Photo by Arlan Helm
Interview by Ashli Jean Cooper
Rob Zabrecky has a feline multitude of creative lives. He spent the 90s as a member of alt-rock band Possum Dixon, touring all over the US and Europe in support of three full-length albums released via Interscope. Since the band dissolved, Zabrecky has trained and served as an auctioneer; appeared in television and print ads for the likes of Kia, Comcast, Denny’s, Mercedes, Cymbalta, and Italian Vogue; secured roles on Brothers & Sisters, CSI: New York, and MTV’s Room 401; and been named a top magician in 2009 and 2010 by the Academy of Magical Arts at the Magic Castle. Zabrecky is also a published author, whose writing credits include a chapbook titled Music for Deaf People, a one-act play called In Heaven, and contributions to Smartish Pace and The Underground Guide to Los Angeles.
It seems as though the one thing Zabrecky is unable to do is stagnate. His zigzagging list of achievements suggests he is most comfortable in motion. When asked about his secret for breaking out of creative ruts, Zabrecky’s answer is simple: “Dance like a motherfucker.”
Anyone who watches Possum Dixon videos sees that, even when not actively dancing, Zabrecky displays the countenance of a man unafraid to inject a little mischief and mayhem into his parents’ Grease. Of his personal favorite Possum Dixon video, ”Nerves,” Zabrecky says “It capsulizes Possum Dixon during an exciting time and was made for around 300 dollars. It was shot at our houses and places we thought were cool like Chinatown, outside of the historic Hong Kong Cafe. We had an odd combination of serious and playful sides and, to me, that video shows both pretty well. It was fun watching it play on MTV’s 120 Minutes, knowing it was made on a limited budget.”
Photo by Mandi Gosling
Ah, 120 Minutes. Well before the age of YouTube and American Idol, 120 Minutes was the cool kids’ playground. Bands still had to “make it” in order to be heard, and the TV program that would televise the world premiere of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was “it.” For every band alive in the 90s, it was improbable that they would ever have a video played on 120 Minutes, but turning the improbable into actuality is a continuing theme in Zabrecky’s work. His performances as a magician have been described as mind-trippy, with press material reporting that “Like film director David Lynch, he prepares the stage for everyday life–then sets it on fire.” But it becomes clear when Zabrecky describes what he likes the most about performing magic that his success isn’t a matter of simple might, force, or even will.
“[I like] the fact that I can act, write, direct and produce all that I do onstage. The possibilities while creating a magic show have few limits. I guess a shorter answer might be ‘control’ but I hate to sound like a control freak.”
If you noticed, Zabrecky just controlled control, which is the one thing control freaks never control. Control freaks are also incapable of dancing like a motherfucker. An outsider control freak at best, Zabrecky seems to move with purpose, but exactly what that purpose is, you just can’t say. The success and diversified performance portfolio he has developed seem merely incidental to the motherfuckerness of his dancing.
Zabrecky certainly didn’t always know he’d be where he is today, and he remembers his teenage self well. When asked what he would have done if someone told him everything he would do as an adult while he was still a teen, he imagines “I’d tell you that you were lying and to get away from me.”
Q = AJC (Ashli Jean Cooper)
A= RZ (Rob Zabrecky)
On being surprised:
Q: What was the most surprising thing you learned while being in a band?
A: That the music part of being in a band could be secondary to the personal dynamics of being in a band.
Q: What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned while being a magician?
A: That magic is an art form.
Q: What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned while being a person?
A: Probably that I still feel like I did when I was 16 most of the time.
On being satiated:
Q: Do you miss anything from your Possum Dixon days?
A: Not really. I sort of lived out the dream. The aspects I might have missed, like touring and recording might still be there if the span of the group was shorter lived. We more or less achieved more than what we set out to do.
On being a fan:
Q: What are some of your favorite ’90s bands?
A: Beat Happening, Pulp, Guided By Voices, Beck, Pavement, Elastica, Creeper Lagoon, Daniel Johnston, Lifer, Dos, Spoon and Bettie Serveert.
Q: What song (from any era/genre/etc.) do you wish you wrote? Why do you wish you wrote it?
A: When I hear “Brass In Pocket” by the Pretenders or “Game of Pricks” by Guided by Voices, I always wonder how Chrissie Hynde or Robert Pollard felt after those songs were complete. Then I think, “I wish I wrote that song.”
Q: What are some of your favorite contemporary bands?
A: To name a few, I love the Books, Spoon, Dead Man’s Bones and the Arcade Fire.
Q: Who are some of your favorite performers?
A: There are lots. But to name the first dozen or so, I’ll go with Steve Martin’s early live performances, Ricky Jay’s live magic performances, anything from Judy Garland, Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys, Jeff & Steve McDonald of Redd Kross, Calvin Johnson of Beat Happening, Mike Caveney’s live magic performances, anything Andy Kaufman did, Michael Weber’s live magic performances, anything by Ann Magnuson, Roddy Bottom of Faith No More and Tina Lenert’s live magic performances.
Q: What’s something you’ll never regret doing?
A: I try to not regret anything. But when I think of regret, I’m always reminded of the wise words of the Butthole Surfers with their song, “Sweet Loaf,” which says this: “It’s better to regret something you have done, than to regret something you haven’t done. And by the way, if you see your mom this weekend, be sure and tell her, SATAN, SATAN, SATAN!!!”