Throughout the 90s, Orange County witnessed an explosion of local punk music accompanied by a pattern of bands getting signed to major record labels. One of the bands that emerged during this time was Zebrahead, an alternative rock band formed in 1996 whose current lineup includes Ali Tabatabaee, Ben Osmundson, Ed Udhus, Dan Palmer and Adrian Estrella.
Zebrahead at 02 Ritz in Manchester, United Kingdom, November 14th 2018
The band members started out as music fans attending punk shows, and some early members such as Osmundson, Udhus and original Zebrahead lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Justin Mauriello were in local punk bands at the time.
“I came home and I was living with my parents, and so I started hanging out with Ben again because he was an old high school friend. He was big time into the scene, so he would drag me to these punk rock shows, and I started going to his rehearsals,” said Tabatabaee. “At that time I was really heavy into Cypress Hill and stuff, so he would go up there before or after his band would rehearse and play Cypress Hill basslines and he’d be like, ‘Dude, come up and rap!’ So I would go up there and do whatever Cypress Hill songs, and then Ed started playing drums, and at the time Greg was there as well, so we just started kind of messing around.
One day they were all playing a show together, Ed’s band, Ben’s band and Justin’s band, and in between sets they were like, ‘Hey, let’s go up and do one of these Cypress Hill type songs that we were messing around with just for fun.’ It was Ben’s CD release party at this place called Cuze Cafe, and we went up there and we performed ‘Check,’ which was the first song we ever wrote that ended up on our first album, and they got such a better response from that one song than their other bands, so they were like, ‘We should really focus on this band.’”
Thus, Zebrahead was formed. After this first performance at Cuze Cafe, Tabatabaee and Osmundson made their way over to Kinko’s to print flyers for their next show. On the way, they realized the band needed a name.
“The night before I had watched the movie called Zebrahead with Michael Rapapor in it, and I loved that movie,” said Tabatabaee, “I was like, ‘Let’s just use Zebrahead, and then we can change it later.’ So, we went into Kinko’s and we printed out these Zebrahead flyers. I guess we were just so lazy we never changed it.”
Zebrahead played local shows at bars across Orange County until one day, a bar manager stopped in and heard them playing. He offered to bring in artist manager Todd Singerman, who is now Zebrahead’s current manager. Singerman brought in talent scouts to Zebrahead’s next show, which ended in them getting a deal with Columbia Records and beginning their first tour about 25 years ago.
In 2021, Estrella became Zebrahead’s lead vocalist after Matty Lewis left the band to pursue solo work. Lead guitarist Palmer surprised Estrella with the news over drinks at Hooters.
“[Palmer] was like, ‘Let’s take a shot!’ So we cheered the shot and he goes, ‘Oh by the way you’re the new singer of Zebrahead,’ and we took the shot and I was like, ‘... what? Alright!’” Estrella said.
Despite only being in the band for about a year, Estrella has already enjoyed creating new music with Zebrahead and expresses excitement for the future.
“Obviously me being a fan of the band, it’s really cool to be in the band. Writing with them has been so much fun already,” said Estrella. “I’ve only gotten to play two shows so far, which were two amazing shows in the U.K. for Slamdunk. I’m looking forward to touring, very much looking forward to playing all of our new songs, plus playing a lot of the old songs and stuff like that. I’m just ready to get on the road with the boys and tear it up, get those live shows going and that energy in the crowd going.”
Bringing Estrella into Zebrahead has heavily benefited the other band members as well, according to Tabatabaee.
“With having Adrian now in the band, every experience is kind of new again,” Tabatabaee said. “His energy is just off the hook. He brings the rest of us up because he’s so excited and so stoked to be in the band and experiencing all this stuff with us, it makes us appreciate it more… I really appreciate that about Adrian with him being in the band now.”
Zebrahead at 02 Ritz in Manchester, United Kingdom, November 14th 2018
Zebrahead is set to release their newest EP, III, on November 26. Three singles from the EP, “Out Of Time,” “Lay Me To Rest,” and “A Long Way Down,” are already available on all streaming services. The new EP signals the beginning of a new chapter for Zebrahead, as they begin their creative journey with Estrella and step back into things like touring, which they haven’t experienced since before the start of the pandemic.
