Trevor Dow, Michael Kean, Peet Montzingo, Freddie Rose, Adam Wilhelmsson. Though not yet household names, the five guys of rising pop vocal group ZeroGravity are hoping it’s only a matter of time. Fresh from a recent multiday tour of the Santa Barbara area, where they headlined the Santa Barbara Fair & Expo, sang on KEYT, and performed at two schools, they can count a whole new slew of fans on this little corner of the Earth.
The five-day stopover was an important step for ZeroGravity, a blossoming band in the midst of a creative evolution. Free of management and with no strings attached (to borrow a phrase from another boyish five piece), they are breaking from their manufactured mold, opting instead to pursue a still-developing identity all their own. The ascending L.A.-based bunch has a mission: “To tell the world who we are, one show at a time.”
The Stars Align
It began with an audition posting beckoning for prospective young pop vocal talent. The five soon-to-be members were living in L.A. at the time, all lured to the city of angels by a common dream but unknown to each other and hailing from different regions: Dow from Goleta, Montzingo from Seattle, Kean from Fort Lauderdale, and Rose and Wilhelmsson from Sweden. Some felt the tug of destiny draw them to L.A. “I knew I was supposed to be in a band, a pop group; I just knew it,” remembered Montzingo. The SAG-AFTRA actor is no stranger to the spotlight, having performed on The X Factor, ABC’s Wipeout, and as a voice actor in J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek: Into Darkness, yet he somehow never made the final cut for pop group auditions until ZeroGravity.
“I had been doing music for a while in Sweden, and it was something I had always been wanting to do. I decided to move to the music mecca of L.A. to see what could happen,” said Wilhelmsson.
The others in the group, however, hesitated at auditioning. Dow, who had been in two fabricated bands that led nowhere, only returned to the callbacks after some convincing from the producer. Rose, who didn’t even see the ad, went at his roommate’s insistence, despite missing the first audition. He and the four others beat out more than 300 prospective singers, a fact over which Rose marveled, “I have a tough time believing in fate, but in this case, you cannot avoid the fact that it was the stars aligning.”
Having passed auditions, the guys were thrown into an intensive, six-month boot camp, where they attended vocal workshops, did workout routines, got style lessons, and even underwent a motivational hypnosis session. The production team, Eightynine Productions, also threw them some curveballs, such as sticking them on a boat for 24 hours, during which time they had to come up with a band name. It was on that dinghy, enshrouded in fog reminiscent of the horror film I Know What You Did Last Summer, that the fellows came up with not only a name but their concept: ZeroGravity, taken from Sports Illustrated article about supermodel Kate Upton, signifies that “nothing can hold us back,” Rose said.
One of the fruits of their six-month training is the music video of “Make You Mine,” which features the guys frolicking in the California sun, singing down the Pacific Coast Highway, wearing blazing pastel colors. But the image wasn’t quite what the guys wanted, and in time, ZeroGravity found they had outgrown their makers’ design and parted ways from their management. It wasn’t so much a schism as a mutual decision. “It’s just business; you’re going to run your course with relationships. It’s going to be constantly evolving and changing,” said Dow, who explained there’s no bad blood.
“What we are as individuals is very different than what they were looking for at the time,” Rose said. “We’re forever grateful,” said Montzingo of Eightynine Productions, which they thank for setting up the band’s structure. Free from constraints, the quintet was ready to take off on a destiny all their own.
Although they are seeking new management, for now, Dow, Kean, Montzingo, Rose, and Wilhelmsson are making their own decisions about how to dress, what songs to cover, and where to play. They have even begun to write their own tunes; “Chapter One,” which they debuted onstage in Santa Barbara, is self-reflective, a musical diary entry for a band beginning to come into its own.
They prefer not to be labeled a boy band, calling themselves instead a pop vocal group. They make a technical distinction between the choreographed bands of yesteryear, with their locked-in dance steps and backflips, and the more individualized all-male bands of today. Though live they may coordinate the occasional shoulder sway or head turn, they are more apt to sit on stools, with each member rising to sing as he sees fit. If successful, they will be one of today’s few American teen idol groups; Britain’s One Direction and Australia’s 5 Seconds of Summer (5SOS) — both created by legendary fame-maker Simon Cowell — are the current reigning kings of screaming-girl fandom.
So what is their vibe? Wholesome. “We pride ourselves on an All-American vibe,” said the Swedish Rose, with Dow noting the American dream transcends national borders. So squeaky-clean are ZeroGravity that at a performance on Seattle’s TV show New Day Northwest, they won over an audience that Montzingo estimated was about 80 percent women ages 60 or older, some of whom then invited the boys aboard their yacht. “Some of them wanted us for themselves. They wouldn’t even invite their granddaughters,” Wilhelmsson said. “We’ve had adults come up to us after shows and say, I want to thank you for not waving your crotch,” Kean added.
One Direction and their protégé, 5SOS, have accumulated a group of fans more numerous and potentially more powerful than most nations’ armies. Like their famous counterparts, ZeroGravity also has a legion of uniquely named fans called Gravitators who work on the band’s behalf. Currently there are 35 street teams across the globe dedicated to getting the word out about ZeroGravity.
Thanks to the Gravitators, the band now enjoys radio play in countries like Spain and Sweden. “In Sweden, our songs are playing everywhere, in a lot of different stores — they’re playing them like crazy,” Wilhelmsson said.
The group largely credits its fans’ promotional efforts for its success, with all five expressing immense gratitude for the help. They admit it can be a bit surreal to have the occasional toweled stranger sending nearly nude pics over Instagram but feel overall that the fan-band relationship has been one of mutual admiration. “We pride ourselves on fan interaction,” Rose said.
Indeed, ZeroGravity went the extra mile for its Santa Barbara fans, staying at La Cumbre Middle School after a lunchtime performance for more than two hours to sign autographs and at Dos Pueblos to watch a few numbers from the school’s production of Legally Blonde. “We’ve gone to other schools, but the Santa Barbara area was so welcoming and positive and nice — the look on the kids’ faces… You would think we were the biggest stars in the world,” Kean said.
It was a particularly meaningful tour for Dow, who was raised in Old Town Goleta and went to DP. Performing at his alma mater brought him “full circle,” as he once coached the school’s Children’s Theater program and was now living out his dream on the same stage. “I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of a project,” he said.
We’re a Way of Life
The group freely professes they are adding little new to a well-worn music model, saying instead what makes them stand out is their message. “The formula works. It’s worked years upon years upon years, and we’re not trying to do anything monumentally different,” Kean said. “What’s important to us is showing the new generations … it’s important to be who you are and not let the bullies get to you.”
“What shines through, what we’re trying to convey, is love as a universal concept,” Wilhelmsson said. “We want to be that positive light,” Montzingo added.
Perhaps that’s what the band means when they say that they are not a band but a way of life — living free of negative constraints, free of labels. They aren’t a boy band, and they aren’t aimed at a demographic; they’re just themselves. And it’s their individuality, Rose said, that has created “an avalanche effect” of opportunities.
Indeed, there is something infectious about their positivity. Though their Friday set at the S.B. Fair & Expo got off to a quiet start, by night’s end, the stage was filled with newfound fans dancing and singing along with them. Fun-loving, irrepressibly positive, and hilarious, the five guys have a gravitational pull to them, and with another southland show on the way at this weekend’s California Strawberry Festival, it may not be long before they have the whole world circling in their orbit.