There are bands from Columbus and then there are Columbus bands. Zoo Trippin’, an ever-evolving funk, rock and blues group, belongs to the latter.
From playing at-capacity shows at Brothers Drake, giving on-stage haircuts at Scarlet and Grey Cafe, to an uncharacteristically formal performance for dress-up jazz club Notes, Zoo Trippin’ can be seen almost anywhere around the Columbus music scene.
“This city is full of f—in’ weirdos, but it’s talented weirdos,” rhythm guitarist and vocalist Drew Dimitrovski said. “If anybody asks what we sound like, my favorite answer to give is we sound like Columbus.”
Lead vocalist Tony Casa and lead guitarist Lynn Roose III collectively agreed with Dimitrovski. Being wedged between the Chicago and New York scenes, the Columbus sound is sandwiched with multiple influences.
Casa and Roose have been collaborating musically for a while now, but they said Zoo Trippin’ is their most accomplished project. The band began as Zoo Trip, inspired by the group’s frequent visits to Columbus’ own while growing up in the city and attending Hilliard Davidson High School. They added the –pin’ to avoid vague Google searchers.
Those three letters have made Zoo Trippin’ not only a band, but also a brand and culture. Its live performances are untamed spectacles with “party favors” such as condom-filled piñatas and confetti surprises. It’s not unusual for the main six members to be joined by more contributors onstage, which only adds to the energy.
“It turned into this concept of we can be as big as a 13-piece band, and it becomes a zoo,” Dimitrovski said. “It was a very practical, literal start of the name and then we grew into this concept of we’re all a little bit crazy, we’re all a little bit wild, we have very high energy.”
Zoo Trippin’s latest work, the six-song EP “Great White Buffalo,” released in June captures Midwest hardships and triumphs backed by funk-riddled jams inspired from the surrounding sounds.
On the album’s single “Bluebird,” Casa channels the band’s blues side backed by moving strings and introspective classic rock riffs by singing, “Do you remember the wild bender back when we were young?/Before we knew all those deepest blues and the places they come from.”
As the members of the band enter their 30s, “Great White Buffalo” is Zoo Trippin’s most complete effort to date. Drummer Steve Hatmaker, bassist Austin Smith and keyboardist Jeff Straw round out the collective that is dedicated to making the band a lifestyle, putting aside previous jobs and relationships in an effort to make it as musicians.
“This is the start of us turning from a fun band that’s a hobby to a full-time project where people are leaving their jobs and we’re starting to tour,” Casa said. “It’s getting to a point to where we’re so confident in what we’re doing now that we’re OK with charging $10 for a CD and $10 for a ticket.”
And the band has been able to pull a profit doing so. Dimitrovski said that the physical CD and streaming sales for “Great White Buffalo” will be able to cover the cost for the release of Zoo Trippin’s next album.
Another way the group has been able to monetarily succeed as a band stems from the members’ in-studio work ethic. Their disciplined mindset has helped them keep studio costs at a minimum.
“When we show up, we show up with a really rigid game plan (and get) all the tracking down in a very short amount of time,” Roose said.
It is evident that Zoo Trippin’ does not intend to mess around, given the amount of times the group members mentioned the band being their primary and sole hustle. In fact, Dimitrovski comitted to the band to complete the current lineup after just one performance .
Three weeks before the release of the band’s EP, “Kids These Days” in April 2015, Dimitrovski crossed paths with the band while both of them were playing at a show in remembrance of his late brother. Casa and Roose knew he and his brother from having all attended the same high school, but had never played music together. During their set, the members of Zoo Trippin’ called Dimitrovski onstage to perform with them. He committed to joining the band that night after playing a slew of songs together.
“We’re going to make it to the point where we do nothing but make music for a living, and these guys right now are willing to share in that dream, share in the hardships as well (such as) being away from home and being stuck in a shit scenario,” Casa said.
At one point Casa noted that he will die in Columbus. He said he and the other band members’ ambition are strong enough to push the Zoo Trippin’ trend across the nation and into a lifelong project, but the spirt of the band will always reside in the heart of Ohio.
Zoo Trippin’ is set to play Spacebar on Saturday, July 16. Admission is $5 for 21+ and $7 for ages 18+.