Photos by Wes Davis

Local four-piece difficult to define

Happy 4/20. If only you were in Arcata, you could be ZuhGin’ out.

After CD release parties in Sacramento and Roseville last week, the four-piece from the City of Trees cruised the ZuhGmobile to Humboldt for a weekend lineup of shows capped off by a 4/20 celebration Monday at the Humboldt State University Quad.

ZuhG will perform at noon at Sierra College in Rocklin on Thursday. The evening before, on Earth Day, they have an all-ages gig at Pyramid Alehouse in Sacramento.

On the April Second Saturday Art Walk, in Sacramento on April 11, ZuhG lured the audience away from the art and the couches in the back of the Blue Lamp to the dance floor with their set that featured songs from their new album ZuhG Life. A heap of jackets piled onto one couch beneath the artwork of Brian Nichols, ZuhG’s frontman.

“Listen to OutKast,” Nichols said while they played a “So Fresh So Clean” interlude.

Shoeless, Nichols led the band on guitar and vocals. Justin Vance opened their set with his bassline for “Accessories,” an homage to the mundanity in life.

Brian “Bot” Swart was the highlight of the night and, in a way, he is in ZuhG Life, playing tenor saxophone, giving the band the sound they want—”to be unlike others,” how they define ZuhG.

Self-taught drummer Matt Klee said in an interview at Nichols’s house that in order to get better he had to get uncomfortable. So, with Nichols, he took a jazz ensemble class at Sierra College a year ago. That’s where they met Bot.

In that class, Nichols said he met a mentor of sorts who taught him jazz guitar.

“I wanted to play jazz guitar, and he played way sicker than me,” he said. “Now, it’s all about practicing daily. We’re trying to get better every day as a band.”

A semester’s worth of jam sessions and Bot was a part of ZuhG. Though it wasn’t their intention, he replaced the band’s cello player, Jarrod Matthews, who left the band after Bot’s sax was added. (ZuhG Life’s bonus track features an improv session with Matthews and Bot.)

The youngest in the band at 19, Bot gives ZuhG its jazz element that makes the funk-rock-reggae-jam—whatever you’d like to call it—band a little hard to categorize. Last year ZuhG was nominated for a Sammie in the SN&R in the R&B category. This year, they earned the nomination in the Jam Band category. Recently, High Times Magazine online added them as an unsigned band of the week.

Both Bot and Nichols are studying music, though Nichols is at Sacramento City College now.

Local radio station KWOD 106.5 plays their song “Shangri La,” because it’s “reggae enough,” Nichols said at his house. “I wanted them to choose ‘Lately,’ but they said it was ‘too jazzy.'”

Bot and the guys laughed it off. “Too jazzy is a compliment,” Bot said.

Surely their music wasn’t too jazzy, or maybe it was, to make enough cash to produce ZuhG Life at Sacramento’s Pus Cavern Studios. The recording is great.

“We’d like to thank Northstar and Sugar Bowl for funding this album,” Nichols joked, because they were able to book a couple shows a month at the Tahoe resorts during winter.

Tahoe in the winter. They’ll see the coast for spring. From San Jose to Ocean Beach they have shows lined up along the coast for two weeks until they return to Davis to play the G. St. Pub, May 16 at Beatnik Studios Boobie Bash and May 23 at Marylin’s on K.