This is Zed Brookes (Hamilton Music Legend)

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Zed Brookes behind the counter at Tandy’s Te Awamutu sometime in the early 1980’s

Between 1985-95, Zed Brookes was an essential part of the greater Waikato music scene. During his ten years behind the desk, first at Tandy’s then The Zoo Recording studios, he recorded hundreds of demos, EPs, albums and singles in a variety of musical styles from alt-rock to metal, country, pop, experimental, folk ……..well you name it and he did it always with a smile, a quick and wit and unflappable efficiency. Zed, a calm perfectionist, was the master at getting it done right and sounding good, but that is only part of the story. Outside of the studio, Zed has led a number of successful bands including Step Chant Unit and Schrödinger’s Cat and sat in on several others including MOoFish and Silken Blue. Zed Brookes is no household name, not by a long chalk, but his influence on a generation of Waikato music makers, as a mentor/educator, engineer and musician is one that is long overdue for acknowledgement.

Mark Brooks was born July 1960 in Lanark Scotland. He was 5 years old when the family emigrated to NZ, settling first on Auckland’s North Shore before moving to Mt Roskill and then back to Scotland. “I was 7 years old when we returned to Scotland and by then I had lost my Scottish brogue. The kids at school mocked my Kiwi accent mercilessly, calling me Frenchie while throwing stones at me.” Fortunately for the oddly accented Mark, this Scottish sojourn was temporary and a year later the family were back in Mt Roskill.

Zed recalls always being into music and remembers with particular fondness sitting in front of the families radiogram aged around 7, exploring his fathers “curious” record collection which included a number of Hank Williams records and classics like Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, a juxtaposition of sounds which informed the proto-musician in ways that would emerge many years later.

By the time his teenage years rolled around, his tastes, in part due to the influence of his father’s record collection were by comparison with his peers at Green Bay High somewhat unusual and included Eno, (here he cites Eno and David Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts as especially influential), The B-52s Devo, Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra. “I was a teenage music radical,” laughs Zed, “always on the lookout for something out of the box.”

It was Devo who steered Zed toward his first instrument, the bass guitar. The bass guitar is not often the first port of call for a young ‘wannabe’ musician, but Brookes was drawn to both its sound, “I liked the low frequencies,” and in the case of Devo, “it’s looks”. Devo’s bassist Gerald Casale played a custom made bass of unusual design, one that the teenage Brookes found rather fascinating, enough so that he decided to make a replica. At this stage he had an after school job assembling bunk beds in a joinery factory. Using the factories equipment and an old second bass he has as a template, he cut a guitar shape similar to Casale’s then designed and built a preamp and using the pickups from the old bass, assembled his first instrument.

Brookes is a natural when it comes to technical matters, perhaps a proclivity inherited from his father who was a marine engineer, and thought the sciences were going to be the place where he could apply his skills and make a living, so after leaving school in 1978 he took up a trainee position as Lab technician with Scion, a Crown Research Institute based in Rotorua. Scion specialized in forestry research but aside from a project that turned wood pulp into alcohol he found the work boring.

Of more interest was the bass guitar and his downtime was spent practicing in his room at the forestry workers hostel he called home, fielding complaints about “the bloody racket”. His first band was a 3-piece proto-synth band called ‘Zena and the Diodes’, a name he choose because it echoed his burgeoning interest in electronics. Zena, a kind of diode, was also the source of the nickname by which he has forever since been know. “I had three friends called Mark and it was kind of confusing and people started calling me Big Z, after the Z in the bands title, and after a while that became plain Z.”

 

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Brookes at work in his Home based 8-Track Cassette Recording Studio somewhere in early 1980’s.

Zena and the Diodes started off as a covers band whose music was all about “what we could play rather than what we wanted to play and whatever it was that could get us through a gig, usually a mix of blues (which appealed to the local pub audience and some Devo for ourselves).” As the band became more adept it evolved into more of an alt-band and as the line-up stabilized, focused more and more on original material.

In 1981, the band, feeling somewhat frustrated by the small Rotorua scene, relocated to the bright lights of Hamilton City in search of opportunity, the move also bringing an end to any notions Zed has about being a scientist. The band at this time is described by Zed as a proto-synth band with an ever-evolving catalogue of technology that did not include a guitar. “It’s not that we didn’t want a guitar, it’s just that we had failed to find someone who was the right fit.” The lack of a guitarist becoming something of a marketing hook and being as they were at the forefront of a new fashion for synth orientated bands they managed to draw reasonable crowds of the curious every time every time they played the Hilly (Hillcrest Tavern).

With his attention turning ever more to matters musical Zed cashed in his life insurance and purchased a Tascam Porta-Studio 242 (a 4-track cassette recording system) and taught him self the basics of recording while demoing the bands songs. Itching for some extra sound colour, Zed made the switch to guitar when they discovered a compatible bassist in Dean Carter. With a guitar in the lineup and with a new drummer (Neville Sergent) the band decided that along with a change in sound, a new name was in order.

