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'That's what we love to do'

Versatile Ten Cent Zen plays to the crowd

Posted: July 28, 2011 - 7:00am  |  Updated: July 28, 2011 - 8:18am

Ten Cent Zen is nothing if not versatile.

Over the course of a decade, the local band has cycled through more than a dozen members, shifted their hardcore blues orientation to a more rock-based style, and branched out to venues gauged more toward all-out dancing than low-key drinking.

The nucleus of the band is lead singer and guitarist David Boyle, who has been with Ten Cent Zen since its inception as an offshoot from the band Mike Morgan and Men with No Pride. In its present form, the group consists of Boyle, lead singer and guitarist Josh Silba (who has been with the band for seven years), drummer Mark Churchill (four years), and bassist Lee Johnson (three months).

What started off as a blues band that primarily played at Kenai Joe's slowly grew into a group that embraced all genres, venues, and audiences. While the band does play some original music, the majority of their shows consist of covers ranging from the Rolling Stones and Bob Marley to Amy Winehouse and Modest Mouse.

"We're not a band that takes ourselves too seriously," Boyle said. "We don't feel like, 'Gosh, this is our show and we're going to be perfect in our presentation.'"

Though they have played all over the area - including at Hooligans, the Vagabond Inn, the Duck Inn, the Rainbow, and Moosequito's - they have one bar that will always be considered home.

"My favorite place to play is Kenai Joe's," Boyle said. "(The owner Dale Howard) hires bands not simply to bring people in to make some money, but because he enjoys music."

"Joe's is really the home of Ten Cent Zen," echoed Silba. "He (Howard) has always been really fair to us and great to us. So Joe's is our home base."

Because of their omnipresence at the bar, the members of Ten Cent Zen know many of the regulars at Joe's and will frequently invite them on stage to sing. A commercial fisherman who usually haunts the bar will play harmonica for a couple of songs during a set, while Big Bill might get up on stage and belt out one of his favorites, "Mustang Sally."

Depending on the crowd, the band will tweak their playlist to get the best reaction out of their audience. The blues contingent will latch on to Stevie Ray Vaughan, while "Sweet Home Alabama" might get the classic rock crowd out on the dance floor.

"You just have to kind of feel out the crowd, see where they're headed, and try to adjust your song list to fit what you think they're going to react to," Silba said.

Humor is also key to keeping show-goers entertained, Silba added. Cracking jokes and interacting with the audience between songs always makes for a better show.

"That's one thing that has always come back to me through the public that I hear a lot of: 'Oh, you guys are really funny. You play really well, but you kept it entertaining,'" Silba said.

Since all of Ten Cent Zen's members have a multitude of offstage obligations - Churchill is a commercial fisherman, for one - the band often has to go on breaks or get fill-in members when someone is busy or out of town.

"We all work day jobs," Silba explained, "so it gets a little hard sometimes when you have to work a long shift and then go play music all night. But that's what we love to do.

"The objective was never really to try and go out and sell a million records. It's to go out and try to play the best music that we enjoy and try to get as many people involved as we can."

Ten Cent Zen is playing at Kenai Joe's Friday and Saturday, July 29-30. Saturday will be a smoke-free show.

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