If there's such a thing as a high-functioning rock band, Ted Z and the Wranglers are it. Since getting serious as a band a couple of years ago, they've been on a creative tear, with a debut LP released last year, an EP in January and another EP dropping this month. "I still have more songs," says Ted Zakka, the group's front man and primary songwriter. "I'm actually starting another full-length. I figure the more music I get to people, the better, instead of just waiting."
And these aren't one-take, raw-and-rowdy fuzz/punk recordings. The Wranglers root themselves in the realm of cowboy Americana, a sound more akin to Nashville than SoCal, and they employ the genre's requisite high level of musicianship, with band members flexing their chops, reminiscent of the famous Nashville A-Team session crew that backed Elvis, Dylan, Patsy Kline–basically everyone who had a country hit in the '50s, '60s and '70s.
Unlike most session ensembles, however, Zakka's band are mostly his old friends. He has worked on and off with guitarist/harmonica player Mike Leyton since they were high school pals in Newport Beach in the late '90s, playing reggae-punk together. He has known bassist Dan Mages (a local philosophy professor) even longer, since his elementary-school days.
Zakka, who for years was primarily a bassist in the band Handsome G, has been teaching the comparatively inexperienced Mages his way around the instrument, coaching him until he could hang with the rest of the band. The seat behind the drums, however–as is the case in about every local band in the history of music–was the toughest spot to fill, but Zakka hit the jackpot last year with Mike Myers, a hard-hitting skins player who sings a high harmony. As if they need it, they've added even more instrumental clout by signing up reigning Guitar Center blues-guitar champion Jackson Leverone.
Zakka is quick to credit the guys behind him when talking about his recent success. "That's really been the blessing of this band, that everyone is willing to put in the time and effort," he says. "I don't know if it's because we're a little bit older now or what, but it's working." Another huge reason for this recent prolific spate of songwriting is Zakka's longtime studio collaborator and engineer, Scott Zschomler, who has tracked a little bit of everything for the Wranglers–mainly a lot of tasty pedal-steel parts–at his Beehive studio space in Costa Mesa, where the guys have been holed up on a consistent basis.
Despite taking about five years' worth of indie-rock steps in two years' time, Zakka still has a twinge of impatience in his voice, especially when it comes to booking outside SoCal.
Ted Z and the Wranglers didn't get into SXSW this year, and he's a little bummed about it. "We would like to get a touring manager and make a living doing this," he says. "It'll take some finagling [of members' schedules], but everyone is ready to [tour]; we got a van and everything ready to go. It's just a matter of getting those shows and making it worth our while."
Ted Z and the Wranglers perform at 601 Bar and Grill, 601 S. Raymond Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-7390; www.601barandgrill.net. March 15, 9 p.m. Free. All ages.