9 min read

Building Beyond: N*Dead

Let's reanimate a boy band

Building Beyond is an ongoing series of conversations about how much fun worldbuilding can be. Building a world doesn’t have to be hard or scary. Let’s give it a try, together.

Zombie boy band finally hits the big time!

Tyler Hayes is a science fiction and fantasy writer from Rhode Island, and a Social Justice Bard specializing in the College of Comfort. He writes stories he hopes will show people that not only are they not alone in this terrifying world, but we might just make things better. His fiction has appeared online in Anotherealm, Nossa Morte, and The Edge of Propinquity, and in print in anthologies from Alliteration Ink, Graveside Tales, and Aetherwatch. Tyler’s debut novel, The Imaginary Corpse, is available from Angry Robot Books.

Gailey: What's the music sound like? What are the songs about?

Tyler: Edge of Forever started out like pretty much every other zombie boy band of the 140s, a long-dead boy-band literally getting recycled by Resurrectionists Guild West. The difference-maker for EOF, beyond that one meme on Trilobyte when they first showed back up, was their pick of producer.

Most of the zombie boy bands, EOF included, either self-produced their new work, or went with their original producers (the effort Backstreet Boys put into resurrecting the producers of Millennium was bigger news than any of their post-rezz albums), keeping their signature styles the same and limiting their appeal to oldies fans and their fellow undead. After Back from the Edge flopped, EOF turned to acclaimed rustcore producer Necrosaint, who encouraged them to try a more aggressive, reflective style. This famously grated on EOF, but the result of all that contention was Reflecting the Wrong Way and the start of EOF's signature sound: backing bands that were a mish-mash of orchestral and hard rock elements, and emotionally charged lyrics focused on an earnest, thoughtful exploration of day-to-day existence as a zombie.

EOF had a rocket strapped to them from the moment the first single from Reflecting the Wrong Way, "Where Am I?", dropped. The song, once described by a Singing Skulls review as "the five stages of grief hitting the club on a Friday night," was an instant hit, becoming a staple of the club scene and college livestreams alike. The resulting career renaissance saw EOF delving into every aspect of life as a zombie: the jumble of memories that plague the undead ("Where Am I?"), the complex emotions that come with remembering the experience of death ("Lift Another Veil"), dependence on necromancers to maintain your existence ("Your Hands," "Diamond Tether"), issues with bodily decay ("Assist"), and the looming question of how long is too long to hold on ("Tick Tick Tock Tock"). Critics endlessly praise the group's honesty, whether it's maudlin, enraged, matter-of-fact, or (as in "Tick Tick Tock Tock") a clash between all three.

Gailey: What's the fanbase like?

Tyler: A critic for MusicToo accidentally created the slogan of EOF fans in a review: "people at the beginning and end of both lives." EOF's post-rezz work appeals most strongly to teenagers and freshly created zombies, who identify strongly with their alienation and confusion; and to people nearing death or who have been necro-constructs for a long time, who are facing the twin concerns of whether to come back and how long to stay. There is some friction among the two groups, but they mostly stay genial and compassionate, in keeping with EOF's overall message.

EOF also has the dubious distinction of being popular at wedding receptions; "Sickness and Health" is played for its danceable tempo and repetition of the word "love," ignoring that the song is about a necromancer honoring their love's wishes and letting the resurrection spell lapse after 100 years of zombification. As EOF member ZZ put it, "that's how you really know we've hit the big time."

Gailey: Does the band stay together, or do they break up?

Tyler: EOF had one of the longest careers of any zombie boy band, staying together post-rezz for nearly a century. The beginning of the end was ZZ's decision in 2229 to not re-up his resurrection spell, citing that he'd lived enough life. The band accepted his decision, even writing "Twice as Lucky" in his memory, but it wasn't long before the remaining quartet started to pull apart. Their final album, New is New Again, was massively delayed due to their creative struggles post-ZZ, and the process of recording the album plus the stress of the supporting tour drove Chavo to the brink; when the tour ended, Chavo went public to confirm both his rumored enchantment addiction, and his departure from the group to seek rehabilitation. Bruce Y, Bruce B, and Luigi tried to record another album, but arguments with Necrosaint took over more and more of the recording sessions, until they all agreed that this wasn't working, and declared New is New Again their true final recording.

Luigi decided not to maintain his resurrection spells in 2232; he is interred with his fellow zombie Catholics in Vatican Forest. Chavo was able to finish rehab, and became a successful producer in his own right, mostly focused on South Abya Yalan bands (his biggest claim to fame is working with resurrection-metal mainstay Bastinado on their breakout album The Plague Bride). Bruce Y and Bruce B have both retired from music; Bruce Y runs a bar in Detroit, and Bruce B has chosen to keep his new life anonymous. Edge of Forever is set to be inducted into the Resurrected Artists' Hall of Fame next year, with Bruce Y and Chavo expected to co-write a speech.

Gillian Morshedi is a non-practicing attorney whose job centers around helping communities improve their responses to homelessness and whose personal life centers around responsible hedonism. Her writing is strictly for her own amusement, though she does occasionally subject others to it.

(Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. But mostly to remove moans and incidental guttural noises. “Likes” and other filler words have been retained for the sake of authenticity.

Interviewer’s Note: Individual band members are not identified by name in the responses below. You try differentiating among a baker’s dozen of nearly-identical twenty-something zombies. And the nametags kept dragging their flesh off. Even just the adhesive kind.

Additional Interviewer’s Note: Please don’t come at me for not asking about what they look for in a girl. It would have been morally and journalistically unethical for me to do so, especially given how impressionable many younger fans are and how extremely contagious zombiness is. Plus, I tried and their management cut the interview short.)

