Zero Boys - Don't Shoot, Can't Breath [single] (Cover Artwork)

Zero Boys

Don't Shoot, Can't Breath [single] (2023)

I-94 recordings

Growing up in the Midwest, the Zero Boys were always held to legendary status. They were just about complete with their initial run as a band when I was first discovering the underground punk and hardcore scene in the late 1980’s. I would periodically see the name on flyers though never got the chance to see them live. Throughout the years that followed, I secured a copy of Vicious Circle and discovered the brilliance both lyrically and musically of this Indianapolis band. Since that era, the band in different incarnations would record two additional full-length albums in Make It Stop and the more alt-rock album The Heimlich Maneuver. About a decade ago, the band returned to more semi-permanent status again with original drummer Mark Custinger, guitarist Dave Lawson and bassist Scott Kellogg joining original vocalist Paul Mahern. This lineup has remained consistent and produced the stellar Monkey album released in 2014. Since then, the band has been playing the occasional regional show and festival circuit. I did get the chance to finally see the band live a few years back and it was nothing short of amazing. In 2018, the band released “Don’t Shoot, Can’t Breathe” as a digital single. Thanks to the folks at I-94 Recordings, the single now has a physical release as a 7” single.

“Don’t Shoot, Can’t Breathe” has one direct mission in discussing all the social unrest in the world. This lyrical content is nothing new to Zero Boys. The band first tackled such social commentary on “Civilization’s Dying” off their debut Vicious Circle album from 1981. The song starts with a direct quarter-note guitar strum, not too unlike the intro to the Clash’s “London Calling.” I always felt that Zero Boys blended a healthy dose of the spirit of ’77 and post-punk with their brand of Midwest hardcore. Vocalist Paul Mahern delivers the vocals with the conviction of a politician at the podium directing his audience. Musically, the chorus of the song is the highlight. The upper octave backing vocal harmonies help accentuate the message of the song. The bridge of the song is Midwest punk rock brilliance, often heard in fellow regional bands such as Effigies or Naked Raygun.

As part of the 7-inch serious of which this belongs, Zero Boys cover a Detroit artist on the B-Side. The band tackles Alice Cooper’s “Long Way To Go” as their contribution. Zero Boys mostly stay true to the original melody and rhythm on this one. Paul Mahern shows his abilities in stretching his vocal range throughout the track. This song is a typical groovy 70’s era hard rocker for those unaware. Dave Lawson offers up some great guitar leads throughout as Scott Kellogg keeps the groove with his basslines. Personally, I feel the choice in covering this song serves more as a complement to the A-Side than paying homage to Mr. Cooper and was a solid selection. It should also be noted that vocalist Paul Mahern is a veteran producer and did a stellar job on these two tracks.

As a long-time fan, I am ecstatic for new Zero Boys material in any format. This single alone may not make you a die-hard fan of the band but can serve as an introduction. This release will hopefully expose the band to a new era of punk listeners as well as appease their existing fanbase. Do not miss seeing the band live should you get the chance. This is where the band shines most in my opinion. If this release is your first exposure to Zero Boys, then I highly recommend going back to the beginning and working your way forward through their catalog.