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Articles Home » Interviews » Zon - 2003 Interview with Denton Young and Howard Helm
Zon - 2003 Interview with Denton Young and Howard Helm
INTERVIEW: Zon (Jul 2003)
Putting On The Show, with Denton Young and Howard Helm

As a prelude to the new release of the new 2CD album from Escape Music, here is our interview with two of the band's leading lights, Denton Young and Howard Helm, about the new CD and more. Read on..

The audience is hushed, the lights have dimmed, the curtain falls, and the theatrics are set to begin. The boys from Zon are here, and they are about to 'Put On The Show!' Yes indeed, the costumes and masks have been dragged out of the wardrobe after 25 years. The event? The official 2CD re-release by this legendary Canadian band, featuring their 1978 and 1979 albums 'Astral Projector' and 'Back Down To Earth'. Thanks to Escape Music, a new chapter for Zon is about to be written.

Zon came together after Denton Young's previous band, Act Three, lost its guitarist, a certain Rik Emmett, to an outfit called Triumph. Zon originally included Rod Chappell (bass), Howard Helm (keyboards), Pat McGuire (drums), Garry Poplawski (guitar) and Denton (lead vocals). They became better known as a theatrical rock band, working the bar and high school circuit throughout Ontario. Denton's high school friend, Louis Muccilli replaced Garry, but differences in the bands direction caused a split. Louis, Rod and Pat moved on. Brian Miller (guitar), Kim Hunt (drums) and Jim Samson (bass) came in as replacements. Zon continued on the bar circuit until CBS Canada stepped in. Denton and Howard wore costumes and masks, and all who saw their live show were impressed. Their diverse material would later evolve into their best-known musical identity.

Firstly, a burning question by many is how the simple but unique band name of Zon came about. Denton Young explains. 'It was suggested by an ad agency hired to do the band's promotion, we all agreed to it. We thought that the word, which was a made up word, could only ever mean one thing, and that would be us - the band. We didn't know at the time it also meant the Sun in Dutch, but hey, it got us some fans in Holland.'

Compared to prominent Canadian acts of the era, Zon were a little fish in a big sea. However, their live show and sound, was something else, as keyboardist Howard Helm recalls. 'The Canadian bands all had different influences on Zon. Some were competing bands in clubs, others played unrelated types of material and were already established as major artists. We enjoyed the other band's shows very much. But none of them put on a show like Zon - that is until we played with The Tubes!'

Zon were unique musically. The theatrical aspect was an added drawcard, setting them apart from other Canadian bands, the obvious exception to that rule were the totally misunderstood Klaatu! 'Our desire to be different is what set us apart' says Howard. 'We loved the music of many bands, but thought the presentation could go so much further than simply playing the music. Thus, our stage show developed, largely due to Denton's background.'

Zon could've been a guitar oriented or keyboard-oriented band. The latter direction winning the day, according to Howard. 'Speaking for myself as a keyboard player, I have always leaned towards the progressive keyboard oriented bands. Having played with Brian Miller since high school, he and I just had an instinctive way of playing together.'

As a consequence, fans of Zon have been quick to compare them to Queen and Styx. And so too it seems the band members themselves. 'We had enormous respect for them both' agrees Howard. 'Probably two of my greatest career highlights was Zon playing with Styx on their 'Grand Illusion' tour, and when I played with Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson, playing alongside Brian May at the Hammersmith Odeon in London during 1990.'

Eventually, CBS saw something, enough to sign the band up. Howard reckons it was a combination of unbelieveable energy, originality, and the audience response at shows. Denton suggests that CBS saw them as a band that weren't afraid to take chances, combined with a high-energy live show, incorporating masks, costume changes and flash bombs. 'They had never seen or heard anything like it before' he says.

1978's 'Astral Projector' is considered a cult classic by many. The band members somewhat surprised by the level of interest and acclaim, considering the album is now 25 years old. 'You could say we are surprised and delighted that fans are still out there' says Denton. To add to the unique identity of the band, the album, came with a gatefold jacket, cutout holes for eyes, plus blue vinyl. 'The entire package was created by the CBS art department. They took elements from our live show, like the white face mask, and used it on the cover. They did an amazing job.'

