Minneapolis indie rockers Zoo Animal keep the faithby Chris Roberts, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — Tonight at the 7th St. Entry, the highly touted Minneapolis indie rock trio "Zoo Animal" is releasing a new self-titled CD.
Zoo Animal has gotten raves for its spare, grungy, artfully uneven sound. But its songs also serve as a springboard for exploring devoutly Christian themes.
"You dance on tables, I dance on the floor," Holly Newsom sings on "Bad Seed," a track on Zoo Animal's new self-titled CD. "You sneak in windows and I go through the door, you trust in who knows and I trust in the Lord."
As a child, Newsom's life was upended by her parents painful divorce and her family's constant moving. Her deeply held Christian faith is her foundation and the lyrical wellspring for her songs.
But she insists she writes for everyone, not just like-minded believers.
"A lot of the Christian life is a struggle, and I think everybody can relate to struggle," she said. "And so even if I'm talking about my relationship with God maybe someone's relating it to their relationship with their boyfriend or whatever, you know?"
Zoo Animal came in second in last year's City Pages "Picked to Click" poll, and has become a local favorite among fans. Newsom has been surprised by the band's reception.
"At first I was worried that people wouldn't be willing to listen to music where maybe the worldview or ideas are different," she said. "But then I thought, well I do, almost every day. And it would be almost prideful of me to think that other people couldn't open their mind the same way."
Zoo Animal also features Tim Abramson on bass, who shares Newsom's beliefs, and Thom Burton on drums, who's a non-Christian. Burton joined the band after being captivated by one of its live shows.
"And then once I dug in and really started to get into the lyrics, I could see the passion and the honesty of it," he said. "To me that's what good musicians and good artists do."
Meanwhile bassist Tim Abramson won't deny there's an evangelical thrust to the band's music. He says he and Newsom don't proselytize, but try to set an example of what it means to be Christian.
"You gotta be in the world if you want to make an impact on the world," he said. "And if you want to have people come to faith, like you have to demonstrate that in real life, and not just like shout it at them from a distance."
If Abramson and Holly Newsom sound very assured in their religious convictions, some of the songs on Zoo Animal's new CD tell a different story.
"If I ever thought I was gonna not believe, it was this year," she said.
After spending much of her life in small towns, Newsom was somewhat rattled by her new-found, big-city existence and rocker lifestyle.
"Being in the art world and being out late and just like, alcohol being thrown at you all the time for free, and I mean really, and like in the music world, it's like everybody wants you to destroy yourself," she said.
It doesn't take long for Zoo Animal songs to achieve a kind of spiritual catharsis. It's the band's deliberately downsizing, minimalist style that appeals to local music writer and City Pages contributor Jeff Gage.
Gage says labeling its music "Christian rock" may be a misnomer.
"I think to call them a Christian band would be unfair to them in a lot of ways because I think that that kind of pidgeon holes them in an area where they don't really deserve to be," he said.
Zoo Animal's Holly Newsom feels the same way.
Newsom says she's just thankful people understand the band doesn't want to be merely a musical backdrop to imbibing on a Friday night. It wants people to think, and possibly examine their own lives and faith.
- All Things Considered, 05/28/2010, 6:24 p.m.