads” (how else could one make music so f-ing tight?). Clearly, the incredible uniformity of the band’s expression was an extension of their personal connection, their countless hours spent together poring over the smallest of musical details. So you can understand my surprise when Charlie left Zs to pursue his solo material as Extra Life.
Extra Life marks a certain departure from the music of Zs. Although Charlie was responsible for one of the only (and best) Zs songs with lyrics in “Nobody Wants to be Had,” very little of the Zs material displayed the wonderful melodic sensibilities that have been put to the fore in his solo material. “This was my return to singing, which had been a part of my music pre-Zs but had fallen by the wayside,” explains Charlie. “It was my return to my voice, but in a way it was my real beginning as a vocal stylist with my own vibe. I got so inspired by the solo songs that I decided to form a band and do tight arrangements of them. I got so into the band that I left Zs to do Extra Life full-on.” (Ampeater)
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