The band was formed in the mid-1990s by three students at Cashmere High School: Ben Campbell, Nathan King, and Adrian Palmer. They had grown up on well-crafted pop of an earlier era, and influences included acts such as Radiohead and Supergrass.
The trio was briefly known as Supra; King was on guitar and vocals, Campbell bass and vocals, and Palmer on drums. In September 1996 music industry legend Ray Columbus became the manager of the group, which was now called Zed, and secured them an international publishing deal. Zed’s debut single ‘Oh! Daisy’ – written by Campbell while at high school – was released on their own label, Grevious Musical Harm, and reached No.15 in the charts. After two more independent singles, the band signed to the New Zealand branch of major label Universal.
Shortly after Zed played Big Day Out in January 2000, they were joined by guitarist Andy Lynch (the son of singer Suzanne of The Chicks, and her bassist/producer husband Bruce Lynch).
Zed entered Revolver studio in Auckland with Australian engineer/producer David Nicholas, who had worked with INXS and Midnight Oil, and engineered for many top acts in London. After seven weeks recording, Zed’s debut album Silencer was released in August 2000, and by the end of the year had sold 45,000 copies. The first nine weeks of its 17 in the New Zealand charts were in the Top Ten; it would eventually sell more than 60,000.
Much of the impetus came from the single ‘Renegade Fighter’, which featured big guitars, harmonies, irresistible hooks, a judicious use of space – and a belting chorus for the stadiums: “I’m a lover, I’m a renegade fighter / Come to set your soul on fire …”
But Silencer was so much more than ‘Renegade Fighter’, which was the top New Zealand song on radio in 2000. Thriller-style, the album eventually generated six radio hits – including ‘Gloriafilia’ and ‘Oh! Daisy’ – that helped towards those platinum sales. After that remarkable launch, King was looking towards the future, he told muzic.net.nz in 2001: “We like to challenge ourselves to do things differently and keep it interesting and that’s cool. I’d hate to get somewhere and think that this is the end of the trip, because, you know – where do you go from here?”
2001 was a whirlwind for Zed.
As Murray Cammick describes in his two-part AudioCulture profile of Zed, the next year was a whirlwind for Zed. After the January performance at Big Day Out, the year included showcase gigs in Bangkok (for Universal’s international staff), Hollywood and London. In New Zealand they made several tours and supported Coldplay, they made serious in-roads into Australia and shared a bill with Bon Jovi at a Melbourne charity gig that pulled 34,000 people. In the US, Universal label Interscope girded its loins to market the band, starting with the inclusion of ‘Renegade Fighter’ in the film American Pie 2.
Towards the end of 2001 they started recording a follow-up to Silencer, which was now a year old. This time sessions with David Nicholas were not satisfactory, and were interrupted by a lengthy Australian tour supporting Adelaide band Superjesus.
Momentum in the US had stalled after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, King later told the NZ Herald’s Joanna Hunkin. “September 11 just really killed any excitement or positivity. It had an effect because emails stopped, everyone’s focus just shifted and we found it really hard to even communicate with the band.”
Nevertheless, Interscope (and Universal NZ) continued to back the recordings for Zed’s second album. Sessions continued in New Zealand with Malcolm Welsford. One song, ‘Starlight’ was included in the film Hot Chick, but the box-office was disappointing.
Interscope insisted the band take on US management, and still more sessions took place, this time in the tiny northern California town of Weed in the studio of acclaimed US engineer/producer Sylvia Massy. The vocals were completed in Auckland.
Recordings for the second album took place in the tiny northern California town of Weed
The second album that emerged, This Little Empire, was “a creative success and gained good reviews,” writes Cammick. But a changed market – and marketing approach – were just some of the hurdles the band encountered while trying to gain a high profile in the US. In 2004 Zed relocated to Berlin, as a base; the plan was to invade Europe simultaneously with the release there of This Little Empire.
Cammick’s profile describes the “star-making machinery” during a period when New Zealand bands were newly focused – with industry support – on cracking the northern hemisphere. It takes place in an era when the industry is dealing with issues such as file sharing, and when social media is in its infancy, so that the long, hard slog of constant gigs and flights is still seen as the path to international success.
In September 2019 – 15 years after the members of Zed went their separate ways – the band announced several reunion gigs as part of a new period of activity to celebrate 20 years since the release of Silencer. The contender at the end of the alphabet has gone full circle.
Read the complete two-part profile by Murray Cammick: Zed – Renegade Fighters.
Nathan King - vocals, guitar
Ben Campbell - bass, vocals
Adrian Palmer - drums
Andy Lynch - guitar