ALL EARS Pursuing music often begins with a simple realization: that it could be you up on that stage. And before he started the Redwood City rock band Please Do Not Fight in the late ‘00s and early ‘10s, Zen Zenith was just a kid staring goggle-eyed at the pop-punk bands that dominated Bay Area clubs in the late ‘90s.
The Matches, with whom he’s still friends, wowed him in particular. “They had rehearsed moves and such incredible stage presence,” he says. “There’s one song where people get down low. These are clichéd things now, but it was the first time I’d ever seen it. I was like, ‘how do they know how to do this? How do they know we’re all gonna jump at the same time?’”
After playing in a few short-lived bands, Zenith formed Please Do Not Fight in 2007, at age 24. That year, the project released its sole full-length, Leave It All Behind. Counterbalancing pop-punk sugar rush with spiky, sophisticated lyrics and a chilly, lonesome atmosphere, it’s the kind of album one could see inspiring the same underground cult love as American Football’s debut or Duster’s early records.
Please Do Not Fight and many of the Bay Area bands they performed with (Picture Atlantic, Dizzy Balloon, Rin Tin Tiger, Finish Ticket, Bird by Bird) rejected the self-deprecating scuzz of the contemporaneous SF garage rock movement and embraced a friendly, clean-cut approach. Mike Shirley-Donnelly of Curious Quail, which shares multi-instrumentalist Erin Machado with Please Do Not Fight, met Zenith at a Picture Atlantic show—a band he was first drawn to because they made Dungeons & Dragons references onstage.
Zenith was never into the “cocky rock-star thing,” as he calls it. But with his imposing physical presence, full-throated roar, and confessional, clearly annunciated lyrics, Zenith was certainly a magnetic frontman.
To Zenith, being a “frontman” doesn’t mean what it used to mean. “It was becoming more about sitting in front of your computer and being on social media,” he says. “It was all recording stuff on your own and then getting the band to do it later. The thing I loved about it—getting together with your friends and being social—was less and less what the work was.”
After releasing two more EPs, Zenith disbanded Please Do Not Fight in 2013. Initially he intended to rebrand the project and work with the same musicians in a different musical milieu, but instead he moved from Redwood City to L.A. and focused on hosting and promoting shows, taking what he describes as an “extended breakup from music.”
He and Please Do Not Fight guitarist Geoff McCann started a project he describes as a mix of musical and stand-up performance. But it was mostly a private endeavor for kicks, and when friends asked him to pick up the guitar at the shows he hosted, he remained stubborn.
Yet something itched in the back of his mind in spite of himself, and soon he found himself queuing up old videos of the band.
* * *
Please Do Not Fight will reunite Friday, April 26 at Bottom of the Hill. It had to be Bottom of the Hill, Zenith says—the venue where he saw bands like the Get Up Kids as a teen and, later, where he would play once his band made enough connections to play real club gigs instead of bowling alleys and restaurants.
“At first I was like ‘No, thats never, ever gonna happen,’ he says of the reunion. “But enough people asked that I started talking to Geoff and Erin and Kubes about it.”
Machado and drummer Brian Kubes are the other two members of the core band. They agreed, but a new complication arose: Kubes still lived in LA, while Machado lives in Vancouver.
The full band—including Justin San Souci of the Matches, who continues the band’s long tradition of revolving bassists—will only be able to rehearse once in the same room prior to the show.
Zenith isn’t worried, though. In LA, he claims, bands are expected to learn their parts separately in between practices as opposed to the more rehearsal-oriented approach he finds in the Bay Area. And Machado is a veteran of remote rehearsals and recording, as Curious Quail’s members are likewise dispersed across the country.
“I’m not worried about it,” Zenith says of this unconventional pre-show preparation. “And I’m probably the person who plays music the least out of the four of us.”
The show isn’t just a Please Do Not Fight reunion but a reunion of the “old scene.” Curious Quail, who played frequently with Please Do Not Fight before Shirley-Donnelly moved to the Coachella Valley, will perform earlier in the evening. Talk, the other opener, contains several members of the defunct Picture Atlantic.
The scene to which Please Do Not Fight belonged exists today in a scattered form, and some of its individual members have found fame on their own. Kevin Sullivan of Rin Tin Tiger performs as Field Medic and recently signed to vaunted indie label Run for Cover. Louie Diller of Dizzy Balloon found minor chart success with the band Holychild. Finish Ticket are signed to Elektra Records and have played with acts like Ed Sheeran but released their last album in 2013.
Please Do Not Fight will probably never reunite again. The geographical distances among the band members are too vast for regular reunions to be a thing, and Machado is committed to her dual gigs as Quail member and music teacher. But while preparing with McCann and San Souci, Zenith began to feel some of that old jones for music creeping back in and hopes to use the reunion as a springboard for something new—most likely a solo project, he’s concluded.
“When I was playing music it wasn’t just about playing music,” he says. “I also got a social life from it. It helped me with my mental health because writing songs is very therapeutic. I got exercise out of it by jumping around onstage. I’m realizing in the last couple years how much benefit music has brought to my life, and with this show I’m excited to do more music to bring all those things back in.”
PLEASE DO NOT FIGHT, CURIOUS QUAIL, TALK
Fri/26, 8:30 p.m., $15-$18
Bottom of the Hill, SF.
Tickets and more info here.