.Zen Zenith Opens Up About Please Do Not Fight

Fresh tracks from a band we thought left it all behind

As the great philosopher Ringo Starr once said, time takes time. And nothing illustrates that aphorism more succinctly than the arc of Bay Area band Please Do Not Fight. Launched by singer-songwriter Zen Zenith, the group debuted with 2007’s full-length Leave it All Behind. But even that first release was the product of an extended, four-year period of creation. 

Some critics enthusiastically likened the group’s sound to Death Cab for Cutie, making note of Zenith’s self-aware, sometimes angsty lyrics set against tuneful indie-rock arrangements. The band was on a roll: They released a well-received six-song EP, MOVE, in 2009, and followed up two years later with another EP, a teasingly-titled release called pastpresentfuture part 1

And then, nothing. 

Save for a pair of one-off singles in 2011 and 2012, not another word was heard from the group. Though Please Do Not Fight seemed to have all the right ingredients—creative momentum, a dedicated following and positive critical notices—Zenith admits that the group broke up.

“It was about needing to take a break,” they explain, “and needing to untangle ego, deconstruct the people-pleaser thing.” Zenith had approached their group as a full-time endeavor, but that eventually brought about a kind of burnout.

Fast forward to 2024, and Please Do Not Fight has unexpectedly resurfaced, marking that return with a belated sequel to the band’s EP of a dozen years ago. Pastpresentfuture part 2 doesn’t exactly pick up right where the group left off; it’s more of a statement of purpose, a “Here’s where we are now.”

And things have changed. “The music industry is a completely different place,” Zenith says. “The Bay Area music scene is in a different place. And so much that has changed for us all, personally, too: I have a ‘muggle’ day job.” And Zenith came out as queer five years ago, a fact that informs their songwriting, albeit in oblique ways. 

The various members of Please Do Not Fight—a fluid group with Zenith and longtime collaborator Erin Keely at its core—are scattered around the country now. Zenith still lives in the Bay Area, but Keely is in Vancouver. “And many of the other members live in Los Angeles,” Zenith says. 

While Zenith is the band’s songwriter, Please Do Not Fight remains a group effort. Two members of Oakland band The Matches—bassist Justin San Souci and producer Jonathan Devoto—are part of PDNF’s current configuration. They join with some of the musicians from the group’s old days. Zenith says that they would have liked to have had other past members involved as well. “But they’re off on other careers now, being rock stars in other ways.”

The idea of being a rock star was central to Zenith’s approach in the first phase of the Please Do Not Fight story, but it doesn’t figure into current plans. Zenith says that ending a decade-plus away from music allows re-connection with what excites them about playing music. “I’ve really missed all the playfulness, magic and connection that music brings to my life,” they say. “Now I can engage with the music rather than getting wrapped up in trying to be a rock star.”

Looking back at the lyrics they wrote before coming out, Zenith takes a balanced view. “I have to be patient and understanding that they were doing the best with what they had,” Zenith says. “I think a lot of it was steering clear of the topic.” 

Pausing a moment to reflect, Zenith amends that observation. “It’s funny, when I look back, there are ways that I was unconsciously incorporating my queer experience into lyrics and the music.” With a chuckle, Zenith recalls, “There are a ton of photos of me from back in the day, rocking a rainbow guitar strap. So it’s like, ‘Oh, okay. Yeah, that’s what that was all about.’”

Zenith believes there’s a through-line that connects the 2024 iteration of the group with its (if you will) former self. “I think that we very much pick up on some of the themes from pastpresentfuture part 1,” they say, noting that the 2011 release dealt in nostalgia. “The songs on this new record feel much more rooted in the present.” 

Tracks like “Too Tough” display that quality, with lyrics that both define a problem (“I’m bein’ too tough on myself and won’t let up”) and display an awareness of the solution (“learn to love things as they are and accept them”).  

Past, present… future? Might there someday be a third entry in the EP series, completing a Please Do Not Fight trilogy? And will listeners have to wait another ten years or more?

Time takes time, so the answer isn’t clear. Zenith says that the new EP “feels like closure. It feels weird to have released a part 1 and then broken up, so it feels very cathartic to come back and say, ‘Here’s part 2. We’re 13 years late, but here it is!’” What remains to be seen, Zenith says, is what the future holds. “It’s open for us to decide what comes next,” Zenith says. “I don’t really know what that looks like yet.” 

Please Do Not Fight

pastpresentfuture part 2

Available on Spotify, Bandcamp and Apple Music


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