Names were put into a hat and the result was Step Chant Unit. The bands first release, the 1983 cassette EP ‘I.C Dreams’, was recorded on the Tascam but the song that was to make their name was recorded at Mandrill in Auckland for the princely sum of $2500. Zed: “Painting Pictures was an expensive song to record and the time spent making and paying for it basically equaled the lifespan of the band.”

 

The song was picked up by Wellington label Jayrem and was released in 1985. Painting Pictures peaked at 26 on the national singles charts and suddenly the band found them selves in demand. They were flown down to TVNZ’s Avalon studios in Wellington to film a clip for Radio with Pictures and with the national exposure were able to tour the North Island to reasonably sized audiences and score support slots with some of the bigger touring acts bands like Peking Man. Step Chant Unit ceased operating in 1985 when Zed went to work full time as a studio engineer at Tandy’s recording Studio.

 

 

Through the 1980s and 90s you could find a Tandy’s Record Store on the main street of just about every town throughout the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and King Country and it was via drummer Neville Sergent who worked behind the counter at a branch of Tandy’s that Zed met the chains owner Neil Nooyen, a meeting which opened the door to the next phase of his professional career. At this stage Zed was working at a glass factory in Hamilton, (he notes here with some irony that his specialty was cutting soundproof glass, a product he would soon be buying) and had just recently sliced the tips of four fingers on one hand and almost lost a finger. He remember playing four nights in row at the Hillcrest Tavern in considerable pain and leapt at the opportunity to move to a less dangerous job and one more in tune with his inclinations.

Nooyen owned a small lifestyle block on Morrinsville Road at the cities southeastern edge and finding themselves at ease in each other company hatched a plan to convert the hay barn into a recording studio. Zed was tasked with the design and fit out and in 1985 the studio opened for business. Zed: “We started out with my Tascam Portastudio and recorded bands and artists live to cassette until we met Rex Wade who had was running a 4-Track Reel to Reel recorder in a small studio near Pirongia.” Rex joined the team and the studio upgraded with the 4-track being replaced by a 16 track when Rex left. While working at Tandy’s, Zed met former Three Men Missing keyboardist Sue Brown. They married, produced 2 sons and an EP under the name Silken Blue. They eventually parted ways.

In 1993 Zed met Grant Hislop who had recently moved to Hamilton to start two radio stations, (The Rock and The Buzzard re: The Edge). With the radio projects providing a steady cash flow, Grant’s next plan was to finance a record label (Hark, specializing in regional NZ music) and recording studio whose primary focus would be to record music for the label. Local rockers Blackjack approached Hislop and asked him to playlist a track off their album ‘Deal’ which had been recorded and produced by Brookes at Tandy’s in 1992.

Hislop was impressed with the quality of the recording and approached Zed with an offer. With a huge budget at his disposal, Zed was invited to design, build and fit out a state of the art recording facility. He accepted and a few months later The Zoo opened for business on the main street of Hamilton, a 24/7 commercial production facility that served The Rock and The Edge, feed Hark Records and made a little money on the side as the regions first school of audio engineering.

 

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Zed Brookes begins work on the Zoo recording Studio, North End Victoria Street Hamilton 1993.

When The Zoo went into liquidation in 1997, (Hislop’s eventually sold his shares in the radio network he had been building to maintain both The Zoo and Hark’s expansion, but with cash flow expectations not keeping up with Hislop’s ambitions, the whole thing eventually collapsed), the Waikato Polytechnic (now WINTEC) purchased much of the equipment for their burgeoning School of Media Arts and contracted Zed to install it. It turned out to be an agreeable association and Zed stayed on as a tutor and returned to making music.

 

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Zed Brookes in Sydney working on the mix for the Narc’s ‘Push The Boat Out’ 1996.

Schrödinger’s Cat (later renamed Wonderbug before morphing into St. Lucy) operated from1997- 2000. The 2000 EP ‘Joes Brain’ sold out at the release gig at the legendary Hamilton Venue J.B.C (Jazz Blues Concept Bar) and a track ‘Don’t Matter’ appeared on the TV series Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.

 

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Brookes with Schrödinger’s Cat and life partner Susie Warwick.

In 1999 Zed worked with Chris and Rhonda (Hoffmans) Johnson (formerly Three Men Missing) on their MOoFish project. A resulting album, ‘MOoFishin’, was released in the USA after the track ‘Dark Side of A Man’s Mind’ received substantial airplay on through the American College Radio network. The album spent several weeks on CMJ College Music Charts.

While working at The Waikato Polytechnic Zed completed a Graduate Certificate in Music and Film Sound through Queensland’s Griffith’s University and in the early 2000s moved to Auckland. After a time working in production at Mai FM he returned to teaching Audio Engineering, this time at MAINZ. Besides his work as an educator, Zed runs a Sound Production Facility from his home on Auckland’s North Shore, makes music as a solo artists Bemuzed and Mr Zeberdee and continues to participate in various band projects, the more recent include DMZ and outfit he formed with former Step Chant Unit bassist Dean Carter. They released one album in 2007 called Ampersand. Zed’s long awaited debut solo-album ‘Oh Cacophony’ is on its way and should be available sometime in late 2016.

