First they needed a name for their band. Then all they had to do was become successful.
By Neely Steinberg ’99
"We want creative control," says Aku Orraca-Tetteh [jumping] on why Dragons of Zynth has decided to forgo a label. He is pictured with twin brother, Akwetey '02 [holding trophy], and their bandmates Bizza Lucas [seated] and FonLin Nyeu [in dress].
[Music] It was either in their apartment or in the studio where the name for the band was born. Aku can’t remember
exactly. It was a flash of brilliance, a moment of clairvoyance. “Dragons of Zynth,” Akwetey blurted out, as though divinely inspired. Aku knew precisely what his twin brother meant, even though the name, they agree, doesn’t have any particular meaning. Like many twins, they share an instinctual connection so deep that explanations are rarely needed. It was decided then: Dragons of Zynth. Now all they had to do was become successful.
Achieving success in the music business is an elusive prize, as most fledgling bands can attest. And that proverbial path to fame has been no different for Aku and Akwetey Orraca-Tetteh, 2002 graduates who went by the names James and John, respectively, during most of their time at Amherst.
Aku and Akwetey took songwriting classes at Amherst and performed their music at venues around campus. Both eventually moved to New York City, where Akwetey worked backstage at concerts, befriending such acts as TV On The Radio, who, upon hearing one of the twins’ demos, brought them into the studio to record more music. A year later, in 2005, DoZ was assembled: Aku on vocals and keyboard, Akwetey on vocals and guitar, Bizza Lucas on drums and FonLin Nyeu on bass.
To listen to DoZ is to be transported to another cosmos. Their sound is otherworldly, phantasmagorical. Some call it “Afrotek,” a fusion of jazz, punk, dub, funk, soul and hard rock. Jon Pareles, a music critic for The New York Times, described it in an October 2007 review as “psychedelia tweaked by hardcore, math-rock besieged by feedback, buzzing Minimalism hijacked by power-trio riffs.” Akwetey’s description of the music is equally cryptic: “auto-physio-psychic,” a technique he and Aku learned while studying with the musician Yusef Lateef at Amherst. “We let ourselves intuit our music rather than construct it,” Akwetey says. “A note, melody or lyric can result from letting trained techniques take a backseat to a more instinctive approach.”
The band got its first real break when a former Virgin Records vice chairman starting her own label decided to sign DoZ. That label unexpectedly shuttered, but eventually Gigantic records signed DoZ to a one-album deal. DoZ opened for more-established bands (TV On The Radio, Saul Williams, Modest Mouse), performing songs from its 2007 album Coronation Thieves, but decided to split from the label when touring concluded in 2008.
By that time, the band had built up buzz in music circles and the blogosphere. DoZ is now performing live and recording its second full-length album. When I ask Aku what it’s like performing live, in front of thousands, he stumbles. “Well,” he says, searching for the right words, “there’s just nothing like it.”
DoZ has decided to forgo a label for now and is planning a fall 2010 release of the new album. “We want creative control,” says Aku, “and we definitely don’t want to put out anything that you’ve heard before.”
Steinberg is a freelance writer living in Boston and host of The Love Hangover (www.unregularradio.com), a talk radio show about dating, sex and relationships.