by Stepan Soroka
VANCOUVER – Zoli Teglas is not your average punk rock singer. In a career spanning a quarter century, beginning with the formation of melodic hardcore band Ignite in 1993, Teglas has cemented himself as one of the genre’s most versatile and respected vocalists thanks to a voice that can be as aggressive as it is operatic.
“I’m just lucky,” the singer explains over the phone from his native Hungary, saying he never took formal vocal lessons. “I was born with my vocal cords close together.”
Throughout the years, Teglas’ extraordinary abilities did not go unnoticed. The singer was chosen to fill in for some of punk rock’s most heavy-hitting bands, including a stint with the post-Danzig era Misfits and a five-year run with Pennywise, with whom he recorded the album All or Nothing. Teglas even rose out of the underground to tour with Velvet Revolver, and recorded vocals with Lemmy Kilmeister on Motorhead’s Kiss of Death album. When Stone Temple Pilots offered him an audition, Teglas jumped at the opportunity, and though he says he nailed the vocal parts, the band was thrown off by his demeanor.
“They called me and said, ‘Dude, you sang the best out of anyone but you look like you want to beat someone up on stage.’” A punk rocker at heart, Teglas’ hardcore roots shone too strongly for the radio-friendly rock band.
“The only thing I could ever really relate to was punk rock,” Teglas says. “Growing up, I was a pure-blooded Hungarian, although I was raised in America. I had an accent, I played water polo. I was always picked on, always beat up, so I got kind of tough and kind of mean.”
Searching for a place to belong, Teglas was absorbed by the burgeoning Orange County hardcore punk scene of the late 1980s.
“I would feel calm at punk shows, while in school in America I would get anxiety.”
Finding acceptance among outcasts, Teglas would go on to release five full-length albums with Ignite, the most recent being 2016’s A War Against You. And while Ignite has always produced music with strong socio-political overtones, delivering a message of change has never been more important than it is now.
“It’s a great country,” he says of the USA. “But we as Americans are flushing it down the fucking toilet.”
A dramatic rise in racist sentiment, emboldened by the sitting president and his entourage, is just one of the symptoms of a nation in decline, according to Teglas. And as the child of immigrants himself, he has no tolerance for the xenophobic zeitgeist that is gripping his country.
“We destabilize all these countries in South America, and people come up to try to get away from it. They’re walking thousands of miles because their backs are on fire from the violence that we created. Let’s talk about the real problem – our foreign policy.” Its this kind of lucid introspection, which Teglas applies generously to his lyrics, that make Ignite as relevant a band now as they have ever been.
Not content to simply sing about the world’s problems, Teglas is also a prolific activist, performing frontline work with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, the Pelican Rescue Team, The Beagle Freedom Project and others, including an undercover sting operation in 2010 that shut down an LA-area restaurant serving endangered whale meat.
“Punk rock is a social, political and environmental movement set to music,” he says. “It has to stay that way or it will lose all of its meaning.”
Ignite plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Wednesday, December 12.