'A real labor of love': Billy Gibbons on the long journey ZZ Top took toward La Futura

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The lengthy period of time that ZZ Top took in completing its forthcoming release La Futura was spent, Billy Gibbons says, literally tearing the songs apart to make sure that each element worked perfectly.

The guitarist, Frank Beard (drums) and Dusty Hill (bass) began work on the album some four years ago with producer Rick Rubin and engineer Dave Sardy, Gibbons says in a new interview with The Portland (Maine) Press-Herald.

Those first sessions resulted in about 20 demo songs, Gibbons says. From there, ZZ Top reentered the studio — this time with Joe Hardy and G.L. Moon, the band’s long-time engineers — and continued polishing ideas. In between, of course, ZZ Top was out on the road.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: The long, long, long-awaited ‘La Futura’ recreates all of the sleazy, slightly unhinged atmosphere that once made ZZ Top such a dangerous delight.]

Finally, in a process Gibbons called a “labor of love,” the group reconvened with Rubin this past spring to continue whittling things down. Starting with a culled stack of 18 songs, the group eventually agreed on a few songs to be packaged into an EP called Texicali, and are now finally ready to issue a full-length studio recording — their first since 2003.

The final track listing for La Futura, due from American Recordings on September 11, 2012, includes 10 very well-considered cuts.

“The scariest part is when you completely tear a song down and are nearly starting it over,” Gibbons told the Press-Herald. “We had done some rewriting. A lot of the lyrics were massaged into place. Even some of the guitar tracks enjoyed getting a chance to try a different direction. So it’s been a real labor of love with, and I like that word, a dedicated focus. It can be challenging to sit and listen to a song, the same song, for two hours and then you say, ‘Gee whiz, let me sing that top to bottom. I want to go sing it again.’ Then you do that, and then you say ‘Gee whiz, would this word be better here? Let me sing it again.’ After a full day, you’re just toast.”

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Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on ZZ Top. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

ZZ TOP – LA FUTURA (2012): Remember how ZZ Top — a lip-smacking amalgam of blues, hard rock and Texas-born don’t-give-a-damn — sounded before they cloaked themselves in an MTV-approved sheen of synthesizers? It’s like that again. From the white-trash groove of “Heartache in Blue” to pedal-mashing boogie of “Lose Lose You,” from the slow-motion heavy-metal menace of “It’s Too Easy” to the riff and roar of “Big Shiny Nine,” ZZ Top’s forthcoming La Futura has the feel of vintage stuff, made new. The forthcoming, long-awaited Rick Rubin-helmed project is a nearly complete return to form for Billy Gibbons and Co. — the kind of record that sounds like a barroom brawl between a grease-popping guitar, an ass-whipping bass and a skull-splitting drum kit.

SOMETHING ELSE! SNEAK PEEK: ZZ TOP’S BILL GIBBONS, “OH WELL” (2012): Gibbons is joined by Blake Mills and Matt Sweeney for a blistering take on the Peter Green-era 1969 track “Oh Well,” ramping it up from this distorted, shivering portent into a raw, dangerous stomp. It’s an early highlight in what promises to be a fascinating 17-track tribute compilation called Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac from a group as diverse as its subject. Besides Gibbon’s update of “Oh Well,” there’s also Marianne Faithfull (“Angel”), Lykke Li (“Silver Springs”), the Crystal Ark (“Tusk”), the New Pornographers (“Think About Me”), the Kills (“Dreams”), Washed Out (“Straight Back”) and Tame Impala (“That’s All For Everyone”) offering standout takes on tracks from Rumours, Tusk, and Mirage — the classic trio of Buckingham-Nicks dominated recordings.

ZZ TOP – MESCALERO (2003): “Tush” is one of those tunes that always made us reach for the volume knob. It just couldn’t be turned up too loud. The distorted blues/rock guitar, the not quite over-the-top vocals and the blistering lead guitar. Then, shortly after the dawn of MTV, somethin’ funny happened. ZZ Top just exploded. That little ‘ole band from Texas put out Eliminator, made a few videos and went on to be considered one of MTV’s pioneering artists. I basically lost track of the bearded ones, sadly figuring that they were done. As much as I try to ride it out with my old favorites, this time it seemed like that well had run dry. But then, in 2003, I saw a review for a new ZZ Top album. Steeling myself for the usual “they’re all washed up” screed, I popped open the review link to discover that, hey, Mikey liked it! So, I bought myself ZZ Top’s Mescalero. Now this is the real thing. Huge, distorted rhythm guitar, grizzled bluesy vocals, in-the-pocket drumming and snarling guitar leads.

FORGOTTEN SERIES: MOVING SIDEWALKS FEATURING ZZ TOP’S BILLY GIBBONS – FLASH (1969): Best remembered as the band that featured guitarist Billy Gibbons, who eventually reaped universal fame with ZZ Top, the Moving Sidewalks were actually a very popular local act hailing from Houston, Texas. A hot live attraction, they produced a few singles and a full-length album during their stint. Originally released on the Tantara label in 1969, Flash (reissued by Akarma Records in 2000) provides ample servings of heavy psychedelic-blues rock cuisine. The Moving Sidewalks were especially enamored with Jimi Hendrix, and such a fixation religiously invades their material. Soulful vocals, dazzling riffs, bursts of distorted feedback and patches of cosmic impressions shamelessly ape the lauded performer. The admiration was mutual, however, as Jimi publicly praised Billy, calling him his favorite new guitar player, after catching a Moving Sidewalks show.

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