Citizen Zero Interview: A Q&A With Josh Maybe

Citizen Zero

AltWire [Derek Oswald]: For those just learning about Citizen Zero can you tell us a bit more about yourselves? Perhaps some history and what your band is all about?

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: Sure man, I mean, right now — just because we finally have made it to the next chapter — we’re preaching the word of triumph, and just getting over everything; as we’ve had a long road. As I like to say, everybody sees the glamour of the job but nobody ever sees how the sausage is made. But, how the sausage is made is not a pretty process.

[Laughs] And it shouldn’t be! Cause a lot of greatness comes from it. But, we’ve overcome a lot. And with the record, ‘State Of Mind’, the theme is written about the state of mind you’re in when you’re trying to make it through a lot of crazy shit. All the different human mindsets that we all share.

AW: You are based out of Detroit; you guys are a Detroit-based band. Detroit, being a fantastic city, has seen its fair share of some struggles over the last decade or so.

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: Yeah, no doubt.

AW: Do you feel that some of your experiences growing up in Detroit made their way into the recording process for ‘State of Mind’?

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: It did. Only in the way that, with Detroit, we’re in the Mid-West, right? — so, I’ve always said this too: we’ve got that Mid-Western work ethic. The whole ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’ mentality. And this city’s made us tough in that aspect of just staying in the room and getting it done and knocking stuff out. I guess, from that aspect, Detroit has definitely made its way in.

AW: Now, in the past, you’ve identified Citizen Zero as ‘the faceless citizen’. Could you expand on that and what the phrase ‘faceless citizen’ means to you?

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: Throughout history, there’s always been one person that can change the world for better or for worse. For worse you have Hitler and all the terrible things that happened because of him, and then [for better] you have people fighting for civil rights like Martin Luther King and, y’know, all the way back to Gandhi. All these people (in one way, or another) have always changed the course of history. And there’s no separation between that person and just a ‘normal’ person; those people just decided that they were going to do something, and all it takes, is just an idea. So, that ‘faceless citizen’ sort of represents… anybody.

AW: Detroit — going back to the city you grew up in — has had such an incredible lasting impact on music, with the early ’80s hardcore punk scene, Motown, artists in the ’60s and ’70s, and even some of the rock and hip hop acts that have called it home. Growing up in such a melting pot for music, how do you feel its influence has applied to you as a musician?

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: Aw man! Like you just said, you just named stuff that has literally shape-shifted our history. So, I mean, you’ve kinda got a lot to live up to; and that sorta sucks! [Laughs] I mean like, fuck, why can’t I be from like Kansas or something? [Laughs] Like, put me in some podunk town in Oklahoma or something, y’know? We don’t have the luxury of being the ‘first of our kind’. We’re the first of many, or the last of many, or however you wanna look at it.

We measure our success by accomplishments and, as much as you try not to compare yourself to people, that question comes up a lot and it’s hard. [Laughs] Even if we don’t compare ourselves to people, somebody’s going to ask the question long enough where it’s like, ‘Well you’re really… you’re really getting good, but you’re not as good as Seger…’

AW: [Laughs]

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: Like… well, FUCK! Y’know? [Laughs]

AW: Speaking of accomplishments, your band was fortunate enough to see your debut EP garner critical acclaim and even win a Detroit Music Award for ‘Astounding Rock Recording’. This recognition actually led to you guys touring with some pretty awesome acts. What’s been your favorite touring experience so far?

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: We just did a little mini-jaunt and it was the first tour we did under a label. It’s weird! The cool part about that is as a kid you grow up and you’re like, ‘I wanna get signed!’, having no idea what that means. And as an adult, even, you grow up — well, we’re not adults, who am I kidding?

But we’re, y’know, older… kids — we kind of have that same spirit of ‘We gotta get signed!’ and then we get signed and we go and do this tour and it’s weird. In our heads — and it’s totally in our heads — it sort of gives us this validity. Like, again, measuring our success by accomplishments, it’s just like,  ‘Ok, we got one more thing off the bucket list, now we gotta work on the next thing’.

AW: Now, how did you feel about the fan response from P.O.D.’s fans? How do you feel that they responded to your music when you were on the road?

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: That’s a good question. I mean, we had accolades, of course. We had people that were coming up and hanging out and just sorta talking about the music and that was great. And we had some people that actually came out that had heard us on the radio in their town, or whatever, and that was a first for us, which was totally weird. [Laughs] …  I don’t know if that is ever going to be ok.

People are just showing up to me and going, ‘Hey, we heard you on the radio so we decided to come to the show!’ It’s like, ‘What?!’ Like, that’s always ‘the other guy’, y’know what I mean, like, that’s not me! There’s no way that you’re talking about Citizen Zero. It’s sort of just been this crazy little humbling experience during the last couple of weeks. All of a sudden you’re on the radio and people know who you are. And it’s like, ‘Wow!’ [Laughs]

AW: It’s kinda hard to get used to, I’d imagine.

