What comes to mind when people talk of Orange County music is usually our enduring, influential punk scene or its newer incarnation, the retro-garage-rock horde, leaving our timeless country and Americana artists overlooked. Among the current torchbearers of this genre are Ted Z and the Wranglers—although front man and primary songwriter Ted Zakka is almost too humble to accept that. “To even be put in that realm is an honor,” he says. “But I don’t know, I’m just writing as good of songs as I can and trying to keep playing.”
For the past six years, the Huntington Beach-based group have been performing their take on grassroots music at bars and venues across the county and beyond. They’ve also released four albums, and this fall, the band will release Southland.
The album’s first single, “Guests On Sunday Morning,” set to be released on Wednesday, is a prime example of what Ted Z and the Wranglers do best. It starts with vocals accompanied only by a kick drum and hand claps, but it quickly evolves into an energetic barroom party. Background harmonies, honky-tonk guitar licks and a pumping rhythm section drive the tune forward, with the soulful twang of Zakka’s voice sounding as homegrown and whiskey-soaked as they come. As with most of the group’s material, the core of the song lies in Zakka’s vivid storytelling. “It’s essentially a story about a party that breaks out on what was supposed to be a day of worship or the Lord’s day,” he explains. “Rather than heading to church or the service as planned, the guests that come to the house dressed in their Sunday’s finest encourage what turns into a full-blown shindig.”
Old and new fans alike have much to look forward to if “Guests On Sunday Morning” is any indication of what we can expect from the rest of Southland. “We’ve had these songs forever, so finally getting them out on a full-length album is nice. It’s been a long process,” Zakka says.
After traveling to Yellow Dog Studios in Wimberley, Texas, to record their last release, Zakka and the gang decided to return to their roots for this project. “I had another 20 to 25 songs that we brought back to where we recorded our first releases, Beehive Studios in Costa Mesa,” he says, “and we worked on them with my old producer, Scott Zscholmer.”
This album exhibits Zakka’s growing abilities as a songwriter, with his powerful, almost mythical ability to bring a song to life. “Every song has a specific story that I generally formulate either from a real-life situation or from something that I have created in my mind,” he says. “Characters or scenarios that range from semifictional or complete fiction to nonfiction.”
Zakka spent nearly two years assembling the right group of musicians and scheduling recording sessions between tours for Southland, which is also full of guest appearances, including one from vocalist Jaime Wyatt. With a top-notch band (all of whom contribute vocals), locally sourced production and overall great songwriting, it’s bound to be another staple in Orange County Americana.