Former party-starters soundtrack a developing riot on 'Purple'

Past Zoo Trippin' recordings were sweaty, celebratory affairs, the funk/rock hybrid bashing out mindless jams designed almost entirely with parties in mind. But on the band's debut full-length, Purple, the musicians provide the soundtrack to a developing riot, setting its shape-shifting sound against a lyrical backdrop informed by the Black Lives Matter movement, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and “cis white male” privilege, as frontman Tony Casa sings on “God Is in the Rain,” a carnival-esque whirl of staccato guitars, loping bass and steady-but-urgent drums.

“There's a line on one of our old EPs talking about how ignorance is bliss and I'm having a ball, but now I'm starting to realize that blissful ignorance is not as fun as I used to think,” said Casa, who joins his bandmates for an album release concert at Park Street Saloon on Saturday, June 24. “I had never been a political writer in any sense; I wrote about parties and girls. … But I was forced to wake up and pay attention [during the 2016 election], and I saw this other cis white male [in President Donald Trump] making things pretty terrible for people, and I realized I'm part of that same problem. I see what he's doing, and I don't want to be part of that same sleeping nation of white males who don't care about the rest of the world.”

Not that Casa doesn't have concerns about the group's recent shift in content. The singer fretted some fans might find the new direction “preachy,” and worried others drawn to the party atmosphere that has traditionally surrounded the band might not turn out for songs like “Wait I'm Awake,” which deals with being #woke in the political sense rather than rising from slumber.

“We have built a name for ourselves and an audience that is into that idea of ‘have fun, forget about your problems and show up, dance, party and rage out,'” Casa said.

For Casa, this wakeup call arrived via social media in the weeks leading up the 2016 election, when he'd turn to Facebook with an expectation of scrolling through cat videos only to be greeted by posts detailing oil pipeline protests at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in the Dakotas and the growing Black Lives Matter movement, informed by the police shootings of black men and women.

“Then I switched over to Twitter and Instagram and it was more of the same, and it felt like, ‘Goddamn, everyone is talking about this except for me,'” Casa said. “I'm the only asshole out here looking for cat videos.”

Purple traces this growth, kicking off with more personal, inward-looking songs (on early tracks Casa wrestles with his own shortcomings) and gradually opening up to the world at large as things progress. A similar shift takes place musically, with the album divided into “blue” and “red” halves.

“We found the conflict in the world best represented by the colors red and blue — Republicans and Democrats, Crips and Bloods, fire and water — and we wanted to write something about finding common ground … in order to make purple,” said Casa, noting that guitarist Lynn Roose III studied chromesthesia, where sounds evoke specific colors, prior to composing the songs. “So we wrote all the music in these tones of red and blue and purple. The first side is all blue tones, the second side is all in red, and near the middle is where you get more of the purples.”

Despite the deeper political dive, Casa & Co. maintain the loose spirit of previous recordings, swinging between songs steeped in hard-edged blues, freewheeling funk and the odd acoustic ballad. And while a growing social awareness undoubtedly takes root, the singer never professes to have all the answers, closing the album with a string of questions that find him struggling to hold onto hope during dark times. “What can you do when falling?” he sings.

“I think what gives me hope is somebody like me can change,” Casa said. “I've always done things my way and never paid attention to anything, and if anyone tried to change my opinion I wasn't having it. If I can wake up one day and slowly start changing, I imagine everyone else can.”