 

Brookes alter-ego Mr Zeberdee with his song Zombies from 2014

Brookes the Educator from his tutorial series Logic Pro for Smarties.

Production, tracking, mixing, or mastering work includes;

Midge Marsden and Bullfrog Rata/The Datsuns/Malevolence/Backyard Burial/ Katchafire – Revival album/The Babysitters Circus – Everything’s Gonna Be Alright – Single,/Maitreya – Aio album/Nina McSweeney/Alan Brown Trio/The Twitch/Ritchie Pickett – All Strung Out in an Bunch album/ Dead Flowers/Hoola Troupe/Goon/Trillion/Liam Ryan/The Narcs – Push the Boat Out album/Matthew Bannister/The Drongos/Rattler/Knightshade/Blackjack – Deal and Kicasso d’Muse albums/Moofish/Book of Martyrs – Purified 7x album/The Boogadagas/John Michaelz & The Stone Babies/Rumpus Room/Kokomo Blues/Scooter/Tweeter/Love and Violence/Tim Armstrong/Bad Jelly/King Biscuit/Tetnus/Calamari Bushmen/Exploding Poppies/Bilge Festival/Davey Beige/Andrew Johnstone-Wallflower album/Silken Blue/Jacqui Keelan/Merenia–Maiden Voyage album/Step Chant Unit/Neil Nooyen/Road to Amber/DMZ/Schrodinger’s Cat/Wonderbug/Adult Mayflys/PD Corp/Jim ‘an’ Joe/Broken English/Pretty Belinda/Second Helping/Te Tapu/Zooper/Enshrine/Dead Pan Rangers/Daisy Chain Halo/5 Girls/Bitumus/Bruce Dennis/Brendan Dugan/Cygnet Committee/Datura/Desperate Chaps/Henderwood/Inchworm/J Harry Long/Joe 90/Leithe/Loose New Romans/No Thrills/Pieces of Cod/Pregnant Hippies/Psyclops/Somersault/St Lucy/Step Chant Unit/Subliminal Warfare/The Crawfords/Three Men Missing/Valhalla/Whisperscream.

 

 Love Injection from ‘The Wallflower’ by A. Johnstone Recorded and Produced Zed Brookes at Tandy’s and The Zoo Recording Studios Hamilton NZ 1990-93

 

Bands and Discography:

Rotorua:

Zena and the Diodes

Bass and Vocals: Zed Brookes

Drums: Malcolm Lowfroth (aka Flat Beer), Roy Morris, Paul Morgan

Guitar: Andy Bangs, Graeme Durham

Keyboards: Sue Toms.

The First (1981)

Drums: Steve Tarr

Guitar and Vocals: Paul Hetet

Bass and Vocals: Zed Brookes

Keyboards: Sue Toms

The Lemmings 1982-83

Drums and Vocals: Malcolm Lofroth

Keyboards: Sue Toms

Bass and Vocals: Zed Brookes

 

Hamilton:

Step Chant Unit 1983-88

Bass and Vocals: Zed Brookes, Dean Carter

Keyboards: Sue Toms, Stephen Giles

Drums: Neville Sergent

Guitar: Roy Forlong, Mark Wilson, Brian Brighting

I.C Dreams 1993 Cassette EP

1.I.C. Dream

2.Planet Zero

3.Into the Storm

4.Rainy Day

 

Painting Pictures 12” 1985 Jayrem

Side A: Painting Pictures

Side B: The Game/Painting Pictures Alternative remix

 

Silken Blue 1991:

Keyboards: Sooz Brown, Grant Brodie

Bass: Zed Brookes

Guitar: Dave Hickling

Silken Blue EP 1991

 

MOoFish 1999:

Guitar, Keyboards: Chris Johnson

Vocals, Guitar: Rhonda Hoffmans Johnson

Programming, Keyboards, Bass: Zed Brookes

Album: MOoFishin

 

Schrodinger’s Cat 1997-2000:

Guitar, vocals: Zed Brookes

Drums: Natalie McKelvie

Guitar, Vocals: Mark Tupuhi

Bass: Aaron Watkinson, Dave Terris

EP Joe’s Brain 2000

1.Don’t Matter

2.Joe’s Brain

3.Perfect Wave

4.Shades of Grey

 

Wonderbug 2000-2002:

Guitar, Vocals: Zed Brookes

Guitar, Vocals: Mark Tupuhi

Drums: Natalie McKelvey

 

Auckland:

DMZ 2003 >

Guitar: Zed Brookes

Bass: Dean Carter

Drums: Mark Griffiths

Album: Ampersand 2007

 

Darkelle 2012:

Guitar, Keyboards and Vocals: Zed Brookes, Julz Taylor-Reid

Bass, Keyboards and Vocals: Aaron Watkinson

 

‘Oh Cacophony’ 2016

Solo album featuring Jan Hellriegel.

Zed Brookes: Producer/Engineer/Instruments/Vocals.

All songs by Zed Brooks.

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