Pitchfork: For people reading or watching who aren’t familiar with you – hard to believe at this point I know – but tell those folks what your music sounds like. What your songs are about.

Z|Avengers: Hmm, how would we describe our sound, boys?

I mean, like, I’d say it depends on what era you’re asking about?

Totally. Because in the beginning days, as you’ll recall from our first two albums–

Or you may not. They flew a bit below the radar, to say the least.

[chuckles from multiple members]

But yeah, those first two were extremely dark. And part of that was management’s direction. It made sense from a marketing perspective. World’s first Zombie boy band? Be odd to go with the standard playbook.

Plus, we were all kind of getting comfortable in our new non-lives, both as living dead and also having been brought together in this band, re-thrust into the limelight.

Exactly, we were just feeling it out. And, like, the easiest, or most obvious, I guess, direction for us [snort of laughter from somewhere in the group] was edgier. Dangerous, even.

P: Do you mean in terms of sound or themes?

Z|A: Both, really.

Definitely. The music was this mismash of all kinds of so-called darker, harder stuff. Metal, grunge, snarled versions of Gregorian chanting if I remember that second single correctly? [laughs] Really gravelly vocals – aside from one of my bros here who insisted on singing 90% in falsetto [snickers from various members, one whine] – and we didn’t bother trying to smooth out our grunting back then.

Plus terrible approximations of punk.

Hey! I think our punk homages were alright.

Yeah, yeah, you would. [playful poking at ribs, which quickly and graphically goes awry]

But yeah, early on, we were all working through serious trauma, reckoning with the physical transformations of our bodies, trying to figure out new wardrobes that felt like us but wouldn’t pull too much flesh off when we undressed. Typical stuff. And it took a while to get used to people shrieking and running from us. Having all come from non-zombie boy bands originally, not the reception we were used to. [laughter, gargles] So yeah, lots to process in those early days. And it came through in our sound, our lyrics, all of it.

P: And now?

Z: Well, we’re really excited about our new album–

“Z|Avengers, Re-assemble!” Out now everywhere! [mix of groans and giggles]

It’s definitely the most us album yet. Just, the music we love, not what we think people expect from us. What keeps us inspired every day to keep dragging one foot after the other and making music for our beautiful fans.

Much more poppy, I’d say.

For sure. Really joyful, both musically and lyrically. We’re really coming into our own as individual Zombies and as a group, and that shines through.

Yeah, it’s a fun one. But don’t worry, there are a few ballads mixed in with the bangers!

P: You mentioned your fans just then. How would you describe your fanbase?

Z: Best fans in the world, first of all.

Absolutely! [hums and grunts of agreement throughout the group, a garbled yelp]

But to more specifically answer your question – we’ve talked about this a lot – the most interesting thing is how we’ve been embraced by straight teenage boys and 20-something men in a way none of us experienced pre-metamorphosis. Even the new album is tracking well. Like something about us being Zombies makes it ok for them to like a boy band.

Zombie dudes don’t seem into us though.

True, true. Maybe they’ll come around.

And we’ve gotta shout out our most fervent fans: the girls and women – undead and pre-dead alike – who really hold us up. They’re absolutely amazing. Just incredible.

It’s so fascinating, too, how so many identify as wlw or sapphic and yet they’re such zealous supporters of a band that’s part of a genre traditionally marketed based on sex appeal.

P: Surely, you’ve got those fans, too, though?

Z|A: Oh, absolutely. And we love them too!

All our fans are incredible!

I think we were all a bit shocked about that, though. Didn’t expect to still be sex symbols.

Just goes to show, no matter what you’ve got going on, there are people who will be into it.

That, and musicians are always hot.

[Playful shoving and eye rolling. Two dislocated arms and one dislocated eye result, eliciting a sigh from management. The band seems unbothered.]

P: Ok, crystal ball time. Does Z|Avengers stay together?

Z|A: Oh, believe us, we’ve discussed it.

Our favorite question! [giggles, wrenched moaning]

No, but for real. 100% staying together.

At most we’d allow ourselves the occasional hiatus to rest up, play around with some solo projects, stuff like that.

P: You know that’ll raise suspicion. Isn’t hiatus just boy band for breakup?

Z|A: In our case, no way. If we say hiatus, we mean hiatus. We wouldn’t lie about that.

Yeah, we’re not monsters.

My zombie boy band, Necromantic, would be composed of the reanimated corpses of the unclaimed dead. After plundering pauper’s graves for a few years, The Producer spends all his time training up his new recruits in the art of dance. They don’t sing (their vocal chords are removed to prevent them from disclosing their origins) which results in heated debate over whether a boy band counts as a boy band if it’s silent. The whole thing falls apart when a Deaf roadie teaches them sign language and they start to share their grisly origin story with the world.

All of these possibilities are just beginnings. EOF is ripe for a story of serious artists trying to grapple with the choice to die. Z|Avengers contains the start of a story about how society reacts to boy bands, and why. Necromantic’s story would be about how evil geniuses rely on isolation and individualism.

What’s your zombie boy band like? What’s their fanbase like? How long do they stay together?

Do whatever you want with these questions. You can write something down in the comments or on social media or in a notebook nobody will ever see. You can draw or paint or sit down a friend and talk their ear off about your ideas. You can stare at the horizon and imagine, letting the infinite landscape of your mind unfold just a little farther than it did yesterday. No matter what you do, take pride in the knowledge that you’re creating something that has never existed before. You’re building a little corner of a whole new world.

That’s amazing.

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