And of course there was that album title. The subject of Astral Projection - is better known in today's new-age psychobabble, but back in 1978 the band got some funny looks from people. Astral what? 'I think we did turn some heads on the subject' says Denton jokingly, 'but I was a believer and didn't care at the time.' Howard chimes in at this point. 'Yeah, Denton loved to explain that one to people. Everyone had their doubts about our sanity anyway'

Comparing 'Astral Projector' to 'Back Down To Earth', Zon's sophomore album, there are some subtle differences. Howard and Denton are quick to point out that they were more than just subtle. 'CBS were trying to develop us as songwriters' says Howard. 'But at the time the biggest albums out there were Boston and Meatloaf. This coloured their idea about what music Zon should be playing. 'Astral Projector' set a wheel in motion, and they wanted to change it. I have often speculated that if Zon had pursued the direction of 'Astral', more success would have occurred. That is only my opinion, but to cut to the chase, the second album was purely an attempt at being commercial.'

Denton offers an alternative but equally compelling explanation on 'Back Down To Earth'. 'For starters, the 'Astral' material we'd been playing for a long time. In the studio we were full of raw energy and enthusiasm. 'Astral' was like a live album. Recording 'Back Down to Earth', things were different. We'd been touring non-stop and didn't have the luxury of time to write. We were under pressure to produce songs in a hurry. They didn't get the test of time, nor live audiences or time on the road before they were recorded. CBS changed producers, using Dale Jacobs, a jazz player, not a rock producer like Don Lorusso.'

Howard says when CBS were behind them, things were great. 'What caused the trouble was their decision to fire their AandR dept. We got caught in the middle.' Denton agrees. 'CBS loved Zon. They put everything they could into promoting us. Perhaps too much. I think we were a little intimidated by it all, worried that we mightn't live up to expectations.'

UK Magazine 'Sounds' were very supportive. Paul Suter giving them a profile to the point where people in the UK knew more about Zon than people in Canada. Howard suggests local support was always there. 'We were well received in Canada, the biggest areas were the East Coast, Southern Ontario and Quebec.' Denton also remembers some heady times touring Canada too. 'We played some great gigs and had a lot of fun, opening for Styx at the CNE Grandstand, Foreigner and Alice Cooper too. We also toured with Triumph in Western Canada and Trooper in Eastern Canada. Some day I'd like to meet Paul Suter and buy him a beer!'

Negative publicity and a corporate cleanout saw CBS drop the band from their roster. Zon's option for the third album 'I'm Worried About The Boys' was picked up by CBS before the cleanout. Therein, lay the problem: the new AandR guy wanted nothing to do with Zon. 'They decided to put us in 'mothballs' hoping we would break up' says Howard.

No such luck, Zon continued on, and wrote the album twice, after the first producer was fired. 'I don't think we'll ever know why Zon were dropped' says Denton somewhat mystified. 'It certainly wasn't bad press. Perhaps album sales versus promotional costs? Still, why was there a corporate cleanout? We weren't the cause of that.' Eventually, the third album was released on the small Falcon Records label in 1980. Soon after the band folded.

To everyone's credit, the guys remained in the biz. Currently, Howard is living in Florida, and is still involved with music, Denton works in the construction business, Brian Miller co-owns a flower shop with his wife, Kim Hunt and Jim Samson are members of Canadian stalwarts Moxy, while original bassist Rod Chappell is a member of prog band Lightspeed.

And of course the obvious talking point. What about a Zon reunion? 'Howard and I have talked about it, more from a recording point of view, but no one has considered doing anything long term. A one night or two night gig perhaps' suggests Denton. 'I'd do it! Love to!' Adding fuel to the fire is that the guys are tentatively scheduled to play on Rod Chappell's forthcoming solo album. 'We have talked about a reunion, and this 2CD re-release may help advance things. So yes, there may be more things to come from Zon. Stay tuned' advises Howard.

And a message for long suffering Zon fans. Firstly Denton: 'I'm thrilled that Escape Music is releasing this CD. For me, it represents a time in my life that I'll never forget. We had fun making this music, I hope you have fun listening to it.'

Howard: 'Thanks to everyone for their incredible support over the years, we are all genuinely thrilled to have interest in our first two albums, we did everything we could to 'hang in there' for the fans. Sometimes the business deals you one too many blows. All I can say is watch for something new from Zon!'

Howard and Denton would like to dedicate this album to the memory of drummer and good friend Pat Guire.

Interview with Denton Young and Howard Helm conducted by GLORY DAZE e-magazine, July 2003. This article was written for Escape Music, and appears in the liner notes of the Zon 2-1 CD mentioned in this interview.

Related Articles:

Zon - 1978 Astral Projector
Zon - 1979 Back Down To Earth
Zon - 1980 I'm Worried About The Boys
Zon - 2003 Interview with Denton Young and Howard Helm

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#1 | trillion1999 on November 10 2011 12:32:42
Much as I love Back Down To Earth I would have loved more albums in the vein of Astral Projector.Thanks ZON
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