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: Well, not only that, I always dreamed of getting to this spot, but never thought it was going to happen. Not me. it always happens to somebody else, but never you. Unexpected. All of a sudden, here we are and it’s crazy. We’re incredibly grateful for the opportunities here. Like talking to you!

AW: Oh well, I’m not that special, man! Don’t give me an ego here!

AW: Anyways [laughs]! How has your creative process changed over the years since you’ve entered the music landscape professionally? Were there changes to your creative process when Sammy joined the band, having such an individually advanced path of his own already?

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: Totally! Y’know, I said this to a lot of people too. Sammy understands music the way normal people understand nothing. [Laughs] He’s a total alien, and now we’ve got two of them; Sam, the bass player, is also a trained musician. These aren’t guys that just stepped off the street, that decided to play with us. Their theory goes so deep that, like I’m saying, they understand music like we understand nothing! I don’t know how to breathe as well as they know the ins and outs of how to play music.

So, with Sammy being in the band, it’s a unique kinda rapport between us, because we’re sort of both in this category of, ‘We don’t have to really think, we just, sorta, play,’ right? And that’s a really refreshing thing to have and it’s very rare to find. And, believe it or not, the very first song we ever wrote together was ‘Go’, which is the very first single.

AW: Can’t do any better than that, right?

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: I don’t know, I’m hoping we can, shit! [Laughs] You know, the trick is to keep going. You ask about, ‘Has anything changed since we’re professionals?’ Now there’s the added pressure of you’re not in your basement anymore, writing songs, trying to figure out if they work. You’re in the public eye now. It shouldn’t add any stress, because you just do the same thing you did before, right? But it’s never that easy.

AW: No, because now you’ve got everyone listening to you, where before it was your family and friends and now it’s the entire world! [Laughs]

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: Right! What you were trying to do the whole time! It’s a total double-edged sword. [Laughs] It’s fucked up man!

CitizenZero“If you can’t do something, then don’t put it on the record. The more honest you can be the better – in this city especially, because you’re gonna get called out! There’s a t-shirt I just bought, cause I had to have it; it’s, ‘Detroit: where the weak are killed and eaten’.”

AW: Let’s talk about the recording process for ‘State of Mind’. First and foremost, where did you guys record the record, and what were some of your favorite tracks to work on while you were recording?

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: We worked at a studio here in Michigan. We have a really, really kick-ass jam space and we’re all kinda shitty basement engineers, except for maybe a little above shitty. [Laughs] So, we started demoing this record out right when Sammy got in the band. The first song, ‘Go’, was written in the basement of a studio that I owned in Romeo, Michigan. And I mean a basement, like, John, our drummer, is 6’8 and he couldn’t stand up in it. We’re talking, like, old 1800s basement.

AW: Wow.

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: And, so, we started demoing stuff out and we’re all third-generation musicians. Our grandfathers were musicians, our dads were musicians and then they passed it on to us. So, there was this upbringing of, ‘We’re going to be musicians when we get older’.  Not ‘songwriters’, it wasn’t, ‘We’re gonna be in a band’. It was, ‘We’re gonna be musicians’. Well, eventually that led to being in a band. And the important thing is that we always focused on — especially when writing in the studio — being a great live band.

Anything that we couldn’t do live was not going to make the record. And we stuck to that. So, we would always go in and record stuff in the studio, live. So what you guys hear was performed to a click track, but it is recorded live. And that’s the really important thing, it gives it that feel of what rock n’ roll’s supposed to be like, y’know?

To that point, speaking of Detroit: that’s a big one. If you can’t do something, then don’t put it on the record. The more honest you can be the better – in this city especially because you’re gonna get called out! There’s a t-shirt I just bought, cause I had to have it; it’s, ‘Detroit: where the weak are killed and eaten’.

AW: It’s true!

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: So, like… this is a hard-nosed town. If you’re not playing what you wrote on the record, if you’re doing it badly, or if you’re singing about some stuff that is just not true or is clearly fake, then it’s over for you before you even started. So, with that mindset, going into the recording process, it was, ‘We’re gonna be a goddamn rock n’ roll band from Detroit’. We’re gonna play this shit every night, and it’s gonna be us every night, not a recording of it.

AW: When you guys laid the tracks for the album, did you guys work with a producer or were you guys self-produced?

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: We did. We worked with a producer. Very, very little changed, but we were produced for sure. It’s funny, we’ve worked with the same producers for years in this town. It’s some of the guys from the Kid Rock camp, actually, and we learned a lot from them so, going into this record, we’ve learned so much that a lot of the record stayed almost the same as the original demos. Like, ‘Go’ is the same as the demo. Nothing changed.