“[III] was one of those things where we just kind of got in the room, we were at Ben’s house, and things just started flowing. We talk about this often, it is a little bit darker. But, just because it’s darker doesn’t mean it’s a sad album. It’s more about being hopeful in these dark times. At least for Zebrahead, they didn’t know what the fate of the band was going to be for a minute, they didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Estrella. “They found me, and we’re breathing new life to each other’s lives and to this band… I think initially, the songs that came out of this first EP, III, is just us being able to vent our frustrations from the past couple years and kind of finding more in the loss of people, more in the loss of a past that we’ve all had, and looking on to the future.”
Zebrahead draws inspiration from their personal experiences as well as the experiences of those around them. The band members channel their experiences into their music as a way to release the overwhelming emotions they are dealing with.
“I think that in 2020 I lost like 36 of my close friends due to motorcycle accidents, COVID-19, accidental overdoses, suicides, and so I think we always draw inspiration from the things that we’re going through or the things that we see around us that people are going through, which makes it so much more real,” said Estrella. “Don’t get me wrong, we can have a night out on the town and have one of the craziest nights parting and we could be inspired by that as well. We just draw inspiration from everything we go through and what we see, our surroundings, real-life scenarios.”
The similarity between they ways Estrella and Tabatabaee tackle their emotions through their music has lead to a smooth songwriting process and a strong bond between bandmates.
“Whatever happens, Adrian kind of internalizes it and uses it as a way to be creative. He’s the first person that I’ve worked with that is so similar to me. So, these songs that we’ve been working on have been very seamless,’ said Tabatabaee. “Writing with Adrian, I feel like we come from the same place and we realize how important it is to be authentic and make sure that our experiences mean something, and the way that we get through them is by writing about them. It’s been great to work with Adrian.”
The videos and songs each tell a story, with “Lay Me To Rest” telling the story of the new beginning for Zebrahead, “A Long Way Down” being their adventure to playing the first show together as this new chapter, and “Out Of Time” referencing the struggles that the band members endured over the past two years.
“I think that music video for ‘Out Of Time’ turned out awesome. We got a Delorean in the music video, so I mean, come on, it’s cool as hell.” Estrella added.
Zebrahead plans on touring after the release of the album during the summer of 2022, and the band members are full of anticipation as they eagerly wait to get back on the road.
“The comradery, being out with your friends and going to different countries and meeting new people and experiencing different cultures and eating rad food, and then you get to go play a rock and roll show with your best friends,” said Tabatabaee. “It’s a very unique experience that we’re so lucky to have. I think that’s what makes it so special to me.”
Zebrahead performing at Z-Games festival in Odessa, Ukraine, August 22nd 2017
As a band that started out playing small local shows in Orange County, and eventually growing to tour the world for millions of fans, Zebrahead members Tabatabaee and Estrella shared their advice for those looking to build a career in the music industry as well.
“Always be humble and hungry, you can be hungry and still be humble. Go out there, play as many shows as possible, there’s no such thing as ‘You’re playing too much,’ no. Once you start selling venues out, then you can kind of dial it back, but right now, if you’re starting up, play as many nights of the week at as many different places,” said Estrella. “If you’re playing a show, always stay for the bands that you’re playing with. Support each other, keep on riding it and don’t give up. If you really want to do this, you just can’t give up.”
“You never know who’s watching,” Tabatabaee added. “We had the opportunity to watch Adrian play with us at House of Blues in Anaheim, and that stuck out to us, so when we had the opportunity we reached out to him to join the band. When we were playing, it was us and our family at a Christmas show and nobody was there, it was empty, except for the bar manager happened to pop in to get the money for the night, and he saw us play one song and so we got a record deal. You just never know who’s watching.”
“The experience of playing will prepare you for when you do get bigger, when you do start playing to a lot of people,” Tabatabaee concluded. “All of those experiences come in very handy as your music career progresses. Play as many shows as you can, don’t give up, and enjoy it, have a good time.”
Zebrahead’s new EP, III, will be available on all streaming services this Friday, November 26. You can follow along to see upcoming tour dates and other announcements on their Instagram or their website.