Ziel, a ChicagoROX featured band, invited me to interview them before their show September 1 at Logan Square Auditorium.

I'll be frank. I had no idea how I was going to start this piece.

I've never interviewed a band before. I thought I'd chat with them, they'd talk about their influences and any upcoming gigs and when their CD would be out; ya' know, standard band promotion in the guise of journalism. Then I started digging into their MySpace profiles.

The band's profile is pretty sparse. There are the songs, of course, upcoming shows, banners for fans to use, influences, and pictures of each member. Mike - vocals. Jordan - guitar. Kyle - guitar. Anthony - bass. Steve - drums. Juan - heart/spirit? There's a video of their cover of "Angel's Son" by Sevendust, complete with candle-holding audience members. Ziel's music is heavy alternative and this video was not indicative of their music, nor, I suspected, of their performing style. My curiosity was piqued, so I dug a little deeper.

Jordan, Anthony, Mike, Juan, and briefly Kyle, were formerly Natoma Breathes. On August 27, 2005, Juan drowned.

I immediately knew this was not going to be a fluff piece, and it explained why they never sent me a bio for their page on The Local Tourist. Their story's a little more complex than the standard, and explains why I felt depth and passion in their music beyond their genre's expected angst. I was determined not to turn this into a macabre exploitation that capitalized on their loss.

I arrived at Logan Square Auditorium a little before eight, and Jordan, Anthony and Steve led me to an upstairs storage room. As we went to our seats at the large round table in the midst of chairs and equipment, Jordan looked at the pressed wood and pointed. There was a huge 27 written in magic marker on the table in front of where Jordan was going to sit. We looked at each other and sat down.

That 27 seemed to be tacit approval from Juan to talk about him and the influence he still has, because until our interview, they just don't do that.

"We don't try to downplay what this band is," said Anthony, "but at the same time we don't want to come off as a band that's looking for sympathy in a way, because our drummer died."

Jordan added that they try not to talk about it. "We've mentioned it a total of two times. At the memorial show, and at The Metro."

"My mom even asked me one time why don't you guys say anything on your MySpace page, and I said because it doesn't have any bearing on what we're trying to do," explained Anthony. He, Jordan, and Steve all quickly emphasized that Juan still has an enormous influence. They'll still joke about him, and "even with him," said Jordan. "At any given moment something will come out of our mouths regarding him. It's like he's not gone."

The video on their MySpace profile is from that memorial performance. Set for September 11, it was supposed to be their breakout show. They had just finalized the band line-up with the addition of Kyle on August 24, and the idea of doing that show without Juan and with a new member was almost too much.

Jordan and Anthony were ready to quit. Anthony sat on a hill outside the hospital in solitude, and Jordan get on the phone "getting all my shit sold."

Anthony said that Mike was the one who shook them out of it. "It took Mike basically taking our heads and hitting them together going 'what the f*&( is wrong with you.'"

While Jordan and Anthony spoke, they were animated and passionate. They talked over each other as one would say something and spark a memory or thought in the other. Steve, understandably since he's the drummer now, was quiet most of the time.

Shortly after we sat down he told me how he'd joined Ziel. "I heard these guys play and I was like I've got to get in this band. I talked them into giving me a ride out to audition because my car was broken down. I told them if you guys hear me play today you'll want me in the band."

Anthony and Jordan were skeptical. "Both of us," Anthony said, "were like you just better back it up." Apparently he did. They cancelled the other auditions. "That's how good it felt, you know? We didn't need to bring anybody out."

In another Twilight Zone moment, it seemed that Juan approved of Steve also. Shortly after joining the band a lug nut had popped on his snare. Anthony brought in one of Juan's drums. It was the same snare that Steve used.

When they were called to go onstage, I stood back a little and watched. There was no hint of a ghost, or tragedy, or something missing. These guys LOVE what they're doing. I was already a fan of their music, but knowing their story and seeing them perform with complete abandon filled me with a hope that they'll be one of those that makes it.

Ziel has zest for life and exhibits energy and excitement. Zeal, if you will.