Retro Riff Rock….Meet The Outlaws of Zen


From Michigan, the hotbed of heavy music we bring you The Outlaws of Zen.

TOOZ play what I want to call garage doom rock. Heavy Iommi riffs, with the DIY garage punk energy of MC5. They just released their third EP and throw down some killer Uncle Acid-like jams.

After releasing two EPs as a foursome,  Don’t Bother Getting Up, We’ll Let Ourselves In (2012) and Death In The Afternoon (2013), TOOZ decided to continue on as a power trio with bassist Tommy Koppmann on vocals. The result is a rawer, thrashier garage sound firmly rooted in late 70s early 80s NWOBHM bands like Witchfinder General or Saint Vitus, that sets them apart from most heavy stoner rock bands.

We connected to get the details.

We are….
Tommy Koppmann – Lead Vocals and Bass
Korey Gillespie- Guitar
Travis Evans- Drums

How did you become The Outlaws of Zen and what’s the story behind the name?
Travis – The dissolve of a previous band After The Dust, looking to continue music in a new direction, trying out being a 2 piece but wanted a bigger sound, stumbling accidentally on Tommy in Bay City, hearing about Joe through Tommy. The name came from a list of names that was being tossed around, that was shortened to The Outlaws Of Zen.

Tommy – From what I remember the band’s name was supposed to be goon bucket! The band came together after the dissolution of Korey and Travis’s previous band “After the Dust” and I happened to stumble onto them accidentally through mutual friends, and here we are 5 years later.

Korey – Wish we had a better story for this one but I just hate picking names. We decided to get it done early while we were still a two piece. It was a name we could both live with so we went with it. It was actually from a name I had jokingly set aside in case I was ever motivated to finally demo a few songs I have laying around. I was going to toss them under the moniker “Goonbucket and the Outlaws of Zen”. We put it to better use and those songs are still waiting to be demoed. Plus it is tough to keep a singer when you are VD and the Carriers.

Tell us about your hometown scene…
Tommy -I’m originally from Detroit, big music scene there. Here in mid Michigan it’s paced a little differently for original bands, but when you snag a fan around here, they’re loyal to you, and genuinely care about the effort you put into your show and music.

Korey – Scene? That would be great.

Travis – You’ll do best in a nu-metal, country, top-40, cover band around here. Not doggin’ those styles it’s just the way it goes…………

Describe your sound as a cocktail – what’s it called and what’s in it?
Tommy – Honestly, very underground 70s, retro riff rock, it’s honestly a little bit of everything, even blues and jazz. All 3 of and our collective personalities bring a little something different and it works very well together, even with 3 different backgrounds, our instincts and ears with music generally meet right up with each other.

Travis -“Death In The Afternoon with Lemmy” – 1 part straight rock n roll, 1 part underground heavy 70’s rock, 1 part punk rock, 3 parts working class frustration

Korey – With a dash of heavy.

Tell us about your live show…
Tommy -ENERGY! LOTS of sweat. Try to keep the blood to a minimum for the kids

Travis -3 guys giving 100%, very appreciative of the people that stay to listen, happy to be playing and sweating……..

How does the songwriting process work?
Travis -someone coming in with a scrap of music or a complete structure mainly on guitar (since we are all guitar players) and then everyone puts their personal spin on it.

Korey – Some of our best come from simply jamming. It is great when the pieces write themselves you end up with a song that flows really well. Yet sometimes building a disjointed arrangement piece by piece is the best way to get the desired emotion across. Whatever works.

What influences the band lyrically?
Tommy – Life. It’s easier to draw people’s ears when you write on a platform that everyone can stand on and relate to.

Travis – life in general,……… personal experiences, fictitious plots, dreams/hallucinations……

If you could pick any time to travel back to for music, where would you go and what year would it be….
Tommy -for me it would have to be the 1970s 1980s rock scene

Korey – Late 60’s and early 70’s

Travis –I would start in 1965-66 so I could finish off the sixties and live through the seventies underground music scene, both coasts of the US and the UK

What tunes are currently on heavy rotation for you…
Korey – All Them Witches – Lightening at the Door, Graveyard – Innocence and Decadence, Iggy Pop – Lust For Life, and Sturgil Simpson are all in heavy rotation.

Travis -Motorhead – Bomber, and On Parole, Paul McCartney – Ram, and New, David Bowie – Low, Brown Acid VOL. 1 – The First Trip, Mondo Drag – The Occultation Of Light

Tommy – Rush – Signals, Metallica – Load, Lynyrd Skynyrd – gold and platinum

If you could tour with any band right now who would that be and why?
Travis -Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats – they blend modern and classic heavy rock very well in my opinion. It would be different enough to keep the show interesting, but blend well enough that it wouldn’t be too out of place.

Korey – I’m with Travis on this one. They have a great vibe and sound that is their own while it still pays tribute to their influences.

If you could only bring ONE record in the tour van/bus/plane what would it be?
Tommy – Very impossible to answer it would have to be a box set of some sort

Korey – I’m pretty sure what Tommy means by a box set is:

Travis -How about a box set???? I couldn’t possibly choose one record. How about the Beatles box set in mono……..

Korey – Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy

When you’re not playing and have some time off, where could we find you…
Korey – Hopefully wandering on my motorcycle if the snow every backs off.

Travis -With my family……

Tommy – With family and friends.

What’s up for the rest of 2016?
Tommy – New music!! Some new ears to enjoy what we do!

Korey – I’m excited to get some new material in the works. I know we just completed an EP but that one was done in such a transition period that I’m ready to see where we are going.

Travis -New songs, new record, more shows, with any luck new friends and fans……..



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Domestic now, but spent early to late 80s playing drums in a hair metal band in Toronto. Since then I've lost the hair and have found new ways to scratch the rock and roll itch.

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