AW: In reference to ‘Go’, I’ve got a question about that. I read that ‘Go’ was actually written in response to your anger over the media’s portrayal of the Sandy Hook tragedy and how they exploited the family’s grief. Something that’s kind of sad is that in the year’s that’ve passed since that tragedy, it almost seems as if mass shootings are becoming more common, especially with Orlando being the most recent [as of this interview].

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: God, it does, doesn’t it?

AW: It does sadly. One thing that I was wondering — do you feel like the media deliberately tries to manipulate public opinion and reaction towards these types of things, especially seeing as that’s kind of what the song’s about?

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: It’s less of a conspiracy than that. But, I 100% will state that – and it’s obvious, there’s no opinion or anything — every one of these news affiliates operates with their own political agenda. And, whereas I understand it and I hate it… ‘Go’ is written in response to the lack of integrity that it’s done with, however.  Like you said, these are becoming more and more common; and well, you’re right, unfortunately. But, every time, the media has a formula for it.

Every time there’s a mass shooting; within one hour, the political side of them is going to say, ‘Get rid of guns!’ … ‘No, you need more guns.’ Within one hour of a tragedy happening, on U.S. soil – especially like this last one – you’ve got all these activists coming out. It’s almost like it’s become too televised, it really is. You always know the shooter, you never know the victims. There’s so many things that they do that, to me, is done with a lack of integrity. And again, the political agenda’s a whole other issue that bothers me, but, that leads to other things.

AW: Now, should fans expect more songs specifically about current situations, or was this song kind of like an isolated incident?

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: So, the record, ‘State of Mind’, is about our state of mind right? Well, that’s just the state of mind that I was in when that song was written and the whole thing is, as human beings, we all kinda relate in the fact that we all share the same kind of emotions. People have different reactions to those emotions, but that state of mind that we all have when we’re sad is very similar to your neighbor’s state of mind when he’s sad.

So,  ‘Go’ is written about a specific event, and other things are written about specific events in my life, but I’m hoping that it kind of breaks barriers and everyone can relate to it, just because, like I said, it’s emotions that we all share as human beings.

AW: You guys had a wonderful show in Flint where you had fans donate bottled water. How did that come together and, on top of that to kind of branch off, are there any particular charities you like to refer to your fans?

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: Absolutely. So, the Flint water crisis it was in the media, and then suddenly it was out of the media and the issue was far from resolved, ok? Like, not even close.

But, when it first happened, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of The Flint Machine Shop? It’s just this legendary venue, man. We love the owner, we love the guys. And when the whole thing happened, it was crazy to us that this had happened so close to home. Our drummer actually was the guy who went ‘We gotta get involved, we gotta do something,’ and I pitched the idea to the owner at The Machine Shop and said, ‘We’re gonna get bands and we’re gonna do a free concert at your venue where a case of water gets you in the door’.

And, fucking lo and behold, man – place was packed and I can’t even remember how many, but it was an absurd amount of water. And they actually did that for three weekends, like, in a row.

AW: That’s awesome.

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: Yeah. And then, as far as foundations, I’m a huge advocate for Veterans. My favorite — I have two — Mission 22, just cause of our backstory as well, is really personal to me. It’s about Veteran’s suicide awareness and the prevention of Veteran’s suicide. Tom Spooner the guy who started it, is a fucking angel. The dude is absolutely incredible. He suffered from PTSD when he came home, and he’s not afraid to talk about it, which is the first step in the relief some of these veterans are getting from Tom.

His partner,  Marcus, started Elder Heart, which is this crazy thing where the Military and art come together. The military and creative process don’t normally jive well together — and they’re really bridging that gap. And veterans are coming home and working on community art projects, like sculpting, like major man shit, you know what I mean?

They did this awesome ‘autumn/fall’ sculpture, I think it was in Indiana. They cut and welded all this steel, where it looks like these leaves are falling, and it is amazing. So many veterans have been involved in it and it’s just provided them this sense of purpose and community, it’s really cool. Those are two of my favorites.

AW: Thank you! Last question: with the album coming up for release in, literally, a little under two months, what are some of the things fans can look forward to from you guys in the year ahead?

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: West Coast can look for us in August! We’ll be out there pretty much the whole month, hitting everything from Washington State, to Denver, to California, to Vegas and Nevada, and Arizona… we’re hitting all the states out there. And ‘Go (Let Me Save You)’, the music video is coming along with the release of the record in August. So we’re excited to put some visuals — some strong visuals — behind this thing.

AW: Excellent! Well, thank you for your time! We love your music and we are looking forward to promoting it to our fans on our website!

Josh Mayle [Citizen Zero]: I love it, Derek! Thanks so much, man, appreciate it!

Pre-Order “State of Mind” On Amazon:


Citizen Zero – “Go”:

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