Zopa is a New York indie-rock band formed by serendipity, carved by time, lifted by community, and crafted with a deep and intuitive trust in the process. All of these things come together through the talent of three artists, Michael Imperioli on guitar and lead vocals, Elijah Amitin on bass, keyboards, vocals, production, and Olmo Tighe on drums, and vocals. Indie Is Not A Genre sat down with Michael Imperioli, Zopa’s multi-passionate frontman known for his Emmy-winning role as Christopher Moltisanti on HBO’s The Sopranos, to talk about their album La Dolce Vita (via Mt. Crushmore Records.)
Zopa has been around for quite some time now, I think longer than many people know. When did it all start?
Zopa started in 2006, but then, in 2013, we went on a long hiatus. Until this year, 2021. I lived in California from 2012 until this year, and when I moved back to New York we started just writing, and practicing, and playing shows. But it started in 2006, in a very weird way because I’m 55, Elijah and Olmo are 38, so I met Olmo, the drummer when he was eight. He was in a movie I was in when I was 25. Olmo played the younger version of David Wojnarowicz, an artist who lived in New York in the 80s. Olmo’s brother, Michael Tighe played the character, David, as a teenager. Years later I ran into Michael at a party and I asked about his brother who I hadn’t seen since he was eight, and he said that he played the drums, and at the time I wanted to start a new band. For some very strange reason, I started to track Olmo down, I didn’t know what kind of music he was playing, but something instinctual happened. Olmo knew Elijah from high school and we just started playing and writing music in 2006.
How has time shaped you as a band and as an artist?
We didn’t know what time had done until we started playing and writing music. So the sound is different in some ways, and I think we’ve just matured as people and experienced life. For example, there was a seven to eight-year span, where Olmo wound up marrying my cousin, and they met at a gig and they’ve had two boys in those years that are nine and ten years old now.
When it started it was a bit New York punky and now it’s evolved a little more. There’s some Shoegaze influence, and there’s more of an expansive sound. We’re trusting the sound more. Lyrically you learn, hopefully, in eight years, more about yourself and the world, so it’s a little more ripe.
Zopa means ‘Patience’ in Tibetan – how does patience work in your creative process?
I think with patience comes a certain trust, a certain trust in yourself as an artist. Often when we write, a lot of stuff will be placeholders, especially lyrics, so if there’s a nice chord progression or a nice rhythm that we find, a riff that we feel has some juice, then it can develop more. Trusting in that there’s something exciting about that riff, or that progression, or that chorus, and not expecting to have it all filled in right away.
There’s a song that we’ve been playing live, we started playing live in October, some of it was from a piece that I wrote a couple of years ago, and never put lyrics to it, and never did anything with it. But there was something in it that I thought was cool, and was interesting, and now it’s one of my favorite songs that we do. Trusting your instincts and letting them unfold on their own time rather than forcing it, or trying to come up with the lyrics right now. Often you have to let the music inform what the song is going to be about, and that takes a little time.
I’ve noticed while doing some online research that your track ‘It’s Not Real” resonates with a lot of your fans. Why do you think that is?
I think because it is, it’s very specific to me what it’s about, but yet there’s a simplicity to it that people can relate to and interpret their own way, in relation to their own life and experience. I don’t want to say being ‘vague’ because I don’t think it’s vague, but being pithy and simple can sometimes open the door to a more universal way, so people can add their own interpretation. When you get too specific and too literal, the meaning of the song is really narrowed. Especially when you’re talking about something very political, or very current, or very specific, and that can have its own potency, I’m not denying the validity or the importance of that but if you can be a little bit more mysterious and simple, it can affect people in a lot of ways. Also, it’s just, that’s one of those songs that came relatively easy, which some don’t and some do, sometimes it just falls right into place. I think that’s one of those songs.
There’s a pattern on this album, a beautiful tension between gentle sounds and loud, booming pulses. Does that come naturally in your songwriting?
I think it actually comes naturally as an artist in general, not even just with music or songwriting, but in other disciplines as well, juxtaposing. It is something that I’m really trying to do more deliberately as a songwriter right now, as we write new work and take it even further sonically and lyrically. This one new song that we wrote, that we’ve been playing live and we haven’t recorded yet, it’s called Love and Other Forms of Violence, we’re trying to do that specifically. Because I think life is like that, you know? The horror and the beauty is very much side-by-side and in our own lives. Our best emotions are sometimes side-by-side with our worst ones, and our faults, and in the same moment we’re doing something very loving and kind. I think if you can combine those into any art form, but especially in music, it can be very exciting.
Right now I’m in Miami, the beach is right here, it’s very beautiful, and two doors down is an empty space where the building collapsed in Surfside, where people died months ago. You look around, and you wouldn’t even know. You see beautiful sky and beach but if you turn around, there’s this reminder of a horrible tragedy and death. That’s just a little example of these two things side-by-side.
Do you have a favourite thing about playing live music in New York?
My favourite thing right now is that I feel part of a certain scene that is happening there, that we just fell into through social media. A lot of connections that I made in the indie music scene in New York were made on social media and then when things opened up and we started playing live with bands like Habibi. I met Rahill Jamalifard on Instagram about two years ago and we said we should do a show together, and we did, and Blair Broll from Girl Dick was the same, and Chase Noelle. Being part of that and playing gigs with these bands feels like there’s something very exciting happening in New York that I haven’t seen for a while. There’s a bit of a vitality and people who are really serious about what they’re doing, yet also taking chances and having a lot of fun. That’s very exciting to me to be a part of that scene right now.
You inspire each other as artists I think and to me particularly as someone who is coming from another medium, where their known and to be welcomed by people in that world is really meaningful to me.
Love that! So last question, upcoming tour dates?
February 9th in San Francisco at The Chapel.
February 10th Zebulon in Los Angeles, Crush is opening for us, with two members of the Black Lips (which is really cool).
February 17th New York, Baby’s Alright with 2-CB – A single and video release performance and party for us. We have a new single recorded with John Agnello who has worked with Dinosaur Jr., Kurt Vile, and Sonic Youth. We’re really proud of that and we’re making a video for that right after New Years.
February 18th in Philadelphia at Kung Fu Neck Tie.
I’m hoping to get back in the studio in the spring, and we’re pretty close to having enough material for a new album. We’re really going to focus on doing some extensive touring in the late summer and fall. Hopefully we will be in a different phase of Covid with protocols and lock-downs.